In the aftermath of the shocking murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes in the same night, fears in Whitechapel reached fever pitch. The public demanded that Scotland Yard consider using bloodhounds to track the killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’.
By the beginning of October 1888, the career of Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Warren was already in crisis, his ability and that of his police force being seriously undermined by the continuing brutal attacks on women in the East End. Scotland Yard received hundreds of letters from the public with suggestions on how to capture this elusive killer, including using sniffer dogs to track the culprit whose clothes might well have been stained with his victims’ blood. Sir Charles finally gave into pressure and contacted Edwin Brough, a well-regarded bloodhound breeder from Scarborough. He arrived, with his dogs, a few days later.
Before their deployment in London, Brough ran some trials to test out his ‘canine detectives’. The bloodhounds Barnaby and Burgho were, according to the press, ‘magnificent animals’. Barnaby was the most experienced of the pair and had been trained from an early age. His companion, Burgho, was two years younger, and ‘a rare stamp of a hound’ with black and tan markings. He was the fastest dog ever bred by Edwin Brough. Both hounds had been taught how to track the scent of a person’s shoes through fields and brooks, and across roads. Would the dogs now be able to perform as effectively in an urban environment?
On 8 October, the dogs were tested in Regent’s Park, in the early hours of the morning. The ground was covered in frost, which did not deter the hounds, as they followed a man who’d had a 15 minute start. They worked together successfully picking up his scent for almost a mile. That evening, Brough tried them again, this time in Hyde Park. As it was dark, they hunted on a leash, as they would in the crowded streets of Whitechapel. Satisfied with their progress, Brough was ready to show his ‘sleuth-hounds’ to Sir Charles and, the following day, the chief commissioner watched half a dozen trials, even taking part twice with himself as the quarry. He gave instructions for Burgho and Barnaby to be kennelled near to Whitechapel ready to act in the event of another murder.
Despite the public’s enthusiasm for using bloodhounds, there were some serious concerns. As the dogs were used to operating in the countryside, people were skeptical that they could perform as effectively in the ‘slum stench’ of Whitechapel. Furthermore, some were fearful of unleashing dangerous animals into the city, which could easily lead to the injury of local residents. However, the Metropolitan Police made plans to use the dogs should the necessity arise, although the agreement to hire them was never signed.
During the next few days, as he had received no agreement from the police, Edwin Brough took Burgho to Brighton to enter him in a dog show, before returning to Scarborough. Barnaby remained in Whitechapel, where the police requested his assistance in a burglary case. Afraid that the dog might be poisoned in reprisals, his owner declined permission and sent instructions for Barnaby to be returned home too. With no financial arrangements concluded for the hire of the dogs, they did not return to London.
Therefore, when the killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’ struck again, the dog detectives were not on hand. Furthermore, Sir Charles Warren had resigned as chief commissioner, and Burgho and Barnaby never had an opportunity to track the notorious killer . Two years later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the services of a dog called Toby to help his own ‘sleuth-hound’ in The Sign of the Four. Sherlock concluded:
‘I would rather have Toby’s help than that of the whole detective force in London’.
Back in real life, sniffer dogs were not integrated into the police force for another 60 years.
Evans, S. P. & Skinner, K. (2000) The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. London: Robinson.
Pemberton, Neil (2013) ‘Bloodhounds as Detectives’, Cultural and Social History, 10:1
London Daily News