Jack the Ripper caught the public's attention early on. Many well-meaning people thought the police might appreciate some hints on who he might be, and how to catch him. These people were mistaken.

The "helpful" advice offered here is taken from letters sent in all seriousness to the City of London Police in 1888.

Supplying Deficiencies

"This killer intrigues me," murmured Holmes, tossing aside the latest newspaper reports of the Whitechapel murderer.

"You and the rest of the world," Lestrade grumbled. He had shambled into our rooms half an hour ago, haggard, exhausted, and wearing a suit that looked slept-in. "The police are getting letters from all parts, telling us what to do and who to watch."

"Interesting," I said, although it actually wasn't. I poured him another finger of gin. He looked like he could use it. Then, shrugging, I poured one for myself.

"An Englishman thinks the killer's German," Lestrade told us, "while a German thinks the killer's a woman. The killer may also be American, Jewish, a doctor, an ape, left-handed, a butcher, a kosher butcher, a policeman, an Irish rebel, and a black man who escapes detection by wearing dark trousers and no shirt, presumably so as to blend in at night. And having pulled him from a list of potential suspects which includes half the men in London, as well as a few who are undoubtedly from Mars, we are advised by one T. S. Jolly of the Commercial Road, to hit him on the head, because he's dangerous. How a blow to the head will cause him to mend his ways, I don't know."

"Who says he's a doctor?" I exclaimed. "That's preposterous!"

"According to one public-minded citizen, he's not only a doctor, but is dressed like a cowboy."

"How undignified," Holmes commented.

"If you think that's undignified, what about the suggestion that he escapes through the sewer, or that he waits until after pub closing time to start killing?"

"As would I," Holmes said. "Wait until the pubs closed, that is. The sewer, though—really! Have either of you ever been in a sewer?"

"Not before sharing rooms with you," I muttered, kicking at the cigarette butts trampled into the carpet.

"I have," Lestrade said. "Please don't ask why. Just believe me when I say that a man who's spent any time in a sewer will attract considerable attention after he comes out."

"Speaking of which-" Holmes sniffed the air, wrinkling his prodigious nose. "What is that odor clinging to your person, anyway? Eau de doss house, or what?"

"Well, excuse me! I've been interrogating suspects and following up on leads. I haven't had the time to go home and change, much less take a bath."

"Surely there are facilities at Scotland Yard," I said.

"The Fenians dynamited our public urinal. That may give you some notion as to what our facilities consist of."

"Oh, dear." I poured more gin. Brandy would have been better, but I was short of funds.

"Out of curiosity, Lestrade," Holmes returned us to the topic, "has anyone suggested that women may be more able than men to find and apprehend the killer?"

"Yes, indeed. Someone suggested attaching detectives to prostitutes, whatever that means. I wouldn't mind finding out, except that my wife would kill me."

"What I meant," Holmes persevered over my laughter, "was recruiting female police officers. Has no one considered that?"

"That's a marvelous idea!" I exclaimed, imagining healthy, robust young women in uniform. Redheads, preferably; they'd look best in blue.

Lestrade squashed my happy daydream. "How in hell are we supposed to persuade women to have anything to do with us, when we don't even have a proper bathroom? You know how much time they spend in there."

"There is that," Holmes agreed. "But you've been promised a new building."

"And been given a lovely foundation. An opera house was to be built on it, but someone ran out of money. Now it's all ours."

I poured yet more gin. "Has the public suggested any way in which the police might catch this supposed left-handed German cowboy doctor?"

Lestrade shuddered. "Yes."

"Well?" Holmes leaned forward, steepling his fingers. "Let's hear it, man."

The inspector sighed. "There is one suggestion that keeps cropping up. I'm very much worried that if it's repeated often enough, that idiot—uh, that is, the commissioner of police—will take it seriously."

"What is it, for heaven's sake?" Holmes demanded.

"The worst idea of the lot," Lestrade said. "We'd be laughingstocks."

Holmes had begun to make strangling motions. "What?"

"That—well, that to set a trap for the killer, policemen ought to...dress as women."

I laughed so hard, I dropped my cigar and spat out my gin. Fortunately, both landed on the crushed cigarette butts, where no one would notice.

It was the funniest thing I had ever heard, until Holmes said, "That suggestion is not entirely without merit."

"Mr. Holmes!" Lestrade protested. "You may go in for that sort of thing, and what you do is entirely your own affair, but the only way anyone will put me in a dress is over my dead body!"

There was a certain illogic to that statement, but I was too busy to analyze it. I had thought of something even funnier. "Imagine Inspector Gregson in a dress—six feet tall, two hundred pounds, and a mustache he could sweep crossings with! He'd make a convincing female!"

"A convincing female bear," Lestrade agreed.

"Gentlemen!" Holmes snapped. "This is going too far. If the streets of London are to be patrolled by transvestite bears, I would rather not know of it."

"Right you are, Mr. Holmes." Lestrade stood up, less steady but more cheerful than when he had arrived. "I'm off to look for a left-handed, black, Jewish policeman who dresses like a shirtless cowboy and moonlights as a butcher. If I find one, everyone will be satisfied that he's the murderer, and I'll hit him on the head."

"And if by some chance he isn't the murderer?" Holmes asked.

"I'll hit him on the head, anyway." Lestrade slammed his hat on his own head and put his coat on inside-out.

As the inspector staggered toward the door, Holmes turned to me and whispered, "He is too intoxicated to make good on that threat, isn't he?"

"Yes, definitely," I said. "Probably. Or not. Make sure he gets home all right, there's a good fellow."