The Illustrated Police News was one of the earliest British tabloid newspapers. Built around garish reports and still more garish illustrations, it focused on issues of crime and punishment in London to the exclusion of all else. Published from 1864 to 1938, the popularity of the Police News was never higher – nor its reputation lower – than during the three-year period of the Whitechapel Murders (1888–1891), in which East London was stalked by a serial killer of women known as ‘Jack The Ripper’.
This report came a fortnight after the last ‘Ripper’ killing to date – the vicious murder and mutilation of prostitute Mary Kelly. The confident illustration of the killer’s likeness belies the fact that the police had investigated 300 different suspects and detained 80 in October alone. Perhaps as significant is the fact that the killer looks like a respectable member of the public. Previously, tabloid illustrations of murderers had tended to portray them as grotesque and animalistic, but the frequency of the Ripper attacks and the killer’s success in evading capture was leading to an even more disturbing thought – that the killer could be your neighbour. This idea had been popularised in 1886 by Robert Louis Stephenson’s novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in which the mild and respectable doctor is transformed by drugs into a slavering murderer, but manages to keep his double lives separate.