On Tuesday, 27 November 1888, a man was chased through the streets of Belfast. The man, who would later be identified as James Wilson, a 45-year-old comedian/ballad singer touring County Antrim, was believed to be Jack the Ripper.
It has never been made clear how this came about, but at noon on that Tuesday, a mob began chasing Wilson down Royal Avenue, shouting: “Jack the Ripper! Jack the Ripper!”
Soon, others joined the chase. And as Wilson ran up Little Donegall Street, the police joined in too.
The chase continued through Union Street, Charles Street, Stephen Street and Birch Street. The cries of “Jack the Ripper” brought more and more people out of their houses, with many joining the urban hunt.
On Birch Street, Wilson tried to lose the mob by running through a house. But a couple of constables followed. Shortly after, they found him cowering in a nearby cellar.
Wilson was arrested, and taken through the sizeable mob to the police station, where he was charged with “indecent behavior.” It wasn’t made clear what this “indecent behavior” was, but the Irish Times opined that he was arrested purely for his own protection.
Why did the mob believe James Wilson was the Ripper? That has never been explained. According to the Irish Times, Wilson had been wearing two hats and carrying two canes at the time. It doesn’t really explain things, but the Times thought it was important.
The Irish Times, 1 December 1888