Today, Ancestry has published more criminal records online. They are notices taken from The Police Gazette, which was used to pass on details of suspected criminals across the UK, and offered rewards for information.
The records include details of wanted suspected criminals, offenders in custody, and missing persons, and cover the periods 1812-1902 and 1921-1927. They can be searched by name, age, type, date and location of crime and will be of interest to anyone wanting to find out about a particular offender or even a victim of crime. Some also include police sketches.
The Police Gazette started publication in 1772, its full name being The Police Gazette; or, Hue and Cry. It dropped the last part of its title in 1839. The publication was produced by the Home Office and the Met Police until 1883, when the Met took on full responsibility for it. It was eagerly read, with cases used as the sources of newspaper reports. As far back as 1828, one regional paper noted that:
“The Police Gazette, or Hue and Cry, is absolutely entertaining.”
One of the offenders listed in The Police Gazette records released by Ancestry is Michael Ostrog (c.1833-1904), who was one of the suspects in the Whitechapel Murders – also known as the Jack the Ripper murders.
It was not surprising that Ostrog came under suspicion. He was a Russian-born con man, a thief who had claimed to have had surgical training and worked in the Russian Navy.
Ostrog had been charged with larceny, but failed to report to the police after being released from the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in 1888. The record noted his use of aliases – which included Bertrand Ashley and Claude Clayton – and described him as ‘a dangerous man’. His physical description is also given, noting moles on his shoulder and neck and ‘corporal punishment marks’.
Doubt has since been case on Ostrog’s involvement in the Whitechapel murders, as he may have been in jail in France during the period when the five supposed victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’ were killed. He continued to commit crime long after his description appeared in The Police Gazette, and in 1894, when he was charged with obtaining jewellery under false pretences in Eton, he was described in the press as:
“a sinister-looking elderly man.”
Ostrog’s defence when he appeared before the Buckinghamshire magistrates was that he could not have committed the crime, as ‘he was in Banstead lunatic asylum’ at the time.
The Police Gazette for certain periods can already be searched via the British Newspaper Archive (the majority of its records come within the period 1850-1899, as far as I can see); this Ancestry release gives researchers a wider time period to search, and will also be useful for cross-referencing, as sometimes a search engine on one site can fail to find something but a different site’s search will get a result. In addition, if you have an Ancestry subscription but not a BNA one, you will now be able to access these fascinating records for the first time.
Sources: Nottingham Evening Post, 14 June 1894; Sheffield Independent, 9 February 1828