A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Letters From Hell
When evil comes calling in the night, it comes quietly. It’s a rustle of dry leaves, a scratch at the window, a creak on the stairs in the dark. We stay still and hold our breath and hope it doesn’t find us. But, the next day, in the sunlight, we laugh louder and make jokes and juggle our fear, more curious than cautious. This was London in 1888. Ordinary people held captive by the horror of grisly, unstoppable murder, lost their sense of perspective. There was gossip and innuendo and even physical violence. There were wild accusations — against immigrants, butchers — the Jews. And there were letters – hundreds of letters. Some were written with good intentions, some as jokes, some by unbalanced minds, frightened and confused. Some were even written by journalists looking to ramp up a good story. Most of them were fakes. It’s generally agreed, however, that three were not.
On September 27th, the Central News Agency received one of these letters. Although, at first, they thought it might be just another hoax, they passed it on to the police. It read:
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly
Jack the Ripper
Dont mind me giving the trade name
PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha
Whole libraries have been written about the motivations for murder. There are more theories than there are victims. We do not know with any certainty why people kill randomly and without reason. In Victorian England, the study of psychoanalysis was just beginning. Very few people understood the workings of the human mind nor how easily it could be broken. To the average person on the London streets, the man who called himself Jack the Ripper was an unholy horror. He needed to be hunted down and killed before he killed again. But he did kill again.
On Sunday, September 30th, at about 1:00 am, Louis Diemschutz, a trader in cheap jewellery and steward of the International Worker’s Club at 34 Berner Street was returning to the club. When he opened the gate for his pony, it shied away from the entrance. Diemschutz could see there was something lying by the gate, but it was too dark to see anything else. He went into the club to get a light and some help. He wasn’t gone more than a minute or two. When he and two friends returned with a lantern they discovered the body of a dead woman. Her throat had been cut from left to right. She was still warm and the blood was still flowing. She was Elizabeth Stride – Jack the Ripper’s third victim.
At approximately the same time, Catherine Eddowes left the Bishopsgate Police station. She had been jailed earlier that evening for drunkenness but was now relatively sober, and so she was released. When she left Bishopsgate, she gave her name as Mary Ann Kelly and gave her address as #8 Fashion Street. When Eddowes left the station, she walked away in the opposite direction to that of Cooney’s Lodgings, where she was staying. Instead, she went down Houndsditch, probably to Duke Street and through Church Passage to Mitre Square. It would have taken her 10 to 15 minutes to reach Mitre Square. At approximately 1:30 am, Eddowes was seen at the corner of Duke Street and Church passage — by three witnesses — talking to a man. At about the same time, Constable Edward Watkins passed through Mitre Square on his rounds. At 1:45 am, Watkins came back through Mitre Square and discovered the body of Catherine Eddowes. Her throat has been cut from left to right, and her body had been mutilated but not slashed. The bottom of her right ear had been cut off and left at the scene, and some of her internal organs were missing — notably her left kidney.
On the darkened streets of Whitechapel, two murders in less than one hour – two victims and no suspects. Obviously, Diemschutz disturbed the murderer on Berner Street and he may have still been there when the pedlar went into the Club to get help. Then a second murder some distance away. Was it just crime of opportunity? Or was the blood lust so powerful it could not be ignored? But why didn’t Catherine Eddowes go back to Cooney’s Lodgings? And why did she call herself Mary Ann Kelly?
On October 1st, the Central News Agency received a postcard which they immediately sent on to the police. It read:
I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off. ha not the time to get ears for police. thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.
Jack the Ripper
This postcard makes direct references to both the murders of the previous night and to the earlier unpublished “Dear Boss” letter before they were known to the general public. All the evidence says that these are the words of Jack the Ripper. And he wasn’t finished. On October 16th a package was delivered to Mr. George Lusk, chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilante Committee, which had been organized to patrol the East End streets after Ann Chapman’s murder. It read:
I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk
Inside the package, preserved in wine, was part of Catherine Eddowes’ left kidney.
Friday: Jack the Ripper: The Last Of His Kind