The True Meaning Of Halloween

halloweenNobody’s afraid of the dark; we’re afraid of what’s in the dark.  It’s a primitive instinct that goes back to a time when getting eaten alive was part of the human experience.  We are all naturally apprehensive about what we can’t see coming, because at one time, our survival as a species depended on it.  These days, of course, most of us no longer even know what the dark looks like.  (Our technology has put a stop to that.)  But the instinct remains — a combination of tense anticipation followed by an unholy rush of adrenaline.  And for some weird reason — even psychologists can’t figure out why — we have an uncontrollable need to feed it.

Think about it.

The vast majority of horror movies have little or no artistic value, but they are a gabillion dollar industry.  Why?  Because they scare the bejesus out of us.  And it’s not as if we don’t know what’s coming: at some point, some big ugly something is going to jump out at us — guaranteed.  After all, horror movies haven’t changed that much since Prana Film ripped off Bram Stoker to produce Nosferatu in 1922.  The truth is we cozy up on the sofa with our popcorn, our Pepsi™ and Friday the 13t, Parts 1 through 37 because we’re actively searching for that shot of adrenaline.

This is the place Halloween comes from.  It’s part of our intrinsic desire to feel fear.  It reminds us that, despite our manicured lawns, painted fences and bold-as-day streetlights, there are still things lurking in the shadows.  And it doesn’t matter that it’s only some kid in a Walmart Batman costume or his parents as Sexy Bo Peep and her single, sorry-lookin’ sheep.  The point is, there might be something else out there.  Something we don’t see.  Something that doesn’t sleep.  Something whose cold, bony subliminal fingers can reach out from the night and caress the beating flesh of our primeval heart.  Something … that might still be hungry.

We live in a society that works overtime trying to eliminate risk — from antibacterial soaps, sprays and potions to airbags in our automobiles.  Ironically, however, there is a place, deep in our psychological DNA, that defies the marvels of modern science and social engineering.  It draws its power from the pictograph caves of a world lit only by fire, where long macabre shadows dance up the walls.  Where the night outside is solid black and breathing.  We know this place.  It’s part of our cultural memory.  We were born there.  And Halloween is an annual opportunity to keep that world alive.

Jack The Ripper 2/3

Letters From Hell

Jack the Ripper

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:


Dear Boss,
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:


From hell.
Mr Lusk,
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

Jack The Ripper 1/3

Where Nightmares Come From

Jack the Ripper

On chilly dark evenings, footsteps still echo in the Whitechapel district of London. Sometimes, if there’s a mist, you can hear them making their muffled way in the night. They are ghosts of sounds, travelling through time from their far away shadows. They live in our minds, where the light is dim and uneven. It flutters close to our eyes. The smooth stones at our feet slip away from us, and we step slowly. The streets are slender and the walls are high. They turn and fade with long shadows of shapes of people that move like silence in the night. There are corners and alleys too deep for us to see them…black shades…they are only sounds of voices that have no words. There are faces. We are among them. They move past us without features. Just seen and then gone. We cannot be sure of what we see. Our senses are tricked by the dark and the night.

This is the half-light world of the East End of Victorian London. It’s a world we’ve never seen and can only imagine. It’s crowded and dirty and smells like rotten food and unwashed people. It’s a place that’s greasy and old, with narrow walkways and sputtering gaslight, shaded faces and shiny hands. Too many people and not enough money, it has shallow, gasping breath and it coughs dry and alone in the night. It’s a place where nightmares are made, and, in 1888, it made one. It called itself Jack the Ripper.

For a few months in 1888, Jack the Ripper stalked the dim streets of Whitechapel. Forever after, he walks in our collective memory. His name is synonymous with evil. He is that thing we look over our shoulders for, on lonely nights. He is the horror we can’t talk our way out of.

Jack the Ripper was not the first serial killer, nor the most prolific, nor even the most hideous (although that is a relative term) but he is the most remembered. People who know nothing about history, crime or violence still recognize his name. Given what we now know about serial killers and their motivation, he would be quite pleased to know that he’s been so famous for so long. He might even laugh.

So what is the fascination? Why do we still fear him? How did Jack the Ripper creep into our subconscious and why is he still hiding there? Even Count Dracula, a Victorian horror in his own right, doesn’t hold that kind of power. Why Jack the Ripper, and what did he do to all of us on those chilly, dark evenings in Whitechapel?

It was on such a night, August 31st, 1888 that  Mary Ann Nichols walked down Whitechapel Road. She stopped outside a grocer’s on Osborne Street to talk with Emily Holland, who had once shared rooms with her. The Whitechapel Church bell struck the half hour; it was 2:30 am. At 3:15, Constable John Thain passed the entrance to Buck’s Row and Constable John Neil walked down into the little street. There was nothing unusual. At 3:45, Charles Cross and Robert Paul entered Buck’s Row on their way to work. They found the body of a woman, lying in the street. They thought she might still be alive so they went off to find a policeman. Constable Neil was continuing his rounds, and, within a few seconds of Cross and Paul’s leaving he entered Buck’s Row and also found the woman. She was Mary Ann Nichols, the first victim of Jack the Ripper.

At the inquest, it was revealed that Nichols’ throat had been cut — twice — from left to right, and the mutilation of her body had been done by a left-handed man — a very experienced left-handed man. The wounds were precise and death was immediate. Also, it was revealed that earlier, Nichols had been thrown out of her lodgings, because she had no money. This was not unusual. It was also stated that she had been drinking heavily and had gone “out” with a couple of men to get some money for more drink and to pay for a room for the night. This, also, was not unusual. Mary Ann Nichols was only one of many women, who, for a few pennies, would accompany a strange man into one of the dark corners of Whitechapel, East End, London.

Eight days later, on Saturday, September 8th, at about 5:30 am, Elizabeth Long was walking down Hanbury Street. She noticed a woman she knew, Annie Chapman, but did not stop and talk to her. At approximately 6:00 am, less than a half hour later, John Davis left his room at #29 Hanbury St., probably to use the outdoor toilet. In a shallow recess by the door he discovered the body of a woman. It was Annie Chapman.

At the inquest, Elizabeth Long testified that she had been on her way to Spitalfields Market — Saturday was Market day – and that the streets were crowded. She also stated, that when she saw Annie Chapman, she was standing in front of #29 Hanbury St., talking to a man. She didn’t see his face, but she described him as about 40, wearing a dark coat and a deerstalker’s cap. She also said he had a shabby-genteel appearance and that he was only slightly taller than Chapman who was about 5 feet tall. John Davis testified that, before he discovered the body, there had been nothing unusual about that morning, and he did not see or hear anything. Each of the other 17 occupants of #29 said exactly the same thing. The yard where the body was found was about 12 feet square and there was only one exit – back onto the street. Annie Chapman’s throat had been cut from left to right, she had been horribly mutilated and part of her uterus had been removed. All of this took place in the dim light of morning — on a crowded London Street — in less than 30 minutes! And nobody saw or heard anything.

Tuesday: Jack The Ripper: Letters From Hell