Jack the Ripper: 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:

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,
Sor
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
signed
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

Inside the package, preserved in wine, was part of Catherine Eddowes’ left kidney.

Halloween: Jack the Ripper: The Last of his Kind

Jack the Ripper: Where Nightmares are Made

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’re 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, London. 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.

 

Friday: Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell

Jack the Ripper (III)

From Hell:

Why we remember Jack the Ripper

The streets are cold in London in October, and the nights are long and empty.  In November the rains come, with a chilly wind off the Thames River.  Only the poor are out and about, searching for the few pennies they need to buy shelter and food.  The people of Whitechapel held their breath and waited for the terror that walked among them.  They didn’t wait long.

On November 9th, at about 11:45 pm, Mary Jane Kelly was very drunk and singing “Only a Violet I Plucked from my Mother’s Grave.”  She was with a man, walking back to her room at #13 Miller’s Court.  A witness described him as stout and shabbily dressed.  At 1:00 am, Mary Jane was still singing but soon stopped.  At approximately 2:30 am Kelly was seen on the street with another man (or the same one) going back to her room at #13.  The witness, George Hutchison, claimed he had briefly talked to Kelly a couple of minutes earlier.  At 3:00 am, Mary Ann Cox, a neighbour at #5, returned home and later testified there was no sound or light coming from Mary Kelly’s room.  At approximately 10:45 the next morning, John McCarthy, the lodging-house keeper, sent his assistant Thomas Bowyer, to “Go to #13 and try and get some rent.”  Bowyer knocked at the door, and when he didn’t get an answer, went round to the window and put his hand through the broken pane and pushed back the old coat that served as a curtain.  Mary Jane Kelly was dead.  She had literally been chopped to pieces, and according to the autopsy, “the heart was absent.”

 In their briefest form, these are the tales of the five Jack the Ripper murders.  There are hundreds more stories, facts and clues.  There are eyewitness accounts, police records and detailed autopsy reports.  There has been enough information collected over the last century to fuel a whole industry – Ripperology.  There are literally hundreds of theories.  There’s the Masonic Theory – some sort of cover-up by the police members of the Masonic order.  There’s the Jewish Theory – a blood sacrifice from some demented sect.  There’s Leather Apron, a butcher gone mad, and Doctor Ripper, an insane surgeon.  There’s even a theory that there was no Jack the Ripper at all: her name was Jill, and she was a deranged midwife.  Over the years, many prominent Victorians have been accused of being Jack the Ripper.  Those theories have reached even into the royal family and convicted the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson, second in line to the British throne.  Each of these theories comes complete with a written article or book, claiming to solve the mystery.  Each one carefully documents the evidence; each one builds its case, and each one comes to its own conclusion.  But each one unravels far faster than it was ever put together.  Why?  Too many things don’t fit; too many things are odd.  There are too many coincidences, and too many “facts” are in conflict with what we know to be true.  There are just too many impossibilities.

Mary Ann Nichols and Annie Chapman were both killed and mutilated in less than 30 minutes — in the dark – and Chapman was killed on a busy thoroughfare on a Market Day morning.  Catherine Eddowes was killed and her kidney surgically removed in less than 15 minutes! – once again, in the dark.  One murder under these circumstances is possible; two, maybe.  But three go beyond the realm of belief.  On September 30th, 1888, how did Jack the Ripper commit murder, travel some distance through tangled streets and alleys, commit murder again and escape both times – unseen?  It’s possible, but highly unlikely.  Each killing is possible individually, but taken together – five?  In the open streets of Whitechapel?  That’s pretty far-fetched — especially since, after the first murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the entire community was on alert, watching, including several vigilante groups.

The only murder that has any logical explanation is that of Mary Jane Kelly, who was killed in her room.  But there is evidence that Mary Jane Kelly wasn’t even killed.  Caroline Maxwell, of #14 Dorset, testified that she saw Mary Jane Kelly in front of Miller’s Court at 8:30 that morning and stopped and talked with her.  Maxwell also testified that she saw Kelly again at 9:00 am, outside the Britannia Pub.  Maurice Lewis testified that, at 10:00 am, he went into the Britannia Pub and saw Kelly inside, talking and drinking with some other people.  These two independent testimonies cite the same pub; could two different people be so specific and so wrong?  In another weird twist, Catherine Eddowes identified herself as Mary Jane Kelly when she left Bishopsgate police station.  Why?  Another coincidence?  Perhaps, but how can there be so many?  For example, all of the victims had sort of drifted into Whitechapel at around the same time.  Nichols, Eddoes and Stride had all lived on Flower and Dean Street, within a few doors of each other.  Their lives and habits were centered around Dorset, a short street off Commercial.  They all frequented the Horn of Plenty and the Britannia Pubs and they all worked the streets of the area as prostitutes when they had to.  Yet, there is no evidence that they even knew each other – although that doesn’t seem possible in a crowded, poor community.  And there’s more, much more – including the Goulston Street graffiti and of course the letters.  Each coincidence is possible, but, like the murders themselves, not all of them.  The laws of anti-chance alone forbid it.

 So, even with only our cursory examination we can come to the same conclusion that every Ripper investigator has come to since the murders themselves.  Some hideous evil stalked the streets of Whitechapel, London in the autumn of 1888.  It killed women and then it stopped killing them.  That’s it.  There is nothing else.  The mountain of evidence is so strange and contradictory that we cannot glean anything further from it – except, perhaps, that the murders could not possibly have happened the way they did.  The amount of coincidence, happenstance and odd occurrence strains even the willing suspension of disbelief.  No fiction could have been written so wildly.  And the monster that called himself Jack the Ripper will remain anonymous, forever lurking in the shadows of time and the cold dark soul of our 4 o’clock in the morning.

 This is why we remember Jack the Ripper.  He is the last resident of Evil.  In our calm, clean, well-lighted world, we rehabilitate our criminals and sanitize our villains.  We give them names and parents.  We seek their motivation and try to understand their desperate minds.  We hold them to be one of us, tricked, by the very society that condemns them, into performing hideous acts.  Our world has no room for monsters, or fiends or the tortures of Hell.  But Jack the Ripper defies us all by his very existence.  In 2006, the BBC produced a documentary about Jack the Ripper.  They used modern techniques of forensics, like geo-profiling and computer enhanced facial construction to reassess the 120-year-old crimes.  They found that Jack the Ripper was an ordinary fellow who probably lived on Flower and Dean Street.  He probably worked at a menial job and drank his gin at one of the pubs.  They even produced a face.  But Jack the Ripper will have none of this.  He has no name, no family, no childhood, no face.  No amount of empathy or good intentions can ever wash the blood from his hands.  He alone still lives with the demons – and laughs — the last of his kind.