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Jack the ripper | Reviews
Jack the ripper
THE RIPPER IN RAMSGATE.
The Whitechapel Murderer
© Christopher Scott
1) - A Brief Background
2) - The Royal Road lodger
3) - Mary Kelly's Boyfriend
4) - The Main Suspect's Brother
5) - The Bohemian Artist
6) - My thoughts.
Jack the Ripper? In little old Ramsgate? Surely not! Well, no, actually. Let me make it clear from the beginning that I am not unveiling some previously unknown suspect who lived in the back streets of Victorian Ramsgate. The current list of suspects - reckoned by some to number nigh on 170 - is surely long enough, even if this very list does not - as I often suspect - actually contain the name of the man who committed the Whitechapel murders in 1888. No, the present modest volume is a look at some of the surprising links between this East Kent town and the notorious events of that dark autumn.
There can be few people who do not know the name, or more accurately nickname, of Jack the Ripper. It has become a byeword for something dark, terrible and inhuman lurking in the shadows at the edges of our collective memory. But we must be careful to distinguish from the outset between the myth and the reality. The Jack of myth has become a bogeyman, a melodrama villain - more a presence than a person. But the killings of 1888 were committed by a person of flesh and blood, a man (almost certainly) who carried on his life, went about the streets of London, may have worked, may have been married. The fact that many appalling killers - those who would undoubtedly be dubbed "fiends" or monsters" by the more colourful sections of the press - have often turned out to be markedly ordinary and unremarkable in their outward lives, should be an object lesson in not necessarily looking for Jack as a ravening beast or a barely human monster.
Let us get some basic questions out of the way - clear the ground, so to speak. Did Jack the Ripper come to Ramsgate or ever live in the town? I do not know, but think it highly unlikely. Such indications as there are - principally his ability to evade detection and capture, which was seen at the time of the murders as almost supernatural - would argue the case for a man who knew the area intimately and very probably lived there. The most basic question of all would seem to be, of course, who was Jack the Ripper? I do not know, and doubt that I will ever know, certainly not on the basis of the currently available evidence. It may surprise some that the identity of the killer is not the most important question in the eyes of many researchers into the case. The study of East London in the 1880s opens many doors to areas of knowledge that one might otherwise not touch upon. Putting a name to the killer is only one question among many and, to a number of students of the case, not a particularly important one.
Finally, a most significant note. I said above that the man who committed these only too real deeds in 1888 was a creature of flesh and blood going about the streets of London. We must never forget that so too were his victims. The desperate poverty in which they lived and the degrading mode of life into which they were forced make grim reading indeed. If you read about the lives and backgrounds of the five generally accepted victims - Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly - and those of the other possible victims - Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles - it is sobering reading indeed. We must never forget in the heat of the hunt for Jack the Ripper that these women, and thousands more nameless women like them, lived this life of appalling penury and degradation in what was at the time the wealthiest and most important city in the world.
A Brief Background
It would seem that it should be a comparatively easy task to sum up briefly the basic facts of the Whitechapel murders of 1888. But this is decidedly not the case. The events of that autumn 120 years ago have been so overlaid with theorising, speculation and alleged conspiracies and cover ups that it is daunting for the newcomer to the case to know where to start. If one takes a dispassionate look at those events and what has been written about them, it becomes apparent that the known and verifiable facts concerning these murders are remarkably thin on the ground, while the theories and speculative solutions to the "mystery" would sink a battleship under their accumulated weight. And this flow of works on the subject of the Whitechapel murders shows no signs of abating - indeed, the present work is, by definition, adding to it! Why this particular case should have such an enduring appeal (if such a word can be used in discussing a series of appalling murders) is a complex question in its own right but one that cannot be answered here.
We must first address the question of the name under which this famous case is known to posterity. You may have noticed that in the main title of this book I have used the word "Ripper," but in the subtitle I refer to the "Whitechapel murderer." This distinction is both important and quite deliberate. In the press coverage of the earlier murders the unknown killer was known by a variety of epithets, including the Whitechapel fiend. Another early name for the killer was "Leather Apron." This had its origins in a story which came allegedly from street women in Whitechapel who claimed that they had been terrorised by a nameless man known only by the nickname deriving from the garment that he always wore. The description given of him in the press was a mixture of an anti Semitic caricature and a pantomime Demon King. Whether such an individual ever existed in the form described is highly dubious, but the story was taken seriously enough to result in the arrest of a man named John Pizer who was allegedly known by this very nickname, an allegation which he himself denied. Pizer was released and no further allegations against him surfaced. Indeed, Pizer took legal action for defamation of character against various newspapers.
The name that will be forever attached to this series of events appeared first in a letter which was dated 25 September 1888 and was received at the Central News Agency on 27 September. This is commonly known as the "Dear Boss" letter from its opening words and ended with the now immortal phrase "Yours truly, Jack the Ripper." Four days later, on 1 October 1888, the same Agency received a postcard, also signed "Jack the Ripper" which was couched in the same taunting terms as the "Dear Boss" letter. Although there has been some discussion on the matter, it is my opinion that an examination of the handwriting shows beyond reasonable doubt that both the letter and the postcard were written by the same person. Of course, the crucial question is this - was the writer of these two communications really the killer, as he claimed? The consensus of current opinion is that the writer of these two documents - and, indeed, the flood of later letters bearing the infamous signature - was not the killer and that there is no information revealed within the communications which would point incontrovertibly to the murderer being their author. A long standing theory is that these two original documents - and, hence, also the notorious name itself - were the product of a journalist and were intended to "spice up" the ongoing story by attaching to it a resounding and chilling nickname. If this were the case, the hack in question could little have guessed just how long the name he invented would resound! It may be significant that these first two documents bearing the name "Jack the Ripper" were sent not to the police but to a news agency. If the author were a journalist, he would, presumably, know where to send these missives to gain the maximum impact and publicity.
Central to any consideration of the Whitechapel murders are the killing of five women between 31 August and 9 November 1888. These five murders occurred as follows:
31 August 1888 - Mary Ann Nichols
8 September 1888 - Annie Chapman
30 September 1888 - Elizabeth Stride
30 September 1888 - Catherine Eddowes
9 November 1888 - Mary Jane Kelly
These five woman are commonly known collectively as the "canonical victims," the widespread opinion being that they were killed by the same hand and form the core of the series of crimes committed that autumn. This is not say that this listing and this conclusion are universally accepted. There are students of the case who believe that Elizabeth Stride was not a victim of the same killer, and there are those who champion the idea that Mary Kelly died by a different hand. The arguments in favour of either proposition are complex and cannot be gone into in detail here. Suffice it to say that the opinion that these five women died by the same hand is widely held and has been so since very shortly after the events in question.
The body of Mary Ann Nichols was found in Bucks Row at approximately 3.45 on the morning of 31 August 1888 by a workman named Cross. He was joined by another working man named Paul and the police were soon in attendance. Nichols's throat had been cut down to the vertebrae and it was discovered at the mortuary when her body was prepared for examination that there were a series of injuries to the abdomen as well. Nichols was buried at the Manor Park Cemetery on 6 September 1888.
Annie Chapman's body was found on 8 September 1888 in the yard at the back of 29 Hanbury Street. The discovery was made just before 6.00 a.m. by John Davis, a carman who lived on the third floor of No. 29. Chapman's body lay to the left of a the steps that led down into the yard. The throat was again cut very deeply - some accounts say that the body was almost beheaded. The abdominal injuries were extensive: the intestines had been lifted from the body and the uterus and its surrounding structures had been removed and were missing. Annie Chapman was buried, also at Manor Park Cemetery, on 14 September 1888.
In the early hours of 30 September occurred the two murders often referred to as the "double event." (This term comes from the postcard mentioned above received on 1 October.) The first victim found was Elizabeth Stride, who was Swedish by birth. Her body was found at approximately 1.00 a.m. lying inside the entrance to a yard known as Dutfield's Yard. This lay to the side of 40 Berner Street which was the site of a "Working Men's Educational Club." This premises served a clientele of predominantly Jewish socialists and radicals. The steward of the club, Lewis Diemschutz (the spelling of his name is disputed) returned from his labours as a hawker of cheap jewellery, and drove his horse and cart into the opening of the yard. He discovered the body lying near the right hand wall leading into the yard. Stride's throat was cut, deeply on the left side, more superficially on the right. Uniquely among the five principal victims, there were no abdominal or any other injuries on Stride's body. The usual interpretation of this fact is that the murderer was interrupted by the arrival of Diemschutz and fled the scene, his blood lust unsated. Stride was buried in the East London Cemetery on 6 October 1888.
If this speculation about the killer being thwarted in his designs is correct, he did not have long to wait before finding another victim. At 1.45 a.m. Police Constable Watkins found the body of Catherine Eddowes in a secluded corner of Mitre Square. Only 45 minutes earlier Eddowes had been released from police custody at Bishopsgate Police Station, having been arrested earlier in the evening for being drunk and disorderly. The murder of Eddowes was the only one of the murders committed within the jurisdiction of the City of London (as opposed to the Metropolitan) police. She was, incidentally, the only victim whose body was initially found by a police officer and not a member of the public. Eddowes's injuries were extensive and shocking. The throat was again deeply cut to the bone and there were appalling mutilations to the abdomen. As in the case of Chapman the uterus had been excised and taken away. The killer also removed and took Eddowes's left kidney. There were also extensive mutilations to the face, there being cuts to the eyelids, the cheeks and one ear. Eddowes was buried in Manor Park Cemetery on 8 October 1888.
The last, and arguably the most controversial, of the five central murders took place on 9 November. I dub this murder controversial for a number of reasons. It was the only one of the five that took place indoors - indeed, in the victim's own home - as opposed to on the street. Also, the extent and nature of the mutilations were so appalling that it set the murder into a class of its own, almost as though the murderer's unfathomable motives were given full reign. Thirdly, there are a number of students of the case who believe that the victim in this last case, Mary Kelly, died by a different hand. Lastly, the victim herself has evaded all attempts to research her life and remains a complete mystery in terms of her background. The bare facts are as follows. Kelly lived at Room 13 Millers Court, a single room at the back of 26 Dorset Street. Until a few days before she had lived with a man named Joseph Barnett, but the couple had argued over Kelly's offering shelter to another woman. Barnett left but stayed in touch with Kelly and, by his own account, continued to give her money when he could. She was in arrears with her rent and it was this which occasioned the finding of her body. At approximately 10.45 a.m. on 9 November, Kelly's landlord, John McCarthy, who ran a business from and lived next door. sent an employee of his, Thomas Bowyer, to see what money he could get from Kelly. After knocking with no reply Bowyer looked in the window and saw Kelly's body laying on the bed. The mutilations to Kelly's body were so extensive that she had been virtually dissected. The throat was again cut very deeply and the body cavity virtually emptied of its contents. Areas of the body had been defleshed and these pieces of flesh and other organs had been placed around the bed and on the table next to it. The only organ specifically listed as missing in the post mortem report is the heart. Kelly was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone on 19 November.
These, in very brief outline, are the five killings central to any consideration of the Whitechapel murders. A number of other murders have been put forward - both at the time and since - as possible victims of the same killer. Two of these precede the main five and two of them occurred afterwards.
3 April 1888 - Emma Elizabeth Smith was attacked by, on her own account, a gang of youths who assaulted her and caused severe internal injuries. She survived the immediate attack but died of peritonitis on 5 April.
7 August 1888 - Martha Tabram was found dead on the landing of a building in George Yard. She had been subjected to multiple stabbings, possibly with two different weapons but there was no deep cutting of the throat and no incised mutilations.
17 July 1889 - the body of Alice McKenzie was found in Castle Alley. She had been stabbed in the throat and there were shallow wounds to the abdomen.
14 February 1891 - the dying body of Frances Coles was found in Swallow Gardens. She died very shortly after being found. Her throat had been cut. A man she had spent time with shortly before her death, Thomas Sadler, was strongly suspected of the murder, and, by some researchers, still is.
Those are the very bare facts of the murders themselves. Of course, contemporary documents contain considerably more detail but much of this consists of witness statements and, as such, are open to varying interpretations. The principal forms of documents produced at the time were police reports, including witness statements, post mortem reports and the proceedings of the various inquests. There were basically three repositories of these documents - the Metropolitan Police, the City of London Police (involved because of the location of the Eddowes murder) and the Home Office files. The depredations of time, human acquisitiveness and mundane routine housekeeping have meant that many of the documents that related to the case no longer exist - or, more accurately, are not known to exist in the public domain. Some who favour various conspiracy and cover up theories relating to the murders have proposed that key documents have been deliberately removed to conceal the real identity of the killer, but I know of no convincing evidence that this was the case. For those who wish to examine in detail what remain of the official documents relating to the case the best source, in my opinion, is the "Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook" by Stewart Evans and Keith Skinner, a priceless resource for the researcher.
The vast weight of Ripper related literature (including my own modest efforts!) emanate with more or less relevance from this comparatively small cache of documents. The sheer number and range of Ripper based works is both bewildering, especially for the newcomer to the case, and amazing in its longevity and tenacity. Barely a year goes by (and 2008 has already had its crop!) without some new revelation or solution. Of course, it is possible to become too sceptical of new literature relating to the events of 1888 and run the risk of missing some truly groundbreaking new evidence. But I would warn those keen to read more about the Ripper that the literature is most decidedly like the curate's egg - good in parts!
So where does the present work stand in relation to this vast output on the subject? It is definitely a "niche" offering, and I say that not out of false modesty but so that false hopes will not be raised. I do not offer any solution as to the identity of the Whitechapel killer. In my opinion, none of the men whose stories will be discussed in the following chapters was the killer of any of the women named above. It is more in the nature of an exercise to examine how pervasive the subject of the Whitechapel case was, and has remained, in that connections with this series of brutal killings in the East End of London have resonances even in a small, quiet (well, most of the time!) seaside town in Kent. I hope that the stories that emerge will be of interest both to residents and those who are attracted to the more obscure byeways of this well known story.
Publishers notes I publish various books about southeast England and normally publish some sample pages as I have done here. My hope is that it will help you to choose books that you actually want.