TEN – NAILING NUMBERS
In 1891 a man who was over 21 years of age and under 35, physically fit and able to read and write could find work as a police constable. Sometime in 1891 a young policeman arrives at Leman Street, and joins H Division of the London Metropolitan Police Force, which is based in Whitechapel. During the day his sergeant mentions Jack The Ripper. The young policeman asks his sergeant if a record was kept of the murders. The sergeant is offended by this question but he is tolerant and patient and says nothing more than yes. The young policeman is persistent and asks about the numbers that have been recorded. He is told this.
In 1887 the police recorded 71 violent deaths in Whitechapel, and two of these were suicides. There were no murders. In 1888, the year of the Ripper, there were eight murders recorded, and in 1889 and 1890 one for each year. As well as these crimes there were three murders that H Division were keen to claim did not occur in Whitechapel. These were known as the ‘torso murders’. In 1888 a female torso was discovered under a railway arch in Whitechapel. In 1889 another torso was discovered under a railway arch outside Whitechapel, and a dismembered woman was found floating in the Thames.
That makes thirteen, says the young policeman. He asks how many women did Jack the Ripper kill. Some say five and others eleven, says the sergeant. The young policeman can not only read and write. He is numerate and he has the number thirteen in his head. His curiosity is obvious from the expression on his face. The sergeant makes some tea, and the two policemen sit down.
The way I think about it is this, says the sergeant. Imagine a lake. In the middle of this lake there is a cluster of five dead women. These are what folk call the ‘canonical five’. These five murders occurred between the 31st August 1888 and the 9th of November 1888. These murders are the most terrible and savage, so these bodies in the middle of the lake look much worse than the other dead women that are floating elsewhere in the lake. The young policeman asks about the others. Look around the edge of the lake, says the sergeant. At the front of the lake are five more women. These ladies were killed before the ‘canonical five’ and between Boxing Day 1887 and the 7th of August in 1888. Now look at the right side of the lake. There are the two torsos and the dismembered body. And on the left side of the lake are the two women who were killed after the ‘canonical five’ and between December 1888 and July 1889.
Fifteen, says the young policeman.
Perhaps, says the sergeant, but let us take a closer look at the bodies around the lake. First we can push the torsos and dismembered body under the surface of the water. These three bodies on the right side of the lake look nothing like the rest, are probably not from Whitechapel and torsos are not how our Jack does things.
Twelve, says the young policeman. But no one was killed in 1887 and only one in 1889 and one in 1990. What happened in 1888 sounds like the work of one man. The sergeant says, 71 violent deaths in 1887, two suicides and 69 accidents, believe that and you will believe anything. Back then the police avoided recording murders. But they recorded murders in 1888, says the young policeman. They didn’t have much choice, says the sergeant. I blame Emma Smith. She walks into a police station in April 1888 and tells us she has been attacked by three men. Two days later she dies in hospital. H Division couldn’t fake that as an accident. So it started with Emma Smith, says the young policeman. Not quite, says the sergeant. Annie Millwood and Ada Wilson were attacked in February and March. Neither was mutilated but each of their attackers had a knife. Someone persuaded the coroner that Annie did it to herself, and Ada, who survived, said she was robbed. So these three women weren’t Ripper victims, says the young policeman. Not likely but we don’t have to believe a daft coroner and Ada and Emma. The sergeant shrugs his shoulders and says, Ada and Emma were on the game. They’re not going to say it was done by customers. Don’t forget Martha Tabram. She is the last in this bundle of five that are at the front of the lake. Martha was stabbed thirty nine times. She looks as bad as some of those in the middle of the lake. It sounds like something by Jack except Martha was seen with a soldier before she was killed and the wounds are stabs rather than slashes. Let’s push these five under the lake. You’ve only mentioned four, says the young policeman. You said five were killed before the ‘canonical five’. The first of them was Fairy Fay but we do not have to worry about her, says the sergeant. I had to mention Fairy but she didn’t exist. The murder of Fairy was the creation of gossips, which is why she was not recorded as a murder. And why we started with thirteen victims, says the young policeman. Yes son, says the sergeant.
That means we have seven left, says the young policeman, the ‘canonical five’ in the middle and the two on the left side of the lake. You’ve pushed under the surface of the lake the three outside Whitechapel and the five but really four that happened before the ‘canonical five’. The sergeant nods. Let us look at the two at the left side of the lake, he says. These two were killed after the ‘canonical five’. Rose Mylett was the last woman killed in Whitechapel in 1888. The inquest said she was strangled but the police thought she had died of natural causes. Either way she can go under the surface of the lake. There is one more woman on the left side of the lake. Alice McKenzie was killed in July 1889 and she is the victim that was recorded as the one Whitechapel murder for that year. This time there were stabbings and mutilations. The Ripper had come back, says the young policeman. Some thought so, says the sergeant, but others in the police did not. Even the doctors couldn’t agree about whether Jack had returned. The stabbings in the neck were not as deep as those found on the ‘canonical five’, and there were not as many wounds. This murder happened almost a year after the ‘canonical five’. Few believed Jack could have stayed quiet that long. These two go under the surface of the lake.
It just leaves the ‘canonical five’ in the middle of the lake, says the young policeman. I didn’t know they called these five women the ‘canonical five’. They haven’t, says the sergeant, but mark my words they will. So Jack did no more than five, those killed between the end of August and early November, says the young policeman. Have a good look at those five, says the sergeant. I can’t see them, says the young policeman, you’re imagining them. If you could, says the sergeant, you’d see that the tall one just has her throat cut. This is Liz Stride and she was the first victim on the night of the double event at the end of September. People assumed that Jack killed Liz but was interrupted before he could mutilate her. Forty-five minutes after PC Williams found the dead body of Liz, another copper on his beat, PC Watkins, discovered the body of Catherine Eddowes. Imagine, though, if it was a coincidence and someone other than the Ripper killed Liz. No one believes that, says the young policeman. Not yet they don’t but mark my words, says the sergeant, some day some will. It means Liz Stride goes under the surface of the lake, says the young policeman. Leave her there for now, says the sergeant.
The young policeman imagines the five remaining bodies floating in the middle of the lake but also thinks about the ten others that have sunk below the surface. It could be as many as fifteen and as few as four that the Ripper killed, he says. This time the sergeant says nothing. You’ve thrown the bodies of ten women below the surface, says the young policeman. I had my reasons, says the sergeant, as do those who just believe the ‘canonical five’ were the only victims of the Ripper. How and when the women were killed is important. You’re a policeman now, son, you can’t go jumping to conclusions. But, says the young policeman, one murder in 1887, one in 1889 and one in 1890 and all these murders by different people in one year, 1888. It doesn’t make sense. But it doesn’t make much sense believing it was all done by one man, says the sergeant. Start thinking about the fifteen women that were murdered and you’ll finish up going around in circles. Mark my words, they‘ll be talking about this Ripper in another hundred years.
The young policeman says, we don’t know who did it but it’s worse than that because we don’t even know what he did. Come on, it’s not as bad as all that, says the sergeant. We know what he definitely did, what he might have done and what he could have done and we know when it all happened. There’s enough in all that to write a book and argue all sorts. I can’t see anyone doing that, says the young policeman.
Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.