Author: Howard Jackson

Howard Jackson was born in Merseyside in 1948. He still lives there and has spent most of his life in Liverpool, although he has also lived in London, Nottingham, Glasgow and Preston. He reads, watches movies, listens to music (a lot), supports Liverpool Football Club and climbs hills in the Lake District and Yorkshire. Though not a keen fan of travelling he has toured extensively around Brazil and the Southern States of America. These journeys were a consequence of an interest in Brazilian history and the music of the American South.

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

24 – VICTORIAN SPIRITUALISM

 

7fc997bcd5fa49b07053dd66bc4d28bf

 

Like rock and roll and hamburgers, the British imported spiritualism from the Americans. In 1848 the Fox sisters set the ball rolling except the ball was an apple. They tied one to a piece of string and faked knockings on walls. The Fox sisters called the knockings on the wall rapping. The three sisters were white Americans from New York but rapping had to start somewhere. In 1888, Jack the Ripper committed what is believed to be his final murder.  In the same year and after a decent career as mediums the Fox sisters admitted that the calls from the spirits were phoney. British mediums also endured accusations of fraud. It did not help that the more successful practitioners were those that were more likely to be exposed. Evidence against spiritualism accumulated, and communicating with the dead became less fashionable amongst the educated.   It may be just a coincidence but at the end of the 19th Century and, as interest waned in spiritualism, beards on Victorian men became shorter.

Robert James Lees remains known because of an exaggerated connection to Jack the Ripper. He has been recreated as a character in at least three Jack the Ripper movies. Actors play him as a bohemian non-conformist outsider but Lees worked for four years as a journalist. He spent two years on the Manchester Guardian before moving to London where he met W T Stead the hard headed campaigning editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. The two men had an interest in social reform and spiritualism.  They became friends.  The desire to communicate with the dead has attracted sincere enthusiasts, cynical charlatans, the misguided, the deluded and those who have a gift for clairvoyance that is beyond explanation.  In the Victorian age spiritualism became an industry. It could only be sustained through fakery.

tabletippint1854TheRappers

There were more women spiritualists than men but the blokes earned more money and were able to cultivate celebrity.  Audiences were likely to regard women as more sincere and spiritual but both genders felt the need to add show business tricks. Victorian spiritualism allowed the convincing female mediums to establish independent and well-remunerated careers.  The popular mediums would hold séances and charge a guinea a person.  Discount rates were available for block bookings of ten or more. In response to the Jack the Ripper murders some mediums held séances to seek advice from the spirits. Nothing of worth came from the séances but it filled a couple of theatres.

Not all the objections to spiritualism were scientific. Powerful men objected to women becoming economically independent and famous. Insecure and indulged Victorian males were not ready for women with psychological powers that gave them influence and confidence. There also existed rivalries, which meant that mediums were content for their rivals to be exposed or rubbished. The market provided affluent customers. Money being spent meant that there was always competition for business. Confessions and retractions like the one made by the Fox sisters in 1888 weakened the industry and confirmed the doubts of not just the critics but also disillusioned many of the devotees.

vintage-victorian-spiritualist-photo

If spiritualism today is obliged to convince and suggest the authentic, in the Victorian age customers wanted the spectacular. Listening to knocking on the table somehow lacked long lasting appeal. Mediums forgot about the apples of the Fox sisters and added other effects to their armoury. They became possessed by spirits and spoke in voices that sounded different from their own. Levitation, movement of furniture, chemical explosions and the appearance of supposed spirits were popular tricks. The performances were enhanced by the skills of conjurers and magicians.   How and why fairground deceits invaded respectable and affluent homes is not so mysterious.

Today young people take drugs. Some stay the course but most relent. Others are changed by the discovery of something hidden and let it change their lives. The drugs change but the belief amongst many that they should be tried persists through generations. Cocaine replaced LSD after the sixties, and the Ouija board progressed from a pen and paper to a designer object. The Ouija board has had as many versions as the Apple smart phone. Since their introduction in the 15th Century the design of Tarot cards has been consistent but it was in the Victorian age that they became popular. The Victorians enjoyed the benefits of technology, and imperial conquest gave them Captain Kirk confidence to seek other frontiers.  Aldous Huxley would have approved.

168

The doubters wanted the spectacular tricks to be performed in controlled conditions. The mediums were affronted and claimed they needed a sympathetic environment. Purists assumed that this meant a dark sitting room but the real entertainers took their shows on the road. Sympathetic environments apparently included a theatre and paying audience, and that weakened both the argument and the product. The same thing happened later in rock and roll. Audiences like big spectacular shows but the critics and the sniffy want small-scale authenticity.

Even before she became controversial, Florence Cooke had a gift for entertainment. In her séances she would disappear into a cabinet and reappear as the ghost Katie King. Sometimes she would use an accomplice. Katie was a lively spirit. In one séance she levitated above her guests, and her clothes fell to the floor. In others she would flirt with the male guests and let them kiss and fondle her. Séances could be sexy. For the pious a dark room, teasing behaviour and a women in charge meant immorality. Florence Cook agreed to perform séances in the home of eminent physicist and chemist Sir William Crookes. The spiritualist convinced Crookes that Katie King was a genuine spirit but later other mediums revealed how she had tricked Crookes. It did not help that Crookes was short sighted and reluctant to wear glasses. The defenders of Cook insisted that they had seen two women in séances but her reputation suffered. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle felt the exposure of Florence Cook caused irreparable damage to the practice of spiritualism.   His arguments in favour of the mediums became less passionate. Charles Dickens also attended séances but he was not as persuaded as Conan Doyle, and his interest in spiritualism waned. He tried it because that was what people who had money and curiosity did in the Victorian age. Spiritualists were invited to both Buckingham Palace and the White House.   In Russia the mystic and holy man Rasputin thumbed a lift on a cart and took his spiritual powers to St Petersburg. What happened next is well known. Interestingly, he had a really long beard.

1582830-lees1

 

Robert James Lees was born in 1849 and in the small Leicestershire town of Hinckley. The locals are unpretentious, friendly, support the Leicester football team and voted in large numbers for Brexit. Not a lot happens in small town Hinckley. This may be why a blue plaque has been attached to the home where Robert James Lees was born. Historical plaques are normally restricted to eminent Victorians or dead rock stars from the sixties. In 1888, Lees was living in London. His diaries record that he contacted policemen in both the City Police and Scotland Yard and suggested that his skills as a clairvoyant might be useful in locating and identifying Jack the Ripper.   The offer did not attract interest from within the two police forces.   And that is the extent of the involvement of Robert James Lees into the investigation of Jack the Ripper.

 

The rest is made up nonsense. Again, like rock and roll and hamburgers, it was imported from the USA. A reporter for the Sunday Times Herald in Chicago claimed that Lees had seen a man board an omnibus in Notting Hill and disembark at Marble Arch. Lees had a vision that the man was Jack the Ripper. At some point Lees managed to convince the police that his vision had merit. Lees led the police to the fashionable home of the man from the omnibus. The police discovered Sir William Gull the physician to the Royal Family and, presumably after a confession, put him inside a lunatic asylum.  This invention has supported other conspiracy theories. It has provided added detail for allegations against the freemasons and allowed some to claim that Jack the Ripper was the Duke of Clarence. Even by Ripper standards the inventions are thin. Gull was infirm and too weak to kill anyone. The Duke of Clarence liked to spend his wealth abroad and is disappointingly absent around important events like murders and a marriage he was supposedly anxious to conceal. The report from American journalists that Lees left London because he was unable to endure terrible visions of the Ripper victims being slaughtered is also an invention.

Lees-709-1

Robert James Lees died in Leicester. He was 81 years old. It is tempting to imagine an old radical with clairvoyant gifts dying peacefully in his sleep.   His name rather than his spirit lives on in Ripper novels and movies. This may be fitting for a man who was able to see into the future or, because his character was reinvented, nothing more than an irony.

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.

 

Advertisements

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

23 – THE WRITING ON THE WALL

Screen Shot 2012-06-26 at 22.59.06 

Conspiracy or cock up, either way whatever occurred in Goulston Street in the early hours of the 30th September 1888 points towards something odorous. In simpler language it stinks. This is what happened. At 2.55 a.m. PC Long passed 118-119 Goulston Street, the entrance to Wentworth Model Dwellings. On his previous tour he had passed the archway at 2.20 a.m. The hallway was about five foot deep and dark but PC Long noticed a piece of apron on the floor below the stairs that led to the dwellings or flats.   The apron was smeared with blood.  PC Long stepped into the passageway and saw that there was writing on the wall.  Reports are vague about which wall but Superintendent Arnold stated that the chalk writing ‘was in such a position that it would have been rubbed out by the shoulders of persons passing in and out of the building.’ That implies the writing had not been there long and it was left on a wall at the side of the archway, perhaps the wall at the right of the entrance.   The wall was divided by a border, and the writing was on the black dado, the lower half. The bricks above the border were white. This is what the writing said or almost said. ‘The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.’ Amongst the witnesses there was a difference of opinion about the spelling of the word Jews, Juwes or Juews and where the negative was placed in the sentence.

Prior to the discovery of the apron and the writing on the wall two murders had been committed that morning. Liz Stride was discovered dead around 1 a.m., and 45 minutes later PC Edward Watkins found the mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square.  Apart from being the scene of a brutal crime the location is important because Mitre Square was covered by the City Police.   Goulston Street came under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police.

goul2

After discovering the apron and seeing the writing on the wall PC Long called PC 190H, whose name is not recorded. PC Long asked PC 190H to keep guard at the entrance to 118-119 Goulston Street. Detectives arrived and these included Superintendent Arnold from the Metropolitan Police. Detective Halse and Major Smith who had visited the body of Eddowes in the mortuary also came to Goulston Street. Because both the Metropolitan Police and the City Police were interested in the discoveries by PC Long, more detectives arrived. Plenty were available because the City Police had recruited additional men to patrol the streets of their territory.  They had hoped to prevent the murders in Whitechapel spilling over into the City.

Superintendent Arnold of the Metropolitan Police wanted the writing to be washed away because, so it was said, it would inflame anti-Jewish feeling in Whitechapel. The dwellings at Goulston Street were occupied by local Jewish people. Superintendent Arnold left an inspector in charge until Sir Charles Warren could make a decision about what should happen to the writing.  Armed with a bucket and sponge the inspector waited. Superintendent McWilliam of City Police also made some decisions. He ordered the residences in the building to be searched. Unlike Superintendent Arnold the City Police Superintendent wanted the writing on the wall to be at least photographed. Superintendent McWilliam visited the mortuary and matched the piece of apron to the apron that the victim Eddowes was wearing. Whether McWilliam expected the writing to be photographed while he was absent is not known. Despite the difference in opinion and the presence of detectives who had a territorial interest in what happened next both Superintendents felt they could leave the scene of the crime.

goulston-street-clue-staircase

Sir Charles Warren arrived at Goulston Street at 5.00 a.m.  Following discussion and perhaps heated argument Warren ordered the writing to be washed away. This happened at 5.30 a.m. and as daylight arrived. Without the daylight the arguments may have been more protracted. No photographs were taken. The evidence was lost.   Six weeks later Sir Charles Warren was no longer Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The official explanation is that the writing on the wall if seen could have caused an anti-Semitic riot. Superintendent Arnold mentioned what had happened after the rumours of a Jewish killer called Leather Apron. There had been ill feeling to suspicious characters but no riot. Neither was there a riot after the writing became public knowledge. Even if the fears of rioting were valid they only justified concealing the existence of the evidence. There were no grounds for destruction. When the writing was discovered, the police thought they were hunting a man who had killed six women with escalating savagery.   A compromise had been suggested before Sir Charles Warren arrived.  The writing could have been washed away after a photograph was taken. In view of the misgivings of the rival police force it is odd that Warren made such an emphatic decision.

18663691_303

Opinion regarding the behaviour of Sir Charles Warren at Goulston Street has become polarised. His defendants argue that he was right to be concerned about social unrest. Some of his critics claim a masonic conspiracy and insist that the actual spelling of Jews in the writing was either ‘Juwes’ or ‘Juewes’.   Their belief is that ‘Juwes’ refers not to the Jewish people but to the three men who murdered Hiram Abiff the architect of Solomon’s Temple. The three men were called Jubelo, Jubela and Jubelum. Sir Charles Warren was an enthusiastic freemason who had excavated below Solomon’s Temple.  Some of the conspiracy theories to emerge have been fanciful but a masonic conspiracy does not have to exist for us to wonder whether Sir Charles Warren that morning reacted to the writing as a freemason rather than an objective policeman.   We should be wary of creative theories but we are obliged to be suspicious.

Sir Charles Warren had Chief Inspector Donald Swanson employed at Scotland Yard to ensure that all aspects of the investigation reached the desk of the Commissioner. Neither man was disposed to visit the East End.  Somehow a senior policeman who had resisted viewing the scenes where brutal murders had occurred was persuaded in the early hours of the morning to visit Goulston Street and read a scrawl on a wall.

24071265897_087a1e0591_b

Suspicion is enhanced by the action of the police that followed. The reports from PC Long, Superintendent Arnold and Sir Charles Warren were delayed for almost a week and then all arrived on the same day. The suspicious believe that the police were taking time to reinvent what happened and line up their accounts. The newspapers reported that ‘Juwes’ was how the Polish immigrants referred to Jewish people. Without any supporting evidence Warren suggested that the spelling was probably Irish. Again it feels like misdirection had occurred.

The claim by Chief Inspector Walter Dew that the writing was no more than graffiti typical of the area is unconvincing. Casual graffiti is written where it is obvious and can be seen by passers by.  This is why motorway bridges and the sides of subway trains became popular locations. The writing on the wall was left in a dark doorway and next to a piece of leather apron stained with the blood of the most recent victim. The capital letters in the sentence were recorded as being three quarters of an inch high and the rest were in proportion. This is not typical graffiti and its coexistence alongside a piece of bloodied apron is an odd coincidence. It may or may not have been teasing from a killer who needed to pass some time out of sight.  But, if that were the case, why would Jack the Ripper be carrying a piece of chalk?

1608031500

 

Between the polemical arguments there is a mundane explanation that has so far been missed. The murder of Catherine Eddowes created a problem for the City and Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police had authority over the clues, and the City Police had a murder to investigate in Mitre Square.   The likelihood of conflict and bruised feelings in a busy and claustrophobic archway at Goulston Street on the morning of the 30th September is not remote. An argument over authority could have easily escalated into a turf war that soon became an irrational battle. Sir Charles Warren had already been bruised by his arguments with Charles Monro over the independence of the CID. The dispute at 118-119 Goulston Street may have been an unbearable insult for an exasperated and weary man.

happy-days

But there are a lot of freemasons in the British Police, and a man who could be compelled to irrationality by a simple dispute with a neighbouring police force is also capable of responding to writing on a wall that suggests freemason knowledge. The dismissal of the alternative interpretation of the word Juwes or Juewes has been perfunctory. The claim that in 1888 there was only one masonic term for the three ‘ruffians’ that murdered the architect of Solomon’s Temple feels not just silly and defensive but deceitful.  Conspiracy or cockup are the alternative theories of history, and that morning of the 30th September 1888 Sir Charles Warren managed to provide evidence to support either interpretation. Over the 130 years that have elapsed since that damp morning in Goulston Street the colleagues and supporters of Sir Charles Warren have not helped him.

 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.