Catherine Eddowes

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

29 THE TORSO MURDERS

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Most men make mistakes in their pursuit of love and female companionship. The majority survive but some need serious help. On the 2nd of October 1888 The Times contained a report about the female torso that was discovered in the foundations of Scotland Yard the day before. The body was decomposed, infested with maggots and missing a head, arms and legs. The Times correspondent admitted that it was a ‘horrible spectacle’ but he somehow decided that the victim was a ‘remarkably fine young woman’. We are obliged to wonder where that particular journalist found love and companionship.

In 1882, 554 corpses were recovered from the River Thames. 227 of these were given open verdicts by the coroners because no one was sure just what had happened. In 1887 there were 18,004 persons reported as missing. London had plenty of private detectives and they, the police and others located about half. Those located were returned to family and friends and/or the people the missing had walked away from.  Apart from the 85 suicides half of the 18,004 disappeared into the crowds of London.

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Thankfully the victims that were killed, decapitated or dismembered were fewer. Most of them were women but not all. In 1857 a carpetbag full of male body parts was found somewhere around where beautiful Vivian Leigh met handsome Robert Taylor in the classic weepie movie Waterloo Bridge.   The owners of the carpetbag and the male body parts were not identified.   Even more gruesome was the discovery of a headless woman in September 1873.   Parts of the body were scattered across Battersea, Nine Elms and Woolwich but an additional frisson of horror was provided by the face and scalp that were washed up on the shore at Limehouse.

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Almost twelve months later in June 1874 a headless body with no arms and just one leg was recovered from the riverbank at Putney. In 1879 a box washed up against the shore at Barnes. The box contained the torso and legs of Julia Martha Thomas. Her skull was subsequently discovered in Richmond in 2010.   Well before that in 1836 the head of Hannah Brown was found at the Regent’s Canal near Edgeware Road. In 1884 the unidentified head of a woman was found in a mews near Tottenham Court Road.

There are four more abandoned torsos and, because their discoveries occurred in a period that ranged from May 1887 to September 1889, they may or may not have connections with Jack the Ripper. Carpenter Frederick August Wildbore discovered the torso that was left in the foundations of Scotland Yard. The discovery happened the day after Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered. The victim had been murdered some time before the torso was found. The torso had decomposed and was wrapped in a newspaper dated the 24th of August although that does not necessarily date the death of the victim.   Maggots cannot talk and they are invariably reluctant to be witnesses but in this instance they existed as important evidence. Dr Bond examined what was left of the body and concluded that the torso belonged to a 20 years old Caucasian woman, which may or may not have been a relief to the correspondent from The Times.

Whoever left the torso at Scotland Yard it took effort and a physical struggle. The Metropolitan Police Headquarters at Scotland Yard was in the process of being built, and the site was surrounded by a wall eight feet high. The embarrassment to the police caused by an abandoned torso in their new, essential and modern headquarters would be described by modern day football fans as serious banter. They All Love Jack author Bruce Robinson insists that the corpse was left by Jack the Ripper. Four days after Frederick August Wildbore stumbled over what he thought might be a slab of bacon a letter was sent to the Central News Agency by someone who signed himself as Jack the Ripper. The letter writer insisted he was not responsible for the torso left at Scotland Yard. Robinson thinks the letter was a fake prepared by someone in the Metropolitan Police to prevent the Ripper scandal being given a fresh and embarrassing dimension by the Press.   The timing of the Ripper murders and the discovery of the torso feel like more than a coincidence but not everyone will be as convinced as Robinson that the letter was a fake.   But its delivery to the Central News Agency, rather than the police or a newspaper, and it being sent so soon after the discovery of the torso justifies Bruce Robinson at least having doubts about the claims of the police.

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Less controversial but still chronologically relevant was the torso that was witnessed floating in the Thames near Rainham. The head, arms, upper chest and legs were missing. The sighting happened on the 11th of May 1887. In the next two months, 11 separate body parts were found along the Thames around Temple and Battersea and also in the Regents Park Canal. The head was not recovered.   The victim was a Caucasian woman aged between 25 and 40 years old.

In June 1889, and ten months after Mary Jane Kelly the last of the ‘canonical five’ victims was murdered, a female torso was found at Horsleydown in Southwark.   The torso was wrapped in an apron.   Body parts were found along the river at Battersea, Nine Elms and Limehouse.  Again the head was not recovered but the victim was identified.   The name of the victim was Elizabeth Jackson. She was a prostitute who lived in Chelsea. Elizabeth was eight months pregnant when she was murdered. If the torso crimes had a common murderer then there were many missing heads or mementoes, something to kiss at night before a twisted killer went to bed.   As in the disposal of the body at Scotland Yard, there was a hint of sly macabre humour. The right thigh of Elizabeth Jackson was left in the garden of a house in Chelsea Square that had belonged to Percy Shelley.   The thigh may have been a reference or even a tribute to the novel ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. A thigh in the garden would have been one less limb for the famous crazed scientist to worry about.

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Before the summer of 1889 had disappeared there was another appearance by a torso. This time the discovery was made by a policeman.   On the 10th of September 1889, Police Constable Bennett was walking his beat in Pinchin Street. Under a railway arch the policeman found a female torso wrapped in a piece of old chemise. The head and legs were missing. As with the body found in the foundations at Scotland Yard, the body was decomposing. The smell of putrid flesh had made PC Bennett curious. He has to be given some credit for persisting. The hands of the victim did not indicate that they had been used for manual labour.   Although the identification was never confirmed a news agency speculated that the victim was Lydia Hart a local prostitute. Hart had disappeared a few days before the torso was discovered.   The abdomen was mutilated, and comparisons were made with the injuries suffered by the Ripper victims.   A journalist claimed that the womb of the victim was missing. James Monro was Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1889. In a police report he observed that the estimated date of the murder of Lydia Hart was the 8th of September, which coincided with the anniversary of the murder of Ripper victim Annie Chapman.

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Anyone who denies the possibility that the four torsos discovered between 1887 and 1889 belonged to victims of Jack the Ripper has to accept the premise that in those years there would have been two savage serial killers operating in London.  Nine female torsos were discovered in the years between 1873 and 1889, and four of them were decapitated and dismembered in the two years the Ripper was operating. The coincidence is sinister.   Afforded for his murder of Mary Jane Kelly the discrete comfort of a living room in Miller’s Court the Ripper was far from satisfied with mere disembowelling.   He was more than capable of altering his methods to suit circumstances.   The truth is that none of it adds up. Throwing bodies over walls eight feet high amounts to something more than a prank. The torsos may have been a consequence of ad hoc crimes by violent men and criminals, and the decapitations were nothing more than an overcomplicated attempt to destroy evidence. It is the admittedly small peak in numbers around the activities of the Ripper that should make anyone curious as to what happened. The possibilities are not exclusive. Not just the Ripper but also others may have left torsos behind. If only we knew what happened. There have been plenty of suggestions but the proposals defer rather than encourage decisions.   Some mysteries deserve to be accepted for what they are, events without explanation and as strange as the remark from the correspondent from The Times who imagined a ‘remarkably fine young woman’ amongst the maggots.

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 Jackso02n and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

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

26 A REWARD FOR INFORMATION

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Follow the money is a hackneyed phrase but it has merit. Money is important to those who have power and perhaps more important than anything else. Both the benevolent economic reforms that followed the Second World War and the oppressive neoliberal reaction thirty five years later were informed by a desire for the rich to make as much money as possible. But scale is important, and there is a big difference between growing a capitalist economy and offering a reward for information about Jack the Ripper. The amounts quoted for the rewards for assistance in his capture varied between £100 and £5,000. To understand why Home Office officials in 1888 were disinclined to offer a reward it is not necessary to follow the money.   There is little to follow.  None of the amounts considered would have meant a budget holder in the Home Office realigning expenditure priorities.

Politicians and senior bureaucrats are not without vanity and conceit.   The reluctance for Sir Charles Warren, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and his Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, to sanction a reward had more to do with a concern about prestige and status than forfeiting actual cash. The average wage in 1888 was around £50 a year. Even skilled men like masons and carpenters earned less than £75 a year.   Six days after the double event when Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes were killed, Sir Charles Warren reacted. He had previously rejected the notion of a reward. His response to the escalation in violence was to raise the stakes and suggest a £5,000 reward.   Eddowes was killed in the City District of London, and the City Police had not prevaricated.  Sir James Fraser, Commissioner City Police, had immediately offered a reward of £500 for information about the killing of Eddowes. For a workman in the 19th Century, £500 would equate to what he would earn in ten years. £5,000 would feel similar to a life-changing win on the lottery today.

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The use above of the word stakes is appropriate.   Policemen and politicians discussed whether a reward should be offered, what the amount should be and if the reward could be complemented with a free pardon for an accomplice who was not the perpetrator. Read today about those discussions and it feels like an analysis of a poker game.   Henry Matthews, the Home Secretary, worried about being described as incompetent by the Daily Telegraph. Weighed down by circumspect advice, Matthews can be forgiven for having difficulty in distinguishing the serious proposal from the bluff.  Perhaps Sir Charles Warren proposed £5,000 as a way of deterring a timid Home Secretary sensitive to the growing criticism in the daily newspapers. Warren may have been ruffled by the £500 reward offered by Sir James Fraser on behalf of the City Police. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner had already had an argument about the writing left on the wall in Goulston Street.  After the writing had been discovered there had been a test of strength between the Metropolitan Police and the City Police.  Perhaps Warren suggested £5,000 because only a large sum could reflect his importance to London policing.  At some point, though, Warren did change his mind about offering a reward.  Maybe he was convinced by his own arguments.  In October, a month after the double event, Warren wrote to Matthews and pleaded that the Ripper case was unique and required a reversal of previous Metropolitan Police policy not to pay rewards. The policy had been adopted in 1884. Warren argued that within the police he could only find one person who thought non-payment of rewards was a good idea.

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Henry Matthews was more inclined to accept the advice of the Civil Servants in his Department. On the 5th of October and before Warren presented his arguments Matthews wrote a memo to one of his four private secretaries. The chap who received the memo was called Evelyn Ruggles Brise.  In his memo Matthews suggested a house-to-house search in Whitechapel, not because he expected a positive result but because he realised some action was required from him. The house-to-house search was not an example of decisive action by the Metropolitan Police but a ruse by a politician designed to deflect public criticism. In the same memo Matthews stated Sir Charles Warren had ‘modified his opinion to a considerable extent’.  In the next paragraph in the memo Matthews revealed the real reason for his hostility to offering a reward. ‘Such an offer so far from conciliating public opinion (and that is admittedly the only reason for the step) would cover me with ridicule and contempt – as having given way to pressure….’

And there we have it. Innocent women were being slaughtered in Whitechapel but the number one concern for Matthews and his advisors with the fancy names was that the public would not realise that their Home Secretary was spineless. The first reward to be offered had been by the Whitechapel MP, Samuel Montagu.   The amount was £100. Montagu was born in Liverpool and educated at the Liverpool Institute, which is now closed but remains a landmark within the City.  Much later George Harrison and Paul McCartney were students at the Institute. Montague became a banker, established a bank in his name but, although rich, he was never as affluent as Paul McCartney.

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The abandonment of rewards in 1884 by the Metropolitan Police rested upon the belief that rewards encouraged people to give false information. The payment of rewards may also have required procedures that were difficult to control.   Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman had been murdered before the £100 reward by Montagu was offered. Nichols and Chapman were the first two victims in the arbitrary ‘canonical five’ but there had also been attacks on other women prior to these two murders. The offer of a reward by Montagu was a response to what was regarded as a murderous epidemic in his constituency.  The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee led by local businessman George Lusk paid for posters that promised ‘a substantial reward for information’. The same poster described the police as inadequate.  After Eddowes and Stride were murdered a £500 reward from the Corporation of London was approved by the Lord Mayor.

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The newspapers in London supported the idea of rewards and believed that the policy adopted in 1884 by the Metropolitan Police should have been rescinded.   To journalists the absence of a reward was evidence that the Home Secretary was a ditherer and the Commissioner Metropolitan Police an unimpressive martinet and autocrat. The popular left wing newspapers argued that the refusal to permit rewards was a consequence of indifference to the plight of the poor.   At the inquest of victim Mary Nichols, the foreman of the jury had said ‘if it had been a rich person that was murdered there would have been a reward of £1,000 offered; but as it was a poor unfortunate hardly any notice was taken.’ George Lusk and Joseph Aarons on behalf of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph and expressed a similar grievance. They believed that a reward would ‘convince the poor and humble residents of our East End that the government authorities are as much anxious to avenge the blood of these unfortunate victims as they were the assassinations of Lord Cavendish and Mr Burke’. In the radical newspaper The Star, the Home Secretary was described as a man who would ‘pose and simper over the brink of a volcano’. The Telegraph concluded that Henry Matthews was a ‘fantastic failure’. Both right and left wing newspapers were united in condemning the reluctance to offer a reward. The division in the Press was geographical rather than political.   Northern newspaper editors were suspicious about money being given away to southerners and also inclined to be indifferent to London politicians.

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Mary Jane Kelly was murdered on the 9th of November. Sir Charles Warren resigned the day before and he departed without a decision ever being made to offer a reward. The murder of Kelly was the most savage of all the Whitechapel murders but it astonished rather than inspired the press. Perhaps there was a consensus that Jack the Ripper had spent his desires and everyone really did expect that his crimes would cease. The silence that followed the murder of Kelly may have a more sinister explanation.   Conspiracy theorists have claimed that there were secrets to hide and politicians, police and the press suppressed additional news about the Ripper and his crimes. Whatever the reasons or circumstances the suggestion of the reward was, after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, no longer a subject for discussion and debate by the authorities.  Today the muddled history of the rewards that were offered, the crimes of Jack the Ripper and the odd silence that descended after the dreadful crime in Miller’s Court inspires more thought and argument than it did at the end of 1888.   It rained and there was no fog the night Mary Jane Kelly was destroyed.   There has been plenty of fog since and not all of it has been in London.

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.