From Hell

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

39 GEORGE HUTCHINSON

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George Hutchinson was born in 1859 but because of the complicated way human beings respond to each other he has acquired millennial status. In the Ripper world George Hutchinson is fashionable. In 1999 author Bob Hinton published From Hell. Hinton produced points that added to the existing and widespread doubt that existed about the witness statement that Hutchinson had given to Inspector Abberline. Hinton also claimed that George Hutchinson was Jack the Ripper. Hutchinson is not the favourite suspect but he is millennial and fashionable.

Hutchinson saw the last of the canonical victims Mary Jane Kelly talking to a well-dressed man. Kelly took the man to her home in Miller’s Court. So far three men have been identified as the person who might be the George Hutchinson that on the 9th of November 1888 stood in Commercial Street near Miller’s Court.  Bob Hinton traced a George Hutchinson that in 1859 was born in Shadwell. This George worked as a barman and had three wives. In his book The Ripper And The Royals the author Melvyn Fairclough revealed that someone called Reginald Hutchinson believed that his father was the witness in the Ripper crime. According to Reginald, his father had claimed that he knew one of the Ripper victims.   Reginald also challenged the traditional view that George Hutchinson was an unskilled man who endured long periods of unemployment. Reginald stated that his father became a plumber and was also an accomplished violinist and ice-skater. Well, someone in all this is skating on thin ice.

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Like Hinton, Australian author and journalist Stephen Senise believes that George Hutchinson is Jack the Ripper.   Senise has examined boat arrivals, looked at photographs and various documents and signatures. He reckons that in 1888 George Hutchinson travelled to Australia on the Ormuz. In 1896 two young boys were assaulted by George Hutchinson. The crime resulted in him being sentenced to two years in prison. Senise argues that Hutchinson number three killed the women of Whitechapel to provoke anti-Semitism within England. This argument is undermined by the descriptions of the murderer included in the witness statements Hutchinson signed before Inspector Abberline.  Hutchinson first described the man he saw as pale.  Later he made a statement to the newspapers and described a man ‘with dark complexion and dark moustache’. Anti-Semitism strong enough to inspire a murderous crime wave should inspire consistent accusations.

The two witness statements from Hutchinson are extensive and detailed. Most Ripper books produce them in full.  It is the detail in the statements that has persuaded most writers to assume Hutchinson was lying.   In his statement Hutchinson recalled talking to Mary Jane Kelly and hearing a conversation between Kelly and a well-dressed man. He also remembered a red handkerchief that the man gave the victim. The description of the man offered by Hutchinson includes references to eye lashes, a trimmed astrakhan collar and cuffs, a waistcoat, a thick gold chain, a horse shoe pin in a black tie and so on.   Hutchinson also mentioned how he had been alerted by the man being so well dressed. Because Hutchinson had known Mary Jane Kelly for some years and was in the habit of lending her ‘a few shillings’, he waited outside Miller’s Court for three quarters of an hour.  Or so he said.

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Witnesses are vague regarding details.  They are most reliable in identifying gender and height. After that the results are inconsistent. Philip Sugden in The Complete Jack the Ripper allows Hutchinson more leeway than most. Sugden concedes that there are two discrepancies between the statements Hutchinson gave to the Police and the Press but he is impressed by how the second statement to the Press corroborates everything else that is in the first statement. Sugden claims that there are over forty points of corroboration between the two statements. The items that do not match, though, are important or should be to a master of detail. The well-dressed man is either dark or pale or has a slight or heavy moustache.   Sugden is impressed by the conviction of Inspector Abberline and what the Inspector writes in his police report. ‘An important statement has been made by a man named George Hutchinson which I forward herewith. I have interrogated him this evening, and I am of opinion his statement is true.’

There is nothing in either witness statement to explain why Hutchinson waited three days until the evening after the inquest was concluded to visit the police station. Bob Hinton and those who believe that Hutchinson was the Ripper argue that Hutchinson reacted to the appearance of Sarah Lewis at the inquest. Lewis told the Coroner that she had seen a man waiting outside. The accusers of Hutchinson believe he visited the police with the intention of creating the existence of an alternative man and to deflect attention from himself.   Perhaps but most of us would have responded by going into hiding and relying on the anonymity provided by a densely populated metropolis.  Inspector Abberline assigned two detectives to Hutchinson, and the three men wandered around Whitechapel and searched for the man Hutchinson claimed to have seen.   The search ended in failure. Those who believe Hutchinson was the Ripper assert that Hutchinson taking part in the investigation is consistent with the behaviour of other serial killers, a desire to become part of the investigation.

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There is more. Until the millennial accusers arrived Ripperologists assumed that the detectives and Hutchinson were roaming the streets of Whitechapel in order to find the man who was seen talking to Kelly.   Despite the endorsement of Hutchinson added by Inspector Abberline to a confidential police report it is now argued by some that Abberline realised that the witness was Jack the Ripper. If that is the case, Inspector Abberline had an odd attitude towards public funds. Hutchinson was paid for the days he walked with the two detectives around Whitechapel. The payment amounted to what would have been a month’s wages for Hutchinson. Neither did Inspector Abberline prevent the Press making substantial payments to Hutchinson.

The witness statement by Hutchinson was detailed and dubious but the claim that witnesses are unreliable does not automatically strengthen the case against Hutchinson. All we can conclude is that Hutchinson belongs in the company of unreliable witnesses except in this instance he has more imagination than most. Bob Hinton makes decent points about what could have been seen on a murky Victorian Street. This scepticism was anticipated by the contemporary reaction in The Graphic newspaper. ‘Yet at two o’clock in the morning in a badly lighted thoroughfare, he observed more than most of us would observe in broad daylight.’ This makes sense but it leaves the problem of why and how a highly regarded policeman was seduced by what most would define as obvious nonsense.

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Abberline uses the word ‘interrogate’ to describe what happened between Hutchinson and the Inspector. He does not say interview. The reference to an interrogation implies an encounter that lasted for some time. The details that were provided by Hutchinson were a response to persistent prodding by Abberline.  And it is a thin line between probing the memory of someone and delving into the imagination of the sub-conscious.   Acting with the best of intentions, Inspector Abberline may have been as culpable in whatever invention emerged from the interrogation.

The case against Hutchinson relies too heavily on two issues.   These are him delaying for three days before telling the police what he had seen in Commercial Street and Hutchinson waiting outside Miller’s court for three quarters of an hour after seeing Mary Jane Kelly. Whatever the reason for the delay by Hutchinson it did not alarm the police. Neither did the story about waiting outside for forty-five minutes. The waiting outside may have been sinister or nothing more than an example of a hopeless unemployed man with nothing left but curiosity.  The police arrested around 40 people on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper.  None of them were taken around Whitechapel by two detectives. The norm was to take Ripper suspects down to the cells, interrogate and add the odd thump. This did not happen to George Hutchinson.

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I am as big a fan of Alfred Hitchcock as anyone but comparing what happened to the wives of a man who we are not even certain is George Hutchinson to the plot of Vertigo is conspiratorial fancy. The George Hutchinson that was born in Shadwell took his third wife to live in Carmarthenshire in Wales. Victim Mary Jane Kelly may or may not have lived in Carmarthenshire. The second wife of this particular Hutchinson changed her name to Mary Jane. That is a possible explanation as to why Hutchinson waited outside Miller’s Court. We should not, though, become excited. This George Hutchinson spent most of his life as a barman and, thanks to his close connections to his family, avoided unemployment. Hutchinson is an affectation rooted in too smart millennial revisionism. The actual Ripper remains unknown.

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.

 

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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

21 – FROM HELL, USA 2001

 

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This movie should be watched at midnight and in a dark room. Not because it is terrifying. From Hell is late night viewing for those whose brains need rest. And nothing soothes tired brain cells as much as the promise that the inexplicable will be wiped away by research and glib conclusions.  The myth of Jack The Ripper nags us like other mysteries. We cannot solve the puzzle of the unsolved murders but watching others make an attempt helps us to relax. Investigation promises order and progress, past chaos that can be wrapped neatly.

From Hell is based on a black and white graphic novel that recycled a familiar conspiracy theory about Jack The Ripper. The film has a different design. The colour photography in From Hell is good and has lots of reds and greens. It has a nostalgic feel and is a distance from the fake monochrome that is fashionable in colour movies today. Providing the TV is tuned properly, From Hell looks good in a dark room, and that is another reason for watching late at night. And the actors look fine as well.   Ian Holm is not as handsome as Johnny Depp or Heather Graham but he has great contact lenses, and they are used to splendid effect in two key scenes. The use of the contact lenses of Holm is inspired and it makes From Hell essential viewing.

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Johnny Depp is handsome and has trend appeal but he is a strange and fanciful choice for Inspector Abberline the policeman who was responsible for investigating the Ripper murders. In From Hell, Inspector Abberline is dreamy rather than methodical. Depp does whimsical somnambulism as well as anyone. It is tempting to say that Depp can play vacant dreamers in his sleep. The quiet voice and bemused expression have been around for so long someone should invent the word Deppy as an adjective for remote airheads. The Abberline creation in From Hell is neither like the real man nor the gruff creation in the original graphic novel. This Abberline takes opium and adds laudanum to his absinthe. The heart breaking Sergio Leone gangster movie Once Upon A Time In America began and ended in an opium den.   The same happens in From Hell.  Both heroes seek oblivion from a dreadful world and the pain of enduring the memory of lost opportunities.  A hostile society controlled by a small minority plus our inability to anticipate the future and the consequence of our decisions mean that most of us are obliged to waste our lives.  We have a sense of this at the end of From Hell but only if we remember Once Upon A Time In America.

Jack The Ripper was an outsider and an avenger with an appetite. His territory was the often overlooked wreckage of 19th Century urban London. In 1888 there were 1400 known prostitutes and 80 brothels amongst the 78,000 residents of Whitechapel. 1400 underestimates the extent of prostitution because other women would alternate selling their bodies with work that could not provide a regular income.  In From Hell the Ripper murderer is connected to the Royal Family. This explanation of the mystery has been rubbished by the experts but it makes a good tale. The myth would have persisted anyway but identifying Ripper as a gentleman gives it added resonance. The clash between the rich and the poor was more violent than some remember, and the actions of the Ripper remind us how capricious fate and unequal struggles can wreck lives and drain meaning from existence.

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From Hell opens with a quote from Jack The Ripper. The quote is repeated near the end of the film.  Jack claims that he has given birth to the 20th Century.  This is a good line, and there are not many in From Hell, but the line is not a consequence of serious thought. Slavery and selling opium to the Chinese were more important to the subsequent 20th Century than Jack The Ripper. Instead, he was the first serial killer to wander across the modern world and he remains unknown. We will always be interested.  The Ripper has metaphorical significance but it is restricted to his desire to turn over the stones that hid Victorian poverty from the sight of the affluent. This desire to lift stones and expose aberration and violence has remained, and the rest is history. Jack The Ripper appeared forty years after Edgar Allan Poe published The Murders In The Rue Morgue. Our never ending fascination with what may be under the stones may have always existed but Jack The Ripper and Edgar Allan Poe insisted we should also be baffled. George Bernard Shaw had a point when he described the mysterious slayer as a ‘demented genius’.

From Hell was directed by the Hughes Brothers. Their last film was The Book Of Eli and that, like all their films, received mixed reviews. They are African Americans and for most of their lives they were raised by a single, resolute and feminist mother. The Hughes Brothers listened to her and are sensitive to the exploitation of women.   The five female victims in From Hell are united through friendship and their pimps. More emphasis is given to the victims than is normal in Jack The Ripper fiction and this is a virtue. We still await the tale from a working class perspective rather than patrician outsiders but the lives of the poor are given more attention in From Hell.

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From Hell may look good on a large TV screen in the dark but the ears do suffer. Robbie Coltrane plays Sergeant Peter Godley the assistant to Abberline. He has a superior vocabulary but he is not eloquent.   Robbie Coltrane in From Hell is a walking one-man exposition model. His questions and clarification carry the plot. The tale is complex, especially when a conspiracy theory is added, but mistakes are made in the dialogue that could have been avoided. At times it feels like Depp and Coltrane are in a competition to deliver dreadful lines.  ‘They tell me you’re the best young surgeon in London,’ says Abberline.  This should win prizes but at a murder scene Coltrane chips in with, ‘Yes. This is Annie Chapman. Dark Annie they call her.’

And there are more. Robbie Coltrane began his career as a comedian, and that suggests that the film might be tongue in cheek. And, with a name like Godley, the Detective Sergeant is entitled to be a know all. But both the script and the graphic novel lack humour and irony.   No one in the film looks amused. The film may be stylish but we sense that the actors feel they are working in a dry project.

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Although graphic the murders do not shock or disturb. The victims are predestined to be slaughtered, and history, and a conspiracy that was prepared earlier, keep us at a safe distance. The most disturbing moments in the film take place in a lunatic asylum. These capture the heartlessness of the powerful and perhaps us all. Dickens alerted us to the redundancy of utilitarianism, and From Hell recognises and continues his protest. The visible wounds from the lobotomies set the teeth on edge.

The film has other worthwhile moments. The shot of how the South Bank of the Thames might have looked before it became the home of the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre suggests a different time and imagination.  Liz Moscrop is great and authentic as Queen Victoria and a pleasant alternative to the wild invention of Judie Dench in Mrs Brown.   The revelation that ‘the human heart is notoriously difficult to burn’ is an interesting thought and it fits this film. Twisted desires have a long history. The transformation of a respectable member of the establishment to the crazed assassin requires no more than acting skill and different contact lenses.  It is subtle and forces the audience to stare and think.

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Inevitably the film reminds us of the enduring tragedy of the British class system. These reminders are not always subtle. Rich whiskered buffoons make crass remarks about people they regard as social inferiors. The hierarchy is obvious, and its aristocrats do not have to state their prejudices for the audience to realise that the rich and poor will be obliged to make glib assumptions about people they never meet. Perhaps that is why the myth of Jack The Ripper continues to interest. The tale is kept alive by the curiosity of people condemned to misunderstand not just history and the events but their neighbours and themselves. Insanity is present both in the original story and in From Hell. Because of a class divided Britain, insanity is as terrifying for the British as it is for anyone. We are all remote from what feels like the majority, our superiors and inferiors. This distance prevents trust in others and ourselves. We are not surprised that the one man who knows the truth about his neighbours and what they do seeks oblivion in an opium den.  And if the indulgence of a psychopath helped launch 20th Century capitalism, what the hell.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books. His latest book Choke Bay is available here. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and other great titles, click here.