Patricia Cornwell

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

TWENTY – THE LETTERS

 

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Not all the letters now exist, and of the letters that have been preserved not all have envelopes that reveal intended addresses.   One letter was sent to the maid of a gentleman whose name was missing from the envelope.   The sender signed the letter Jack the Ripper and added that he craved blood. Not the type of thing to help a young woman sleep at night.   The Beatles and Elvis changed hairstyles. Like Batman, whose creation he may have inspired, Jack the Ripper also had fans and imitators. Some of the letters may have been from him but there are 210 in which the sender claimed to be either Jack the Ripper or the slayer of the victims. On the 10th of October 1888 seven letters arrived from locations that included London, Leicester and Edinburgh. As some letters have been mislaid, the likelihood is that in total around 300 letters were posted from people claiming to be the Ripper.   The letters were sent to the police, the press, those in authority and sometimes neighbours against whom there was a grievance.  2000 more letters arrived from people who thought they had something to contribute to the investigation.  Again not all these letters were posted to the police.  Some of the letters came from outside the country and not all were in the English language.  Of these mainly well-intentioned letters 700 were investigated by the police. The rest were ignored.

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Analysts have suggested that some of the frequent grammatical imperfections in the letters from supposed murderers are deliberate.   Those who believe they have identified the select few that came from the actual Ripper have noted inconsistencies between simple words being misspelt and more complicated examples being perfect.  This may be true but it is also odd, considering the ego required for murder, that there are no examples of a writer using the medium to demonstrate superior intelligence through literary ability.  The only letters that are grammatically sound appear after the death of Mary Jane Kelly.   Only one letter insists upon accomplishment and this opus of 81 lines of rhyming verse was sent on the 8th of November 1889 and to ‘the Superintendent of Great Scotland Yard London’.   The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner it is not but for once the self-congratulation is not restricted to the ability to be violent.

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Handwriting experts, psychologists and writers desperate to discover the identity of the Ripper have pored over the letters that remain. This is certain. One, there were too many letters from too many different destinations for it all to be the work of one person.  Two, some of the letter writers would have written more than once.   Three, Jack the Ripper may have been the author of one or more of those letters.   Four, the rest is imaginative theory.

Five letters have received more attention than the rest. This is because of when they appeared, who saw them, when they were seen and the stylistic flourishes that were either copied or repeated. These five letters can be separated into two groups.   In the first group are three that announced the arrival of Jack the Ripper.   These three refer to each other and have persuaded many that they were written by the killer. The other two, which came later, had the added bonus of referring to the kidney that was sent to George Lusk the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.

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The first letter of the initial three was received on the 27th of September 1888 by the news agency Central News.   In this letter the writer attempts a jocular tone. He uses the phrase ‘ha ha’ three times, a phrase that occasionally appeared in subsequent letters. The letter was signed Jack the Ripper and asked that the reader, ‘Don’t mind me giving the trade name.’ There was an apology for not writing the letter in blood and for red ink being used as a substitute. Because the blood was thick like glue, the writer had kept the blood in a ginger beer bottle. For someone who disembowelled his victims the use of empty ginger beer bottles is almost endearing.   The promise that ‘I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police officers,’ indicated to some researchers that the letter was written by the Ripper.  Catherine Eddowes and Liz Stride were both murdered in the early hours of September 30 1888.  The lobe of the right ear of Catherine Eddowes was found in her clothing when the body was examined. The lobe, though, was not sent to the police. There was also a continuous cut across the neck that finished at the ear. The lobe was a casualty not an objective.

On the 1st of October 1888 a postcard was received by Central News.   The writer mentioned the previous ‘tip’ and claimed that he had no time to get ears for the police but he did promise a ‘double event’ the next day.   The murders of Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes had occurred not much more than 24 hours earlier. If the writer had been using the postal service that exists today, the reference to the double event would have been evidence of a prediction. But in 1888 there were twelve deliveries a day.   There was time to read about the murders before sending the postcard.   Some experts believe that the letter and postcard were written by the same person although to this untrained eye they do not appear to be similar.  But 19th Century pens had a lethal edge to them and they could distort handwriting.

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The third communication to Central News arrived on the 5th of October 1888.   Attempts have been made to link all three letters but the tone in the third was very different. It contained biblical references and described the killings as work on behalf of God. The writer promised three murders the following day.  This did not happen.   Mary Jane Kelly was murdered a month later on the 9th of November. If the three murders did not occur a day later because the Ripper had a migraine, the headache lasted for some time.   There was a heartfelt plea in the letter that suggests the expectation of sympathy. The writer swore that he did not kill ‘the female whose body was found at Whitehall’. He adds that ‘if she was an honest woman I will hunt down and destroy her murderer’. This offer of help was not accepted by the police.

More than one policeman was convinced that the three letters were the work of a journalist who wanted a good story that sold newspapers.   There are even options for the possible authors including a visiting American.   The notion is that only a journalist would send a letter to a news agency but this can be challenged. Sending the letters to the agency ensured they became public knowledge. It also suited the police to say that the letters were not from the Ripper because they had no idea what to do about them.   Some policemen can be at their most confident when they are bereft of ideas. There was also the small matter of the writing on the wall in Goulston Street, which, because of the action by Sir Charles Warren, could not be compared to the handwriting in the letters.

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Before George Lusk received the infamous human kidney he had already had a letter and a postcard from someone who claimed to be Jack the Ripper.   Neither correspondence is memorable. In the letter another double event was promised.  On the postcard was the redundant message that the writer did not have time to play ‘copper games’.   As chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and a builder, Lusk would have been a busy man. He can be excused for not finding the letter and card interesting.   Over a hundred years later, though, his attitude towards the parcel that followed feels flippant. The letter was addressed as being ‘From hell’. Lusk may have been able to keep hell at a distance but history beckoned.   Inside the parcel were a letter and half of a human kidney.   According to the letter, the writer had eaten the other half and ‘it was very nise’.   Lusk kept the letter and kidney in his desk but mentioned it at the next meeting of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.   Someone with sense suggested that perhaps members of the Committee should look at what was inside the desk of George Lusk.  This happened the next day.  The kidney was taken to a local doctor, and he referred it to Dr Openshaw at London Hospital. Dr Openshaw decided it was a human kidney, and members of the Committee assumed it must have belonged to Catherine Eddowes.  Dr Openshaw had to qualify his previous statements. He could not say if the kidney had belonged to a woman or whether it had been affected by heavy use of alcohol.

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A report by Chief Inspector Swanson mangled the English language and without ever being convincing concluded that the kidney was taken from a body during a post mortem.   The medics contradicted each other. Dr Gordon Brown, the Divisional Surgeon, managed to even disagree with himself.  The vague Dr Openshaw may not have had the last word but he was honoured with a letter signed by Jack the Ripper that approved of the opinion of the Doctor, ‘You was rite it was the lift kidney … ’ This letter promised more ‘innerds’. None arrived.  With twelve postal deliveries a day there was no excuse for failing to follow through but no one complained.   The letter to Dr Openshaw had enough grammatical errors for them to feel more forced than normal.  An additional reference to the devil and his microscope teased Dr Openshaw. The writer asked if he had seen the devil with his microscope and scalpel looking at a kidney.   Patricia Cornwell compared this reference to a Cornish rhyme. The teasing continues.

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’ – HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

THREE – THE LEGEND

 

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The parents of Frederick Bailey Deeming described their son as a difficult child.   The troublesome child became an impossible adult. In 1891, Deeming killed his first wife and four children and buried them all under the floor. Fortunately there were no children in the second marriage. After moving to Australia, Deeming hid his dead second wife under the hearthstone in the bedroom. A dollop of cement kept the body secure and discreet. Deeming was arrested for his murders while arranging a wedding with his third beloved. The first family was murdered near Liverpool in the large village of Rainhill. The village is known for the steam engine trials of 1829. There was plenty of puff and noise that day but the place is quiet. In the trials Stephenson introduced the Rocket, and it became famous as being the first modern steam locomotive.   There are a couple of miles between Rainhill and where I lived as a child.   I attended school with children from the village. We all knew about the Rocket by Stephenson. If the adults had discussed Deeming the murderer and his crimes, the house where the bodies were discovered would have been a magnet for children. But, like a puff of steam from the Rocket, the gossip about Deeming faded away.

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The consensus is that Jack the Ripper killed five prostitutes. Deeming murdered six people, and four of them were children. His name is known by some but only because Jack the Ripper experts have felt obliged to name Deeming as a possible suspect for the Jack the Ripper crimes.   The reasoning is simple. Deeming was alive at the time of the murders and he killed people. He is not, though, Jack the Ripper. Because he had an active criminal life that included fraud and theft, Deeming was in prison when the five prostitutes were being murdered in Whitechapel.   The investigation of the homicides by Deeming, like that of Doctor Crippen, involved communication between countries separated by oceans. Jack the Ripper and Doctor Crippen became notorious and their crimes inspired novelists and filmmakers. Poor Frederick Bailey Deeming is not even remembered in a village on the outskirts of Liverpool and where not much happens.

The name Frederick Bailey Deeming did not help him. It is too precise a name for mystery. Frederick Bailey Deeming sounds like a title or a definition of a particular human being rather than a clue to identity. Although he was not middle class, the name of Deeming suits a posh accent. The name Jack the Ripper suits all tongues and is as mysterious as the London fog in which five Whitechapel prostitutes were killed.  Doctor Crippen has a name that is also evocative. It does not swirl like fog but it suggests cruelty and sticks between the teeth. The Doctor is preserved as a second rate wax dummy in the Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussauds.   The story of the romance that inspired Crippen to kill suggested lost opportunities. Ernest Raymond recognised this and wrote the entertaining and gripping novel We The Accused.  Doctor Crippen, though, is not a legend. His temptation and weakness that led to his false steps are qualities we all understand. We are curious about Doctor Crippen rather than mystified.

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Fame depends on timing. Edward Carpenter the political radical and poet described the Victorian age as a ‘fascinating and enthusiastic period.’ Much of that enthusiasm was sparked by a changing world. Politics, art and industry were all affected. Jack the Ripper was not the first psychopath to murder women but his narrow interests, poor and hardened women in an area blighted by poverty and prostitution, gave him a foothold in modernism. Jack the Ripper is not regarded as a human suffering from temptation and weakness. His crimes suggest the strength of a monster. Jack the Ripper is a creature that belongs in comic books. He was regarded as the superman of criminals.  Elements of the Victorian printed media responded to the fantasy figure and indulged in sensational cartoons and reports.

The solitary human icon, though, is more rare than we think.   The artists and scientists that create revolutions are part of cultural shifts that affect more than them. Movements and trends are important.   Jack the Ripper was a clever fiend that had a monster within him.   Robert Louis Stevenson published Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886, two years before Jack the Ripper committed his first murder in Whitechapel.   Stevenson imagined modern science being used to liberate the monster within men.   The poverty and slums of Whitechapel inspired Jack the Ripper, and his escape was aided by the London fog, the industrial pollution that scarred lungs and English pretensions.  Jekyll sipped his serum, and Jack the Ripper sniffed London fog and industrial blight.

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Sherlock Holmes was also important to the Victorian imagination that was haunted by Jack the Ripper. For Christians the existence of the devil confirms the presence of God. Sherlock Holmes was the alter ego of Jack the Ripper, two men without empathy and shaped by crime. Jack the Ripper existed to supply mysteries, and Sherlock Holmes was created to solve them.   Both men had odd behaviours. Jack the Ripper murdered women, and almost as bad, Sherlock Holmes played unlistenable melodies on his violin and took cocaine.  Jack the Ripper even left a clue that belonged in a story by Conan Doyle, the odd inscription on the wall about ‘the Juwes’ not being blamed.  Holmes, Jekyll and Jack the Ripper connected in the imaginations of the British.  Each made the legend of the other two more potent.  All three were imagined to be gentlemen. Holmes and Jekyll are the upper class creations of Stevenson and Conan Doyle. Despite there being no evidence to suggest Jack the Ripper had surgical skill the newspapers established the myth of a slayer in top hat walking the streets of Whitechapel.   Comic books and action movies demonstrate the importance of the exceptional costumes in melodrama.   The top hat, cloak and cane were an imagined and inappropriate costume but still potent symbols. Add an upper class accent and refined features and we have not just a solitary murderer but also an exceptional figure. No one wanted to meet Jack the Ripper but plenty wanted a glimpse.

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The ease with which Jack the Ripper was given a false upper class identity was not a consequence of sloppy thinking.   Social class was important to the Victorians.   Many workers were antagonistic towards the wealthy but others talked about their ‘betters’. The middle classes and men believed their privilege was justified by industry, superior intelligence and a sense of honour.   Jack the Ripper did not lack industry and he was clever enough to mutilate bodies in the dark and escape detection.  The crimes of Jack the Ripper involved daring and risk, qualities in the world of commerce that earned reward and affluence. There is also the suspicion that the murderer may have had a sense of honour or a code that belonged to a gentleman.  The victims led what were considered to be immoral lives.

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The notion of the Ripper as a gentleman with purpose and method has persuaded some that the Monarchy was involved in the murders. This notion is as daft as the suggestion that Deeming might have been Jack the Ripper.   The British Monarchy is far from being an attractive institution but it was not involved in the crimes of Jack the Ripper.  The stories, though, have done the legend no harm.   The powerful do protect their own but in the case of Jack the Ripper we are all baffled by who or what he might have been.   We have to assume that the police wanted to catch Jack the Ripper but in a society etched in social class and snobbery it is not difficult to imagine a police force rendered incompetent by deference, hierarchy and an entitlement to privilege.  It is now believed that the letter from Jack the Ripper to the Press was faked by a newspaperman. Back in 1888 it would have reinforced the suspicions of the poor and confirmed for them that the police were dumb lackeys for the powerful. One of the Sergeants on the case even had the unfortunate surname of Thicke.

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All the above contributes to the legend but none of it as important as the mystery of the identity of the killer. The inexplicable is not just addictive. It permits thought and fancy and appeals to frustrated engineers who do not like to have dirty hands. In the years between the end of the Second World war and 1960 the complicated light from the legend was dimming.   The sixties generation pledged to overthrow any remnants of Victorian puritanism but the decade had elements of the end of the last Century.   The period was ‘fascinating and enthusiastic’. It also produced know-alls who believed that modern and superior detective work would identify the killer. Amateur detectives bred like rabbits, and books promised a solution to the mystery.   Author Patricia Cornwell is a recent example. When her theory was dismissed as silly, she claimed that it was because she was American and female. The thrillers of Cornwell have sold over a 100,000,000 copies. The woman is a slick operator yet Cornwell bought 30 paintings by artist Walter Sickert.  She believed their dark themes established his guilt. This is bizarre logic.   Paintings are an exercise in imagination and, although Cornwell does not think it important, Sickert was in France for four of the murders by Jack the Ripper.  The sensible books on Jack the Ripper avoid extravagant claims.   A mystery is different from a puzzle. It does not need to be solved to be interesting.  Silliness, though, will continue.

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.