34 TOO DARN HOT
It depended on money and status. The very rich had kettles made of silver. The affluent settled for copper. The poor were obliged to use kettles made of cast iron. There are few households in Britain that do not have a kettle, and it is not much different elsewhere. Human beings like to boil water. Ripper victim Mary Kelly was poor. Her kettle would have been made of cast iron. She was murdered in her home in Millers Court.
Inspector Abberline said this, ‘… I have taken an inventory of what was in the room, there had been a large fire so large as to melt the spout off the kettle I have since gone through the ashes in the grate and found nothing of consequence except that articles of a woman’s clothing had been burnt which I presume was for the purpose of light as there was only one candle in the room.’
Inspector Abberline was a successful policeman. Although the inventory he mentions was not subsequently located, there is nothing in the above statement that makes him sound stupid. Cloth burns at the same temperature as cast iron melts, around 1000° Centigrade. A fire burning clothes could have melted the copper spout but, because the flames would have to travel further to reach the copper spout, only after the clothes had been burnt. And a fire is a source of light. It is, though, an extravagant and uncomfortable way to light a room. The reference to one candle by Abberline is ambiguous. It could mean that inside the room of Mary Kelly the supply of candles was limited to a single item or that only one candle could be burnt at a time because of where the candle was placed. A candle burns for five to seven hours. Most people, even the Victorian poor, had a spare ready to replace the one that was burning. The rooms in Millers Court were small. If Mary Kelly had one candle, it was because she considered the light adequate to illuminate her room. The man who murdered her was invited into her room because she assumed he was a customer. Her commercial transaction would have required some light. Doctor Phillips stated that apart from the heart no organs were removed. The main purpose of the mutilations was to hack flesh from the bones. Subsequent surgeons have insisted that the injuries were inflicted by an axe. The Ripper did not need bright light.
In They All Love Jack the author Bruce Robinson argues that the murder and mutilation of Mary Kelly conformed to a ritual of vengeance described by Prophet Ezekiel. This may sound fanciful but both the New York Herald and English journalist George R Sims also made the connection. Sims described the Ripper as ‘the man who has taken the Book of Ezekiel too literally’. Robinson goes further and connects the ritual to freemason knowledge and symbolism. We can baulk at the idea of freemason conspiracy but we have to acknowledge the point Robinson makes about the kettle. If the Ripper needed light from the fire to help him strip the body of Mary Kelly down to the bone, he would have moved the kettle out of the fireplace. In They All Love Jack the quotes from Revelation are juggled together by Robinson and we read this ‘… these shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.’
Robinson argues that the fire had one essential purpose, which was to burn the flesh that had been hacked away from the body of Mary Kelly. Apart from two contradictory references to a chemise the autopsy makes no reference to what clothes were left in the room, if any. Neither does the autopsy record that there was missing flesh. There was a reference to a missing heart. Flesh may have been burnt in the fire, as Robinson suggests.
Bruce Robinson can be scathing about the conclusions of others. He is convinced that the silence from the Press and Police after the murder of Kelly was part of a conspiracy to shield the ritual of the murder and protect the reputation of Freemasonry. Those tempted like me to wonder if it was a withdrawal from inconceivable horror are regarded as simple souls. He may be right. We all have blind spots, and that includes Bruce Robinson. Although he is responsible for the selection of clauses in the constructed but not inappropriate quote from Revelation, he appears to ignore his own reference to ‘and shall eat her flesh’. Later in They all Love Jack we read a quote from Ezekiel, Chapter 24 Number 5. ‘Boil water in a pot and boil bones in it. Consume the flesh.’ It is a shame that Ezekiel had such a judgemental nature. More tolerance and he could have been a rival for Delia Smith.
The fire in a Victorian home had other uses besides heating the room. It would be used for drying clothes in damp weather. More important all the meals of the family would be cooked on the fire. Inspector Abberline said ‘the large fire was so large as to melt the spout of the kettle.’ He could have said the fire inside the cooker was so large that it melted the kettle on top of the grill.
The notion of cannibalism feels like a wild idea but what happened inside the home of Mary Kelly on the final day of her life was both extreme and bizarre. The behaviour of the police outside was also a little odd. The police entered the room of Mary Kelly two and three quarter hours after her dead body was discovered by rent collector Thomas Bowyer. The explanation is that they were waiting for the arrival of bloodhounds to follow a trail. Supposedly it took nearly three hours for the idea to be dismissed as impractical. The notion that street policemen, medical officials and Whitehall administrators could stand patiently outside a murder scene until someone mentioned that, as it happened, the police no longer owned the bloodhounds is absurd. Terror and unease inside the hearts of policemen are more feasible explanations. Something spooked the police and it was serious enough to silence the Press. Establishment conspiracies exist but if we ignore them then we are left with horror and that is enough to make policemen secretive.
Cannibalism was the ultimate horror. Medical opinion decided that the victims of the Ripper died before the mutilations began. Those on the street had more luck than Mary Kelly. If the Ripper was a cannibal, all that he could eat of his victims in the street was the odd keepsake like a womb, heart or kidney. Mary Kelly lost flesh where it was most abundant, her thighs and arms. These were also the limbs that were missing from the three female corpses that were discovered in London in 1888. It is clear from the murder of Mary Kelly that the Ripper behaved differently inside the home of a victim from when he was slaying women on the street. If he did have the opportunity to work in his own home, and it is a big if, he may have created at least one of those torsos. As with Mary Kelly, we have to wonder what happened to the missing flesh and limbs in the three Torso murders.
Bruce Robinson not only ignores his reference to ‘and shall eat her flesh’ he is also casual about the statement from a witness that was reported in the Pall Mall Gazette. Robinson quotes the Gazette. ‘A gentleman engaged in business, stated he was walking through Mitre Square at about ten minutes past ten on Friday morning, when a tall well dressed man carrying a parcel under his arm, and rushing along in a very excited manner, ran into him. The man’s face was covered with blood splashes, and his collar and shirt were also blood stained. The gentleman did not know at the time anything of the murder.’
This witness was not called to an inquest that should have been complicated and time consuming but was completed in a single day. What is important in this statement is the location of the blood on the possible assassin. The only areas stained by blood are the face of the man and the collar of his shirt. If the gentleman in Mitre Square did see Jack the Ripper then his sighting suggests that whatever the way the Ripper murdered his victim he put his face close to where his victim was bleeding. The tall well dressed man that the gentleman saw had bloodstains on his face of the kind that we associate with a vampire. The tall well dressed man looked like someone who had been feeding but it may have been on more than blood. The room, when the police finally entered in the afternoon, was still very warm, too darn hot for vampires and anything other than an explanation that frightened the authorities into being secretive.
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.