The Times newspaper

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

37 CHARLES STEWART PARNELL

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In 1911, twenty years after Charles Stewart Parnell MP died, they built an obelisk in Dublin. A statue of Parnell stands at the foot of the obelisk. Today the Parnell Society meets once a year in Parnell Memorial Park. And if that does not impress, his gravestone is marked with just one word, PARNELL. There are a few dead rock stars that have missed that trick. The admirers of Parnell described him as being ‘sparse with words’ but lethal in debate.   The British Tory Government of Lord Salisbury admired skilled debate but not when it came from its opponents. Lord Salisbury hated Parnell. He claimed that Irish Home Rule was the greatest threat to the British Empire since Napoleon.  Gladstone was different. He was sympathetic to the 57 Irish Nationalist MPs and their cause. He said, ‘There is no crime recorded in history which will compare for a moment with the means by which the Union was brought about.’

Sir Robert Anderson became Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1888. He was an Irishman but there is no statue of him in Dublin. He was not sympathetic to Home Rule for his fellow countrymen and women. Anderson said that, ‘no one could suppose the United Kingdom will tamely consent to be swamped by a horde of paupers and agitators’.  He was concerned about threats to the income of the English landlords and their Irish descendants, the people that had created the paupers who were obliged to work as agricultural labourers.   In their first meeting the Home Secretary Henry Matthews told Anderson that it was his responsibility to find Jack the Ripper. In his memoir Anderson remembered his answer. ‘My answer was to decline the responsibility. I said, ‘I hold myself responsible to take all legitimate means to find him.’ Anderson was being a smart aleck and sidestepping responsibility.   His experience of law enforcement was shaped by his previous role in the Special Irish Department within CID and not always legitimate.

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Charles Stewart Parnell set up an organisation called the Land League, which later evolved into something called a Plan for Campaign. Its purpose was to resist punitive rents and summary evictions. The landlords in Ireland, many of them absent landlords, felt unappreciated.   Arthur Balfour had become Secretary of State for Ireland in 1887. Although Parnell advocated non-violent protest throughout his career, Balfour declared the Plan of Campaign a criminal conspiracy. On the 18th of March The Times printed the first of eight articles titled ‘Parnellism And Crime’.   In the first article it was claimed that Parnell had ‘marched with murderers’.  Subsequent articles continued the accusation during the following weeks.   The final three articles alleged that Parnell had links with terrorists in the USA.  To accompany the articles The Times published a facsimile of a letter that Parnell had supposedly written. Five years previously Thomas Burke and Lord Cavendish had been murdered in Phoenix Park, Dublin. The Times used the facsimile as evidence that Parnell had excused his previous condemnation of the killings and also that he condoned the murder of Thomas Burke.

The facsimile was a forgery.   Anderson had a friend, a young Dublin journalist called Edward Caulfield Houston. This journalist did appreciate the landlords in Ireland, whether absent or not. Houston had hired fellow Irish journalist and muckraker Richard Piggott to investigate Parnell and to find anything incriminating against the Irish politician. Piggott, Houston and an academic called Sir Thomas Maguire met in Paris and plotted.

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The accusations, which had begun in 1887, continued into 1888. Parnell avoided taking his accusers to Court but he denounced them in Parliament.   The Leader of the House, W H Smith, responded by setting up a Parliamentary Commission. Rather than it being an impartial enquiry it became a trial of Parnell. Lord Herschell objected to a Parliamentary Commission being used in this way. This did not help. Parnell was charged with conspiracy.

Anderson and his CID unit the Special Irish Department had the responsibility of collecting evidence that would support what had been alleged in the articles in The Times.  After he retired Anderson admitted that he had written some of the articles. Piggott had been required to make journeys between London and Paris.  He had been in the French Capital when Anderson was supposedly there on holiday and not worrying himself about the recent murder of the Ripper victim Mary Jane Kelly.  Holiday or not, something had given Anderson the necessary confidence to qualify his responsibility for catching Jack the Ripper. In retirement Anderson admitted that ‘we did a lot of illegal things’.

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The Parliamentary Commission investigating Parnell had begun on 17th September 1888, the day after Annie Chapman was murdered in Whitechapel. The Commission charged Parnell and members of his Land League and Plan for Campaign with ‘a conspiracy seeking absolute independence from England, that they had promoted agrarian agitation against the payment of rent and they incited persons to sedition and the commission of crimes including murder.’ The first half of that does not sound so bad but the judges sat for 138 sessions and put 150,000 questions to 445 witnesses.  Those in authority wanted a conviction and they were serious enough to bend a few rules.

Not every English policeman was content with the action taken against Irish agitators. Undercover men had joined the Land League with the intention of persuading others to commit crimes. Patrick McIntyre described himself as ’late of the Political Department of Scotland Yard’. He said, ‘Not a single plot in England had not been incited by the Police’. John Daly had been imprisoned in 1883 for carrying bombs.   It may not have persuaded St Peter at the gates of Heaven but on his deathbed the Birmingham Chief of Police revealed that John Daly was innocent. In 1887, Richard Piggott visited Daly in prison. Daly was offered his freedom but not because he was innocent and the authorities were embarrassed by contrite police chiefs. If he wanted to leave prison, Daly had to accuse Parnell of supporting violent sedition. Daly refused the offer and walked back to his cell. Through unofficial channels Liberal MPs heard about the visit to Daly by Piggott.   The MPs demanded to know who had authorised the visit. Home Secretary Henry Matthews said not me, boss. The Secretary of the Prison Board said that somehow he had no idea what was happening inside one of his prisons. The Secretary was Sir Robert ‘I decline the responsibility’ Anderson.

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There was a further visit to Daly but the prisoner again refused to accuse Parnell.  He stayed in prison for another ten years and fourteen years after the Birmingham Chief of Police had declared him innocent. Meanwhile the Commission was doing its competitive best to be just as sordid. Hungry and desperate Irish agricultural workers were paid to appear in front of the Commission and testify against Parnell.  Liberal MP John Morley said the Commission ‘was designed for the Public outside the Court, and not a touch could be spared that might deepen the odium.’  On 21st February 1889, Richard Piggott testified before the Commission. His two days cross-examination exposed the journalist as a fraud. On the third day Piggott disappeared.  On 1st March 1889 he was shot dead in a hotel room in Madrid. The killing was reported as a suicide but on the 28th February The Times had reported that the Police had located Piggott.  People have argued about what may or may not have happened in the hotel in Spain but in terms of establishment guilt the argument is without consequence. Whether Piggott killed himself or was executed by his employers the motive for the killing was the same, to hide the truth about the crimes Piggott had committed against Parnell.  Dr Maguire, the academic who had plotted in Paris with Piggott and Edward Caulfield Houston, was reported in Reynold’s News as dying ‘suddenly and mysteriously’ on 2nd March 1889. Irish MP Thomas O’Hanlon in Parliament asked for a post-mortem to see if the previously healthy academic was poisoned.  The question was unanswered.

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Meanwhile the Commission continued asking 150,000 questions. Parnell demanded that the accounts of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union be presented as evidence. The judges who somehow had approved almost 500 witnesses refused the request.  The Commission put on a stubborn show but closed without making accusations. Sir Robert Anderson did not appear as a witness before the Commission. There is no evidence to indicate that while he was in post as Assistant Commissioner he did anything to establish who had written the forged letter to The Times or fabricated the evidence contained in the articles in The Times newspaper. But, despite being attributed to a Times journalist, three of the eight articles had been written by Anderson. These three articles were titled ‘Behind The Scenes In America’. No doubt Sir Robert Anderson felt in this instance that he had more than acquitted his responsibility. In the investigation to the crimes of Jack the Ripper there was less enthusiasm from the man who was loyal to his Irish homeland, or at least the parts of it owned by his landlord friends.

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

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.