Wynne Baxter

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

35 LEATHER APRON

 

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It began with gossip and rumour about someone who may or may not have existed. At some point conviction was added to the story.  Some women in Whitechapel claimed that they were being pestered by a violent blackmailer. The general pest that annoyed the women always wore a leather apron. Some of these women talked about Leather Apron as if they had really seen him, others as if the male bullying they all suffered could be contained in a single identity.  In 1888 the Whitechapel murders happened and more than one person encouraged by newspaper reporters assumed that the brutish monster known as Leather Apron was also the Ripper. The women who added conviction to the rumours were lodging in a doss house at 18 Thrawl Street. Their accusations were reported in the Press.  Men were arrested by the Police and exhibited to witnesses as potential Leather Aprons.

On the wall of a slaughterhouse at nearby Barbers Yard someone had written ‘the murderers are here’.  Three men from the slaughterhouse had appeared as early witnesses at the scene of the murder of Polly Nichols. Slaughterhouse workers also wore leather aprons. Amongst the three witnesses to the Nichols murder the favourite option for Leather Apron was Henry Tomkins, a rough man who made no secret of his hatred of women.  William Henry Piggott was another loud misogynist. He left in a fish shop a parcel that contained a blood stained shirt, and the oversight transformed Piggott into a potential Ripper suspect. His explanation of why he had a blood stained shirt in a parcel deserves an award. Piggott told the police that he had seen a woman fall down in a fit and, when he bent down to help her, she bit his hand and he struck her. Tomkins and Piggott may have been popular choices as villains but the women at Thrawl Street did not recognise either as the man who had bullied and robbed them. Tomkins and Pigggot went back to their working lives.

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But before then and on September 5th the Star newspaper included an article on the Leather Apron. The newspaper quoted interviews with 50 ‘unfortunates’.   The man these women described was thickset and had ‘an unusually thick neck’.  John Pizer was Jewish, slight and not tall.   He had left-wing politics and frail health. He died in 1897 of gastro-enteritis when he was 47 years old.   On September 2nd the 38 years old John Pizer was walking through Church Street when two women told a nearby policeman that Pizer was the menace Leather Apron. They also said that they had seen Pizer walking with the murdered Polly Nichols on the morning she was murdered.  Rather than arrest Pizer the policeman reported the incident to his colleagues.  According to the Star newspaper, the search for Pizer began on September 5th. Pizer returned to his family home at 22 Mulberrry Street, Mile End on September 6th, which was the day that marked Rosh Hashannah the Jewish New Year.   Those who doubt Pizer believe that he went into hiding after being alerted that the police were looking for him. They regard as suspicious his periodic absences from the home of his family. The 1881 census lists the following people at 22 Mulberry Street – Augusta, a widow aged 61 and the stepmother of John, her three children, Gabriel, Jeanette and Barnett, and two additional lodgers. When John returned home, he was found a place on the kitchen floor to sleep.   The reason why he would sometimes interrupt living with his family with stopping at lodging houses appears to be obvious and innocent.

On September 6th John Pizer was informed by his brother that the police were looking for him.   September 8th was the day Annie Chapman was murdered.   The police arrived at 22 Mulberry Street, Mile End on September 10th. John Pizer opened the door to Sergeant William Thick. Like Pizer, the surname has appeared with alternative spellings.   The Sergeant, though, signed his name Thick and without the letter e.  Pizer said this about the visit from Sergeant Thick.   ‘I opened the door. He said I was wanted and I asked what for. He replied, ‘You know what for; you will have to come with me.’

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Sergeant Thick walked John Pizer to Leman Street Police Station where, like the other suspects, he was shown to the accusatory women from Thrawl Street. The Prince Albert pub was located on the corner of Brushfield Street and Steward Street. The landlord and his wife had the splendid surname of Fiddymont but rather than retire to the pages of a novel by Dickens the wife was at Leman Street Police Station. The morning that Polly Nichols was murdered Mrs Fiddymont and Mary Chappell had served a pint of ale to a mysterious man who had blood spots on his hand.   Chappell was also at Leman Street Police Station. All the women present were convinced that Pizer was not the man they thought of as Leather Apron. Chappell had doubts about Piggott but, like Mrs Fiddymont, reckoned that he was not the man who had blood on his hand. But just when you think there is consensus, there is always one.  Emmanuel Violenia identified Pizer as the man he had seen arguing with a woman on the morning Nichols was murdered. Violenia also claimed that he knew Pizer as Leather Apron but under interrogation it became clear that Violenia was an unreliable witness and inside the Police Station under false pretences. The behaviour of Violenia was condemned by the Press.

At this point everyone should have gone home to forget about John Pizer and William Piggott but Sergeant Thick decided to share his thoughts with the Press. Thick lived in an adjacent street to Pizer.  He said that he had known Pizer as Leather Apron for some time or ‘years’. The other residents around Mulberry Street, though, stated that Pizer had a decent character, was quiet and harmless. No one had ever heard of him being referred to as Leather Apron. The Star referred to the arrest of John Pizer as ‘a police blunder’.

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Pizer had been taken to Leman Street at 9 a.m. but he did not return home to Mulberry Street until after 8 p.m. The next day he was interviewed by a Press Association reporter. Pizer made clear that he had never worn a leather apron.  He also said that he had no idea why anyone would call him Leather Apron and added ‘none of my neighbours have ever called me by it.’  Although he subsequently sought and received compensation from the Press for slandering his name, the day after he was released from Leman Street he made no accusations against the Police.  The strange and fortuitous identification by Violenia and what Sergeant Thick had said about the neighbours of Pizer were ignored.

What followed at the inquest was also peculiar. Coroner Wynne Baxter asked Pizer if he was known by the nickname of Leather Apron. ‘Yes, sir,’ replied Pizer.  Baxter did not ask Pizer if he was Leather Apron.  Instead the Coroner announced that the movements of Pizer at the time of the murder had been corroborated and that Pizer was clear of all suspicion.  Pizer said more than thank you. These are his words. ‘Mr Thick, that has my case in hand, has known me for upwards of eighteen years.’ Before Pizer could continue he was interrupted by Baxter. ‘I don’t think you need to say more,’ said Baxter.

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Because some writers in the past have expressed confusion about these events, the obvious should be explained. Apart from his name, Sergeant Thick had a problem. He had recruited a witness that his colleagues realised was telling lies. Thick had also told untruths about John Pizer. Compromise and perhaps threats were needed. This was the deal, Pizer would agree that he was known as Leather Apron and Coroner Baxter would make clear that everyone realised that Pizer was not the man murdering women in Whitechapel. What was perhaps not agreed was that, after Pizer was dismissed from the witness stand, Thick would add to his testimony the blatant deceit that the neighbours of Pizer referred to him as Leather Apron. And if Thick had known Pizer as Leather Apron for ‘many years’ it is odd that he had to wait to be told who was Leather Apron by two women and a constable. The East London Advertiser reported that Pizer ‘looked somewhat pale and worried after giving his evidence’ whereas before ‘he was perfectly cool and collected’. Betrayal without warning has that effect on a man.

Sergeant Thick did not pick Pizer at random to frame as Leather Apron. He was inspired by the identification from the two women in the street. At Leman Street the identification proved to be worthless. This must have been disappointing for Thick. He constructed a false case against Pizer, made inflammatory and false statements to the Press and adopted a not quite sane meddler called Violenia as an alternative witness. Thick was a dodgy policeman. The loud check suits he wore and the ironical nickname Johnny Upright may be without consequence but in The Bank Holiday Murders the author Tom Westcott not only gives a clear account of what happened to Pizer but also reveals that Thick gave positive character references to a lodging house keeper that assaulted a fellow police officer. Thick helped to keep criminals out of jail, rich scoundrels that had policemen on the payroll .  Corruption happens in a police force. More disturbing and disappointing was the assistance Wynne Baxter provided to Thick at the inquest of Polly Nichols.   Not only did Baxter prevent Pizer adding more information to his testimony he made no comment as to why Thick ensured he was always seated next to Pizer throughout the inquest.  No wonder we have conspiracy theories.  Fortunately for Pizer the other policemen at Leman Street recognised in Violenia a witness that could not be trusted.

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’

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

THIRTEEN – ‘THEY ALL LOVE JACK, BUSTING THE RIPPER’ – BRUCE ROBINSON

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Most men settle as they age. They become cautious, less ambitious and acquire different habits and opinions. Others take their youth to their grave.  Bruce Robinson is in his seventh decade and wears his hair as if he was still a hippie from the seventies. Like the hippies used to do back then, he swears a lot. Interviewers struggle to keep his expletives at bay.   There is a YouTube clip where the more sober A N Wilson does his best but the effort makes him wilt. Bruce Robinson is the kind of man who will take his youth to his grave. Prior to spending fifteen years researching and writing They All Love Jack he acted, directed films, wrote screenplays and produced novels. He is revered for the film Withnail and I. The film is brilliant but, because of my own misspent youth and some painful memories, I avoid it. The characters in Withnail and I have a withering scorn for a world that is indifferent to their appetites.

They All Love Jack was listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize.   Few people associate books about Jack the Ripper with literary merit. They All Love Jack is written in a colloquial and informal style. Not everyone has responded well to the expletives and the free use of uninhibited insults.  The argument is that history should be sober and impartial. Of course, none of it ever is which is why the bias of history is so often disguised with restrained and formal accounts.   The expletives in They All Love Jack exist because that is the nature of Bruce Robinson but they also fit the content.   Robinson uses the language of gangsters to describe the villains of the Victorian establishment.   Swear words and gangsters, whatever their manners, go together.   The British establishment has been a cesspit for a while, and in They All Love Jack its members get what they deserve, contempt, scorn and exposure, which is not bad for a book about a man who killed bargain basement whores.

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Unlike Bruce Robinson I have yet to devote fifteen years and £500,000 to discover the truth about the Whitechapel monster. I have, though, spent 35 years working with those in authority in the public sector. I also have had experience of their private sector counterparts. There were odd occasions when I encountered people who inspired. But most of the time I rubbed shoulders with rogues that were incompetent, self-serving and sometimes corrupt, people who had an exaggerated sense of both their ability and personal entitlement. These flaws enabled them to be indifferent to their responsibilities. The behaviour of powerful officials reflects all kinds of limitations, and any examination of the establishment benefits from knowing what moral and professional failure relates to which consequence. This does not happen in the 800 pages of They All Love Jack.

No book has everything, and if one did, it would be unreadable. They All Love Jack is a fabulous read. The excesses of the powerful should never be mitigated but if we claim corruption and conspiracy for every instance of inexplicable behaviour we misunderstand the casual crimes of those that rule. An individual without power can be abandoned through a bureaucrat doing nothing more than puffing out his chest and taking himself too seriously.  In They All Love Jack there is a good account of how expert opinion was misused and ignored in the inquests held by coroner Wynne Baxter.   Bruce Robinson claims that Baxter introduced the bogus theory of the murderer selling organs to an American to divert attention away from the freemason ritual involved in the murders. Perhaps but Baxter may have been just another official indulging his ego with whimsy and fancy and drooling on about something that would make him sound important.  It happens.

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The rare critics of They All Love Jack dismiss the book as conspiracy theory. If it is then Robinson takes conspiracy theorising to a new and superior level. Its 800 pages provide a lot of detail to back up the arguments. Robinson is good at smelling a rat, and the book is great when it identifies obvious absurdities that have been ignored. The problem with rats is that they run around a lot, and the more you follow their trail the more it makes you sound obsessive and a bit strange. Robinson is right, though, to state that the murders included freemason rituals.   This alone does not prove that Jack the Ripper was a Freemason. Even if he was not, the police and the politicians were worried that he might be and they did take steps to hide the freemason aspect of the crimes.   The British police and politicians were dominated by Freemasons.    The truth about the crimes was spun because there were secrets and because the police needed to keep a distance from an expanding and threatening Press.

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They All Love Jack is far from precise on what is being spun or hid. If an axis exists from incompetence to corruption then one also travels from defensiveness to conspiracy. In the interview that is on YouTube, writer A N Wilson asks Robinson when did the police discover the identity of Jack the Ripper.   In the interview Robinson states 1892 but this is not evident from the book. In 1892 the alleged Ripper abandoned London for the Isle of Wight. He moved almost four years after the death of Mary Jane Kelly the last of the victims in the ‘canonical five’. The move does not establish that the police knew the identity of the Ripper. There are different options. The alleged Ripper may himself have decided he wanted to move to the Isle of Wight, or the police had realised this famous and rich man was the Ripper and applied pressure, or something else which was more complicated and that here needs to be explained.

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They All Love Jack links two conspiracies to the Ripper. Robinson not only identifies Jack the Ripper he claims that his Ripper also framed Florence Maybrick for killing her husband James. Her criminal conviction in 1890 created a scandal.   Over a 100 pages of They All Loved Jack is devoted to this miscarriage of justice. The police may have put pressure on the man they thought killed James to exit London but we do not know if they thought he was responsible for the Whitechapel murders.   There may have been two separate cover-ups by the police. In 1888 the police hid freemason details and in 1889 they protected an establishment figure from being discovered of a murder in Liverpool. Thanks to his detective work Robinson connects the two conspiracies through the man he identifies as Jack the Ripper but the police may have let the alleged Ripper go to the Isle of Wight thinking that his only crime was a murder in South Liverpool.   The Star newspaper in 1888 said that the ‘London Police were rotten to the core.’   Robinson describes the Police as ‘the thug end of the law’. Few would dispute either claim but conspiracies can consist of stumbles and lurches rather than grand plans.

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For many these qualifications will be nit picking.   They All Love Jack is a marvellous book full of barnstorming ambition and daring. There are at least two brilliant ideas that make the book essential. In most Ripper books it is the dosshouse that is imagined as the retreat for the Ripper after his crimes. In They All Love Jack Toynbee Hall is identified as the base for the Ripper, and the notion makes much possible and strengthens the case against the man suspected by Robinson. They All Loved Jack also examines the evidence of witness Packer, the man who remembered selling grapes to the man he thought was the Ripper.   Robinson transforms the statements of Packer into something credible and wipes clean so much rubbish that has muddied previous thinking.

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Not everyone is content to merely enjoy a good read especially when Jack the Ripper is involved. They want what Robinson promises at the beginning of the book. They want the monster to be nailed. A N Wilson is convinced by They All Loved Jack. The case against the Robinson suspect rests on letters that the Metropolitan Police had assumed were a hoax. Robinson thinks the opposite. He went through the letters and discovered that the itinerary and threats mapped the murders.   In his interview with A N Wilson we hear Robinson claim that the match between the letters and the crimes is ‘extraordinary’.   For Robinson reading the letters will have had an impact denied to us that only read an account of the investigation. Credit has to be given for what has been accumulated by Robinson.   No one has built a better case against a Jack the Ripper suspect than the one that exists in this book. But, as impressive as the evidence is, it would not convict anyone. The handwriting on the letters varies, and while handwriting experts mix overcooked intuition and basic mechanics we have to wonder why one person would feel obliged to alter his handwriting as often as happens in these letters. This does not mean that the arguments of Robinson should be dismissed. The explanation would, though, have benefitted from mathematical analysis and formula. The connections are not demonstrated graphically and they should have been.   But there is enough in the analysis of the letters to make readers want to read the book a second time, which is what I will be doing soon.   My need for a mathematical summary to support evidence may have something to do with my age.   It is a dry ambition, and They All Love Jack is a confident flourish of intelligence and style. Its 800 pages are packed with insight, discoveries, scorn for dopes, funny quips and smart comparisons. Only the young have such daring to attack a mystery and history in this way, the young or those men who will take youth to their graves.

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.