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

TWELVE– THE VIGILANTES

 

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In Hollywood movies the vigilantes carry torches and some rope. Movie directors have the less handsome actors stand outside the town jail and shout at the Sheriff. The British are different. We meet in the local pub and groan a little. Over a pint of beer the committee members vote for a chairman and treasurer and draft a constitution. The Ripper experts are vague about how many vigilance committees existed in Whitechapel in 1888. There were at least six. The most famous was the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and local businessman George Lusk was the chairman. George was a 49 years old successful builder and decorator, and the Committee had a dozen businessmen. The treasurer was George Aarons. He was the landlord of the Crown Tavern, the pub where the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee met. The businessmen made the decisions but also drafted unemployed workmen to help. These men patrolled the streets. Organised by Lusk the businessmen supplied each volunteer with a whistle, a pair of strong shoes and a heavy stick. The patrols of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and other vigilance committees had the approval of the police. Neither were the street patrols restricted to working men. Students also acted as vigilantes. The students operated out of Toynbee Hall, which today is a community centre but back in 1888 it was a charity dedicated to social reform.

Six vigilance committees have been identified by historians and these are supposed to be the ones that employed the men who patrolled the streets. The other committees were St Judes, City V.C., Jewish V.C., Spitalfields, and Workmens V.C.   Mile End VC appeared in 1889 but that was the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee renamed, possibly to suit the chairman that replaced George Lusk. The vigilance committee of St Judes had 70 members and was formed the day after Martha Tabram was killed. Her murder preceeded the ‘the canonical five’ that is associated with Jack the Ripper but there were also four female Whitechapel victims before Martha Tabram. The distinction between the Whitechapel murders and ‘the canonical five’ came later.

The likelihood is that there were more vigilance committees than six but if they existed, they have not been remembered.   Neither can we assume that all the vigilance committees that existed in Whitechapel were a response to the crimes of Jack the Ripper. Some were formed to mitigate the high level of prostitution and disorderly behaviour that existed in Whitechapel.  Some committees faded quickly, others existed before the murders began.

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Jack the Ripper left a legacy of fame but most of it landed on unwilling victims, confused medics and weary policemen. The vigilantes were not destined for immortality but George Lusk was different. This 49 years old builder and decorator became famous because he had industry and confidence and identified initiatives before others. His Whitechapel Vigilance Committee organised street patrols and collected £5 from each of the Committee members to pay for a reward. More money was collected to support the volunteers with the heavy sticks. Lusk hired private detectives and plastered billposters across the buildings of Whitechapel. The posters pleaded for people to come forward with information. Lusk also wrote letters. Some of them went to the police. Lusk targeted all levels in the police force including the Commissioner Sir Charles Warren. His other correspondence landed on the desks of powerful politicians. Lusk wrote to the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, the Home Secretary Henry Matthews and, most audacious of all, he presented a petition to Queen Victoria where he found a critical ear. ‘Our detectives must be improved,’ said the Queen. She did not say how.

Apart from the reward of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee that he helped fund, Lusk also demanded that the Government and the Metropolitan Police offer a substantial reward to the public for information about the crimes.   Lusk is viewed by historians with sympathy. The view is that he had a genuine concern for the victims and had worries about the future. He sensed that the murders would continue. Decency and a willingness to devote his spare time to the good of his neighbourhood would have been enough for Lusk to be remembered. More, though, happened.   Someone claiming to be Jack the Ripper wrote Lusk a letter and enclosed half a human kidney. The letter was in red ink, and the home address was Hell. The letter imitated what had previously been sent to the Central News Agency. The first letter is regarded as a hoax. Police reckoned it was written by a journalist looking for a story.   The imitation, though, may well have been written by the Ripper. The enclosed half kidney was human, and, when she was killed, Catherine Eddowes had her kidney removed by the assassin. The person who wrote from Hell claimed to have fried and eaten the other half. Lusk thought the letter was another hoax and left the letter and kidney in his desk until the next meeting of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. The other committee members persuaded Lusk to take the kidney to the local hospital where it was examined by police surgeon Dr Brown. Police memos state that the kidney could have come from any human body.

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The uninspired 1988 British TV series Jack The Ripper not only had a charmless Michael Caine as Inspector Abberline it portrayed George Akin Lusk as a radical socialist who had a compulsion towards violence. Most of the time he snarled and acted unreasonably.   This has shocked those who feel Lusk should be remembered as a responsible and admirable citizen. The shocked have a point. Fiction is obliged to amend history but this invention was twisted, irresponsible and crude. The shocked should not be surprised. British tirades against left wing thinking and activists neither honour accuracy nor show respect to those whose views were later vindicated.

Vigilance against crime, though, is not restricted to those who regard themselves as vigilantes. We all contribute to vigilance if only because we reply to questions from the police, report on wrongdoing and do what we are told. The Whitechapel community cooperated and was supportive of the action taken by the police. In less than two months after the murder of the final victim Mary Jane Kelly, the police received 1400 letters from the public. Some may have been the product of overactive imaginations but most of the correspondents meant well.   A few writers nominated suspects. If the murders strengthened community spirit and purpose, they also encouraged neighbours to be suspicious of each other and sometimes surrender to vindictiveness. Compassion was mixed with grievance.

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Mary ‘Polly’ Nichols is regarded as the first Ripper victim but she was the sixth in the series of Whitechapel attacks on women. The Morning Advertiser stated that the time and route of her funeral was a ‘profound secret’ but when the hearse was observed in Hanbury Street the crowds ‘numbered some thousands’. Twenty-five years old Mary Jane Kelly the supposed final victim of the Ripper was murdered on the 9th of November 1888 and buried ten days later. Several thousand gathered outside St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch. This is not vigilance against crime but it is a response from a community that recognises when support beyond the police and authority is needed.

The work of the police requires assistance from the public. Modern policemen and policewomen appear on television screens and emphasise the importance of good community relations.   Journalists and Queen Victoria were critical of the efforts of the police but the people of Whitechapel cooperated. On the 18th of October 1888 the police organised a house-to-house search of all of Whitechapel. The search discovered neither clues nor suspects but the subsequent statement from the police commended the locals. According to the police all the people of Whitechapel welcomed the police into their homes.

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George Lusk died in 1919. His involvement in the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee reduced after 1889 but so had the incidence of murder in Whitechapel. His successor appeared to be more interested in self-publicity than protecting his community. The building company of George Lusk, which had once employed twenty men, also declined. Lusk was less prosperous than he had been. To concentrate on his campaigns on behalf of his community he may have neglected his business. His wife Susannah had died in March 1888.  Lusk was expelled from the Doric Arch Freemasons Lodge for non-payment of fees in 1889.  These two events have encouraged speculation even though much of it is groundless. But it is possible that the work of Lusk on the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was an opportunity that allowed him to forget his grief as a bereaved 49 years old husband and also something that facilitated atonement for surviving his wife.  The lapse in paying his fees to the Masons may have been because he was short of cash but there are enough conspiracy theories about the Masons and Jack the Ripper for the fanciful to wonder about the cause of the rupture.

 

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

NINE – JACK THE RIPPER TOURS

 

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The great mystery is not the unknown identity of Jack the Ripper but how the various tours manage to avoid collisions.   The name Jack The Ripper Tour was claimed by the first company to organise tours.  They updated the name to The Original Jack The Ripper Tour.  The curious can now choose from The Jack the Ripper Mystery Tour, The Jack the Ripper Walk, The Jack The Ripper Museum, which also provides a tour to complement a visit to the museum, Ripping Yarns, Ripper Vision, which has added sound effects and projected images on buildings, The Jack the Ripper Tour Bus, and more.  Author and Jack the Ripper expert John Bennett makes the tour most nights on behalf of The Original Jack The Ripper Tour. Bennett likes to finish his tour on the spot in Mitre Court where fourth victim Catherine Eddowes was slain. Most of the time, though, he has to take whatever available space there is in Mitre Court because most of the tour operators prefer to finish at the scene where Eddowes was slain.  Audiences like to show their appreciation by clapping the presentations.  The applause is steady and continuous.

Advancing the slaying of Mary Jane Kelly ahead of the murders of third and fourth victims Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes makes sense. Juggling the chronology avoids dragging people back and forth across the East End, and the tour operators can climax their presentations with what may or may not have been the greatest achievement of Jack the Ripper, the famous double event.  The word ‘may’ is important because many Ripper experts now believe that the murder of third victim Liz Stride was not a Ripper victim. Stride had her throat cut but there was no mutilation.   Those who like to insist Jack the Ripper was responsible for the canonical five believe that Jack was interrupted in his slaying of Stride and, because his desires were not satisfied, he searched and found Eddowes. Yet Eddowes was discovered forty-five minutes after Stride. Three quarters of an hour would have been sufficient time for the Ripper to travel a few streets and slay someone but he would have had to be quick. The timing allocated to a double murder assumes that the body of Eddowes was found almost immediately after the murder.

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Most operators provide alternative accounts and leave it up to the paying customers to decide for themselves. On the tour I attended, author John Bennett finished the tour by discussing the possible identity of Jack The Ripper.   Bennett had a shortlist of ten names and asked his audience to shout out numbers between one and ten. In that way he talked about five possible suspects but reminded his audience that so far writers and theorists have identified 300 names.   Within that list there are some good stories and, coincidentally, five people that members of the police believed to be Jack the Ripper.

The cost of the tours is usually somewhere around £10, and they last between an hour and a half and two hours.  The importance of London as a tourist destination helps the tour operators to make money.   The tours help visitors to London fill in the time with something other than eating and drinking but, as well as tourists, there are those who are just curious, and amongst these there are plenty of fresh faced young men and women. Tours that between them collect a hundred people a night are obliged to have a cross section of the population.   There is the added bonus of being able to ask questions.   And a tour and hearing the tale face to face from an expert takes less effort than reading a book. But neither a tour nor the books written by Bennett can include all the information he has obtained through research and that is shared with other enthusiasts.  Some of these tourists will also become obsessed with the legend of Jack the Ripper.

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The Original Jack The Ripper Tour begins at Aldgate East Underground Station in Whitechapel High Street. Those on the tour have the option of following the presenter back to the Station but the group I was in separated where Catherine Eddowes was murdered and found something else to do with the rest of the night. There is a park near the Underground Station. Those who have prospects and faith in their ambition walk through the park without stopping. The less fortunate spend time in the park talking, eating take away food, drinking alcohol and passing time.  The park has a few giant tree stumps and half a dozen boulders.   The East End has changed since the murders in 1888 but this park has never promised the sense of well being that is found in the green spaces around Bloomsbury.   Photographs of how the East End used to look are handed out by the tour operators.   Some of the tenement buildings remain but none of the murder sites are recognisable as the places where the murders were committed.

The trip to the East End, though, is worth the effort. Dorset Street may have a brand new building that transforms it into something remote from its history but it is possible to pinpoint 35 Dorset Street and imagine the doss house once used by the victims of the Ripper. There are two 18th Century buildings across the road from where the doss house used to be. The public house The Ten Bells sells Jack the Ripper souvenirs but also has a loyal local clientele that appreciates the comfortable interior and enjoys the draught beers. Upstairs is a gin bar. That and the traditional furnishings feel like homage to the tough lives of the past. The evidence is sketchy but the likelihood is that most of the victims of the Ripper would have visited The Ten Bells at some point in their lives.  Some, perhaps all, would have regarded it as their local pub. Annie Chapman was rumoured to have drunk in The Ten Bells during the night of her murder. Mary Jane Kelly is supposed to have solicited on the corner outside the pub.

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The name The Ten Bells is derived from Christchurch, which is on the other side of the road and once had ten bells that chimed.   Christchurch is an impressive building. It has a sharp gothic steeple that even today feels contemptuous of urban life and concerns.   The classical pillars are an extra weight on what is a compressed square base. Christchurch combines baroque style and puritanism. The building feels defiant and, considering what has happened near its borders, it needs to be.

Nicholas Hawksmoor lived in the 18th Century and was the architect who designed Christchurch. He designed six London churches. All are distinct and have memorable but gloomy facades. Ian Sinclair in his 1975 poem Lud Heat imagined that Hawksmoor located the churches across London to make a pentangle star that was supposed to connect the geometry of London and its institutions.  A few people have taken this notion seriously and argued that Hawksmoor had mystical ambition that had nothing to do with Christianity.  Peter Ackroyd played with the idea in his novel Hawksmoor and he emphasised the importance of the pentangle star as an occult symbol whilst also attributing serial killing to his architect.   Ackroyd changed the name of his architect to Nicholas Dyer to remind readers that his book was fiction. The life and ambition of architect Hawksmoor may have contained nothing more than the dedication of a pious craftsman yet there is a thrill to be experienced in standing between The Ten Bells and Christchurch and acknowledging the dark history that links these two buildings.

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The other spot worth lingering around is the archway where Jack the Ripper left a piece of the blood stained apron of Catherine Eddowes.  The archway is now a fish and chip shop.  The original building and tenements remain. In 1888 the building was occupied by poor Jewish immigrants. Close to the apron the police discovered writing on the wall that said, ‘The Juwes are the ones who will not be blamed for nothing.’   This supposed clue has inspired conspiracy theories, novels and books. But standing opposite an East End fish and chip shop and looking at a tenement building that was once overcrowded with the poor, I was convinced the writing was nothing more than protest from a neglected and strained community.   On the street the history is mundane but powerful.

The East End has changed and, like everywhere else in London, it has been gentrified, but some tenements and terraced streets remain.   A far from mundane experience is to stare down an ordinary street and see immediately behind the shabby buildings the concrete and glass of The Shard and the other skyscrapers of the City. They obliterate the sky and make the East End feel like a condemned cul-de-sac. The skyscrapers are like alien back projection from a surreal film.

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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.