Victorian horror

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

29 THE TORSO MURDERS

dcc6c4ccf27c4603cda0d402cbca7a22

 

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.

the-thames-torso-murders

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.

waterloo bridge 2

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.

central_news_agency_entry_at_zhi_ching_building_1f_20150912

 

 

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.

pinchin-street-arch (1)

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.

ipn-21-9-1889

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.

Advertisements

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

28 SIR HENRY MATTHEWS

 

sir-henry-matthews

 

In Britain there are two government departments distinguished by euphemisms. The Ministry of Defence collects destructive weapons and uniformed warriors and uses both to kill troublesome foreigners, often in territories where there are natural valuable resources. The Home Office employs a police force to maintain order within the British homeland and to ensure that a comfortable establishment is not made too uneasy by excesses in democracy. Just in case the British people become suspicious the Home Office is denied a government minister. The person in charge of the department is called the Home Secretary. What could be less sinister than that?

Sir Henry Matthews was Home Secretary between 1886 and 1892. Opinion about his suitability was consistent and negative.   The Star newspaper described Matthews as ‘a poor and spiritless specimen of the race of smart adventurers who creep into politics by the back door.’ The rear entrance mentioned in the condemnation could have been a reference to the rumour that Queen Victoria had persuaded Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to appoint Matthews as Home Secretary. Later the Monarch stated that Matthews had ‘a general want of sympathy with the feelings of the people’. Somehow our titled equal opportunities employer and champion of democracy had failed to notice this trait when Matthews was appointed Queens Council in 1868.

athenaeum-library3-940x360

Matthews preferred to trust senior civil servants rather than the police but even the men that Matthews relied on were unimpressed by him. Evelyn Ruggles Brise was Private Secretary to four Home Secretaries. He believed that Matthews was ‘quite incapable of dealing with men’. Nothing in the English language is quite as flexible as the word quite and its use by Brise should be noted. Home Secretary Sir Henry Matthews, like his Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, was a Freemason. Both were also members of the exclusive and expensive Athenaeum Club. There is a branch of the Athenaeum Club in Liverpool. The library has 60,000 books, luxurious rooms, and membership costs £1200 a year. Meals and drinks are extra. Most Liverpudlians are unaware of its existence in the centre of the City.

js124052466

Before he entered politics Matthews was a capable barrister who possessed polished interrogative skills. His cross-examination of Sir Charles Dilke in a high profile divorce case appears to have impressed everyone including Queen Victoria. The cross-examination finished the political career of Dilke and his ambition to be Prime Minister. An ability to pick apart the decisions and motives of others is a blessing to a barrister but it can be an impediment to someone who is required to make decisions and allocate responsibilities. Indeed, Matthews may have felt he was being at his most steadfast and decisive when resisting the urging of others to take action. If there are some bureaucrats who believe that any decision is better than no decision, the majority lean towards believing that no decision is better than most decisions. Matthews belonged with the cautious.

james-monro

 

Sir Henry Matthews was born in 1826 in Ceylon.   He never married but was described as charming and a ladies man. Perhaps his ease and confidence amongst both men and women meant he was unable to resist letting people dangle and this conceit or weakness prevailed both in his professional and social lives.  Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren liked military uniforms and rank too much to be self-effacing. And he would have objected to being left to dangle by his Home Secretary. Despite a possible tortuous process Matthews approved several initiatives proposed by Warren. These included the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police to include an increase in the number of inspectors and sergeants. There were, though, disagreements between the two men. Whether or not to give a reward for information about Jack the Ripper was a saga of inconsistencies and disagreements that haunted the Home Office from the 4th of September 1888 when the first request for a reward was lodged and refused. Mary Ann Nichols the first victim in the ‘canonical five’ was murdered on the 31st of August.   More serious than the arguments over the reward was the turf war between James Monro and Sir Charles Warren.   The forthright Monro was appointed as Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1886. He was given responsibility for the CID and was also head of the Secret Department, which was known as Section D. The Secret Department managed internal security and monitored the activities of those that the Government regarded as subversives. These responsibilities gave Monro direct access to the Home Secretary.   Warren objected to one of his Assistant Commissioners being independent and having equal privileges. Monro felt he needed to keep his work discreet and, well, secret. Both men had a point, and a talented Home Secretary would have resolved the matter without too much difficulty. The solution, which was a long time coming, was to give the Secret Department managerial independence, and put someone in charge that had equal rank to the Commissioner Metropolitan Police. Instead, Matthews let the two men dangle.

city-of-london-police

The trio of Matthews, Warren and Monro did not operate as a successful managerial team.   This does not mean that their conflict prejudiced the Metropolitan Police investigation into the crimes of Jack the Ripper. The detection of the Ripper required sharp men on the streets and some luck. Senior policemen are nowhere near as influential as they think. Read the police reports of H Division that are available today, and they provide an account of a methodical but unimaginative approach to crime detection within the Detectives of Whitechapel. Suspects were interviewed when they appeared, and facts were evaluated. In the main, rushes to judgement were avoided. More decisive action by the Home Office, though, may have prevented the deaths of some of the Ripper victims.   This could have included extra police put on the streets sooner and clear instructions for the extra men on the beat.   Additional resources were invested into crime prevention but there is little evidence of a strategy about how those extra resources could be best used.   Monro managed undercover operators and he should have been able to improve the security of the citizens of Whitechapel.   The Secret Department was interested in security but, of course, the poor that walked the streets were not a priority for a Government led by Lord Salisbury. The poor could dangle in their slums.

If the record of Sir Henry Matthews is blemished, he was Home Secretary during a difficult period.   The mistakes made in the Jack the Ripper investigation occurred because of individual failure but also because there was little precedent for what had happened. Apart from trendsetting crime there was agitation on the streets for a socialist revolution. Meanwhile many of the rich and powerful not only indulged in licentious behaviour but were also part of an establishment that imposed a puritanical morality on ordinary people.   The result was a heady mix of sex, violence, indignation and accusation.

illustrated-police-news-19-11-1887

Bloody Sunday in Trafalgar Square in 1887 began as a protest against unemployment and the action of the British Government in Ireland. Sir Charles Warren remembered his colonial days and rather than keep the peace he waged war. 400 demonstrators were arrested, and 75 people were injured.   At least Warren and Matthews permitted demonstrations. Monro wanted them to be subject to a complete ban. There was also the Cleveland Street Scandal in 1889, which revealed a male brothel staffed by telegraph boys. The customers of the brothel were rich and included people important enough to avoid prosecution. The affair was covered-up but eventually exposed by Ernest Parke the editor of the radical North London Press. What followed was a main course in Victorian hypocrisy. The telegraph boys received light sentences, and none of their clients were prosecuted.   Parke was sued for libel and sentenced to 12 months in prison for exposing criminal behaviour that somehow did not require punishment. Sir Henry Matthews did not provide a moral lead in the affair. He looked after his masters. This was not difficult because it meant he could relax and do nothing. Matthews took a similar approach in the case of Florence Maybrick. In dubious circumstances Florence was convicted of poisoning her husband James. The arsenic in his body was not enough to kill anyone especially James. He was an arsenic addict that had developed a degree of immunity. The Press and public protested about the absence of evidence in the conviction of Mrs Maybrick.   Nowhere near as fastidious Matthews prevaricated and fudged. Florence Maybrick was left to dangle inside prison for fourteen years.

Matthews left the Home Office in 1892 and used his title as Viscount Llandaff to attend the House of Lords and do very little else in politics. He disappeared from public life. He died in 1913 at the age of 87.   His main concern as Home Secretary was protecting the status of the establishment he served and, just as important, himself.   Twelve months after his death the same people he protected took the British people into the first of two World Wars.

 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.