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The Community's Collective Wisdom "Scotland Yard was really no wiser on the subject than it was 15 years ago.."-F.G.Abberline,1903. The question is...are we ?

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Old September 20th, 2014, 10:54 PM   #111
Howard Brown
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Letters from Hell
NEWSMEN RECOGNIZED THE EXISTENCE of a multiple murderer in Whitechapel soon after the Nichols murder of 31 August, but it was not until after the double killing a month later that the assassin because generally known as ‘Jack the Ripper’. In the interval people spoke of him only as ‘the Whitechapel murderer’ or ‘Leather Apron’. It is now well known that the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ was coined by the author of a pseudonymous letter received by the Central News Agency on 27 September. The sources of this scribe’s inspiration, however, still invite speculation. ‘Jack’ is as obvious a name as anyone could have chosen and we need really seek no explanation of it. Nevertheless, William Stewart’s suggestion that this particular use of ‘Jack’ may have been inspired by the frequency of the name amongst criminal celebrities of the past1 has found favour with students who believe the author of the original Jack the Ripper letter to have been a young man steeped in penny dreadful literature. Stewart may just have a point because the most celebrated criminal in the 19th century was the burglar and prisonbreaker Jack Sheppard. Sheppard died at Tyburn in 1724 but his reputation was revived in 1839 in a best-selling romance by William Harrison Ainsworth and for the rest of the century his short but spectacular career continued to inspire romances, chapbooks and plays. Indeed, such was the vogue for Jack Sheppard on the stage that for many years anxious Lord Chamberlains, fearful of the
alleged pernicious influences of such dramas upon public morals, refused to license plays under that name. This did nothing to check the legend, however, and as late as 1885 Nellie Farren enjoyed rapturous applause at the Gaiety impersonating Jack in Yardley and Stephens’ hit burlesque Little Jack Sheppard. Another penny dreadful hero of the period was the 18th century highwayman John Rann, better known as ‘Sixteen String Jack’ from his habit of decorating the knees of his breeches with silk strings. A little of Rann’s fame still persisted in the Ripper’s day and devotees of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie’s ‘terrible masterpiece’, will probably know that Barrie, growing up in the 1870s, was dubbed ‘Sixteen String Jack’ by one of his schoolmates because of his taste for blood and thunder literature. Closer in spirit to the Ripper than these engaging rogues was ‘Spring Heeled Jack’. This was the popular name of a miscreant who, in a variety of bizarre disguises, assaulted and terrified women and children in the environs of London in 1837–38. Spring Heeled Jack was neither identified nor caught but he entered folklore as a bogy man and his name was used by exasperated mothers well into the Ripper’s time to scare fractious offspring into better behaviour. It is thus possible that the name Jack would have subconsciously suggested itself to a man well versed in cheap crime literature. The word ‘Ripper’ was, of course, derived from the murderer’s technique of laying open the abdomens of his victims. It was a term that had been used in connection with these crimes ever since the death of Polly Nichols, the first victim to sustain this particular injury. Polly was at first thought to have been the victim of a ‘High Rip’ gang that levied blackmail upon street-walkers. The early newspaper gossip about Leather Apron credited him with threatening to ‘rip up’ Widow Annie. And Warren, commenting on the suspect Puckridge for the Home Office on 19 September, related how he had threatened to ‘rip people up’ with a long knife. The letter to the Central News was not the first purporting to come from the murderer and it was far from being the last. But as the first signed Jack the Ripper and the one that inspired almost all the others it was perhaps the most important. The Central News Ltd of 5 New Bridge Street received it on 27 September. It was written in red ink and read as follows:
25 September 1888
Dear Boss I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldnt you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good luck. Yours truly Jack the Ripper Dont mind me giving the trade name The envelope was addressed to ‘The Boss, Central News Office, London City.’ It bore a London East Central postmark dated 27 September. The editor’s instinct was to treat the whole matter as a hoax and he delayed two days before transmitting the letter to Chief Constable Williamson at the Yard. ‘The enclosed was sent the Central News two days ago,’ he explained, ‘& was treated as a joke.’ ‘You will soon hear of me with my funny little games.’ Remembering that line, the police must have looked hard at the letter again when, the night after it reached them, Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes were cruelly murdered in the East End. Then, by the first post on Monday morning, a day after the killings, the Central News received a second communication. It was a postcard, apparently bloodstained. There was no date but there was a ‘LONDON. E.’ postmark dated 1 October. Couched in the same mocking tones and written in the same hand as the letter, it read: I wasnt codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip. youll hear about saucy Jackys work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldnt finish straight off. had not time to get ears for police thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again. Jack the Ripper2 The Metropolitan Police, to whom both letter and postcard passed, now took them seriously enough to launch a determined attempt to trace the scribe. On this occasion the assistance of the public was speedily enlisted. Preparing facsimiles of letter and card, the police published them in a poster of 3 October requesting anyone who recognized the handwriting to contact them. It was placarded outside every police station. At the same time facsimiles were sent to the press and on 4 October several papers published them in full or in part. Perhaps the most important result of all this publicity was that it gave the murderer a name. From the Yard’s point of view the other results were disastrous. For although the publicity did nothing to unmask the the killer, or even the letter writer, it did inspire a host of imitative pranksters to deluge police and press in a tide of bogus Ripper letters. They all had to be read and, where possible, followed up, and they wasted a great deal of police time. The much depleted Metropolitan Police case papers still contain hundreds of letters purportedly written by the Whitechapel murderer. Many, many others were sent to the City Police, to newspapers and to private businesses and individuals.3 A reading of those extant reveals only one that merits serious consideration along with the first letter and postcard. This was a very nasty little communication addressed to George Lusk of 1 Alderney Road, Mile End, the new chairman of the Mile End Vigilance Committee.4 On the evening of Tuesday, 16 October, Lusk received through the post a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. The next night he mentioned it at a meeting of the vigilance committee at the Crown in Mile End Road. Joseph Aarons, the treasurer, told the press how Lusk approached him in a ‘state of considerable excitement’. Aarons asked what the matter was. ‘I suppose you will laugh at what I am going to tell you,’ said Lusk, ‘but you must know that I had a little parcel come to me on Tuesday evening, and to my surprise it contains half a kidney and a letter from Jack the Ripper.’ Aarons did laugh. Someone, he told the chairman jocularly, was trying to frighten him. But Lusk was visibly shaken. ‘It is no laughing matter to me,’ he grumbled. It was already late. So Aarons suggested that they let the matter rest until the morning when he and some of the other members would call round to inspect the package. At about 9.30 the next morning, 18 October, Aarons, together with Mr B. Harris, the secretary, and Messrs Reeves and Lawton, two of the committee members, called upon the chairman at his home in Alderney Road. Lusk opened his desk and took out a small cardboard box. It was about 3˝ inches square. ‘Throw it away,’ he said, handing it to them, ‘I hate the sight of it!’ They opened the box.
Inside was one half of a kidney, divided longitudinally. It stank. There was also a letter:
From hell Mr Lusk Sor I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer signed Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk.
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