by Lise Horton
Into the miasma of human misery that was 1888 Victorian London – a place of poverty and degradation rife with hardscrabble poverty, drug addiction and alcoholism, prostitution, child labor and rampant illness – came unimagined evil in human form. Even today, through the mists of time, he is the specter who continues to haunt the night. We still ponder the mystery of who he was, how many ill-fated women were really his victims, and . . . why did he disappear as stealthily as he came?
There is no agreement as to when the victims began to die at his hands or who was the first. Was it Ada Wilson, a “seamstress”, stabbed in the throat by a “sandy-haired man” in March of 1888? Or Martha Tabram who perhaps fell to the slice of his razor sharp blade on August 7, 1888? Could there have been other madmen at work in Whitechapel? Or was the villain merely perfecting his diabolical technique for satisfying his blood lust on women of the streets, before he sent Mary Ann Nichols to her grisly reward?
And who was his last victim? Young, pretty Mary Jane Kelly whose horrific disemboweling cannot be conceived of? Or were later murdered women additional notches on his blade, like Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jackson, part of whose corpse was found in the Thames? Might the headless, limbless torso that was found in the very depths of New Scotland Yard have been the cheeky calling card of a madman in a growing state of murderous frenzy?
Once begun, the murders crept into the consciousness of rich and poor alike, and fear permeated all of London as women continued to die ever more gruesome deaths:
Mary Ann Nichols
Mary Jane Kelly
Kelly’s death on November 9, 1888, marks the end of the accepted “canonical” victims of the man of many names and nightmares, including “Leather Apron”. But death continued to haunt Whitechapel and its environs for more than a year. Was it truly over or did officials despair and turn a willfully blind eye to the truth?
Suspects were sought by the dozens…
Was he the Jewish butcher whose attire had been the “leather apron” seen by witnesses? Was he one of the famous among London’s elite, like Lewis Carroll? Perhaps he was the handsome, mad, suicidal Montague John Druitt? Maybe “he” had really been a she – the posited “Jill”? One American fell under suspicion - the Machiavellian foreigner, Francis Tumblety caught many a lawman’s eye with his collection of specimens and hatred of women. Could he even have been a royal ensconced within the palace: Prince Albert Victor, son of beloved Queen Victoria herself? Or mayhap the perpetrator was the Prince’s physician who possessed the requisite knowledge for removing organs? How jolly to taunt the police with a bit of kidney by post! Or was he a man who never came to the attention of investigators, leaving no image, no name to add to the roster?
… none were brought before a magistrate for a reckoning.
Why did the crimes cease? Did the killer die? Was he driven mad by the unrelenting drive to torture and kill? Did he move away to continue ghastly assaults in another place, where he continued to perfect his deadly craft long after newspaper stories of the murders of Whitechapel yellowed with age?
All that is known is that the world’s most notorious killer slipped into history, leaving in his wake the echoes of screams and dying sighs.
Who can say?
A woman walks into the shadows, looking over her shoulder at the sound of measured steps on the cobblestones in the dark behind her.
She breathes faster in the gaslit night.
A whisper, a call, a flash beneath the flickering light of – what?
Is it a knife?
Is he back?
Will she be the next unfortunate soul left in gruesome display on the damp, fetid street, her life’s blood draining from her as she grows cold with death?
Until the harsh glare of day reveals another victim of . . .
Jack the Ripper.
Lise Horton is the President of RWA/NYC, a budding "Ripperologist", and at work editing her erotic time travel romance, Just In Time, wherein her heroine sets out to catch Jack. You can follow Lise at http://lisehorton.blogspot.com/