by ILLTYD HARRINGTON
EVEN the slow-minded among us and addicts of Channel 5 know all about CSI and crime scene investigation – a police technique not used carefully in that awkward autumn of terror in 1888 when Jack the Ripper took up his bloodstained tools – a mutilated corpse dumped in the primitive morgue where even the public seemed able to wander in to view the hastily despatched victim. Jack holds his place as the first established serial killer.
Five street prostitutes were slaughtered by the mystery man. London was in turmoil with social and political upheaval. As news of the violent deaths spread with ghastly and grisly detail, fear grabbed the throat of the East End.
Prior to this various attempts were made to put before the public the unbelievable squalor of working-class life. Five years earlier, Andrew Mearns, a young Anglican priest threw down a challenge in a pamphlet The Bitter Cry of Outcast London – a stark but realistic explanation of life beyond Whitechapel Pump.
It shook the complacency of the Church and the Monarch.
Jack London the renowned novelist (White Fang and Call of the Wild) and socialist writer lived there for several months. His account, People of the Abyss, worried the liberal consciences.
An astonishingly large Hyde Park Rally of three quarters of a million people in the summer of 1875 called for a policy on the debasement of women and the enslavement of children.
They even bought a wagon-load of young girls dressed in white, symbolising the degree of upper-class corruption.
Our generation cossets the young well into their late 20s. In the second half of the 19th-century, girls were considered suitable enough for consensual intercourse at the age of 12.
Horrifically, this led to a wide demand for young girls.
The police had no DNA in those days. Our dear Queen Victoria expressed her distress as well she might – a grandson of hers, the Duke of Clarence, was a suspect as well as her surgeon, Sir William Withey Gull.
Many have claimed to have evidence to solve the puzzle of who the Ripper was, but for me, I’m afraid, the bewilderment continues even after reading Jack the Ripper’s Secret Confessions by Nigel Cawthorne and David Monaghan.
Their quest took them deep into the bowels of the British Library where there are 11 volumes of the private art of “Walter” – described as the Kohinoor of erotica or a parade of genitalia and pornographic writing of the most explicit and lascivious kind.
They used the accompanying diary to identify Walter as the Ripper by coinciding dates and time.
They dismiss as its author Henry Spencer-Ashbee, a bibliophile who collected erotica and lived in Upper Bedford Square from 1865 to 1900. Likewise his close friend Sir Richard Burton, the eminent explorer who shared his exotic and erotic tastes.
The volumes in the British Library were donated by another prosaic respectable businessman, Charles Reginald Dawes in 1966.
But to me the jigsaw is still incomplete. Claims that Jack admitted at least another five appalling murders plus disposing body parts in the Thames or even in Camden Lock do not convince. He was even accused of further human butchery in New York.
Now let us turn to William Hayward. The cross-referencing by the authors leads them to name and shame him as Walter. He is the prime suspect – a civil engineer with an entree into society who fits into what we would call a psychological profile. Hayward died in April 13 1894 in comfort and wealth in Hamilton Terrace, living with an unmarried lady and leaving about £3million in our money.
The murders fired the righteousness of Wickham Steed, the campaigning editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. In four consecutive issues he exposed the frenzied dismemberment as well as the attendant exploitation of poor women. The effervescent George Bernard Shaw offered to sell it on the streets. The scale of the exploitation was horrendous.
It was common gossip that King Leopold II who plundered the Congo employed a vicious Hampstead brothel keeper Mary Jeffries to procure young children to feeds his perversion. She is reputed to have found 100 young children for the carnal pleasure of this appalling Royal.
Jack’s terrible psychotic lust turned the floodlight on private affluence and public squalor. Strange as it may seem, the rape of a child was a misdemeanour punishable with two years’ in prison. Unlawful carnal knowledge was a mere felony.
Before we get too self-righteous, remember Peter Sutcliffe who killed at least 15 women or Fred and Rose West whose depravity knew no bounds. Or Dr Harold Shipman who is believed to have killed 250 people.
We cannot answer this by just saying string ’em up.
Sadly, in our time children are still trafficked in and Jack remains an iconic figure in British criminology daily remembered by a theme walk in Whitechapel.
• Illtyd Harrington is literary editor of the New Journal
• Jack the Ripper’s Secret Confessions: The Hidden Testimony of Britain’s First Serial Killer.
By Nigel Cawthorne and David Monaghan.
Jack the Ripper really was?
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