Through the Mists of Time: A Journey with Jack the Ripper

Welcome to Freaky Friday. Today I have a special treat. William Simon, who writes as Will Graham, is going to talk about his experiences with the Jack the Ripper case.  I met Will through this blog.  He has been a good friend to me.

I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did.

Take it away, Will!

 Dead Women

Mary Ann Nichols.

Annie Chapman.

Elizabeth Stride.

Catherine Eddowes.

Mary Kelly.

Five women who lived in the Whitechapel district of London in the fall of 1888.

Five women who are linked forever in history, thanks to each meeting one individual:

Jack the Ripper.

History has shown that ‘Jack’, as he supposedly christened himself in letters, was not civilization’s first serial killer as we know the term today. As near as can be determined, that title belongs to a Chinese prince named Liu Pengli who roamed back in 144 B.C. At best, most experts agree Jack’s victims numbered five; some say as few as three, others as many as ten. Modern day monsters have far exceeded those numbers.

It was the level of outright savagery in the Ripper murders caught the public’s attention as no crime ever had.  The Ripper’s victims were not simply murdered; they were butchered, and by someone who possessed rudimentary surgical knowledge. The crude photographs of the Ripper’s alleged last victim, Mary Kelly, still induce a cringe.

The Obsession

The big question, of course, is why does this one particular case fascinate us so?  The mere mention of the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ gets everyone’s attention; you really only have to say ‘The Ripper’ and people instantly know the case you are talking about.

Back in the now inconceivable year 1967, I saw a Long Playing (LP) record album on a rack: the audio soundtrack of the 1959 film JACK THE RIPPER with Lee Patterson and Eddie Byrne in the record rack at the long gone but not forgotten Skagg’s drugstore in Las Vegas. The price was $2.99, but something compelled me to blow two weeks savings. I listened to it, simultaneously terrified and fascinated…. and puzzled.

This was not the musical soundtrack, this was the actual dialogue and action from the movie with additional narration; it was like listening to an old time radio drama. (And yes, I still have that record!)

That summer, the family went back east for a reunion.  My aunt was the local librarian, and when I mentioned this record, she immediately steered me to AUTUMN OF TERROR by Tom Cullen, one of the few books at the time that covered what little there was about the case.  I spent almost my entire vacation time trying to memorize that book.

The fascination continued over the years…. then came 1975, and the Holy Grail.

Donald Rumbelow wrote THE COMPLETE JACK THE RIPPER.  Mr. Rumbelow was a policeman, and had access to the actual Scotland Yard files; he even had access to what was believed to have been one of the knives the Ripper used!

After reading the book cover to cover, devouring it, studying it, I was frustrated beyond words; I was no closer to the identity of Jack the Ripper than I was before.  But Mr. Rumbelow’s book gained a permanent place on my shelf.

With the unbridled hubris of youth, I actually wrote Mr. Rumbelow a letter sharing some of my theories…. and he was kind enough to reply.  I still have that book, and that letter.  Plus his revised and expanded JACK THE RIPPER, THE COMPLETE CASEBOOK (1988).  Both books are the cornerstone of ‘The Ripper Shelf’ in the home library to this day, and I sincerely appreciate that Mr. Rumbelow would take the time to write back to a boy with approximately one million questions about the case.

The Suspects

The number of suspects as to Jack’s real identity has ebbed and flowed over time.  In 1993, an alleged diary of The Ripper’s was published, kept by a man named James Maybrick wherein he confessed to the Ripper murders; less than a year after publication the diary was proven to be a hoax.

In 1998, a panel of criminal forensic investigators, including John Douglas and Roy Hazlewood from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (as it was named at the time), concluded the Ripper was Aaron Kosminski, a local butcher; in the final moments of the program, Douglas was certain if Kosminski was not Jack the Ripper, the actual killer would be someone very much like Kosminski.

The crime writer Patricia Cornwell personally funded an incredibly expensive investigation in 2002 into the killings using current forensic techniques applied to what little physical evidence exists, her conclusion being the killer was an artist named Walter Sickert.

Writers of all types have pondered the secret identity of Jack, including Sherlock Holmes and Ellery Queen working together (after a fashion: see A STUDY IN TERROR by Ellery Queen).  A new book implies a direct connection between Jack and Bram Stoker, following the theory Stoker knew Jack personally and his most famous work, Dracula, is peppered with clues to Jack’s real identity.

The Eternally Unsolved Mystery

Almost 125 years after the crimes were committed, there is still no one single viable suspect, much less an individual that could be convicted in a court of law.

And that, in my opinion, is why the case is still so intriguing.

The Ripper murders struck a chord somewhere along the line, leading to obsessive investigations, theories that range from the logically plausible to the outright ridiculous.  Movies continue to be made, television shows borrow liberally for ‘copycat’ killers, stage plays continue to be written and produced.

And the bottom line is no one knows for certain who Jack the Ripper really was….

 Will’s Fiction

Upcoming:

In MALENGINE (due Winter 2013), former FBI agent Ray Cleveland was one of the driving forces behind the BSU.  Since his retirement, he has written two non-fiction books on serial murder and seen a television series based on his career.

After two years of research, Ray has recently written a non-fiction account of a suspect in the Ripper case – James ‘Jack’ Kelly – an upholsterer held in Broadmoor Asylum who escaped shortly before the Ripper murders began.  Following what little paper trail exists, Ray has found evidence Kelly did indeed come to America in early December 1888… where a strikingly similar series of murders occur.

Simultaneously with Ray’s book coming out, an actress turned mystery author – Victoria Lynne Martin – has published her own account of the case, researching at her own expense for three years, and discovering proof the Ripper was indeed Edward, Duke of Clarence.  Their publisher sends them on a joint publicity tour with excellent results…. until the murders begin in the cities they are touring.  And the New Ripper is stalking Victoria….

Published:

After writing a police novel (STREET HEAT), a real-life horror novel (SOMETIMES, THERE REALLY ARE MONSTERS UNDER THE BED), and a outright thriller (SPIDER’S DANCE), I made the decision to go back and try my own hand at one of history’s most puzzling mysteries.  Will I be the one to finally solve a mystery that has plagued us for over 120 years?  Probably not…. but I’m going to have fun trying!

About Will

Since 2002, William Simon has been the owner and lead investigator for a licensed firm that handles computer forensics and electronic evidence exclusively.  His company “Abberline Investigations” was named for the Scotland Yard Inspector Frederick Abberline, one of the lead investigators in the Jack the Ripper case.  This field of work has led to a…. few interesting experiences.

He has a ridiculously broad-range DVD collection, listens to little else but music from the 1950’s and 60’s, still reads Leslie Charteris and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and is proud of the fact that he saw both Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin – live and on stage – in Las Vegas, many years ago.

His short story, “Spider’s Tango” in THRILLER 3: LOVE IS MURDER from International Thriller Writers/Mira Books, features Nicholas White from SPIDER’S DANCE.  Earlier works include STREET HEAT and SOMETIMES, THERE REALLY ARE MONSTERS UNDER THE BED, are also available in eBook editions.

His website is:  www.wmsimon.com

Thank you, Will, for such an interesting tour of the Jack the Ripper case.  I’d have never had the nerve to tackle this one.