Friday, March 18, 2016

Jack the Ripper by John Elfreth Watkins 1919


Jack the Ripper by John Elfreth Watkins

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There was a reign of terror in London's Whitechapel district during the late eighties. On Christmas, 1887, a woman of the demi-monde was brutally murdered and mutilated, and during 1888 seven more crimes of the same character added to the frenzy of underworld denizens. Again, in 1889, two more victims were found, and early in 1891 a twelfth.

All of the victims were of the class known as street-walkers and all bore the same unmistakable marks of brutality. The throat of each was cut and each body upon which the murderer apparently had had time to complete his butchery was eviscerated in the same manner. It was the methodical work of some fiend, maniac or monster who seemed to possess a knowledge of surgery and anatomy. He always managed to escape, and apparently there was no motive except a revolting appetite for butchery or thirst for revenge. Seemingly he had no ill-will against, or personal knowledge of, his victims, each of whom was of a class that he knew would place herself voluntarily at his mercy and would unconsciously assist him in avoiding danger of detection.

On the 30th of September, 1888, the monster murdered two of his victims, one immediately after the other. The fact that the first whom he killed was not mutilated in the usual way indicated that he had been interrupted before completing his bloody work. And being thus disturbed before satisfying his mania for mutilation in the accustomed way, he ran out and completed his work upon the next victim whom he could find.

The police were nonplused from the start. The fiend appeared to change his lodgings after each murder. Some newspaper scribe dubbed the monster "Jack the Ripper" and the name was soon upon every tongue throughout both Europe and America. It sent shivers down the spines of Londoners and for a long time limited the activities of the class among whom the maniac selected his victims. The authorities being unable to obtain a single clue, numerous private citizens enlisted as detectives. Even one of the autocratic directors of the Bank of London disguised himself as a laborer and in heavy boots and fustian jacket, with a red bandanna tied about his head and a pickax over his shoulder, sought diversion each night haunting neighborhoods in which he imagined "Jack the Ripper" would appear.


The distinguished criminologist, L. Forbes Winslow, spent night after night in the Whitechapel slums seeking the slayer and at one time inserted in the London papers an advertisement stating that a gentleman strongly opposed to the presence of fallen women in the streets of London would like to co-operate in their suppression. By this means Doctor Winslow hoped to get into correspondence with the maniac, and he received several confessions in the same handwriting. Each expressed insane glee over the hideous work, and one stated that the next murder would be committed on November 9th. The fact that this prophecy was brutally fulfilled led the doctor to believe that he had been in correspondence with "Jack the Ripper" himself, although previously he had suspected that some one was hoaxing him. On the day prophesied the body of Mary Anne Kelly, with throat cut and body eviscerated, was found on a ground-floor room with an uncurtained window through which any passerby might have seen the crime, which had been committed in broad daylight. In the handwriting of Doctor Winslow's correspondent was at last found beneath an archway the statement: "Jack the Ripper will - never commit another murder." And this prophecy also seems to have been fulfilled.

Every investigator of the crimes had his own theory as to "Jack the Ripper's" character. He was variously believed to be an escaped gorilla, a Russian discharged from a Paris asylum; a man from Vienna, who, in a London Hospital, had complained of having been robbed by a street-walker, and who after threatening to kill all such women, had exhibited surgical interest by asking to witness various operations; and a sufferer from masked epilepsy, who during his chronic seizures would perform the most diabolical acts, but who on returning to consciousness was in entire ignorance of his crimes.

Because a slaughter house was found to be in close proximity to each spot in which a victim was found, one investigator, applying the law of deduction, argued that "Jack the Ripper" was a butcher, and on the strength of this theory several detectives disguised as slaughtermen went to work in these establishments. One theory was that the murderer was a woman disguised as a slaughterman.

The belief of Doctor Winslow is that "Jack the Ripper" was a man of position and means—a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phenomenon suffering from a religious monomania, and who, while his paroxysms lasted, was bent on exterminating fallen women, but who, when these seizures passed off, returned to the bosom of his family, probably in the West End of London.

The favorite theory has been that "Jack the Ripper" practiced his butchery in revenge for having contracted from a woman of Whitechapel an incurable disease which had undermined his health and unhinged his reason.

Who he was and why he plied his hideous trade is the sphinx riddle of criminology.

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