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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A hotbed of murder and perversion


Jack the Ripper's rein of terror lasted for a ten week period in 1888 - London was then the world's largest city -  the hub of an ever expanding empire. The city was in effect the financial capital of the world and it had enjoyed a long period of financial growth. Things were however starting to change and London was facing competition from America and Germany and a trade slump saw unemployment take a dramatic leap, which resulted in London's already packed slum areas swelling to bursting point.

It was into this mixing pot that was London's Whitechapel, that the killer known to history as Jack the Ripper practiced his or her deadly trade, and by proving that he/she could evade capture from the police and authorities only consolidated the general image of the East End as a hotbed of murder and perversion. One report, published in 1888, estimated that out of a population of 456,877 souls more than 60,000 were living on the brink of starvation. Whitechapel at the time was ready to explode - there were racial problems with the high influx of Jewish immigrants coming to the city after escaping persecution in Germany, Russia and Poland - Whitechapel's Jewish population at this time was estimated as being around 50,000, and as the spectra of mass unemployment threatened the Jews found themselves vilified for stealing British jobs. Indeed when the Ripper killings started the press hinted that an Englishman could not do such a thing and the person responsible had to have come from the vast immigrant population.


Dorset Street 1888 - Mary Kelly Lodged here
The Ripper killings took place over an area that was made up of little more than a square mile. The victims were all prostitutes and we can't even be clear of how many killings the Ripper was responsible for. The so called canonical five victims come from a report made by Sir Melville Macnaghten who stated in a report in 1894 that he believed Jack the Ripper had killed five and only five women - these are Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly. There are many who dispute this and it is my own feeling that the same hand was not responsible for all of the woman in the so called canonical five.

A lady named Martha Tabran was murdered on 7th August 1888 and many believe, myself included, that she was the first Ripper victim. However in my opinion the double murder of 29th of September 1888 were carried out by two different hands, and not by the Ripper which popular wisdom suggests. I also don't believe that Mary Kelly was a Ripper victim but I do believe the key to the murders rests with her. Indeed it is the mystery surrounding Mary Kelly that drives the central premise in my current novel, The Rhondda Ripper.

Was Mary Kelly a Ripper victim?
Was it Mary Kelly who was found dead, mutilated beyond identification, in her bed?

These questions can not be answered with any certainty, but logic would suggest that the chance of there being only  five victims is quite wrong, and that the double event of 29th September could not have been carried out by the same person. In order to stick with the canonical five we would have to believe that the killer was disturbed just after killing Elizabeth Stride and then in the middle of the biggest manhunt London, indeed the world, had ever known he runs less than a mile away and takes time to kill and mutilate Catherine Eddowes. Hardly seems likely and the known facts are,  like the legend, buried in myth and fancy. The fog lit image above of the man in the top hat and cape has become the popular image of Jack the Ripper, and at the time it was a person such as this whom the police were concentrating on - it is no wonder they never found him, since the likelihood is that he didn't even exist.


Ironically some good did come out of the Whitechapel killings and that was in giving publicity to the campaigners who said something needed to change for the working classes in the East End. The killings generated so much publicity that The Lancet, the world famous medical journal, reported - modern society is more promptly awakened to a sense of duty by the knife of a killer than by many thousands of words from earnest writers.

Many social commentators claimed that Jack the Ripper was a product spawned by the dreadful conditions that men, women and children found themselves and was therefore the fault of society itself. None less a personage than George Bernard Shaw wrote to the Times Newspaper, stating the the fiend of Whitechapel had at least drawn attention to the dreadful conditions. He went onto theorize that the killings, although abhorrent, would do more for the areas affected than any of socialist movements could ever hope. And although Shaw was being ironic by congratulating the killer as a social reformer it was true that following the killings a massive program of redevelopment started in the East End.


At 2.55 am on 30th September P.C. Albert Long found the missing portion of Catherine Eddowes', whose body had been found earlier,  apron in a doorway on Goulston Street. A further investigation found a message scrawled in chalk upon the wall - THE JUWES ARE THE MEN THAT WILL NOT BE BLAMED FOR NOTHING.

There was a large Jewish community and fearing race riots the police wiped the writing from the wall. This was done on the orders of Sir Charles Warren. It was a highly controversial decision but Warren always defended what he had done and claimed that far greater crimes would have been carried out against innocent Jews had it been left for further examination.

The facts are that After the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes , police searched the area near the crime scenes in an effort to locate a suspect, witnesses or evidence. As reported above it was Constable Albert Long of the Metropolitan Police Service who discovered a dirty, bloodstained piece of an apron in the stairwell of a tenement, 108 to 119 Model dwellings, Goulston Street The cloth was later confirmed as being a part of the apron worn by Catherine Eddowes. Above it, there was writing in white chalk upon the wall.


Suspects were legion - many were considered suspects totally due to general speculation, others because of descriptions, locations or occupations. One popular theory named Queen Victoria’s grandson who was known as Eddy and was known to have consorted with prostitutes. It was alleged that the Royal physician William Gull performed the murders in order to hide the fact that the prince had fathered a child with one of the victims, supposedly Mary Kelly. Another theory was that the prince carried out the killings himself because of brain damage caused by contracting syphilis of the brain.

Over the years there have been many suspects ranging from the plausible, George Chapman to the ludicrous, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


The Victorian police have been the subject of much criticism by the media over the years, and some of it is likely deserved. But it must be remembered the criminal science was in its infancy at the time of the Ripper killings. Fingerprinting was not even an established practice and the locations where the killings took place were connected by an intricate warren of alleys and passageways, all of them unlit.

The Ripper is widely considered the world's first serial killer, and given that the area of operation was one of the most densely populated, not to mention transient, areas in the entire city then it is little wonder that he/she was able to evade the police.

Police Inspector Frank Parade carries out his daily duties in Pontypridd, duties complicated by the presence of 500 members of Buffalo Bill Cody's touring Wild West Show, not to mention the thousands attending the show every day. A series of depraved murders quickly makes things even more complicated for the policeman.

Soon Frank Parade find himself on the trail which stretches backs to London's Whitechapel killings and Jack the Ripper. Secrets are revealed and the answer to the greatest mystery in criminal history is answered by a British policeman and an American legend.

Click HERE


It's difficult to say too much in this review without giving away some major points that would ruin this well crafted story. It's set in South Wales in 1904 and features a visit by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Circus - apparantly this actually took place. And concerns itself with a series of killings that ultimately reveal Jack the Ripper in an original and plausible way. Amazon readers review

Gary Dobbs partners up Parade and Buffalo Bill making for an enjoyable detecting duo. He does a fine job of bringing the famous Wild West showman to life and his descriptions of Pontypridd, the era, and people sparkle. I'm hoping Mr. Dobbs doesn't leave Frank Parade on the sidelines too long because I'm betting there are more adventures in him. Or, maybe Bill Cody -- there's an idea worth exploring -- Buffalo Bill as a world-traveling crime-solver. The Education of a Pulp Writer

Gary Dobbs (AKA Jack Martin) continues his string of fast paced books with "The Rhondda Ripper" Not a western per se, as are his Jack Martin books, "The Rhondda Ripper" still has some of that western sensibility and it even features Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show on a visit to England, Wales in particular.

The story takes place a number of years after the Whitechapel murders but ties back to those murders in a most interesting way. I won't give more away because the twist at the end is original and took me well by surprise. Yet, it made perfect sense within the storyline of the book. Mack Captures Crime

One word: Wow. This is a good book.

The story begins slowly, a man's morning routine as he gets ready for duty and faces the possibility of a busy day, but he has no idea how "busy" it's going to get! Throw in Buffalo Bill, a Wild West show, murders that may or may not be connected to Jack The Ripper, and you have a really hot read. I don't want to say too much for fear of giving something away, but it's a well-written yarn and you will get hooked right away. It's also, for me, a nice change of pace from the modern urban hard-boiled junk I've been digesting lately. Brian Drake 

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