For a few short weeks in the Autumn of 1888, a silent horror stalking the badly lit streets of London’s Whitechapel posed another hazard for those seeking to scratch out an existence of sorts in one of Queen Victoria’s most notorious lower working class ghettos. Whoever it was didn’t even have a name until some joker sent a letter to the baffled authorities signing himself ‘Jack the Ripper’ – a name that has echoed down the dank dark alleyways of human nightmare ever since.
Even today the series of sickening slashings continues to fascinate armchair detectives, conspiracy theorists and bloggers like me. Why were the victims only ‘ladies of a certain calling’? Why did the nauseating series of crimes end as suddenly as they had begun? Did the police at the time know who the killer was, but suppress their identity for reasons known only to themselves? How was it possible to disembowel the victims in streets that were teeming with life even in the early hours of the morning?
Certain facts remain indisputable. All the victims sold their bodies for a few measly pence in poorly lit streets and even darker alleyways, or the blackened back yards of sleazy doss houses. Most of the victims were subjected to almost amateur post-mortem dissection while fully clothed. But not all of them, for some curious reason. Whoever was preying on them knew their habits, and could engage their unsuspecting attention before silencing them with a swift slashing of the carotid artery. That same person also knew the chosen killing grounds like the back of their hand.
So – a person very familiar with the seamier parts of an already sea
my district of London’s East End. A person who knew how to persuade women to accompany them into some dark place. A person with a rudimentary knowledge of female anatomy. And someone with a motive.
No wonder the police at the time never caught the perpetrator. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of people who ticked those boxes. A crime historian’s happy hunting ground, but no great challenge for a novelist who could come up with yet another theory while crayoning in between the given lines.
You may disagree totally with my choice of perpetrator in The Gaslight Stalker, shortly to be published by Sapere Books. That is your privilege, but I add it to the pile of possibilities in the hope that at least you find it to be a good read.