The Tell: a Ripper tale

This is a lovely dark tale for a sunny day. I’ve been a Ripperologist for 30+ years, ever intrigued by a 131 year old crime. I’ve amassed a library of over 1000 Ripper and Victorian era books, attended a dozen international conferences, and written related articles and fictional short stories because it seems while we think we know who Jack might have been–we don’t know Jack (Schitt). Or do we? Can you guess the real life identity of Jack in my story below? jack rip

1888

Pushing aside a plethora of witness statements, Abberline took up his pen and sighed as he wrote: “I beg to report that an inquest was held this day at . . . .” Precisely at half past the hour, he finished the report stating “. . . those persons detained satisfactorily accounted for their movements; all persons of interest were released. Therefore, the case remains open.”  Before signing his name he removed from a pile of witness statements a thin sheet of vellum bearing a hint of hyssop and lavender and two succinct paragraphs of script. The post mark on the reverse side indicated the letter had been mailed from the Whitechapel General Post Office.

Abberline placed the smooth, capped tip of his pen dead center on his bottom lip, and traced his bearded jawline pensively. He wondered if in the space remaining he should mention the letter, so unlike the 100s received in recent months. It was strange because the writer wasn’t bragging but asking for forgiveness—or absolution. Over and over, the writer used the words ‘I must tell you’ and ‘I am compelled to state…’ Most important, the writer mentioned the scorched lace choker pulled from the fire—and other details known only to a very few—including the killer? He exhaled, his cheeks flapping like worn bellows. No, he decided, it will only lead to unnecessary complications. I have my orders.

1892

Chief Inspector Abberline was retiring from the Metropolitan Police Force. During one of several retirement celebrations, he remarked to a few close colleagues he was sorry indeed he couldn’t have done more to set people’s minds at ease. He assured his superiors he would remain mute, and raised a glass of cheer to those assuming the burden of catching the elusive killer the press had dubbed Jack the Ripper. However, amongst the documents Abberline took with him when he packed his belongings was an overstuffed folder. It contained personal notes, crime sketches, and a ledger sheet listing pay outs to witnesses and informants. It also listed pay outs to street walkers to induce them to remove themselves from imminent danger—and the brief letter, with the faint trace of scent.

1929

Long after he had retired from police and private detective duties, Abberline received a letter at his home in Bournemouth. The thick letter bore a central London postmark. There was a faint, pleasant whiff of floral. What was it? “No,” he blurted aloud. “No, no, no, bloody lavender—and hyssop.” Thoughts of the Ripper murders, which had resurfaced after a recent visit from an aspiring writer, overwhelmed him. He was one of the last Ripper investigators—coroner Wynne Baxter had died in 1920; Swanson died in 1924.

His wife Emma had gone into town with friends for the day. He could not open the letter in the comfort of his sitting room. The floral scent was growing stronger, nearly overwhelming. He threw the letter down and staggered backwards, covering his face with his hands.

Shakily, he readjusted his wire rimmed glasses, and gathered the letter and his magnifying glass. Abberline limped through his house and into the garden. Sitting heavily in one of the iron chairs facing the damask roses, he exhaled deeply and carefully eased back the envelope flap. As he extracted the letter, something fell into his lap. No! Impossible; it was a piece of singed, stained cream lace, with a bit of black velvet woven through it. He had no doubt it would match the other fragments that had been retrieved from the ashes in Mary Kelly’s fireplace.  Trembling, he placed the fragment in the envelope.

This message was far more unnerving than the one received decades ago. That message warned the next ‘unavoidable killing’ would be the last one. He began to read, and in just one page, the author of the letter had soured Abberline’s hard earned peace of mind. His heart thumping, he skipped to the last page, needing desperately to see the signature. There was none. He searched inside the envelope again—lace fragments and some sooty flakes. He looked on the back of all the sheets. He even ran his magnifying glass over the lines of reddish-blue ink. The watermark indicated the paper came from a large, central London stationery shop—no help at all. There was nothing to provide identification, except for the floral scent. Abberline pursed his lips and resumed reading.

“. . . survived aerial bombings over my London home and the flu epidemic. I must tell you I lost dear friends in the Boer War, yet nothing glares at me more starkly than the summer and autumn of 1888. I have hoped my memory would scatter to the sacred winds, or at least lose its crystal clarity. Unfortunately, I recall every moment. My early years are unimportant; I am not proud of what I did then to survive. I arrived in London in November 1887, and thought it a monstrous, dark metropolis of vice and decadence; it lacked in virtue, a hint of sweet air, and compassion for fellow creatures. It was overflowing with alien inhabitants, speaking in strange tongues, observing old, foreign ways. Drab, dirty, grimy, thoroughfares were heaped with filth, and had likely been filthy for centuries. I fell in with a bad lot of crooks. They took advantage of my special abilities, and beat me when I couldn’t steal or beg enough coins to satisfy them. The savior who rescued me altered my life. Within a few months, I was healthy again. I vowed I would do anything to repay my rescuer.

Besides the incessant physical pain I endure now, I feel the very fabric of my being ripping in retelling these events. You must excuse my wobbly penmanship. Indeed, mistakes were made. Whether these mistakes were of small proportion in retrospect, and forgivable, or of such gravity I will find no place of refuge in the hereafter, I cannot say. What we did, we did for her.

My end of days nears; to you sir, I am compelled to disclose my intimate role in the murders that haunt me still. This is my final confession—my gift to an earnest seeker of facts. You have refused to accept anything less than an entire truth from those you prosecuted. But I warn you, hearing the truth and knowing what is true are two very different things. You are a man of honor, Chief Inspector. You will know what to do.

I am responsible for planning and executing the killings. Were it not for my perfectly implemented solution, he would never have escaped detection. Our motives would have been discovered and our undertaking compromised. I did not strangle those women, nor did I stab them, or extract their life force. My culpability lies in helping them realize their destiny. I still wonder, did they know they would serve a greater purpose in dying than they ever did in living?

Some say his eyes were dark, piercing hooks that mesmerized women so the killing could be done with little objection. No one considers what a mercy it was he could finish the task so swiftly. Hooks indeed—his eyes held untold wisdom— power beyond fathom and keen intelligence. I put that power there. The man I helped achieve the highest ambition possible—the saving of one essential life—was never caught because of what I whispered to him, as often as needed, exactly as I had been taught.

They called him evil—but he killed no upstanding citizens. No, that’s not entirely true—there was Edmund Gurney, though I must protest; his honorableness was questionable. We realized too late we exceeded our authority when Edmund wouldn’t change his mind. We did try to revive him—the strychnine should have brought him back. Arsenic didn’t help either; the antidote was administered too late. 1888 was certainly not Edmund’s year, with the exposure of that charlatan Smith and his hopes for proof of communications beyond the grave dashed. His marriage had been tottering for years. He even used psychic contacts to try to determine if his wife was engaged in unseemly dalliances. If only he’d seen reason and agreed to make the vile report vanish. His death was unfortunate—completely unforeseen. It is small consolation some remarked at least Edmund and his family were spared his being accused of being a mass murderer, a Ripper contender, considering his medical background, psychic leanings, and the mustache. They got one fact right—Jack did have a lovely mustache.

I suppose it did begin in June of 1888 in that charming seaside town of Brighton, with Edmund’s unfortunate demise. His death was a hallowed sign she would be allowed to complete her life’s task, though his accusations had a dire effect on her physically. I apologize I cannot tell you her name or why her success was critical—bear with me. Quite naturally, we had to do more. We couldn’t let anything impede us, you see. Given the urgency, he exhibited remarkable control and expertise—though his real talent was in dissecting the psyche, not the physical form.

I admit we did write one of the letters—though it was not originally published in London papers. An unsuspecting friend posted it from Belfast. We didn’t want to add to the press frenzy, which had been gaining momentum since Bloody Sunday. Ironically, the publicity generated from the murders helped her cause and it helped us. It brought needed reform to those disadvantaged denizens of the East End—and sooner than anticipated. The other murders—the needless hacking of torsos—was not our doing.

It was risky killing in such a confined area, however, Whitechapel’s notoriety as a crime-ridden slum allowed us to carry out our tasks relatively undisturbed, despite the increase of police scrutiny. You see, they were looking for an evil man—a rogue, thief, or beggarly creature, not a respectable couple. Based on my previous knowledge, we selected an area that could be traversed in 15 minutes—an area filled with narrow, dank passageways, twisting alleys, and grimy windows. Everyone knew of their neighbor and no one wanted to know more—unless a profit could be turned.

The night of the double murder was agony for him, for twice he became crazed and twice he had to subdue the murderous impulses. I stood watch and saw two men approaching. In the faint light, he extracted the wrong implement, which was of similar weight and length. He realized his mistake after her life force had fled. To have been caught then, with the end in sight would not have done at all. I gave the signal we’d practiced, and he melted into the shadows. We had to keep to schedule—despite the imminent danger. With the second good kill, we were back on target and so near our goal.”

Abberline wiped a thin line of sweat from his brow and longed for a measure of brandy. He’d questioned so many people, but none he could recall related to Gurney’s death. Was there a Ripper connection? Why had he never considered there might be a link? In his opinion, the murders always had a diabolical element, though he could hardly put that in a report. He gripped the letter tightly, and resumed reading.

“The women we selected did not wear face paint, perfumes, or powders. They were tipplers who offered their unwashed bodies for a pittance. They knew chronic poverty, disease, abuse, and desperation—and yet in death, you see, they achieved a glorious victory. Their final sacrifice ensured her truth could be shared with the many. I suspect they would have approved had they known what their dying meant.

The great lady we served seldom complained, though she suffered pain many times greater than all our ills combined. She was at times difficult—and accused us more than once of making her drink Siberian slime oil. That vile concoction prolonged her life. Oh, we were exuberant in those days. Almost immediately, positive results were seen. In October, she felt well enough to plan advanced coursework for our inner group, of which I was one. He had been similarly instructed, in private, the previous year. Shortly thereafter, he gained appointment to her highest circle and access to all her papers. It was a great honor, though it pressed upon us the urgency of finishing our great work.

It is difficult to explain what transpired in Mary Kelly’s room, when he performed the final difficult task. Of that night, he remembers nothing, so I have pieced together what must have occurred. You see, the ritual implement had become imbued with potent energy, waiting to be released in its intended vessel. This implement had been stained and charged during many previous battles. It had absorbed greed, lust, pain, pride—all manners of negative human emotions. Its handling required the utmost care. On that night, he asked Mary for the room key. She shrugged and whispered something to him.  I saw him remove his glove and reach through the window to unlatch the door. I surmise he must have kept the glove off once in the room. However, when he reached into his valise in the dim light, the implement nicked his finger, and transformed him.

When I looked through the window to check his progress, he was slicing into her, spewing her life force all over the wall. I stood transfixed in horror until he looked up, at which point I fled. I hid in a cold alleyway until dawn. It was only then I summoned enough courage to return. He stood facing her bed, slightly weaving on his feet. His eyes were still gleaming with the madness of his actions, though he had put his tools away. For that small act I was grateful.  I cleaned up as best as I could. Needing both light and warmth, I built a fire, and tossed many bloody items onto the flames. I whispered to him, the same words I had used on our other outings, but had to repeat the phrases several times before he responded. It was difficult to pull gloves over our hands that were red and sticky with her dried blood. In the grey, early morning, with my arm intertwined in his, we slide into the alley. Trembling, I reached through the window, as I had seen him do hours earlier, and threw the latch on Number 13.

Our mission was successful, though he was troubled for years by violent nightmares. We bought her nearly three additional years of time to further her great work. I can share nothing about the ritual we used to restore her health, and it serves no purpose to reveal his name. He never killed again, nor does he have any memory of the crimes. He continues, peacefully, to accomplish her mission. The implement so critical in transferring vital essences from those women to her was not destroyed; it was returned to the cave where she found it. As proof that what transpired in 1888 is true, I enclose a remnant snatched from the fire, which once graced Mary Kelly’s neck.

Death nears for us both. I am ready to remove the cold, black cloud that has followed me, and vanquish the lingering foulness of those East End memories. Though no top or base note exists to disguise the sweet, metallic odor of blood and death, I became quite skilled, Chief Inspector, as a perfumer. There is no trace of death in the pleasing scent permeating this letter. Alas, I have grown too fond of certain other botanicals—laudanum, arsenic, cannabis. In old age, these drugs have eased my pain, if not my guilt. I procured what I needed to ensure a painless passage.

Is it not strange, former Chief Inspector Abberline, how the legend of Jack the Ripper has expanded and become romanticized in this century?  By some reports, he is less a villain than a dashing mystery man in a sweeping dark cape, a facilitator of a peculiar form of urban revitalization.   There have been brief respites when I saw what we did as a kind of sacred violence—a testament to what is achievable. Whitechapel and other boroughs of London are much improved; social consciousness has been raised. There is new awareness of mental health and illnesses, and the good works of Doctors’ Freud and Jung are exposing abuses perpetrated on defenseless children and women, and revealing glimpses of our immense potential.

You must realize now we once knew each other. You were kind enough to give me money for lodging and a meal. You urged me to leave the streets and use my talents in other ways, and I did. I was a far better hypnotist and psychic than Gurney ever imagined. Under my lady’s tutelage, my highest ambitions were realized. I implore you, seek no more for answers; grant no more interviews. No evidence remains and I take with me Jack’s real name. I have used the last of my vital force to ensure those who use extraordinary means to find answers find only more questions.

I was surprised when you interviewed me the following year. You failed to recognize the creature you had once taken pity on; you saw only a woman of means—passing as a woman of class. For your kindness, I wanted to see you elevated in rank by solving the murders. But I could not risk being discovered. I do humbly regret planting false clues and complicating your mission. Can you forgive me?  I will tell you this, inspector, you are the only person who knows Jack’s name because I uttered it when we last spoke. Do you remember? Goodbye. By the time you read this, I will have ascended—forever released from the pitiless cycle of life, death, and rebirth.”

Abberline did not remember names of the many women he had given a few coins to in hopes of keeping them safe. He did recall briefly interviewing a delightfully coiffed and scented woman—she was a treat to the senses. Her name was Lila, Liza, no, it was Lucy. What the devil was her last name? What did we talk about? What did she reveal? He wondered if specifics of the interview was written in one of the old files or notebooks in his study? Some detail in her letter bothered him. He shuffled the pages until he found the sentence “…hearing the truth and knowing what is true are two very different things.” His fist pounded the wrought iron table, and bits of blackish rust clung to his hand.

“Bloody blazes,” he shouted to the roses. He hobbled back inside and began tossing papers and notebooks onto the study floor. Twenty minutes later he clutched a slim, weathered notebook dated 1888 and flipped through it until he found the name: Lucy Feriskonig. In German, Konig meant king. He clutched his chest and sank to the floor, uttering just once: “Lucifer is King—bloody damn Theosophists” before losing consciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

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