I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.
Jack the Ripper
Dont mind me giving the trade name
PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha
This was the very first instance of the name ‘Jack The Ripper’ – someone who plays a pivotal role in the book I’m writing. Indeed, it was whilst researching my book, which is set in the early 1890s that a few things became clearer to me. And that included the theme of the book, a theme that is as valid, if not more valid today than it was back then.
The ‘boss’ in this instance being the boss of the Central News Agency in London. It first appeared in The Star on the 1st of October 1888. And Jack the Ripper instantly became a byword for the bogeyman in British culture, a culture sensitive to death in its own peculiar way. That is to say, not personally, but for their nearest and dearest. It is this which startles the British, Anglo-Saxon mind into wild imaginations of the most dreadful kind. We will return to this later.
As you will no doubt know, newspapers were the primary organ for the dissemination of news in the late 1800s. Only recently freed from the stamp duty, they became available at prices almost everybody could afford. They were cheap enough to throw away, too, availing others of the latest scandals. Or murders. There were a lot of newspapers too; most are long forgotten, like the Star itself; the Hackney Standard may now exist as a local freebie, but back then it was a major player. The likes of the Daily Telegraph or The Times were read mainly by the upper classes.
What is it they say about the ‘Daily Telegraph’? “It’s read by the people who want to rule the country.” And ‘The Times’? “It’s read by the people who do.”
Neither was free from scandalmongering. If for the only reason that the upper classes are as susceptible to their fears as any other Anglo-Saxon, and therefore guarantees a few more sales.
This is what the Hackney Standard had to say on the 13th of October 1888, and I’ll spare you the mawkish drivel about shivering and shuddering wretches… but it was entitled “Panic In London” just in case anybody had forgotten.
It is a fact that postcards purporting to come from the man-demon – this bloodthirsty Will-o-the-Wisp – “Jack the Ripper” were passed through the post, for we received one at our Chief Office, which we at once handed over to the police.
When the post-card arrived at our office last Friday evening signed “Jack the Ripper,” containing a threat to murder a girl in the Hackney Churchyard on Saturday night, we at once informed the police. Within ten minutes every metropolitan police office was advised of the fact. The knife and cross bones in the corner were apparently drawn to add to the panic which such diabolical humour was bound to cause. [an illustration of card marks appeared here].
Within a short time of the arrival of the post our paper was in the hands of the public, whilst the post-card was in the custody of the police. Although it is not certain whether these communications received by the Central News, ourselves and the police are bona fide, yet it would not be wise to disregard them altogether. Our duty was to at once inform the authorities and the public, and we lost no time in giving publicity to the fact. For two or three hours our office was besieged with a crowd eager to read the news, and directly they had grasped all the details they carried the news east, west, north and south. Never did bad tidings travel faster in Hackney. Orders for the papers poured in from all parts of the east end, and the demand was far in excess of the supply – our machinery could not travel half fast enough to supply an eager and excited public. Never was a Hackney paper in such great demand. Enterprising newsagents in the city and west end bought up a large portion of our stock and retailed them at double and treble the ordinary rates in many cases they were sold for 6d. a piece in the Strand, before unequalled in the history of Hackney newspapers. Our machinery was running till nearly midnight on Friday and nearly all day Saturday to enable us to meet the demand. All day Saturday the principal topic of conversation in every public bar, saloon and shop was the terrible threat contained in the postcard. The singular coincidence of the postcard received by the Central News on Thursday in the previous week, followed by the double murder on the Sunday morning, gave importance to the threat and opinions were equally divided.
By today’s standards it’s a little longwinded, but if you think of the reams of paper a newsreader on the telly will go through, it’s about the same. Today we lack the patience to read copy this long. Back then, with nothing else to sate their need to know, they were happy to sit down with a pint or a pot of tea and set about reading it. If you want to read the entire article with your tea, you can read it here on Casebook.org (click here).
The point to note here is that the media was not only able to make a hue and cry about all this, but the public were eager to lap it up.
Police ‘intransigence’ didn’t help matters, in that they weren’t allowed to speak about active cases. Journalists might probe, they might try, but the detectives were not allowed to speak. This, as you can imagine only made matters worse; the police could do nothing, they were bound by law. A law intended to maintain a degree of safety to those under suspicion but still innocent.
Journalists knew nothing of such things, and had but one master to serve: mammon. They were there to see a great story published, whatever the fallout. The police could do nothing. It would be a good few years before the police would begin to speak with the press, even in limited terms.
Another Horror Story.
Years after the murder of Frances Coles in February 1891, the last murder that was even loosely attributed to the Ripper, a rumour passed throughout London in the spring of 1893 that the Ripper had returned and murdered a girl in East Ham. In a matter of hours every child and every mother in the city had heard of it.
There was no doubt that it was true.
No doubt! How can you doubt your own worst fears? This is where the mind is so eager to imagine the worst, and is so easy to prey on. If, that is, you know how to do this. Now, if you hadn’t already guessed it, this is my post on fake news. What’s more, it’s integral to the way the British live their lives. They are more than ready to imagine the worst, and more than happy to believe any rumour, be it by word of mouth or in print.
Nobody actually knows who wrote the ‘Boss Letter’. There have been several suggestions that it was a journalist who wanted to buck sales. It is a very different style to the ‘Kidney’ letter which contained half a kidney that had been preserved in alcohol. That was most certainly real as the kidney matched what was missing from the cadaver. We don’t know to this day who wrote that one, because his name wasn’t Jack.
Jack The Bogeyman.
But the British are still hard at it! There is at least one internet forum given over to Jack The Ripper that see people offering their various fantasies. Jack the Ripper hasn’t been the bogeyman for a good century; his place was taken by another. This, however was the result of a carefully planned orchestration that would begin in the early 1890s and drip, drip, drip until it lodged firmly in the minds of the public. Where it remains to this day.
Be careful what you read, because it might be fake news. Be careful what you read, you never know which of my upcoming posts might be my next in this series on the abuse of the media.