True Justice unavailable

So many people are following Amanda Knox´ appeal process that the site, “True Justice for Meredith Kercher”, has been having repeated server problems these days.

Now that the verdict is finally out, I just went to check the site and got a very fitting error message that might as well be a comment on the outcome of the appeal process.

True Justice for Meredith Kercher – service unavailable.

After the Casey Anthony verdict, now this.
What a sad day.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Johann Eichhorn – the Beast of Bavaria

For eleven years, he was the terror of Munich. Nobody knows for sure how many victims Johann Eichhorn – who once said about himself “he was like a wild animal” – really claimed. He was convicted for five murders and 90 cases of rape, but he probably committed several hundred more sexual delicts.

It all began in 1928. In West Munich, several young women were brutally attacked, threatened with a gun or knife, raped and sometimes also robbed. 

In five cases, the victims were murdered and their bodies savagely mutilated. Until on January 29, 1939, a man was seen attacking a 12-year-old girl and subsequently arrested: a locksmith and former railway worker named Johann (Hans) Eichhorn, then aged 32, married, two children, known as a regular guy and good father.

In the following weeks,  some of the incidents could be traced to him. After a mole in prison passed some more information to the police, he finally broke down and confessed.

He had met his first murder victim, a 16-year old maidservant named Katharina Schaetzl, on October 11, 1931, on Wiesn (during the Oktoberfest). They agreed to go on a bicycle tour to Ebenhausen, but during that trip, all of a sudden, Eichhorn attacked Katharina, raped and strangled her, weighed down her body with stones and threw it into the Isar. She was found some time later, and a replica of her head was made for a public attempt to identify her.

This sculpture of Katharina´s head was used for a public attempt to identify her.

Three years later, in 1934, Eichhorn attacked Anna Geltl. The 26 year old wife of a hairdresser was crossing Forstenrieder Park on her bicycle when she was dragged into the bushes. Eichhorn shoot her into the head and cut her genitalia out with a knife.

Only a few weeks later, he attacked Berta Sauerbeck, a 25-year-old office worker. She, too, was dragged off her bike. As she desperately fought her attacker, he shot her in the head and raped her. Then he threw her into a dump – severely wounded but still alive – and buried her underneath some waste.  During his trial, Eichhorn later explained that he needed violence to achieve sexual arousal.

For years, the man was leading a perfect double life, in a long-time relationship with his later wife who was into rough sex. But for him, that was not enough. Three months before their marriage, he murdered his fourth victim.

 Rosa Eigelein, a 25-year old seamstress. She, too, was dragged off her bike, shot in the head, raped and her genitalia mutilated with a knife. Her body was just left by the roadside. Eichhorn didn´t even try to hide it.

Rosa Eigelein, her skull with the bullet hole

Maria Joerg was his fifth victim, a 23-year-old maidservant. She, too, is dragged off her bike, shot and mutilated and then buried in Forstenrieder Park – close to where Eichhorn had killed his first victim Maria.

After his arrest, Eichhorn was seen by doctors and psychologists. He was 1,73m tall, slim and muscular, with large hands and a large mouth with miserable teeth in spite of his young age. The psychologists assess him as “intellectually not below average… but ethically and morally low, unstable, unrestrained, with an unusually strong sexual drive, a psychopath.”

In November 1939, he was convicted to death by beheading. The execution was on December 1st. His wife and sons changed their names and left the area.

To this day, Eichhorn is one of the most savage and cruel murderers in German criminal history. Nevertheless, his case is little known, probably due to the fact that he was a member of NSDAP and the case was pretty much hushed up in its time.   

Based on an article by Sven Rieber in:, all images taken from there.

Jack the Ripper – some news

TheDaily Telegraph ran an interesting article on the Ripper yesterday.

Scotland Yard is battling to keep 123-year-old files on Jack the Ripper secret.

Four thick ledgers compiled by Special Branch officers have been kept under lock and key since the Whitechapel murders in 1888.

Jack the Ripper murders reported by the Police News

Trevor Marriott, a Ripper investigator and former murder squad detective, has spent three years attempting to obtain uncensored versions of the documents.

But he has been repeatedly refused because the ledgers contain the identities of police informants – and the Metropolitan Police insist that revealing the information could compromise their attempts to gather information from “supergrasses” and other modern-day informants.

Last week, Mr Marriott took Scotland Yard to a tribunal in a last-ditch attempt to see the journals – containing 36,000 entries – which he believes contain evidence which could finally unmask the world’s most famous serial killer. ….

The ledgers provide details of the police’s dealings with thousands of informants from 1888 to 1912, including some who provided information during the original Ripper investigation. … According to Mr Marriott, the files contain the names of at least four new suspects, as well as other pieces of evidence.

… On uncovering references to the ledgers in 2008, Mr Marriott applied to see the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The Met refused and he appealed to the Information Commissioner who also decided the books should not be revealed. Now Mr Marriott has undergone the final appeal stage to the Information Tribunal, in which the case is heard by a panel of three judges.

The three-day hearing involved a detective inspector, identified only as ‘D’, speaking to the court from behind a screen because of his sensitive role running the force’s intelligence-gathering operation from informants. Detective Inspector ‘D’ told the tribunal that unveiling the files could deter informants from coming forward in future, and could even put off members of the public from phoning Crimestoppers or the antiterrorist hotline. Det Insp ‘D’ said the passage of time did not make publication of informants’ identities less sensitive because their descendants could be targeted by criminals with a grudge.

Another senior officer, Detective Superintendent Julian McKinney, told the tribunal that releasing names would make police officers less capable of preventing terrorist attacks and organised crime, and make informants vulnerable to attack.Det Supt McKinney said: “Regardless of the time, regardless of whether they are dead, they should never be disclosed. “They come to us only when they have the confidence in our system that their identity will not be disclosed.”

But Mr Marriott said a number of historical files have previously been released which contained details of informants. He argued there was no evidence to show descendants of informants who have been named had come to harm.

This is an interesting development. Looking back at my previous JtR post, I have tried to make clear under what enormous pressure the police were at the time to catch the killer and stop the murders. It would have been in their own best interest to let the public know as soon as they could that a) the danger posed by the Ripper was no more and that b) the credit for this belonged to them, that they had done a good job in protecting the public.  

And yet, no such announcement was ever made. The case was allowed to gradually fade from attention. There was no large-scale announcement that the Ripper was gone, people were safe now, police was not as goofy as they had been thought to be. They took the risk that panic would break out anew in the East End, caused by any murder similar enough to give the public the impression that the Ripper was back. And when  there were indeed a number of similar murders over the next two years, none were conclusively linked to the Ripper, and none were treated the same way by the police.

Perhaps the police really had no idea who the Ripper was and were simply trying to soft-pedal. On the other hand, we do have statements of several members of the police force that the police did indeed know who the Ripper was, giving different reasons just why there had not been an arrest and the killings had stopped.

The ledgers and the secrecy that still surrounds them support the theory that at least some of the police exactly knew who was behind the Ripper killings – and that there is a reason why this has to be kept quiet until today. In fact, the varying statements of police officials as to the identity of the Ripper could have been purposeful desinformation.

As one user on Casebook states: “As the article explains, the Special Branch Registers and Ledgers contain suspect names that pertain to these events. 4 more suspects. Special Branch themselves therefore were involved in this investigation. That means there was involvement on a political or national security level of some sort. That is what Special Branch, deal with. … Now that tells me that if the Whitechapel murders were subject to Special Branch involvement, there are things that we know nothing about. If Special Branch have listed suspects under THEIR watch, then political invovement exists. That is the nature of Special Branch activity.”

What happened to Madeleine McCann?

Four years ago, in May 2007, a little girl vanished from her family´s holiday apartment at the Algarve, Portugal. The case has been much publicized, so most people will be familiar with the basics.

Madeleine, almost four, had been left in the apartment sleeping, along with her two younger siblings, while the parents had dinner with their friends at the holiday complex´ restaurant a stone´s throw away. Occasional checks on the children showed everything was alright. Then, suddenly, Kate McCann came back from the apartment screaming that Maddie was gone – “they´ve taken her”.

While the parents insist to this day that their daughter has been abducted by a stranger, there is a lot about this theory and the case itself that doesn´t add up.

After the Portuguese police closed the case in 2008, their files have been made public and can be seen, along with many other documents about the case, at:

As the case has recently announced to be up for a review by Scotland Yard, I would like to point everyone interested to this bilingual blog:  which points out a lot of what doesn´t add up about this case and puts together a convincing theory of what might really have happened and why the McCanns do not want the world to know.

Until Maddie is found, alive or dead, we will probably never know which theory is right.

Personally, I tend to consider Johanna´s theory rather likely, because the more I read about this case the more I notice parallels between the McCann´s actions and those of the Ramseys. 

The unsolved death of little JonBenet Ramsey actually warrants a post of its own, but to give you a short rundown:  John and Patsy Ramsey got up on Christmas morning, 1996, to find a very peculiar ransom note claiming their 6-year-old daughter had been taken.  They alarmed the police and soon after, the little girl was found dead in the basement of the house. The autopsy revealed previous sexual abuse of JonBenet, who had frequently participated at beauty pageants.  In most true crime forums I´ve looked at, the two main theories about her death are shortened to “IDI” (intruder did it) or “RDI” (Ramseys did it). My personal impression is that the latter is the case: JonBenet died in a domestic accident, which was subsequently covered up.

Some notable parallels between both cases:

– The parents insist that a stranger caused the death/disappearance of their child.

– The parents lawyer up quickly and refuse to answer questions by the police.

– The parents change their story about what happened before the disappearance was noticed.

– The parents make extensive use of the media to spread their theory of what happened.

– The parents take legal action against some of those that propagate other theories.

– The parents initiate a foundation to fund the search for the missing child/the killer and protect children from predators. Said foundation is not very active.

– The parents write a book in which they present their version of what happened.

– The parents are wealthy and well-connected; when they are suspected by the police of having been involved in what happened, protection seems to come into play.

– In both cases, the theory has been brought up that a pedophile network might have been behind it. Whether  a pedophile network was active in Boulder, Colorado and/or Praia de Luz at the time or not, it seems the police decidedly not wanted to go in that direction with their inquiries, not because it is actually unlikely in either case but rather because “someone” did not want them to; possibly because they might have dug up things unrelated with the case in question but still very nasty.

– In both cases, there is plenty of evidence that supports the theory that the little girl died in an accident with her parents being involved and then covering up what happened for fear of losing custody of their other children as well as social status.  In both cases there is plenty of evidence that supports the theory that there was no  “intruder” and the abduction scenario was merely set up. The parents actively try to write off/discredit  this evidence.

– In interviews, the parents/family displays some “understanding”, even “forgiveness” for the person responsible for what happened to their child.

Andrea Maria Schenkel: Tannoed

This book, based on the 1922 Hinterkaifeck murders I talked about earlier, has received many accolades. The German original was on the Spiegel bestseller list for a long time, has been praised here, there and everywhere and was made into a movie (English title: The Murder Farm). I´ll be upfront: I don´t see why.

“Tannoed” is very short – 120 pages in the German softcover edition. 24 of these are either blank spaces or contain a prayer litany quoted from a 1922 prayer book. That leaves 96 pages worth of text.

Two thirds of these consist of short statements from various locals people  about the murder victims, when they were last seen and the circumstances in which they were discovered. To piece together the events that led up to the murder in this way, from various perspectives that create a more complex picture in the reader´s eyes, is a legitimate writing technique. But I just recently re-read Dorothy Sayers´ “The Documents in the Case” where the same technique has been applied so much better. Where Sayers creates vivid characters whose statements give an individual insight both into their own personality and into the events they relate, most of Schenkel´s statements sound alike, exchangeable in tone. The people that are supposedly “quoted” are hardly characterized, they remain reduced to names and labels, and their opinions of the murder victims do not differ much from one another. The language, High German with a regional flavour, also feels contrived, but then if people who speak dialect in their everyday lives (as many country people do) try to speak High German, it usually has a contrived feel to it, so this is sort of acceptable.

Having read about Hinterkaifeck already, there was pretty little in these statements that was in any way new or surprising. About everyone of the people spoken to in the book has a real-life counterpart in a person that was actually interviewed by police in the Hinterkaifeck case, and the statements in the book differ little from the documented statements in the case. There´s the mechanic who came to the farm the day before the murders were discovered, the sister of the new maid who was killed along with the family, the men and boys involved in the discovery of the bodies, the parson, been there, done that, read that statement. Schenkel´s version of the case is set in the 1950s (but it might as well have been set in the 1980s), so the main difference between the original statements and hers is the odd reference to WW2 and the post-War years, which sometimes feels as if the author simply looked up main events of the times in Wikipedia and made sure to squeeze a mention of them in here or there. Schenkel was born in 1962, and it shows.

The structure of the book is jumbled (I do not call it “non-linear” on purpose).

It begins with an introduction by an un-named first person narrator who has grown up in Tannoed, then moved away, later returns after the murders have happened and is now supposedly the person conducting the interviews and gathering all the statements, or maybe isn´t:  We will never know, because this narrator is never heard of again afterwards. There is no “detective”, nor is there a framing plot outside of the actual murders.

We then get alternating “Lord have mercy on us” quotes from the prayer litany, statements from the villagers, and omniscient narrator passages narrated in present tense. Some of them accompany an unknown male going about his work on the farm (the murderer, who indeed must have stayed on the farm for days after the deed tending to the animals). Some of them accompany the murder victims in their last hours on the fatal night. And some of them accompany a vagrant named Mich who hides on the farm planning to rob it and becomes a witness to the murder. While these short vignettes seem to show a little more creative contribution by the author than the statements, if you are familiar with the Hinterkaifeck case, you will quickly realize that they, too, contain little that is not actually already provided by the case documents, embellished on a daytime court drama level.

In an interview in the annex of the book, the author says that she did read about Hinterkaifeck but then put that all aside and let her imagination roam – if that is so, it sure did not go very far. There is little to be found in Tannoed that is not available in more detail, and more important: more authentic, in the various Hinterkaifeck resources.

Peter Leuschner, the author of the two main non-fiction books on Hinterkaifeck, has in fact sued Schenkel for plagiarism. This is not at all surprising, since most parts of the book really give the impression to have been lifted from the available documents, shortened here and there, some names changed, some references to the 1950s forced in, but very little original work added.

It is more surprising, and saddening, that Leuschner lost his case, but I was told years ago by a lawyer that that´s simply the nature of legal cases connected with copyright issues. No matter how well documented your case may be, no matter how obvious it all seems, the outcome is never certain and depends completely on the judges. Sometimes I really do not have much confidence in our legal system.

Schenkel´s second book, Kalteis (Ice Cold), is also based on a true case:  This time, it´s Bavarian serial killer Johann Eichhorn, who was active in the 1930s, who provides the base for her Johann Kalteis. The case sounds interesting, but I plan to read up on the true Eichhorn and skip Schenkel´s version. This author, I´m afraid, is not my cup of tea.


Real Cases: Historical

Christina Collins – December 2010

Hinterkaifeck – November 2009

Jack the Ripper – Thoughts and Theories I – August 2010

Jack the Ripper – An Update – May 2011

Johann Eichhorn – Beast of Bavaria (Kalteis) – May 2011

Real Cases: Current

How not to fake a suicide – December 2009

How not to rob a bank – March 2010

Italian Murder Mystery (Magliana near Rome) – February 2010

JonBenet Ramsey (parallels to Madeleine McCann) – May 2011

Kyron Horman – July 2010

Madeleine McCann – May 2011

Natalee Holloway (Joran Van der Sloot) – June 2010

Stephany Flores (Joran Van der Sloot) – June 2010


Baxt, George: The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case – December 2009

Baxt, George: The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case – December 2009

Baxt, George: The Greta Garbo Murder Case – December 2009

Dexter, Colin: Inspector Morse 8 – The Wench is Dead – December 2010

Grimes, Martha: Emma Graham Mysteries 1 – Hotel Paradise – August 2009

Grimes, Martha: Emma Graham Mysteries 2 – Cold Flat Junction – August 2009

Grimes, Martha: Emma Graham Mysteries 3 – Belle Ruin – August 2009

McCrumb, Sharyn: Bimbos of the Death Sun – September 2010

McCrumb, Sharyn: Zombies of the Gene Pool – September 2010

Reichs, Kathy: Tempe Brennan 1 – Déja Dead – August 2010

Schenkel, Andrea Maria: Tannoed (Murder Farm) – February 2011

Swann, Leonie: Three Bags Full / Glennkill – November 2009

Published in: on December 8, 2010 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Christina Collins – the “real” Joanna Franks

As a follow-up to yesterday´s post…

“Christina Collins was 37 years old when she was brutally raped and murdered by three drunken bargemen whilst travelling by barge to join her husband, Robert Collins in London.
Her body was discovered in the canal at Rugeley on June 17th 1839. She was carried up the infamous local ‘Bloody Steps’ into the Talbot Inn. Her blood is said to have dripped onto the stonework, hence their name, and although the steps have long been replaced, they are still given their eerie title today. It is reported that on occasions blood has been seen oozing from the famous steps.
Three of the four boatmen that had been taking Christina to London, were subsequently charged with her murder. Two of them hung, Capt. Owen and George Thomas, the third, William Ellis was transported. The fourth member of the crew, a young teenage boy named Musson, was cleared and released.
Christina’s body is buried in St.Augustines Churchyard. The gravestone is engraved “To the memory of Christina Collins, Wife of Robert Collins, London, who, having Been Barbarously treated was found dead in the Canal in this parish on June 17th 1839, age 37yrs. This stone is erected by some individuals of the parish of Rugeley in communication of the end of the unhappy woman”.
A few years ago, an Inspector Morse drama, starring John Thaw, – ‘The Wench Is Dead’ was adapted from the Colin Dexter novel , and was based on the story of the Christina Collins murder.
Information by Thankyou.”

Text copied from Dave Hammer´s flickr accout, where you can see photos of Christina´s grave

Here´s a site about the historical murder that inspired the Inspector Morse novel, with lots of pictures of the actual places.

The Wench is Dead

During a stay in hospital, Inspector Morse comes across a monography on a murder that happened in 1859. Joanna Franks, the passenger of a canal boat was found dead in the water at Duke´s Cut on the Oxford Canal. The crew of her boat were tried and two of them eventually hanged for the murder. But something about the case seems off to Morse, and he starts reading up on Joanna´s life and times, and the circumstances surrounding the case…

This is the 8th novel in the Inspector Morse series, and probably not the best one to start with. Having not read any Morse before, I found the book rather tedious when it talked about the Inspector and his stay in hospital, and at least two minor characters were introduced with a full biography that actually contributed nothing to the story. But then, I read crime fiction for the background setting and the whodunnit puzzle, and tend to find it quite off-putting when the book blabbers too much about the midlife crisis, marriage problems or other neuroses and psychological hangups of the detective. In this particular case, Morse was not introduced or portrayed in a way that made me care about, or even get interested in him as a character, so the frame story surrounding the historical case was pretty much wasted on me. And while the historical case (the reason I picked this up in the first place) was considerably more interesting, there, too, were a few things that bugged me.

The first one was the way Morse immediately pegs the rape and murder victim as a potential seductress who brought on her own fate. Even though there is nothing in the monography that suggests this, from this moment on, he studies the case as if it was a certainty rather than his own interpretation (brought on by a dream that mixed up the case with his other bedside lecture – a sleazy novel, to boot). And of course the author has him be right and the subsequent discoveries support this initially unfounded view of the victim´s character.

Then, when Morse´s assistant – doing some research for him – comes across a Victorian trunk bearing the initials “JD” in police archives (Joanna´s initials from her previous marriage), he immediately considers it to belong to this case, which he is not very familiar with. Without any actual investigation or documentation supporting this guess, both he and Morse treat the items found in the trunk, as if it was fact that they had belonged to Joanna, they draw conclusions from them and don´t even consider the possibility that there might have been more than one person with those initials involved with a police case during the last 120 years. And these are supposed to be seasoned police officers. 

The height of Joanna plays another important role in Morse´s solution. He finds out about it by visiting her childhood home, and after some search, discovering marks where her parents had documented both her and her brother´s growth on a wall. But the latest measurement for Joanna – who was born in 1821 – dates from 1841, the year in which she married her first husband. While it is believable that a family would document their children´s growth like this, why would they do it well into the children´s adulthood? Most girls have reached their final height by the time they are 16 or 17, so it is quite unlikely that Joanna´s parents would mark the wall beyond that, and very likely, they would have stopped even sooner. It wouldn´t even make much of a difference to the case whether Joanna´s height as an adult was established at 16 or at 20, but the way it stands, it is one more thing about this novel that doesn´t sit right. 

All in all, it was a reasonably entertaining read but it did not make me want to read more from that series, or author. And for the life of me I can´t see why this novel received the Gold Dagger Award in 1989 for best crime novel of the year – unless everything else published that year was even worse.

Sharyn McCrumb: fandom mysteries

While most of the crime novels set from the 1980s onward can easily be classed as “approximately present”, and it doesn´t really make much of a difference whether the year is 1983, 1993 or 2003, I had a bit of a hard time ticking this category box for Sharyn McCrumb´s two Jay Omega mysteries, set in the science fiction and fantasy fandom of the 1980s. So much has changed in this particular scene since then, they almost seem to belong to the historical mysteries rather to the contemporaries now.

At the same time, that is one part of what makes these mysteries such a fascinating read. They are a bit like a time capsule, a glimpse into fandom twenty-five years ago; the time of mimeographed fanzines, fans writing to each other by snail mail, the very early stages of computer games and internet. Things that have changed and things that have stayed the same.

Bimbos of the Death Sun (1988)

This book introduces James Owens Mega, an electrical engineering teacher at Virginia Tech and, under the pseudonym of “Jay Omega”, author of the little-known sci fi novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun”. As Jay, he is invited to be one of the guests of honor of a local science fiction convention – not only his first event of the kind, but also his first contact with the world of sci fi and fantasy fandom. Fortunately, his girl friend Marion, professor of Eng. Lit., used to be an active fan herself and can help him find his way around a little so the culture shock is not too severe.

The first part of the novel accompanies Jay and Marion having a look around the convention, getting to know a few people – organizers, convention staff, big name fans and other guests, among Appin Dungannon, an author of fantasy novels and as famous as unpleasant. When Dungannon is found dead in his hotel room, pretty much every convention attendee had a motive. It is up to Jay and Marion to work out who had the means and opportunity and lure the killer into a trap.

The  book won the 1988 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Original Paperback Mystery. It is a delightful read. It is rumored that Appin Dungannon was based on Harlan Ellison – who was also the model for Isaac Asimov´s Darius Just in “Murder at the APA” – and has a reputation for being, let´s say, a difficult character.

Zombies of the Gene Pool (1993)

When Marion accidentally bumps intoErik,  a colleague at the English Department and they mix up books, she discovers that said colleague is (under a pseudonym) in fact the author of a well-known science fiction novel, whose identity has been a puzzle for science fiction fans for decades. 

30 years ago, Erik used to be a member of a group called the Lanthanides – a group of big name fans, some fledgling authors, some fanzine publishers – who were famous for living together on a farm in Tennessee, and who had, on one special occasion, buried a time capsule on the grounds.

Time has gone by, and some of the Lanthanides have become successful authors, others have dropped out of fandom, some have become rich and famous, some are struggling to get by and some are dead by now. The farm has been buried by a reservoir lake long ago. But as the dam needs maintenance, the lake is being drained right now and the grounds are accessible again. So the former Lanthanides have decided to make use of the opportunity and open the time capsule, and Erik invites Marion and Jay to come along for the occasion.

The reunion quickly becomes a media event. But the night before the time capsule is retrieved, the party is crashed by one member of the Lanthanides who has not been invited, simply because he was thought to be dead – a fact which nobody really regretted, and who is now threatening to reveal some unpleasant big and small secrets from the past to the public. Every one of the group has some things that they´d rather leave buried in the past, so it´s no wonder that on the following morning, the man who was not-as-dead-as-everyone-believed is dead again, this time for real.

With the media surrounding the hotel, a scandal is about to erupt. But Marion, who has found the body, has also come across a few strange details, and she and Jay decide to investigate.

While it was okay on the whole, this book was a bit more cynical and not quite as amusing as “Bimbos” – I guess it really makes a difference that while “Bimbos” describes fandom at a particular moment in time (during the convention), in “Zombies” the passing of time is involved, and it drags in the usual musings about life, success and happiness. The view of fandom, especially of active and/or dedicated fans, is rather pessimistic.   

While both books provided a good read, I´d recommend “Bimbos of the Death Sun” over “Zombies” any day.

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jack the Ripper – thoughts and theories 1

It is probably the most notorious unsolved case in the history of crime. Who was the serial killer who killed and mutilated prostitutes in the East End of London in the “Autumn of Terror” 1888?

There are many theories about, and basically, the only thing that is known for certain is that we know almost nothing. We can´t even be certain about the exact number of victims: although the most wide accepted consensus is that he killed five women, some count only four, others add other cases to a number of eight.

For information on this case, I am taking the easy way and just refer anyone interested to:

So… trying to work out who the Ripper might have been… where to start?

Let´s take a look at the timeline and the overall attention that the case drew in its time.

The murders

The earliest murder ascribed to the Ripper occured in August 1888 (Martha Tabram). There were two murders in August, two in September, none in the five weeks after the “double event” on September 30, and one in early November. This, the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, is generally considered the final Ripper murder.

Further, there was one more murder in December 1888 (Rose Mylett), one in July 1889 (Alice McKenzie), one in 1891 (Frances Coles) that at some point have been considered possible Ripper murders.

The impact

The impact the Ripper case had on the public at the time sets the background against which the police investigation took place.

“Jack the Ripper … was not the first serial killer, but he was probably the first to appear in a large metropolis at a time when the general populace had become literate and the press was a force for social change. The Ripper also appeared when there were tremendous political turmoil and both the liberals and social reformers, as well as the Irish Home rule partisans tried to use the crimes for their own ends. Every day the activities of the Ripper were chronicled in the newspapers as were the results of the inquiries and the actions taken by the police. Even the feelings of the people living in the East End, and the editorials that attacked the various establishments of Society appeared each day for both the people of London and the whole world to read. It was the press coverage that made this series of murders a “new thing”, something that the world had never known before.” (quoted from above link, my bold).

LeannePerry describes in

how these crimes held the East End in a grip of terror: “Over the weekend of Annie Chapman’s murder, anxious and agitated crowds, gathered outside the murder site, the mortuary, the local police station and at the ‘Ten Bells’ pub. Businesses were forced to close and thousands of people swarmed the streets. The crowds came from all over London. People were quick to capitalize on the situation and set up stalls, that did a thriving business. Residents even charged people to view the actual murder site, until they were stopped by police.

When ambulances rushed towards London Hospital, at anytime over the ‘Autumn of Terror‘, informed crowds pursued it, sensing another victim. Angry mobs called for a mans lynching, after he suddenly threw a woman to the ground and began kicking her and threatening her with a knife. The man turned out to be blind and the woman his regular escort. People “saw” the supposed killer everywherethousands of fake Jack the Ripper letters [showed up], wasting a great deal of police time… 

Police conducted house-to-house searches, ten thousand handbills were distributed and more police were drafted to the area, (including plain-clothed detectives).”

Lisa Johnstone concentrates on the treatment of the case in the press in

“The killer – nameless, faceless, seemingly motiveless – defied all attempts at being put into an understandable order, and this lack of a comprehensible and complete story (‘Something terrible’s happened! … Oh, but it’s over now.’) gave the public no way of thinking clearly about their fears; the Ripper became the boogeyman, so elusive, so mysterious, so alien that he could hardly be seen as human. …”

” The now infamous ‘Dear Boss’ letter was posted to the Central News Agency, and although it wasn’t the first Ripper letter – and certainly wouldn’t be the last – it and its ‘brother’, a postcard received on 1st October, are the most well known and are considered to possibly be from the actual killer. Whether they were or not was irrelevant to the press, who, under the pretence that publishing the letters would cause members of the public to recognise the handwriting, ran several stories on these letters. This was more than enough to spark widespread public reaction, although it wasn’t the reaction the police had hoped for…” (referring to the thousands of fake letters that followed).

“… the xenophobic feel that infused the entire case: the suspicion of Jews – the first major suspect being Jewish John Pizer, known as ‘Leather Apron’ – the supposed anti-Semitic Ripper graffiti ‘The Juwes are not the men who will not be blamed for nothing’, the fact that Mary Kelly, the last victim, was Irish, and so on. Victorian Londoners had become increasingly disturbed by the influx of foreign immigrants into the city, partly in light of recent ‘international terrorism’  and partly due to the inherent xenophobia that the English seem to possess. Londoners were desperate to believe that the killer was not English, as only a less-civilised foreigner could commit such awful acts… ”

“Meanwhile, the papers showed a rise in ‘suspicious incidents’ – possible Ripper-related attacks, since any man who now harassed a woman on the street could be Jack himself -… Yet reports of ‘economic’ related crimes – i.e. burglary, mugging, etc. – went up during the Ripper murders. The East End News reported that while the police had been occupied with the killing at Mitre Square, ‘the Aldgate post office was entered and ransacked […] under the very noses of the “guardians of peace and order.”‘ Much of the blame was thrown at the police, from members of the press and general public; on 10th November, the Star published an article citing Sir Charles Warren, police commissioner as ‘clumsy, wilful’ and ‘ignorant’, while many letters to editors suggested more effective methods of police organisation, such as a policeman dressing up as a female prostitute to lure the Ripper or, more sensibly, that a policeman remain on one beat, getting to know that area of the city well, as a ‘policeman who knows his beat […] is worth three who do not’.… The reaction of the general public was to either form voluntary groups who patrolled Whitechapel on the lookout for suspicious men, or to form lynch mobs who would pursue any male with the cry of ‘Jack the Ripper!’

During the “autumn of terror”, the East End was a dangerous powder keg. People were scared almost to a point of hysteria. A militia had formed. There was a considerable risk of lynchings and riots breaking out (which was one of the reasons why the Goulton Street graffiti blaming the “Jewes” was erased even before it could be photographed and established for certain whether it had anything to do with the Ripper).

 The police was under heavy scrutiny and criticism.

In this situation, it would have been in their own best interest to let the public know as soon as they could that a) the danger posed by the Ripper was no more and that b) the credit for this belonged to them, that they had done a good job in protecting the public. But did they? And if not, why?

After all, several members of the police force claimed, later on, that police had indeed known who the Ripper was and had been certain that after the last murder definitely ascribed to him (Kelly) he would not return and start another killing spree. Yet, if that is true, it seems they allowed the public to live with this fear.

Brian W. Schoeneman writes in:

“After the death of Mary Jane Kelly, over the next two years there were at least three similar killings: Rose Mylett, Alice MacKenzie, and Frances Coles. While these killings were similar to the Ripper murders, they took place over a wider time period, did not display the same ferocity as the previous murders and the public did not receive them with the same fear and panic as they did the canonical killings.”

As Schoenemann lays out, there were two rival policing agencies involved in the Whitechapel murder investigations:  the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police force. The latter was – and still is – responsible for the one square mile zone that made up London City proper, which was a separate political entity, with its own figurehead – the Lord Mayor – and city council. …  The bulk of the canonical murders took place within the jurisdiction of the Met – only Catharine Eddowes was killed inside the jurisidiction of the City. In the eyes of the public and the press, the Met alone was responsible for the Ripper’s successful apprehension.

The Metropolitan Police, at the time of the Ripper murders, consisted of 22 divisions. “A Superintendent led each division, who, in turn, supervised a number of inspectors and sergeants. The inspectors and sergeants were responsible for the individual Police Constables who walked the beat. By 1888, the Metropolitan Police numbered a total of 14,106 officers, not including the senior administrators.17 The two divisions that responded to the Whitechapel killings – Division H (Whitechapel) and Division J (Bethnal Green) – numbered 548 and 617 officers, respectively.”

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) was made up of plainclothes detectives and inspectors, and had a troubled history. It was consistently undermanned – 15 men in a force of over 8000 in 1868 – and was constantly embroiled in controversy and, near its end, in allegations of misconduct. The CID played the lead role in the investigations of the Ripper murders. 

The highest-ranking officers of the Metropolitan Police were at odds with each other, and during the Whitechapel murders – when they should have been united in the resolve to catch the Ripper, and appear united to the press – they were engaged in near constant bickering. In the end, the two most important leadership positions within the Met – the Chief Commission, and the head of the CID – were vacated during the Ripper crisis. This was due in small part to the failure to catch the murderer, but primarily because of personality conflicts. …

Both the rivalry between City and Met Police and the top ranking officers would provide just the more reason to publically announce that the Ripper was gone as soon as that could be done and take the credit for it.

Yet the case was allowed to gradually fade from attention. There was no large-scale announcement that the Ripper was gone, people were safe now, police was not as goofy as they had been thought to be. The risk was taken that panic would break out anew in the East End, which could be caused by any murder similar enough to give the public the impression that the Ripper was back. Now, why would police let that happen? Perhaps simply because they did not have a clue who the Ripper was, and so could neither be certain that he wouldn´t return, nor would they want to draw attention to the fact.

“As suddenly as the killings had begun, they stopped. Though there were a number of similar murders over the next two years, none were conclusively linked to Ripper, and none were treated the same way by the press, police and public. London and the East End had adapted to the fear. There were no further Ripper style killings after 1891. The crisis had resolved itself – though not through the actions of the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office or the public. The Ripper resolved the crisis for them. He simply stopped killing.”

But on the other hand, we do have statements of several members of the police force that the police did indeed know who the Ripper was, giving different reasons just why there had not been an arrest and the killings had stopped.

Let´s take a look at them in the next post, and see how credible these theories are, considering that they must provide a plausible reason why the police did not make any public statement.