Breakdancing with Jack the Ripper by Reb MacRath

 Saucy Jack! Black Jack! Leather Apron!

Oh no, no. One name alone does justice to your deathless razzmatazz.

And nothing can do justice to the leap from your brief reign to world-wide Rippermania. It all started on four fog-swept nights...

The Facts

Scene: The impoverished areas in and around Whitechapel, London.
Year: 1888.
Five prostitutes--Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly--were murdered between 31 August and 9 November 1888. These women are the "canonical five", believed to have been murdered by a single killer. Three had had internal organs removed with surgical precision. And the fifth kill was the grisliest. 

Why Black Magic Beats Mere Numbers

Oh, Jack. You might have been only a footnote in the annals of serial killers. The competition today is tremendous:

Luis Garavito. Colombian child-murderer, torture-killer, and rapist known as ”La Bestia”. Confessed to killing 140 children over a 5-year period in the 1990s.
Pedro Lopez. Colombian child-murderer and rapist, known as "The Monster of the Andes". Targeted young girls, between the ages of 8 and 12, 1969-1980. Confessed to killing 300.
Ted Bundy. The American serial killer and rapist confessed to 30 homicides, 1974-1978, but may have killed up to 100.

No, you can't touch their numbers. But they can't come within a country mile of your name. It first appeared in the famous 'Dear Boss' letter, supposedly written by you, to the press. Far more likely, a journalist wrote it. Either way, the moniker electrified the city. Not Brad the Berserker, Bill the Butcher, Debbie the Destroyer, Dennis the Demolisher, Jan the Judger, North the Nullifier, Wendy the Eraser, Valerie the Savager, Claude the Carver, Lev the Liquidator or Rob the Marauder.

No. It took three words.,..the right assure your immortality. And the key to those three was the third--how it rrrrripped!

Killers' Faces: Now and Then

Ah, Jack, once again: luck was on your side. No one lived who saw your face--and knew that it was yours. But, clearly, you didn't resemble any of our whacked-out creepoids.

Image result for modern serial killer imagesImage result for modern serial killer images

scariest cannibals

Nor could you have looked like any of history's fave Ripper suspects:

Michael OstrogFrancis Tumblety

Image result for leather apron ripper
Eeeek! Lewis Carroll? 

Tiptoeing Gingerly Inward Toward Jack

Surely, any man with the name Jack the Ripper:

1) Wore a top hat and good evening clothes.
2) Hobnobbed with high-muck-a-mucks.
3) Walked on cat's feet through the fog.
4) Had a dangerous dark side he couldn't control--and yet was attractive enough to inspire the confidence of his poor victims.
5) Had a devilish sense of humor. Best displayed in the 'From Hell' note that came with the kidney part sent to George Lusk:
I send you half the 
Kidne I took from one women 
prasarved it for you tother piece I 
fried and ate it was very nise. I 
may send you the bloody knif that 
took it out if you only wate a whil 

We're closer now to seeing you.

Image result for jack the ripper images

Jack the ripper

A charismatic man like you hadn't crude or reptilian features. Nor did he stutter...have bad breath...wear caked or crazy undies. He could use knife and fork in smooth Euro ballets on his pink flat-iron steaks. He might have beaten Oscar Wilde in a verbal duel; boxed; or been a whiz at Go.

The Real Face of The Ripper

Yes! Through the process of elimination, we narrow our choices for your face to these:

The Devil's in the Details

Still, Jack, dear Jack, the devil's in the details. So we try not to think too much about exactly how you worked.

Image result for jack the ripper images  

(Click this link, if you dare, for one image of the Ripper's fifth victim.)

As a matter of fact, your romantic appeal has little to do with the details. It has to do with something else:

The Eternal Mysteries

1) Why did you start when you did, Jack?
2) Then why did you suddenly stop--as the Beatles did after twelve albums or Harper Lee after one book?
3) Did you die...commit suicide...or simply know you'd completed your work?
4) Many of the letters 'you' wrote to the press were, more than likely, hoaxes. But Jack, please, tell us: did you write even one?
5) How did you swing the black magic of the infamous double event? You struck once...were interrupted...then--with the cops and their dogs on your tail--you struck an hour later...and escaped. How? Did you jump from the Tower of London when chased, then run like hell to London Bridge to swan dive and swim to a freighter?
6) Were there actually two Rippers--you and a roadie who aided and drove?
7) And...would we be as hooked on you if your victims had been men?

Breakdancing with Saucy Jack

Now, Jack, we don't mean to upset you. But you're more important to us as a myth than as a man. As for me, to be brutally honest, I don't really give a hoot if you wrote most or any of the letters to the press. I like to think you wrote them all, forerunning our most fecund Tweeters. Nor do I pay any mind to other proposed body counts. You murdered five and only five. Yes, our Myth Jack's built for speed--and suddenness was at your heart. You outwitted and outran hundreds out to get you. You became Hell's patron saint for all souls who face insurmountable odds.

And, though we do know it's wrong to respect you as a man, we're only human. So we can't help wanting to breakdance with your elemental force...and hoping to learn how to turn it to more loving ends.

Rest in peace, Saucy Jack.

I’m not a butcher, I’m not a Yid,
Nor yet a foreign skipper,
But I’m your own light-hearted friend,
Yours truly, Jack the Ripper.


Susan Price said…
'Jack the Ripper' - an inadequate slug of a thing who tried to make himself feel adequate by targeting the most desperately poor and defenceless of his neighbours. There was no challenge in these murders, and no charisma needed. Murdering these poor women was shooting fish in a barrel.

The fact that he wasn't caught owes more to the infancy of the police force and the lack of forensic knowledge than any talents of his.

Why this despicable nothing continues to be admired and written about is beyond me. The power of the press, eh?

Sorry to be so blunt, Reb, but this is how I feel about this subject.
Lydia Bennet said…
I'm with Sue here. This pathetic git would have had no trouble 'attracting' starving prostitutes or escaping afterwards in the rabbit warren of Whitechapel. The myth of the charismatic serial killer goes on - Lecter is a brilliant character imo but too many cop shows and books are hooked on the clever killer, giving glamour where none need be - most murderers are banal and stupid, trying to make themselves feel powerful by making others suffer. Jack the Ripper is mainly famous because he was never caught but as Sue says, this wouldn't have been difficult for him in those days. It doesn't require much anatomical knowledge to slash a body to bits and take organs out. Anyone who'd watched a butcher at work would be able to do that. There is no real reason to assume he was of high status either, that I can see. Why stop? maybe he didn't, but went somewhere else, overseas perhaps, and carried on. Maybe was killed in a pub brawl or fell in the Thames while drunk. Maybe locked up for something else. The horrific numbers killed by the others you mention - if something had stopped them before they reached those numbers, even with more modern technology, they too would have gone uncaught and possibly even unnoticed.
Jan Needle said…
For me the most interesting thing about the myth is that it's impervious to emerging facts. It seems probable that the man has finally been identified through dna, but nobody gives a fig. Jack lives, and he always will, whatever science or top-dog thriller writers (Cornwell, was it?) 'establish' as the 'truth'.

I don't think it's the power of the Press, either - the whole thing was an archtypal myth, and the potty theorists who perpetuated it, and still do, were operating under a stimulus far more complex than sensationalism. The other examples Reb cites were much more prolific than J the R, and received a million times more lurid and wide-spread coverage, but while their names are still with us their deeds are just a ragbag of obscurity.

And talking of the power of the Press, isn't it fascinating that the malign amoralists of the Daily Mail et al, however hard they've tried, seem to have hit a brick wall of distaste about the way they've demonised the current tragic refugees?

Or swarms, as our dear Prime Minister likes to call them There's myths and myths, ain't there?
Mari Biella said…
Perhaps the most interesting and important thing about the so-called 'Jack the Ripper' case is that, for a few weeks in autumn 1888, the poorest section of Victorian society - porters, carters, prostitutes, laundresses, most of them from the most miserable and deprived area of London - came forward and occupied centre stage. They were normally ignored, and they wouldn't normally occupy much space in the history books, but during the Ripper murders they commanded attention and told their own stories in their own voices. Anyone wanting to know about life in Victorian London's East End could do far worse than examine some of the mass of words produced during the Ripper killings.

An odd side-effect of serial murders, and almost certainly not one that the Ripper either intended or would have taken much interest in. As Sue and Valerie say, the man himself was probably a pathetic specimen of humanity.
Lydia Bennet said…
Jan, the DNA business has been pretty much scorned and discredited from just after it was announced. Decimal point put in wrong place etc.
glitter noir said…
Thanks for the lively responses. Gold stars for those who took into account my including myself in the satire: wondering, e.g., in bullet 7 if 'we' would still be hooked on Jack if his victims had been men...the ironical use of 'charismatic man'...wondering if a worshipful 'roadie' might have have driven his hero around or if Jack might have jumped from the Tower, etc...The point is not to belittle his victims or to aggrandize a 'pathetic git'--but to explore how the myth arose and grew...and why many simply do not want to know the real truth about Jack the Man. Certainly not publishers, for there's still too much dough to be made.
Leverett Butts said…
One of my favorite Ripper theories (and possible fodder for a future story) is that he took ship for the colonies and continued there. There is a brief spat of Ripper-like murders of prostitutes in the port city of Savannah, Georgia, just a couple of months or so after the last Whitechapel murder...roughly the amount of time it would take to cross the Atlantic.

Also, those are some fairly impressive mustaches up there.

-Lev the Liquidator
Reading Reb's article inspired me to do a quick bit of research on The Ripper. I think the silver lining, the positive that came out of these horrific killings, is that it brought awareness to the public of the deplorable living conditions in the slums, and provided the pressure needed to force a cleanup.

That's to say nothing of the modern walking tours and the benefit to the economy. See--I understand satire! Hahaha!

"7) And...would we be as hooked on you if your victims had been men?"

Interestingly, I just read a post by Tess Gerritsen where she examined this issue in the crafting of thriller novels. Turns out, the women she spoke to didn't read thrillers where the victims were men. They said they identified with the female victims in the novels, and that reading them was sort of a way of facing their own fears through a safe medium.
glitter noir said…
Thanks for the Gerritsen insight, David. Presumably those female readers find men to be so despicable as a class and so deserving of their fate that books with male victims lack the necessary catharsis.

Lev, I'm not sure if you've seen this but a new recent suspect, a German sailor, looks uncannily like Mads Mikelson of Hannibal fame:
glitter noir said…
And heeeeeere's Peter O'Toole's brilliant monologue as Jack the Ripper from the astonishing film The Ruling Class. Hardly some pathetic git:

Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breeding world. I’m cured of fantasy obsessions, paranoid delusions. I master words. ‘I’ – straighten up there. ‘AM’ – close up with ‘I’ – you horrible little word. ‘GOD.’ I AM GOD. Not the god of love, but God Almighty. I massacred the Amalekites and the Seven Nations of Canaan. I hacked Agag to pieces and blasted the barren fig tree, for the day of vengeance is in my heart! You lunar jackass, she betrayed you. Guilty, guilty, guilty. The punishment is death. I’ve finally been processed. They made me adjust to modern times. This is 1888, isn’t it? I’m Jack, Cunning Jack, Quiet Jack. Jack whose sword never sleeps. Hats off, I’m Jack. Not the good shepherd, not the prince of peace. I’m red Jack, spring-heeled Jack, Jack from Hell. Trade name: Jack the Ripper! Mary, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, Alice, Marie Kelly. ‘Six little whores, glad to be alive. One sidles up to Jack, and then there are five.’
glitter noir said…
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glitter noir said…
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glitter noir said…
Following comment was received in an email from Cherokee Blacke:

Now, me try to get this straight. An outrageous bit of satire--in which the joke is clearly on those who romanticize a notorious serial killer--is taken as a tribute to Jack the Ripper? And the author--cheekily claiming that he doesn't care about the facts (the number of victims or letters to the press) and doesn't really like to think about what Jack actually DID--is mistaken for a fanboy?

MacRath was right in pointing out certain 'tells' in the prose: his 'seriously' wondering if Jack jumped from the Tower of London and then swan dove off of London Bridge...his delicious portrait of a suave Ripper slicing a pink flat-iron steak...his comparison of Jack's retirement of the breakup of the Beatles...his jawdropping interest in the Ripper's underweear...These tells and many more are there.

And yet the satire is more than a spoof. Far-out though it may seem, the concluding section on breakdancing with the Ripper asks a legitimate question: can we tap into the negative energy of a colossal force run wrong--and turn it to more living ends?

I, for one, would like to see more writers take chances like this one and risk the censure of their peers.

Well done, Mr. MacRath.
Susan Price said…
I was aware of the 'tells.'
It's akin to insulting someone and then, when they react, saying, 'Haven't you got a sense of humour? Can't you take a joke? - Oh, it doesn't matter that we glamourise a serial killer: it's outrageous satire! Don't you get satire?' - Yes, I do, thanks.
Just as the joke is still an insult, the satire is still a piece of writing that talks about the glamour and charisma of Jack The Ripper.
I'm not saying it shouldn't be written. I'm saying, don't be surprised when people react against it.
The quote from the Peter O'Toole film again turns a dirty inadequate little murderer into an eloquent, mythic character he never was.

What if the victims were men? - I've read such novels and non-fiction accounts, and think the killers every bit as vile. I think the reason for their lesser popularity in fiction is that when serial killers, who kill for sexual gratification, kill male victims, they are almost always, like Nilsen, gay men. Gay men are a minority, and there is also still something of a stigma attached to being gay, so publishers and film-makers find gay ssrial killers less lucrative.
Misognyny sells.
glitter noir said…
Mystery and myth, not misogyny, sell.
glitter noir said…
For those who wish to look further into the possibility that Jack the Ripper might have been more than human waste on legs: the centennial film Jack the Ripper with Michael Caine is a terrific TV event positing that the Ripper was actually Dr. William Gull, the Queen's physician--a theory repeated in Johnny Depp's From Hell. The Caine film was grounded in (then) new files from Scotland Yard--so, right or wrong, it was far more than misogynistic tripe. It also shows the killer as having had a 'roadie' who drove him around in a royal coach. And, though since discredited, Stephen Knight's 1976 publishing sensation, Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution, offered Prince Albert Victor up as the Ripper. No, we don't know the truth, but theories of an aristocratic, well-heeled killer have been around a long while. And a good man can still give his woman a hug while giving such matters more serious thought.

Dennis Hamley said…
Having been away for a few days I've missed out on this and only just read Reb's post and the comments on it. I have very mixed feelings about it. Reb's post was energetic and highly readable satire - I thing most readers see that. But J the R has become a very dangerous subject for satire because it hits us - and, dare I say it, men especially - in a dangerous place. For many years I was fascinated, as are most, by J the R as purely a gaslight Victorian mystery/evil fantasy story shocking but alarmingly exciting. Ingenious but vain attempts to solve it only added to the fascination. Speculation that it might be the upper classes preying on the working classes added piquancy and a new weapon in the class war. I feel that these qualities placed an almost respectable veneer over the appalling reality for a long time. At least, they did for me. I've lost the fascination now and wish I'd never had it in the first place. But I still enjoyed Reb's post.
Susan Price said…
I accept that I may have over-reacted, Reb, and your post was essentially about the myth and mystery surrounding an archetype. I apologise for any misunderstanding.

And, as a teenager, like Dennis, I experienced some of the Grand Guignol 'gaslight Victorian mystery/evil fantasy story.' Slashings and dismemberment in dark alleys - all jolly good fun!

But, as I've grown older, and seen that the human race seems to grow no wiser, prettier or gentler, I've grown pretty sick of the constant commercialisation of a man who was, in fact, the usual dreary, sick killer - a type still very much with us. And most of them kill women, because they're easier targets.

I think most of the theories about JtR's identity - if it matters - range from ridiculous to thin, especially in the light of modern profiling. The most convincing I have ever heard was one put forward very recently by a Swedish journalist, who pointed out that a man was found crouching over the first body discovered. The Police at the time accepted his story that he'd just come along and found the woman already dead - these days he'd have been questioned, and checked, and re-questioned until his eyes crossed. And, when his story unravelled, jailed.

The journalist researched this man, and applied modern profiling to him. He seemed to fit every criteria. He was, as usual, a local misfit, and not upper-class, or an artist, or in any other way unusual or glamourous. Just another dreary, nasty piece of work.
Dorothy A. said…
I've always been fascinated by the whole Jack the Ripper, so this is one I'll have to check out. Awesome theory

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