Thursday, June 30, 2005
Forget Jack, Am I a Misogynist?
Inherent in the study of any crime against women is the questioning of the researcher’s motives. Why are people fascinated with crime and, more specifically, the crime of murdering women? With the advent of both the realization of the existence of serial killers and our study of them comes society’s preoccupation with the underlying motivation of that study. This questioning comes up most often because serial killers (mostly men) target the object of their sexual or psychological hatred (mostly women). Jack the Ripper, as the first acknowledged modern sexual serial killer, leaves those who research him open to the charge of misogyny. Moreover, since the majority of "Ripperologists" are men, the charge of misogyny is even more ubiquitous. Even Philip Sudgen, in The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, felt compelled to answer this accusation. Sugden states,
Some would have it that those who read or write about the murders are misogynists. I am not a misogynist. Nor for that matter, is any serious student of the case personally known to me. It should be obvious from the most cursory glance at the literature, moreover, that what really fascinates people about the story is the question of the killer’s identity. (2-3)
But it can be argued that it is society at large that perpetuates the misogyny through fictional representations of the Ripper killings rather than those who would seek to either solve or understand them. Judith Walkowitz writes in City of Dreadful Delight that
The Whitechapel murders have continued to provide a common vocabulary of male violence against women, a vocabulary now more than one hundred years old. Its persistence owes much to the mass media’s exploitation of Ripper iconography. Depictions of female mutilation in mainstream cinema, celebrations of the Ripper as a "hero" of crime intensify fears of male violence and convinces women that they are helpless victims. (228)
Walkowitz points to the media’s preoccupation with the injuries to the women and the profession of the victims that have proliferated in the mainstream audience’s exposure to the case since its initial reporting in the newspapers. Real followers and researchers of the Ripper murders are cognizant of the fact that, as Sugden rightly says, the mystery of the actual perpetrator is by far the most interesting factor of the case, not a prurient interest in the mutilation of women. When filmmakers and novelists use Jack the Ripper as a basis for their own fictions, they are playing to mainstream culture’s biases and preconceptions about Jack the Ripper, rather than seeking to shed any light or investigate the motivations of the real killer. One merely has to sit through the execrable Klaus Kinski film Jack the Ripper to realize that Jack the Ripper is only used to lure audiences to the theater to watch a film that has nothing, apart from the time period, to do with the real case.
The question then arises, "Why the morgue photographs of the victims in the various books of the case? Aren’t these an indulgence in prurience and, therefore, misogynistic?" I would argue the opposite: except for one victim’s marriage photograph, we have no extant pictures of the victims apart from the autopsy photos. Therefore, in order to put a human face on the victims and to pay at least some tribute to the woman who were the victims of the Ripper, we have no choice but to use these iconographs. Another question may arise concerning the profession of the women. Are we more interested in Jack’s victims because they were prostitutes? Because of the Victorian Era’s refusal to deal with the problems of poverty and subjugation of women, some were forced to resort to prostitution to make a living. Yet, Victorian Britain’s solution to the vice of prostitution was to blame the prostitute for "enticing" men into consorting with them. Therefore, the Contagious Diseases Act and other such legislation punished the women and labeled them as deviants and nymphomaniacs rather than dealing with the underlying reasons why women became prostitutes. Or, to the opposite extreme, society refused to acknowledge that prostitution existed at all. Women who prostituted themselves were referred to in newspapers as "unfortunates," if mentioned at all, as if these women were, according to Calvinist dictates, one of the people who were not "selected" for salvation. Shani D’Cruze writes,
There is a remarkable silence in Sectional Occurrence Books and most of the petty sessions records used here on the subject of prostitution, although we know of the broad police powers under the vagrancy laws in regard to prostitutes on the streets, even outside the Contagious Disease Acts. Other sources, for example Parliamentary Papers, indicate very clearly the preoccupation of local government with prostitution and "disorderly houses.(2)
With no help and/or willful blindness from society and only antipathy from the police and courts, these women had no recourse but to keep themselves "very much to themselves." This made them susceptible to someone, like Jack, who targeted women to satisfy whatever psychotic agenda he had while being fairly certain that the discovery of the victims would not bring all of London’s wrath down on him. This turned out to be not completely accurate, as George Bernard Shaw and Annie Besant were working to achieve social justice and Shaw, at least, wrote about the murders as being something that at least brought the plight of such women to the public’s attention. It can be said that the profession of his victims is an added inducement to students of Jack, because of what their circumstances represented to the Victorians and that it forced the Victorians to at the very least acknowledge the existence of such women. But it was Jack, not students of the crimes, that chose the victims. When the police narrowed Ted Bundy’s victims to pretty young women with straight, long hair parted in the middle, were they indulging in a prurient desire to single out such women? Is it misogynistic to identify, using victimology, the likely objects of a killer’s attentions? And, since it is more likely for a man to be the serial killer and for women to be his victims, is it misogynistic to concentrate on this scenario when it plays itself out in real life?
Contrary to the assumption, students of the Jack the Ripper murders concentrate more on the identity of the killer rather than the sexuality of those involved. If reams of paper are devoted to the exact injuries of the victims and what these may mean about the sexuality of the person who perpetrated those injuries, these are not without a substantive purpose. Jack the Ripper was, at the very least, a misogynist. Of course, this is a laughable appellation when seen in conjunction of his career as a brutal murderer. But Jack’s sexual motivation is fair ground for research. These subjects of sex will sell books, (such as pontificating and speculating on Prince Eddy’s sexuality and the question of the ferocity of Mary Kelly’s injuries as opposed to the others’), but the overwhelming majority of books are concerned with "revealing," "closing," and "solving" the crimes. In other words, these books are concerned with identifying the murderer. This is research, not misogyny.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 11:53 PM | 4 comments

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Students with a Higher Power
Well, back to my other passion--bashing fools. In the counseling office last week, a woman came in looking to enroll in classes. She said she wanted to sign a waiver and get into some classes she needed for prerequisites to a Nursing degree. This wouldn't be a problem except that she had no ACT or SAT score. In order to sign a waiver, a person must be over 21 and state that the scores they got on either the SAT, ACT or our own Computer Placement Test are not indicative of how well they'll do in college. See the problem? She wanted to sign a waiver, but had nothing to waive! She wouldn't listen to me and said "they" told her she could. Who is they? I had a colleague who would say that "THEY" are making things tough for us and "THEY" should be taken out and shot. So I tell her that she needs to take our test and she tells me she doesn't need to. Oh, so you don't WANT to. That's different. Fine. Every other one of the 20,000 students must have the scores, but you don't want to take the test. Fine. She tells me that she "can just walk in off the street and sign a waiver and get into Chemistry 4 if I want." Well, no you can't. So she says, "I don't have time to take the test, I have a daughter in the hospital, both my kids were in AP classes and already have college credit even though they're still in high school." What's that got to do with her? Then she tells me she has run two different companies. So? Why do you need to be a nurse, then, if you're so successful? She says, "It's funny that everyone else is wrong and you're right." At this point, I'm through talking and just begin to repeat myself, saying I have nothing to waive-- the tactic I use when people seem to be just hanging around my office and don't know when it's time to leave. Only then does she tell me she went to college sometime in the 70s (she kept telling me she was 48, I don't know many women who would admit to that, much less keep repeating it as if it made a difference). If you have enough college credit, there are certain things we can do to get around the CPT tests. She still didn't have enough to get out of taking our math test, though. So I sent her to the Nursing Division to ask them. If all else fails, fob them off, right? I tell her that if she had taken a math course in college, we could work around the CPT then. She says, "I could lie, but I have someone higher to answer to." And she points upward, as if I were too stupid to figure out what she was talking about. So I think, "Oh, you can be a bitch but you can't be a liar. I get it." I swear, this went on for about 30 minutes, with me saying the same thing over and over. I even say that it may seem like the only requirement to get into a junior college is that you have a pulse, but there have to be some standards. She then repeats that she's run two companies and does her family's finances, so she doesn't need a math class. I thought about this woman's future patients when she becomes a nurse and cringed. Just pull the plug on me, thanks.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 9:17 AM | 4 comments

Monday, June 27, 2005
Mary Kelly
One of the myriad unanswered questions concerning the Jack the Ripper case is why Mary Kelly was as completely butchered as she was. Was it just that the killer had time to work his evil, and therefore indulged himself? Or was there another motive?
Some writers have gotten close to what I feel is the motive. They say that Mary was the final puzzle of some conspiracy, whether she was the last prostitute involved in a blackmail plot or the last witness of a royal indiscretion. Either way, these are too romantic to be credible. Occam’s razor (apt for Jack) should apply. Mary Kelly was the culmination of a killer’s increasingly rapacious appetite for destruction of the female form. Consider:
Ø Mary Nichols had her throat slit and womb cut.
Ø Annie Chapman’s intestines were taken out and placed on her shoulder after the slitting of the throat and the extraction of the womb.
Ø Liz Stride’s throat was slit, then the killer was most probably interrupted.
Ø Catherine Eddowes’ injuries were the most serious so far, with her being nearly decapitated, her face mutilated and her ears cut. She was the second victim that night.
Ø Mary Jane Kelly’s injuries are too numerous to mention. Suffice to say, the police photographs of the body do not appear to depict anything human.
Robert K. Ressler and John Douglas, two former F.B.I. agents and authors of many books concerning “profiling” serial killers speak about a serial killer’s increasing blood lust and need for heightened experiences and danger in order to assuage their frustrations. Much like a drug-addict must increase the dosage of his drug of choice, the killer must increase the experience in some way in order to achieve the “high” of the first time. This is not a change of modus operandi; rather, it is a modification of an established pattern. I would submit that Jack had an agenda that included not only the murder of the prostitutes but also a systematic heightening of the ways in which the prostitutes were killed. The first victim was killed in a straightforward, almost prosaic way—an outrage in and of itself, but almost lost in a city that had just recovered from the murders of Martha Tabram and Emma Smith. The next, Annie Chapman, was killed and then displayed with her intestines in full view as an increase in horror and to engender more fear of the killer on the part of the populace. The killer then decided to inflict facial mutilations on his next victim as well as more bodily injuries. But he was interrupted in his work. He made sure that Catherine Eddowes received the injuries he planned on, but she was his second victim of the night. This attitude of the killer, that he would succeed at his task no matter the danger, led him to complete the almost unheard-of murder of two separate people in one night.
Therefore, we can speculate that the killer then incorporated the “two in one night” scenario for his next planned outrage. He may have started with the notion that he would kill a woman in her home, not only to claim another victim but also strike more fear in the hearts of the public. No longer would it be the streetwalker that was at risk—those who entertained in their homes were also not safe. How far a leap is it to believe that his next victim after Mary Kelly would not have been of the “unfortunate” class at all? After all, his agenda was to satisfy a frustration building inside him with an increased rage against his victims. How long would the almost too-readily available women of the night continue to satisfy him?
In this scenario, after the “double event,” the killer would have modified his plans to kill a woman in her residence. What if he knew of a certain woman who regularly had other prostitutes stay with her? Wouldn’t this be his dream come true? He had killed two in one night—one woman would not suffice this time in keeping with his method of increasingly brutal murders. The ability to kill two women, and to commit those murders at leisure, would seem perfect for him.
So what went wrong? Joe Barnett had moved out (or Mary had thrown him out, depending upon whom you believe) because Mary had allowed a prostitute to stay in 13 Miller’s Court. The killer knows that Mary has someone there. He chooses to avail himself of the opportunity. He makes sure that Mary still has her houseguest (perhaps he did this when meeting her at the pub, as it has been said that Mary was seen “waiting” for someone outside the Britannia on the night of her death). But when he arrives, Mary is alone. Outraged at being deprived of the next link in his chain, he proceeds to mutilate and savage Mary beyond description. He had to do this for two reasons—because of his anger at her for deceiving him, and to somehow satisfy his growing internal frustrations. Only after he accomplished the horrific injuries on Mary’s body did he feel his calm restored.
This begs the question: Why did he stop? Why was Mary the last if he was not finished with his plan? He may have moved on, perhaps to America, or to a city or town in England. This pattern could fit a lot of the suspects in the Jack the Ripper case, with the possible exception of Druitt. Serial killers do not often commit suicide because of the realization of their crimes or some self-actualization discovered after a killing. Even “Jack the Stripper” of the 70s in London, if the suspect the police had was indeed responsible, committed suicide because the police were closing in on him, not because he finally felt remorse for his crimes. Because of the reports of crimes in and around England after Jack the Ripper, we cannot be sure that he didn’t just move his base of operations.

posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 1:58 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, June 26, 2005
Daniel Farson's Book
I'm finishing up Daniel Farson's Jack the Ripper that I received on Thursday. My website that I purported to be "exhaustive" is now out of date, since I believe I have 10 items to add to it now. Anyway, Farson's suspect is Montague Druitt, failed lawyer and schoolteacher, cricketer. Whatever your thoughts on Druitt and/or Farson's case for him, the wonderful part of this book is Farson's interviews with denizens of East End who were alive at the time of the Ripper. This book was published in 1972, so it is plausible. These people give a great feel for the mood and climate of the neighborhood, even if their stories are not to be taken as 100 percent gospel truth. What Farson does repeat at least one canard that is annoying to researchers. He may have corrected these in later editions, but it's still annoying. (A canard, by the way, is just a fancy word for lie.) Farson states that the letter received by the newspapers talking about the "double event" was mailed two days before the event of September 30. Subsequent researches show that the letter could have been mailed later and still reached the newspapers in time for print. This letter, because of the timing, was supposed to prove that only the killer could have known he would "clip the ears" of a woman that night; therefore, only the killer could have sent it. But what if a journalist had written it? The timing would have been moot, then. What makes this letter more interesting is that it contains, as its signature, the sobriquet "Jack the Ripper." This makes it monumentally important. If Jack sent it, we know that he made up the name and we are confident in looking not only at this letter but subsequent ones, providing they match writing styles, handwriting analysis, etc. If not, the name was given to him by an "enteprising journalist" and would make the letters useless for identification purposes.

Other canards, not by Farson but by other writers and/or films, television:
Mary Kelly was pregnant--autopsy report showed no such thing.
The killer disappeared into the fog--Weather reports show fine, clear nights for the murders.
The kidney that was sent to Lusk belonged to Catherine Eddowes--nothing was ever proven on this front.
And more.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 6:54 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, June 23, 2005
Jack the Ripper Inventory
I've created a webpage with an exhaustive inventory of all my Jack the Ripper-related items. It's just a Word Document at the moment. If you're interested, see it here.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 5:28 PM | 4 comments

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
The Whitechapel Society/Leonard Matters
Stacie said...

I like Pratchett (have written a few essays on his work) and have an interest in Jack, myself! I'm a 19th century BritLit specialist at Kent State University. I was up in the rare book room the other day and they have a *huge* display of Ripper stuff.

I hope you don't mind me using your post again, Stacie. I went to the Kent State Library website and, you're right, there are quite a few Ripper items--some even I don't have! I'll have to see if I can get a grant to go when I start my dissertation :)

I just bought The Mystery of Jack the Ripper by Leonard Matters, usually referred to as the first "modern" look at the Whitechapel crimes. It's a reprint from the 60s I believe. It was first printed in 1929. Basically, his premise is that a certain doctor "avenged" his son's venereal disease by killing prostitutes. More to come when I read it. Also, I'll get back to Wilding's book soon to do a short lesson on evidence versus supposition.

I'm adding a link to the Whitechapel Society, formerly the Cloak and Dagger Club in England that is dedicated to the Jack the Ripper mystery. There are meetings periodically and a conference each year. You can also join and get newsletters if you (like me) are unable to attend the meetings.

posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 4:33 PM | 2 comments

Monday, June 20, 2005
I'm reading John Wilding's Jack the Ripper Revealed and will have more to say about this book presently. Let's just say I got whiplash and a fear of heights from the leaps he makes.

In the UK site Blog of Stavros, there's a mention of yours truly, Jack the Ripper and Me. Cool, huh?

Stavros writes:

Using the random links in that questionaire I did last week, I browsed through a number of blogs that caught my eye. . . Here's one from a Yank who knows too much about Britain's favourite serial killer.

posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 1:10 AM | 2 comments

Saturday, June 18, 2005
Case Not Closed
Stacie from EnglishSpace asks:
What did you think of Patricia Cornwell's book on Jack?

This is a tough one because of not only what the book propounds but because of behind-the-scenes activity as well. Ms. Cornwell did Ripper studies a service by providing millions of dollars for research into DNA analysis on the letters and on Walter Sickert. So, on that front, I would applaud the book even though I disagree with its conclusions. However, Ms. Cornwell falls into the same trap that many writers do when it comes to Jack: she starts with a suspect and makes all the facts and circumstantial evidence fit him. While she has given us unprecedented analysis of the letters, she has focused on her suspect to the detriment of other possibilities. I understand this, as her book is based on "solving" the crimes and looking at other suspects would not help her own sales and would diminish the power of her analysis. Therefore, we have no DNA on the victims or on other suspects to further the cause. Granted Ms. Cornwell can and did spend her money as she liked, but by ignoring other possibilities, she does her own cause no favors as far as serious researchers are concerned. Moreover, I perceived a huge arrogance in the fact that her acknowledgements contained only two resource books written about Jack the Ripper (Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell and The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook). Are we to understand that she never read any of the others, had no preconceived notions and started her whole investigation almost from scratch? I highly doubt it. One was basically a pictorial of the letters and the other is still not as comprehensive as Jack the Ripper A-to-Z; so, while worthwhile, these would not be the only books that a researcher would employ in writing about Jack, especially if you yourself are writing about the case for the first time. These books are ones a person conversant with the case already would use to aid them, not for an introduction to the case.

As for the book itself, there are two glaring problems with it
1) The letters. Ms. Cornwell takes the letters, keeps some and omits others, based on the "profile" of the killer she has subscribed to and that Sickert fits. Therefore, she believes she alone can say which letters are "fake" and which are "authentic." Also, Cornwell dismisses the possibility that ALL of the letters are hoaxes, something that is dangerous to do since it can be argued that they were all written by publicity-seeking crackpots or genuinely disturbed individuals. One need only think of the Yorkshire Ripper tape to find an instance where the killer and the person taunting the authorities proved to be separate people.
2)Fistula. I am no doctor and know next to nothing about fistula, its causes or manifestations. But I do know enough that when a medical report states that a person has a fistula yet does NOT state exactly where it is located on the sufferer's body, one cannot just assume it is in a particular place because that would happen to bolster a theory. Ms. Cornwell "proposes" that the fistula, or "hole," was in Sickert's penis. She bases this on a comment by Sickert's nephew, yet can find no confirmation for this. In fact, she writes that "In the nineteenth century, fistulas of the anus, rectum, and vagina were so common that St. Mark's Hospital in London was dedicated to treating them. There are no references to fistulas of the penis in the medical literature I consulted, but the term may have been loosely used to describe penile anomilies such as the one Sickert suffered from" (Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper: Case Closed 63). Here, Cornwell goes from proving that fistula of the penis didn't exist anywhere she could find in medical records to stating as fact that Sickert suffered from just that type of malady. Specious at best. It wouldn't be such a glaring leap if it was not the basis of her theory: Sickert, according to Ms. Cornwell, develops his hatred of women, especially those who trade sex for money, because of his inability/occasional inability to have sex due to the fistula. Without this fistula, Cornwell's motive for Sickert is nonexistent.

The rest of the book is a tortuous exercise in using railway timetables and riding/walking distances to prove that Sickert could have gotten back to London from wherever he was staying in order to commit the crimes; either this or Ms. Cornwell says that Sickert and/or others were lying when it was said in correspondence where Sickert was during a particular murder. This is the problem with public figures and naming them as Ripper candidates; usually, there are records to prove where they were on some occasions. For instance, Prince Eddy, during one of the murders, was attending his father's birthday party in Balmoral, I believe. This is in the court records. Yet conspiracy-lovers would just say that the records had been doctored.

Overall, her book is a breezy summer read and enjoyable as hypothesis. Ms. Cornwell speaks clearly and concisely about Victorian attitudes toward sex and mentions how women were forced into lives of prostitution because of the Catch-22 situation of not being trained for employment yet forced to provide themselves and their children a living. But the book's theory on Sickert shouldn't be taken seriously-and that's a shame considering the amount of work and money she evidently put into it.

If you're interested, books that explore men and women during the 19th Century and the problems encountered due to Victorian sexual mores include:

The Other Victorians by Steven Marcus
City of Dreadful Delight by Judith Walkowitz
Crimes of Outrage by Shani D'Cruze
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 5:42 PM | 3 comments

Friday, June 17, 2005
Cool News
I bought a book today off EBay. It was London Correspondence: Jack the Ripper and the Irish Press. Little did I know that I was buying it from the author Alan Sharp! Actually, it's through the company Ash Press. Anyway, I'm getting my very own signed copy from a Ripper author. Ahhh. What a good day. Be sure to check out the link to his site for his book and more Ripper merchandise through Amazon, as well as information on the Ripper including a timeline and other Victorian murders. I'm looking into the general idea of examining contemporary Victorian fiction for allusions to Jack, instead of just starting with Lowndes' The Lodger as most do. Also, contemporary newspapers give a good flavor for where public sentiment stood regarding Jack the Ripper, so Mr. Sharp's book will prove invaluable. It's been a good week. Getting in touch with Dr. Winn who is a Jack the Ripper buff and getting a signed book on Saucy Jack. Excuse me while I gloat.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 11:28 PM | 2 comments

Jason said:
I loved that movie, but Kentucky Fried Movie was better.Have you read From Hell? The comic is a lot better than the movie, though they still had the drugged grapes theory.

Yes, I've read the comic and seen the movie. You're right, the comic is better, but I think the Hughes Brothers did a marvelous job on atmosphere. Still, it was for me like Stephen King said the movie The Shining was for him: "a big beautiful car with no engine." It left me saying, "Eh." That's not what a movie is supposed to do. I really like Johnny Depp, but Abberline as a Cockney, good-looking, slight man?
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 8:34 PM | 5 comments

Thursday, June 16, 2005
Grapes Redux

"Bloghead" from Singapore said:

I watch the show From Hell the other day. First time actually watch it. Basically, I know some part were exagerated but I almost believe about the grapes. Next time, I'll watch Discovery or National Geographic.



It would explain the lack of sound from the victims. One author took a piece of calico, the same material of the apron left beneath the Goulston Street Graffito, and tore it in the middle of the night. People came out to see what the noise was. So even back then, someone should have heard either the apron being ripped (or it was cut with a very sharp knife to avoid sound) or the screams of the victims. As violent and lawless as the times were, murder was relatively rare in London, no matter what some might attempt to say about the Victorian Era. So screams would have attracted some attention. Still, since no autopsy report confirmed the presence of grapes, we cannot assume the killer used this method to silence his victims before mutilating them. More likely is either the quick slash across the throat or strangulation.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 9:11 AM | 3 comments

Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Will the Real Jack the Ripper Please Stand Up?

Who Knew? Posted by Hello

I'm sorry, I just love this picture.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 11:58 PM | 7 comments

A Couple of Items of Interest
As expected, the family of John Williams, the suspect in Tony Williams' new book Uncle Jack, have voiced their displeasure over their ancestor being named Jack the Ripper.

A teacher relates a trip to the library with her students and was proud the librarian, as a response to an inquiry by a student, said they had no children's books on Jack the Ripper. In fact, there is My Grandfather Jack the Ripper by Al Apone.

There are a lot of stories about the revelation of Deep Throat's identity that throw in the fact that one of the mysteries left now is the identity of Jack the Ripper.

This item concerning Friday the 13th mythology points out the fact that many of our modern "monsters" have had 13 letters in their names, like Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Jack the Ripper. Interesting.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 10:29 AM | 4 comments

Monday, June 13, 2005
I Know Me Some Jack
I talked with a former professor of mine over the weekend and he put me in touch with a colleague of his who is also a Jack the Ripper/Terry Pratchett buff. What are the odds of someone liking both of those? She got her doctorate here as well, so I'm going to look at her dissertation in the library. Not on Jack, alas, but should be interesting. Plus, it leaves it open for me!

I don't consider myself an "expert" on Jack, but I can say that I read my first book concerning him, called Great Unsolved Mysteries from the Scholastic Press when I was ten. That's over 2 decades ago. I have to still refer to books to remember witnesses and names, etc. so I don't think I'll ever be encyclopedic. But for most people I know, if there was a question about him, they would ask me. So while I would not call myself all-knowing, I do know some basics and I can read books now and know when those authors screw up places, names, etc. There are things that are true and things that are not as it pertains to Jack, and popular opinion has skewed them in some ways. For instance, Jack is generally thought of as this cloaked figure carrying a medical bag through foggy London. But on none of the nights when he struck was it foggy. And while some witnesses said he was carrying a "parcel," none said "Gladstone bag."

So I'm "googling" Jack, as I do, and I come across this homework help site. You know, one of those that offers people the opportunity to post requests for help on school assignments. Well, one had written in to request help on Jack in Victorian social consciousness, and I read the posts. Some had just referred the student to books (like Cornwell's, yuck). But one toward the end said something like "Jack was an aristocrat who must have had money to own a carriage. He fed the women grapes and these were found in their stomach contents." On and on like this. Now, we don't KNOW if Jack was rich or whatever, but the grapes thing is strictly bullshit. This is what happened in the movie From Hell, not in real life. What was even worse was that the writer said he/she was a criminal justice major and took a whole class on Jack. So what did it encompass? Stomach contents were part of the autopsies, and NOT ONE of the victims was said to have grapes in her system. Normally, I only "lurk" at JTR sites and read; as I said, I'm not about to hold myself out as an expert. In fact, I describe myself as a "Ripperologist," and the definition of that is not an expert, but one who has an ongoing interest in the case. So I didn't want to call this person out. There's a preposition at the end of a sentence for you, Rachel. But I thought about it, and the site IS for students to get help on papers. What if the student just took this at face value, put it in the paper, and got reamed for it? Or worse yet, the teacher knew nothing about it and accepted it? This would perpetuate the misinformation and would show up in supposedly scholarly treatments, causing people to have to refute it before moving on to the substance of the argument. Overall, just an unnecessary waste of time.

So I posted a reply, saying that the grapes, etc. were "Hollywood make-believe." The person wrote back and said, "No one can PROVE anything about Jack. No one knows what happened. If you read some books of the criminalists of the period, you would find the contents of the stomach discussed." Or words to that effect. So, I couldn't just let this lie. It's true, no one can prove a negative. I can't prove that Jack wasn't the Loch Ness Monster. But I can prove, by those books that the person implied I hadn't read, that the victims did NOT have grapes in their stomachs. And I could prove that contrary to another point of the poster that the victims were NOT said to have been killed somewhere else by the doctors who examined them. This is not to say that they weren't, but all we can go by is what they did then; and then, they said the victims weren't moved. We'll see if that's the end, but I doubt it. I put a number of books for the student to read as well, so he/she doesn't just get the info second-hand. But that second-hand source should at least be "basically" correct. And while I would probably lose and lose badly to any number of people who are devoted Ripperologists in trivia contests, I am secure in knowing the basics.

There are a number of things I do not know. I don't know what makes women tick. I don't know why the sky is blue. I don't know anything about nuclear power. I don't know how Keanu Reeves keeps getting movie roles. I don't know why hot dogs come in packages of ten while buns come in packages of eight. I don't know, because I forgot, what "ekphrasis" means. Hold on....Ekphrasis is "the Greek word for description," used to describe how words can translate the meaning of a work of art, or vice versa. OK, some of these can be rectified. I don't know how Celine Dion can sell billions of records but someone like Janis Ian is still obscure and must sell CDs on her website. I don't know why Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County are no more, but Garfield is still around. I don't know why an implied inhaling of marijuana on the part of Clinton is abominable, but an implied use of cocaine and a real DUI on the part of George W. is fine. I don't know why Hillary stayed, either, except out of political expediency. I don't know why I would probably like both men if I knew them personally, but I think I would. I don't know why kids who did poorly in high school are shocked to discover how hard college is. I don't know how I can be intelligent and arrogant but still stutter occasionally and forget words. I don't know why I'm incapable of eating or drinking anything without spilling on myself and can't go a day without running into or over something while walking. And so on.

But I do know Jack.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 10:09 AM | 7 comments

Friday, June 10, 2005
Friday and More Jack News

This is the end of a very long week. It's the first week of the summer semester at TCC so I've been working almost every day at my supposedly "part-time" job. But I really enjoy the work overall. I'm just really tired today. And I know I'm getting no sympathy from people who have to work 40 plus hours every week all year. Anyway, here are a few more news items concerning Saucy Jack that may be of some interest. Trevor Marriot's theory proposes that more than one person was responsible for the "double event." The latest Jack the Ripper letter to be made public is at this site. This story details the problems that Ripper Walks can cause in some East End neighborhoods of London. A generic story filed at the time of the From Hell filming asks why Jack still holds fascination for us after all these years. This site posits a railway policeman as the culprit and states that the letters hold clues to the killer being the employee of a railroad. A Rochester, New York newspaper asks if native son Francis Tumblety could be the murderer. That's all for now. I'm headed to bed.

posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 10:59 PM | 2 comments

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Jack in the News
The story behind the book Uncle Jack is told in this BBC story, purporting to prove that the Welshman Doctor John Williams was the Ripper.

Another story details the opinions of a person in charge of a Ripper Walk.

The Skeptical Enquirer keeps the Tumblety suspicion alive.

Trevor Marriot's Jack the Ripper: A 21st Century Investigation is discussed in this news story.

An article from a newspaper in Florida speaks to a possible replacement for Rehnquist on the Supreme Court and what type of judge Bush will nominate. The last two sentences are interesting:

"Said Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, which has spearheaded the effort to win votes for Bush’s nominees, 'If Democrats don’t think there’s going to be a tough conservative put forward, they’re dreaming.' But he added, 'Outside the president nominating Jack the Ripper, I don’t think there’s the stomach to filibuster.'"
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 1:31 PM | 6 comments

Jack the Ripper sites
I've added some sites that are of interest to Ripperologists. I will be reviewing these as well as posting a news report about a NEW suspect pretty soon. Also, I just read Jack the Ripper: One Hundred Years of Mystery by Peter Underwood and while outdated, (early 80s) it's still an interesting read. One of the points he makes is that Ripperologists really DON'T want the mystery solved, as that would collapse the whole industry. But he says that he would like to know the identity, as would I. Underwood further states that he hopes that evidence or a journal would be found in an old house or building containing the confession of the real killer. Sounds exactly like what was perpetrated in The Diary of Jack the Ripper.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 1:22 PM | 2 comments

Monday, June 06, 2005
Latest Jack the Ripper Books
I've received three new (for me) Jack the Ripper books. What is usually irritating to me is the "keep the suspect secret" marketing style of these books, like this will increase interest. I'll buy the book, I'm already interested. I don't need to "guess" the suspect, as the important thing is the evidence, not who it is. The three I've just bought are:

Uncle Jack by Tony Williams and Humphrey Price--Suspect: John Williams, relative of author.
The American Murders of Jack the Ripper by R. Michael Gordon--Suspect: George Chapman
Jack the Ripper: The Inquest of the Final Victim by John Smithkey III--Suspect: None Singled Out

If I've spoiled anyone's reading, so sorry.

Check Casebook: Jack the Ripper for more info on these books. Early reading of them still doesn't move me to think they'll surpass Jack the Ripper A to Z by Begg, Fido and Skinner as THE Jack the Ripper book.

And all of these are keeping me from doing the reading I'm supposed to be doing for my comps this fall. Still, I'm on Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories so I can sort of make a case that these books tie in to the "Victorian detective" genre.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 6:49 PM | 3 comments

BlogExplosion: My New Addiction
I have an addictive/obsessive personality. If I decide to do something, I figure that I should try to be very, very good at it. The problem is that this is not confined to non-harmful pursuits. When I smoked, I was up to 2 packs a day even when I saw what it was doing to my father. When I drank, I was drinking at least a 12 pack of beer a night during the worst period. I have to back off on certain things because I see almost everything as a challenge. I'm not sure where this comes from. Maybe from being a middle child. Anyway, I shudder to think what would happen if I really tried to play poker or blackjack. Recently, I stumbled on BlogExplosion (actually, I found it on The Daily Bitch's blog) and decided to sign up. What happens is, if you surf other sites on there you gain "credits" which will be used to direct people to your site. Now, for the past 3 days, I've done nothing but cruise these sites trying to up my credits. A warning to everyone: be sure to choose what TYPE of sites you want to view. I left the default settings on which include adult sites and ET walked into the office while one was showing. Just a little embarrassing. Not that I was all to quick to change the site, but whatever. Besides, you have to leave each site up for 30 seconds to gain the credit. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I've even developed a banner (with ET's help) at AdDesigner for when I have enough credits to have my banner appear on the site. This is the problem with my personality. What started out as a fun thing to do, blogging, has dominated days. Still, Blog Explosion is fun to use if you have the time. And if you have a really freaky personality like mine, be prepared to stay awhile.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 2:09 AM | 5 comments

Ouch. Don't ask me about punctuation, I guess.

Your English Skills:

Grammar: 100%
Spelling: 100%
Vocabulary: 100%
Punctuation: 80%

Does Your English Cut the Mustard?
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 12:41 AM | 3 comments

Friday, June 03, 2005
What Are You Doing Here?
Working in Advisement for a college as I do, I see a lot of different types of people enter for one reason or another. Some people are returning students, some are students who didn't do well at first at another school and are here to bring their G.P.A. up, some are using the school to knock out a few basics while in town for summer. Then there are the seniors from high school. Most are good students or students who didn't do well in high school but realize they need college to succeed. Basically, they do well enough to get that degree and move on. But there are some students who I have to ask, "What are you doing here?" These are usually kids right out of high school, but they can be students who have just shown up and out of the blue decided to go to college. But for now, I'll focus on the seniors. These kids (again, not all seniors, just a few) come into the office and when I ask, "How can I help you?" look at me as if I were insane, then mumble something like, "I want to start going to school." Really? I thought you were here to renew your car tag! I meant, "How SPECIFICALLY can I help you? You didn't come in here to shoot the breeze or admire my office, did you? You want to get an education, is that it? Do you (and I'm just shooting in the dark here, you understand) WANT A DEGREE, PERHAPS?" Places like OSU are requiring more and more that people take Speech classes, and I see why. Some of our students don't seem to be able to communicate at all. Where is the confidence, swagger and know-it-all attitude that teens are supposed to have? I sound like an old fart all of a sudden.

Anyway, the ones you know are in trouble are the ones that come in with their parents. Parents of successful kids usually come in to admire their kids in front of you ("He got a 30 ACT on the science-couldn't he just take a test and get out of taking classes where he already knows everything?") but what I generally see are parents who are coming in because they are making sure their kids go to school. ("If you're going to stay under my roof, you're going to get a job and go to school.") What we as a country need to realize is, some people aren't meant to go to college. I know that's rich coming from a person who works at a community college where the entrance criteria is "Pulse?" "Yes." "You're in!" but really, some aren't destined to go. I know most jobs require at least some college, especially if you don't want to do manual labor for the rest of your life. But there are plenty of jobs still that a person can get without college. And my point is that some just aren't cut out for college. What sucks is that the parents not only don't understand this (or are willfully blind to their kid's shortcomings) or are using their kids to accomplish things they never did. Parents will then argue with me about the cirriculum, such as asking, "He wants to be an engineer, why does he have to take English Comp? Why do you schools (I'm a school, now) make them take courses they'll never need? You're just trying to make money off us!" Really? And you're not going to use the degree to make money? Plus, isn't college SUPPOSED to be a little difficult? Shouldn't there be a little stress and strife in the accomplishment to make it all the more meaningful? I once heard a businessman say that employers don't care what your degree is in, they just want to see you've gotten one to prove you could put up with four years of bullshit. The kid, during these conversations, sits there mutely looking down at his shoes. He doesn't want to be there and couldn't care less about what's going on. Seriously, parents, think about it. You're not taking the classes, the kid is. You can't force them to care. How well do you think the kid will do if he or she's not interested? The kid will learn later that the grades he gets now will never go away, will always be there. We have a few people who try to come back when they're older and say, "Yeah, I didn't really apply myself then so I don't want those grades figured in." Sorry, but they have to be. Federal law. "What if I don't want them to be?" Oh, I had no idea you WANTED something. That makes it different, the fact that you WANT something. Sounds like my stepson. "You can't have that." "But I REALLY want it!" Oh, well then, go ahead.

I understand parents are paying for this (or loans, which, inevitably, the parents will be responsible for because the kids will blow it off) and they want the best bang for their buck. And I also understand that parents want what's best for their child. But you wouldn't drag your kid to skydiving school and say, "He wants to jump in two weeks. What does he have to do?" It's not the parents jumping out of the plane, anymore than it's the parents pursuing the career. There comes a point when the parent has to let go. It's not high school anymore and the kid's actions will follow him to whatever school he decides to go to after us, so why not make sure it's what he even wants to do? And if he's so intelligent and determined and ambitious, why can't HE tell me what he wants? Even when the parents are asking questions, I try to direct the answers to the kid. But usually the kid just keeps looking down or at the parent. We usually cringe when we call a student to come back into our office here and see a parent trailing after them. Inevitably, it's a struggle to get the kid to say anything because he's intimidated by me, the school or his parent. It makes our job that much harder, and the kid looks at school as a nuisance at best or a job at worst and hates it either way. Then he won't do well. Then he'll flunk out. Then he'll work at the job he was going to work at anyway.

Then, of course, the reason why I like this job reiterates itself. A woman came in with her little girl to find out how close she was to finishing. She has busted her butt, raised her child on her own (ET?) and gone to school part-time and over the Internet to get her degree. When I told her that if she changed her degree to a Liberal Arts degree, she could graduate NOW instead of in a year, she was shocked and said, "I love you!" We set up everything and she is now only waiting for her diploma instead of trudging through another semester here. Now she can go on to her 4 year school and work on her bachelor's. She's someone who knows what she wants and will succeed because she sees the big picture. Parents of non-motivated students fail to see what their child is telling them non-verbally by zoning out and not asking questions when they come in and kids fail to see that college can determine what course their lives take for years to come. They may have to leave and come back in a few or many years only to find that the screwing off they did when they were young means repeating courses and/or completely starting over in order to obtain the degree. Only then will they see the big picture.

For many, this is what you have to let them do. Take the lumps and come back when they're ready. Or not go at all.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 10:44 AM | 2 comments

Thursday, June 02, 2005
What the Hell? Literally!
You Scored as Satanism!

Your beliefs most closely resemble those of Satanism! Before you scream, do a bit of research on it. To be a Satanist, you don't actually have to believe in Satan. Satanism generally focuses upon the spiritual advancement of the self, rather than upon submission to a deity or a set of moral codes. Do some research if you immediately think of the satanic cult stereotype. Your beliefs may also resemble those of earth-based religions such as paganism.

Satanism
96%
agnosticism
92%
atheism
79%
Islam
63%
Paganism
58%
Buddhism
54%
Christianity
33%
Hinduism
33%
Judaism
21%
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 4:53 PM | 8 comments

Along the lines of Rachel's post about phone calls is one I received on Tuesday. I had just counseled a man who had taken an assessment test at my work. When I asked him if he wanted to add any classes for the Fall, he said, "No, I'm good."

A few minutes later, I got a call from Registration:
R: I have a man here who is trying to get into Comp and said he talked to you.
Me: Yes, I remember. He didn't take the test for Comp. He took another one.
R: He says he thought that the test he took would get him into Comp.
Me: It won't. And I asked him if he was going to take any classes for the fall and he said no. So no one up here told him to take the test for Comp because he said he wasn't taking anything.
R: Well, now he wants to take Comp. What does he need to do?
Me: He needs to take the test for it.
R: Another test?
Me: Yes.
R: (laughter) Oh, no. He's not going to like that.
Me: Well, I'm sorry, but if he had said he wanted to take any class I would have made sure he had everything he needed to do it.
R: Well, he doesn't really know what's going on.
Me: (A little taken aback, but agreeing) I got that impression. (Then, for some reason I added) He doesn't seem to really know what he's doing at all.
R: (laughter again) He doesn't. The only reason he's going is that I'm making him. I'm his wife.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 10:39 AM | 2 comments

Comeuppance (Tales of Sweethome #1)
Intermittently, I will be posting flash fiction about small-town life. Some parts of these stories may be true, some not. On the whole, probably not. "Sweethome" is my homage to Toni Morrison.

I played football from the 6th grade onward. It was just something you had to do to get along in Sweethome. Parents of friends would ask, "You going out for football this year?" and if you weren't, well, you'd better be in a wheelchair. You couldn't be a man and not play football.
In the 9th grade, we had a coach who had been around long enough and was thought of highly enough that he should have been the head coach in high school. Why wasn't he? Because he was also highly thought of by high school girls. At least, enough of them like him to cause talk among students, administrators and parents, mostly because he never discouraged the girls. More than one girl boasted of her conquest of him. So it was apparently thought that he could maintain a lower profile by teaching in high school and coaching in junior high. Go figure. It wasn't the people he was coaching that he was dating. Did I mention he was married as well?
During two-a-day practices, so-named for the obvious reason, we were all vying for certain positions on the team. Against my own wishes, Coach had me on the line at the guard spot. The guard hardly ever scores touchdowns, hardly ever becomes homecoming king, hardly ever gets endorsement deals. Let's just say my heart wasn't in it. I had shot up about 4 inches and added 30 pounds between the end of 8th grade and the beginning of the 9th grade year, however, so the coach decided to try and take advantage of the size. So we're practicing, some of us in very unfamiliar positions, trying to impress this guy who we respect more for his reputation as a swordsman than a football coach.
I wasn't doing very well, mostly because the positions I was used to called for me to get open and catch the ball rather than trying to keep someone away from my quarterback. Our quarterback, another person unfamiliar with his role, was picked because of his overall athleticism rather than his brainpan capacity. Still, it wasn't his fault he kept landing on his back. A couple of times, it was mine. A kid who had also grown exponentially yet loved the position he was called upon to play kept getting by me and sacking the quarterback. Coach finally got fed up with it the third time my guy got through and planted our QB. "Damn it, T, what the Hell are you doing?" I just stood there. When a coach yells at you, you just stand and look down; it'll be over soon. You learn this at about the same time you learn that, when a penalty is called on you in a game and the coach yells for you to come over, you pre-empt him by saying the ref was wrong or that it wasn't you before he can tell you to get your head out of your ass. The coach would much rather believe the ref was wrong than his teaching was wasted. Coaches will yell, grab you by the facemask or push you out of the way to demonstrate the right way to do what you screwed up. Usually all three at once.
That's what Coach did. But evidently I wasn't humble enough before our Lord or he didn't like my looks because he took it a step further. He said, "Here, stand over here." He took me and dragged me behind the center. Then he gave me the ball, told me to hold it up as if I were about to throw and not move. Next, he said, "Do you know how it feels to be hit when you're standing like that?" Nope. "Albert," he said to the defensive player, "when I say go, tee off on him. Remember, he's not allowed to move." Albert was a real team player and agreed to do what the coach wanted. Everyone else stood around and watched, as I wasn't exactly filling in for the QB, just being used to make a point. Coach turned back to me. "You ready?" Uh, yeah, I guess. "You're stupid, then. Go take a lap." The way he looked at me and the burning on my face are two things I will never forget from that day.
The next year, I joined the high school team and Coach had been made an assistant at the high school level. Again, go figure. He was in charge of defensive backs and I was a tight end, so I didn't have much to do with him. If he even remembered the incident he gave no sign. In fact, my senior year, I wound up being his aide as part of my "athletic" class which meant I got an A to sit in his office one hour a day and make sure no one stole his football whistle. Didn't mean I liked him any more, though.
All through these years rumors of one girl or another floated through the halls. Still, nothing came of it and even I thought that maybe the rumors were untrue. Typical of male thought-pattern is the idea that these types of rumors can only help your standing, whether true or not.
About 10 years later, some people I knew from high school that never left Sweethome told me that the rumors had, at least in one instance, been true. Coach had been caught with a 16 year old girl about two weeks before this. A guy I went to school with had become a deputy sheriff. On a routine patrol in the backwater roads leading to various state parks and boat ramps, he had spotted a car on the side of the road with its parking lights on. Upon investigation, he spied a couple inside in various forms of undress. He was going to just move them along until he saw who it was in the car. Coach was with the girl and looked appropriately surprised to be summoned from the car by a deputy. When he saw who the deputy was, he pleaded with him to let them go and that it wouldn't happen again. I don't know what made my friend from school do what he did. Maybe it was honor, maybe it was the fact that he was, indeed, witnessing a crime and he felt duty-bound to report it. Or maybe he just felt like being a jerk. He shook his head and said, "Sorry, Coach, I gotta call this in." Coach lost his job, his marriage and his liberty for a little while. Surprisingly, Coach wound up marrying the girl.
A couple of years ago, I went to my favorite used bookstore and was browsing in the remote part of the store. Out of the back came an employee I hadn't seen before with a box of books for the racks. When he passed me, I gave a little start when I realized it was Coach. Older, with less hair, but still Coach. He didn't seem to recognize me at first, but he did do a double-take when he saw me looking at him. In his face were conflicting emotions of shame, defiance and anger. I could see him willing me to just leave him alone. And that's what I did.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 9:20 AM | 3 comments

Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Shameless Plug for a Good Cause
"FICTIONALS GONE WILD!!!
On Thursday, June 2nd, at 7 p.m., the Fictional Characters Writers Collective will present an evening of wild, wicked, whimsical and wonderful fiction, poetry, and performance pieces written by such local favorites as S. E. Hinton, Chris Lastrapes, Sloan Davis, Deborah Hunter, Sheila Black, Janet Duncan, Laura McClain, John Pruner, Jeff Van Hanken and Michael Wright in the Harwelden mansion at 210 S. MainStreet.
Admission is one packaged food item to be donated to a local food bank. Call 631-3174 for more information."

Tomorrow night is this presentation of the Writing group I (tenuously) belong to. I've made one meeting what with work and school, but I plan on going much more in the coming months. If you have nothing better to do or would like to see/hear some new fiction by the author of The Outsiders and other, come see this. It's at Harwelden Mansion, where I got married. I think ET was there, too. Anyway, thanks to Sloan Davis for letting me know about the event.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 7:42 PM | 4 comments

Thomas Neill Cream
Thomas Griffiths Wainewright
Frederick Deeming
The Bravo Case
Madeleine Smith
Constance Kent
William Palmer
My Ripper Inventory
JTRForums.com
Ripper Notes
Ripperologist
Hollywood Ripper
Jack the Ripper Forum
Archives: Jack the Ripper
The Whitechapel Society
Largest German Jack the Ripper Site
The Victorian Web
Victorian Dictionary
Victoria Research Web

The Final Solution by Walter Harmidarow
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