Jack the Ripper’s Letter from Hell

15 October 1888 – says the postmark on the letter received by George Lusk, the then head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. The sender of the letter was allegedly the serial killer and bogeyman of Victorian London, Jack the Ripper. The cryptic message in the letter read as follows:

From hell

Mr Lusk

Sor

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 longer.

signed

Catch me when you Can Mishter Lusk.

The letter was accompanied by a small parcel wrapped in a brown paper. The parcel contained a human kidney, preserved in “spirits of wine” (Philip Sudgen, Complete History of Jack the Ripper). Mr. Lusk’s initial reaction to the letter was that of laughter, but according to the witnesses, he “was visibly shaken. ‘It is no laughing matter to me,’ he grumbled” (Sudgen). Even though Mr. Lusk believed that the letter was merely a hoax, the mystery behind the series of murders begun to stir even his own peace of mind. Who was it then, the alleged Jack the Ripper? The Macnaghten’s report from 1894 mentions three names: Montague John Druitt – a London barrister, Aaron Kosminski – a Polish Jew, who eventually ended up in an insane asylum, and Michael Ostrog – a Russian born thief. However, the evidence against any of these suspects was not sufficient. There were some speculations that the killer must have possessed some sort of anatomical and surgical knowledge, as at least three of the victims were found with their internal organs removed. But this speculation was later discredited by the police surgeon, Thomas Bond. The mysterious killer aimed at prostitutes who lived in the slums of London. Hence, Bond’s theory has it that the attacker must have been subject to some kind of “erotic mania” (Stewart P. Evans, Keith Skinner, The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook: An Illustrated Encyclopedia). Thomas Bond stated that “the homicidal impulse may have developed from a revengeful or brooding condition of the mind, or that religious mania was first cut.” (Evans, Skinner).

Walter Sickert c.1912

There is also the story of a young artist, Walter Sickert, a member of the Comden Town Group, whose interest in the crimes of Jack the Ripper raised eventually a suspicion that he might have committed them himself. When he had rented a studio in the East End of London, his landlady told him of her presumption that it could have been previously occupied by Jack the Ripper. Led by the idea, Sickert perpetuated the room in one of his paintings, ‘Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom‘, which is now owned by the Manchester City Art Gallery. It is a very dark and haunting painting, depicting a faceless human-shaped-like figure standing at the end of a blurry tunnel. For a long time Sickert was not taken into consideration as one of the suspects. However, since 1970s three books have been written, giving the alleged evidence that Sickert was the famous murderer. In Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait Of A Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed, Sickert is described as a man of many faces: “Those who knew him as well as those he brushed past only now and then accepted that being Sickert meant being the “chameleon”, the “poseur”. He was Sickert in the loud check coat walking at all hours through London’s foreboding alleyways and streets. He was Sickert the farmer or country squire or tramp or bespectacled masher in the bowler hat or dandy in black tie or the eccentric wearing bedroom slippers to meet the train. He was Jack the Ripper with a cap pulled low over his eyes and a red scarf around his neck, working in the gloom of a studio illuminated by the feeble glow from a bull’s-eye lantern.”  There has been this speculation that in order to support her theories Cornwell bought a large collection of Sickert’s paintings and destroyed one of them in search of the artist’s DNA – to which she later denied. About ten years ago the idea of Sickert as Jack the Ripper was discarded by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.       

The story of Jack the Ripper stirred the imagination of Victorians, and today,over a hundred years later, it is still an intriguing criminal puzzle. Who was Jack the Ripper? If you think you have a worthwhile theory, please, share it with us.

Below – an article on the study of a ‘criminal brain’ published in 1899 in the British Medical Journal:           

THE BRAIN OF A “JACK THE RIPPER.”

 PROFESSOR CESARE LOMBROSO, who has had an opportunity of studying casts of the cerebral convolutions and microscopic preparations of the brain of Vacher, l’eventreur, guillotined at the end of last year, has satisfied himself that the French “Jack the Ripper” presented all the characters of the epileptic and congenital criminal. In both hemispheres, but particularly in the left, there was a communication between the Rolandic and Sylvian fissures; on the right side the latter also communicated with the post-Rolandic fissure. On the left side the foot of the ascending parietal convolution presented several abnormal sulci; the fissure of Rolando ended above in a bifurcation on both sides; on the left side the interparietal fissure did not communi cate with the post-Rolandic fissure, and was broken by numerous folds. Histological examination by Nissl’s method of a small portion of the frontal lobe revealed atrophy of both granular layers, enlargement of the pyra midal cells which were also very scanty in number, and the existence of a certain number of nerve cells in the white matter. These are the characters which have been held by Roncoroni to be peculiar to epileptics and born criminals. (The British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2011, Jul. 15, 1899)  

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