Jack And Stephen
When you type in ‘Whitechapel’, an American deathcore band from Knoxville, Tennessee pops up in Google instead of the real Whitechapel, ‘deathcore’ being a type of thrashy music performed by middle-aged men who like to pretend they’re edgy.
But Gentle Author‘s stash of rare market photos in the press yesterday reminded me that the actual East End neighbourhood of Whitechapel (seen above, 12 years after the murders) is still unable to escape the curse of the Ripper, from TV shows like ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Ripper Street’ to tours creeping around the Eight/Ten Bells pub (it changed its name) looking for signs of Jack.
Ripperology is the ultimate dead end; there’s nothing left to see or say, whether it’s Patricia Cornwell ripping up a valuable painting to look for non-existent clues or poor befuddled Bruce Robinson setting out to debunk Jack and ending up sucked into his own nonsense.
Meanwhile, events in Las Vegas would suggest that one Mr Stephen Paddock has just earned his place in the history of mass murder – but he won’t. Why? Because, like skyscrapers outbidding each other in height, there will be a bigger one along shortly, because Vegas is a simulacrum which doesn’t have the redolence of creeping Victorian gothic that the Whitechapel band is trying to emulate, and because instead of a president who demands gun control there will only be witless talk of ‘evil’ and ‘prayers’.
Or as Mr Arthur Bryant put it in ‘The Burning Man’, when telling his young charge about Saucy Jack;
‘We know nothing at all about him beyond the fact that he was probably left-handed and literate enough to write a letter. All the crazy people who are convinced they know who committed the murders, all the suspects, all the clues from the writing on the wall to the note the Ripper sent the police, they all amount to nothing. And that is why he is remembered, not for what we know but for what we don’t know, and that is why we are detectives, because we always want to finish the picture. Every case is an unfinished picture, and only we can find the missing pieces. And now I must tell you the most terrible part of the Ripper’s secret.
The legend of Jack the Ripper has been kept alive all these years. There are nearly four thousand books on the subject. The Ripper breathes and walks almost as if he was still flesh and blood, when he should have been allowed to die long, long ago. His victims were desperate, poor women who could not earn enough to find a bed for the night or a hot meal. Their skin was grey and saggy from a diet of potatoes. They tramped the streets for twenty hours a day, in rain and snow and fog. They were beaten up and treated cruelly for doing nothing more than trying to survive in a mean world that didn’t care if they lived or died.
Once they were like you, lad, young and full of hope for the world, but unlike you they had nothing beyond a few ragged clothes and their failing bodies. And instead of treating them with kindness and respect, men bullied them and stole away their only precious possession, their innocence, and after they were dead the men – and women – still exploited them, displaying photographs of their ruined lives, writing about the Ripper as if he was intelligent, a surgeon, a member of royalty, an artist, as if he was more worthy of attention than his victims. We raise him up in films and books and TV shows, almost as if he was something to admire. But he wasn’t. He was a just another cruel, evil bully only worthy of our revulsion and disgust, because he exploited the weak. And this is true of all terrible crimes; it’s the victims who must be respected and honoured, not the murderers, and that is why I do my job, and will continue to do it until the day I die.’