Jack the Ripper ‘was invented to win newspaper war’

A new theory suggests that "Jack the Ripper was a forgery invented by journalists to link a series of unrelated murders and sell newspapers, according to a new book." An interesting notion but as brought up in the article, it’s not too hard to poke holes in that theory. The chances of multiple serial killers working the streets of London in that small area during the same time are very remote. Also, with multiple killers on the loose why didn’t the murders continue? The rage shown at the mutilation of the bodies doesn’t suggest a killer who would simply end his rampage after one victim. In theory there should have been dozens.

The multiple killer theory comes from police journals which state there was doubt that all the murder were committed by the same hand. It is hard to dispute however that the name "Jack the Ripper" was indeed an invention created by someone other than the killer. Hard to dispute the press was somehow involved in the hype and allure of the Ripper figure.

It’s an interesting theory and just proves that the mystique of the Ripper legend is alive and well and new theories and ideas are always coming to light.

Jack the Ripper ‘was invented to win newspaper war’

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Haunted Histories Volume 2

Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 1: Haunted Houses
Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 2: More Haunted Houses: Tortured Souls and Restless Spirits
Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 3: Zombies
Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 4: Voodoo Rituals
Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 5: In Search of the Real Frankenstein

The perfect programming choice for a spooky night at home, the second volume of this History Channel series delivers even more of a frightfully good thing with real-life tales about mad scientists, haunted houses, zombies and restless spirits. Eyewitnesses recount their ghostly run-ins with the dearly departed; scholars weigh in on the origins of voodoo rituals; and psychics investigate claims of domestic disturbances.

Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 1: Haunted Houses
haunted_house What you think will be compelling stories of hauntings and unusual activity turn out to be some less than compelling accounts of some supposed spirit activity. While the locations are pretty interesting and the stories could lead to some bizarre happenings there is really nothing presented to make you think there is anything to the claims. In many cases what we’re presented with are some rather low budget recreations and dramatizations. In the end, there is really no evidence of any paranormal activity. At best, these could be the basis for some stories you might tell around the campfire on a weekend camping trip. One very grainy photo does not the paranormal activity make.

Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 2: More Haunted Houses: Tortured Souls and Restless Spirits
Tortured souls? Hardly. Another disc of stories that have some interesting aspects to them, but hardly the spine tingling tales that the disc foretells. Once again, the tales head toward the fringe of being interesting but never quite get there. The evidence is missing and the psychic/mediums they bring in just make the whole presentation feel cheap. Like the first disc, you might be able to get some campfire stories out of this one, but little else.

Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 3: Zombies
zombie Do Zombies exist? Can they be created? Is there a spell or potion that can be cast which renders a human being both alive and dead? A somewhat interesting documentary on the voodoo rituals and the creation of zombies. A glimpse into two people who tell their tales and recount the details of what it’s like to be able to see and hear people around you but not do anything about it. Some of the commentary comes from voodoo priests and practitioners, as well as toxicologists, psychologists, anthropologists and researchers. It’s a fairly interesting topic starter, but at 50 minutes the discussion is far too short for the material. It’s sort of a lead in to the events outlined in Serpent and the Rainbow, and actually has the researcher who provided the material for that story, but it’s pretty watered down and really there just isn’t enough to satisfy. And it really doesn’t live up to expectations. Two people? That’s the whole argument for zombies and zombiefication, two people who claim to have had an experience? Over the hundreds of years of the practice this is the best you can do?

Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 4: Voodoo Rituals
voodoo The word Voodoo, it conjures up all sorts of images. From dark rituals steeped in blood, to sinister dolls, zombies and even possessions. If you’re looking for a deeper insight into the mystical world of voodoo, then this isn’t the disc for you. It focuses on one man’s journey to becoming a voodoo priest and even that is full of vague generalities and how he felt about the journey and the places he went, not the experiences he’s had and the deeper meaning behind his beliefs. The documentary very briefly touches on some aspects of voodoo and that it revolves around the life force and spirit energy of all things. But it barely even scratches the surface of the beliefs, practices and aspects of voodoo that make it so interesting and misunderstood. The main focus is on a religious retreat in South Carolina and very little else. Well, there was that quick visit to the market.

Haunted Histories: Vol. 2: Disc 5: In Search of the Real Frankenstein
frankenstein Frankenstein is synonymous with the living dead. A piecemeal corpse sown together and brought back to life with the power of electricity. Is there any truth to these bizarre experiments or are they just the work of a creative imagination? Perhaps the only disc in the series worth watching, this one chronicles the history of Mary Shelley and the origins of her Frankenstein novel. Did Frankenstein exist? What was the inspiration for her dark tale which has lasted all these years? It seems there were men of science obsessed with the idea of reanimating a body once it had expired. These men worked in seclusion on Galvanism, the process of charging the body with electricity and spurring the muscles into action once again.

There is a great deal of evidence to support bodies were dug from the grave and that scientists waited under the gallows to claim a fresh body to work with. Tests that started off with frogs, newts, dogs and cats quickly escalated to real life remains. But there demands outweighed the supply.

Once the felt they had made enough progress, they took their experiments on the road. Bodies would be placed on a table, electric probes would be placed, and the electricity would flow. Muscles would contort and contract. Limbs would raise and move. The face would gesture and grimace. And all of this in front of a live audience.

The idea of recharging the body with electricity soon took on mainstream acceptance and people began to flock to the idea of zapping their bodies as a cure-all. In the minds of the public and those selling the idea, it invigorated, it fixed broken or defective parts of the body and it prolonged life.

While Shelley worked in the realm of fiction her ideas are firmly rooted in reality. Even though the practice seems peculiar there is no disputing that we use some of the discoveries today – behold the power of the defibrillator. Every medical show out there has had a scene of zapping the heart with electricity to get it moving again. The bizarre medicine of the past becomes the common place of today.

While the last disc in this set is the best, it doesn’t make up for the previous four. They may claim this is the perfect programming for a spooky night at home, but I just don’t see it. The stories aren’t scary, but the acting is.

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The Dark Life of H.H. Holmes

hhholmes The idea of a deranged doctor getting rid of his patients for insurance money or a madman that builds a house or horrors complete with torture chamber and dissection room is merely the stuff of Hollywood and overactive imaginations right? Sometimes these bizarre stores have their roots in real life events. Such is the case of Herman Webster Mudgett or H.H. Holmes as he became to be known throughout his criminal career. This personable and even charming character was uncovered to be a ruthless murderer who built a Murder Castle on the streets of Chicago, lured in victims so he could strip their bones clean and sell them to the local Universities, had a long standing career in insurance fraud, committed bigamy and ultimately killed off his wives, secretaries and business partners.

The extremely bright and adept Mudgett became the focus of bullying during his younger days. In one of these acts, two boys forced Mudgett to confront a skeleton from the local medical office. While the event scared him at the time, it did cure him of his needless fear and made him accustomed to the sight of bones. Ultimately he would go to medical school and graduate as one of the more prominent members of his class.

While in school Mudgett becomes adept at insurance fraud. His grand scheme was to take out a policy on someone, produce a corpse and then collect on the insurance. He has access to plenty of bodies and he knows how to disfigure them enough and measure them correctly so identification will be close enough. He begins to have larger plans and decides Chicago is where he will make his fortune. He changes his name to H.H. Holmes and blends in with the all the other people seeking jobs as the city rebuilds from the infamous fires that swept through.

Soon Holmes is working at a drug store as a chemist. After some time, he stages the death of the owner and convinces the widow to turn over the store to him. He will keep running the business and take care of her now that her husband is gone. With the store now his the widow soon disappears and he tells anyone who inquires that while visiting California she found it quite agreeable and decided to stay.

murdercastle Holmes makes quite a bit of money from the drug store and buys the property across the street where he will build his new home. He hires and fires a myriad of workers. He continually swindles the workers out of money, but also, he keeps switching people around so no one except for himself will know what the finished building actually looks like on the inside. The house is actually designed with murder rooms. Corridors were constructed that lead no where. Doors would open into brick walls. Trap doors were placed in the floor that lead to the basement. Body chutes so he could easily dispose of a body. False stairs were added that lead nowhere. In many ways it resembled the Winchester House but in much more sinister ways. There are even claims of acid bathes, dissection tables and even a blast furnace he used as a crematorium.

The Murder Castle looked quite ordinary on the outside with the first floor consisting of regular shops such as a barber, jeweler and even a restaurant. He would make money from the rent but it also exposed him to a new crowd of people , a throng of potential victims.

Since Holmes had so much space he decided to rent it out during the 1893 Columbian Exposition which was basically the World’s Fair. His castle was just a mile or two away and he offered room and board to many of the visitors. These were perfect victims. They were alone is a new city, no one knew where they were and they couldn’t let their relatives know where they were staying. Holmes would invite them over, seal them up in one of the air tight rooms and fill it with gas so he could watch them asphyxiate. Or, he would take them to the torture chamber in the basement, strip the flesh from their bones and sell them off for $200. He even went so far as to suffocate his mistress in the bank vault he had placed on the first floor of the building. There is really no telling how many people met their end at the Murder Castle. People would leave the fair to find lodging and would never be heard from again.

It was also during this time that Holmes would meet B.F. Pietzel and a new insurance scam would be hatched. Pietzel had financial troubles and wasn’t able to take care of his family. With his problems mounting he becomes a heavy drinker, and as such, easy prey for Holmes. Holmes ends up befriending Pietzel and the two begin to come up with a way to fake Pietzels death and use the money to take care of his family. It’s a simply plan really, fake his death, substitute a body and grab the money. Easy enough.

The two set out on a spree of insurance fraud and deception. They travel thousands of miles committing fraud and taking money from their victims. But as Holmes tries to swindle a shopkeeper out of drugstore he gets caught and sent to jail. While there he meets a detainee called Hedgepeth and for some reason decides to reveal his master plan of Pietzel and the insurance fraud. Hedgepeth offers up the name of a lawyer who can help them and Holmes says he will send $500 once the job is done.

Holmes is released and the plan is back on track. But Holmes isn’t going to just fake the death, he’s going to do it for real. Pietzel’s drinking has become a liability and Holmes fears he may reveal too much while in one of his stupors. Pietzel sets up shop as a patent clerk and Holmes ends subduing Pietzel with chloroform and then setting the body on fire to disguise the true identity. Holmes then tries to claim the body and collect the insurance policy after reporting this “accident”.

The insurance company needs more than just Holmes to indentify the body, they need a blood relative. Carrie Pietzel is desperate for money so she sends their 15 year old daughter back with Holmes. The death of Pietzel is reported in the paper and in a strange bit of luck is read by Hedgepeth who is still in prison. Holmes never sent the $500 he promised so Hedgepeth decides to talk with the police about what he knows.

Holmes returns back to the Pietzel family without the daughter and explains that she is with her father and that he needs to take the rest of the family there. Carrie thinks her husband is alive and well, and she can’t refuse the promise of some money for food. After long talks she agrees to let Holmes take the children.

The police are now on to Holmes and the fraud he is trying to perpetuate. Pinkerton detectives track his movements and finally arrest him. However, none of the children can be found. Alice wrote extensive letters to her mother while she was travelling and Holmes never posted them. Pinkertons follow the trail in the hopes of finding them. Holmes is arrested for fraud and now they suspect him or murder. And once they find the remains of the children this is confirmed. They also find out about his “castle” and go to investigate.

A full investigation is launched as Holmes is now charged with murder. While the police find remains and the secrets of the castle are brought to light, Holmes begins to write down his story while he waits for trial. He wants to be remembered and he wants to persuade people he isn’t the monster that the media is reporting.

The trial becomes a circus as Holmes dismisses his counsel and represents himself. Carrie Pietzel comes into court showing the letters from her daughter and telling how Holmes killed them one by one. The entire court breaks down at the story, except Holmes. To make amends for his callous behavior, he breaks down when his current wife takes the stand and begins to talk about the man he is.

But nothing helps and Holmes is convicted and sentenced to be hanged on May 7th, 1896. More evidence is found at the castle and now Holmes is considered a mass murderer. William Randolph Hearst offers a large sum of money to Holmes to write his “confession”. Holmes sits down and confesses to every crime people thought he was guilty of and even a couple more. He talks about the Pietzel children, the bank vault, turning on the gas and suffocating people, burning bodies and Pietzel himself. He also discussed how he has the devil on his shoulder and it’s not his fault he turned out to be evil. He even goes so far as to say his features are becoming elongated and taking on a shape like the devil.

On the day of the hanging Holmes recants everything and says he was just giving the public what they wanted to hear. He denies all the murders and any wrong doing. It doesn’t matter and he is hanged before a large crowd 9 days before his 35th birthday.

One final request was that his body be encased in concrete and buried 10 feet down. His request was granted. It seems he didn’t want to be dissected or to have his remains sold to a University like he did to so many others.

There is not a true count of how many people Holmes murdered. With so many people coming and going through the Fair it could literally be hundreds. His castle was riddled with bones, flesh and the pieces from multiple bodies, but who knows how many skeletons he sold off or how many people were burned to ashes in his crematorium in the basement. The real body count may be somewhere around nine victims. Holmes claims 27 victims in his own account.

As the fervor and excitement of Holmes began to take hold there was talk of turning the castle into some sort of macabre museum. Before this idea could really take root the building was set on fire. It seems the idea of glorifying Holmes may have been too much for someone.

The story of H.H. Holmes borders on the bizarre and fantastic and seems almost too strange to believe. A doctor who kills his patients and a madman who takes pleasure in the systematic slaughter of his victims. He’s not confined to a gender or age group and kills indiscriminately. He has victims of all ages and even dispatches people he was involved with romantically. It’s a strange case to be sure and one whose real life events are stranger than the devilish productions of a writer’s creative mind.

H.H. Holmes on Amazon
H.H. Holmes – America’s First Serial Killer

H.H Holmes on Wikipedia
H.H. Holes on Dead Silence
H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion
The Murder Castle
The Strange Life of H.H. Holmes
The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes (Downloadable Book)

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The Hunt for Jack the Ripper

jack-the-ripper It’s hard to imagine 19th century London without conjuring up the image of Jack the Ripper and the terror he brought to the East End. His crimes were vicious but surprisingly quick. Even by today’s standards his efforts were shockingly brutal. He came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly without leaving behind clues or evidence as to his identity. Even today, over 100 years later, his true identity isn’t known and experts can only hazard an educated guess as to who he was. There is even debate as to why the murders even occurred. Little is known about his psychological state and the forces that were driving him. The total number of victims is also debated as some feel there may be more or less than the traditional five we know about. All that’s really known is that Jack the Ripper struck fear into the citizens of Whitechapel and kept the police guessing during his spree of 1888.

Whitechapel almost made it easy for a killer like Jack the Ripper to take root. Far from the imagery of well to do horse drawn carriages, or the Bobby laden streets is the reality that Whitechapel was nothing more than a square mile ghetto full of impoverished Jewish and Irish immigrants as well as throngs of prostitutes. 600,000 people crammed the area and survival was a day to day affair with the residents doing whatever they could to get by. Violence and crime were common. It was noisy and the lower forms of work were done here such as butchery. It wasn’t uncommon for men to be seen with blood soaked clothes heading to and from work, further giving concealment to the Ripper’s activities. Prostitution was common and there was no shortage of workers or customers.

Before the spree actually starts some rather brutal murders take place in Whitechapel. Martha Tabram who some believe to truly be the first Ripper victim was discovered at 3:30am with 40 stabs wounds. While she doesn’t bare the vicious incisions later victims would receive the killer was certainly in a frenzied state. There is also Emma Smith who is beaten to death, although she is not slashed or eviscerated. Are these the early works of Jack the Ripper or just victims of the poor conditions of the area?

But then the real terror starts as Jack gets to work and kills 5 prostitutes in what may be called a rampage. He slashes their throats, rips open their bodies and proceeds to remove and keep organs as trophies. Such brutality like this hadn’t been seen before. Each murder seems to only take a minute or two, no sound is heard, no witnesses are around and Jack is able to slip away without getting caught. Even in this bustling slum, no one sees the murders occur in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, Jack has the prostitutes working in his favor. He doesn’t have to lead them to some place quiet and secluded, they do that for him. The very nature of their business means they will sneak away where they won’t be disturbed. And of course the idea of a gentleman in black overcoat and top hat is nothing more than glamorized fiction. Considering the squalor that existed in Whitechapel a person dressed like that would stick out. If anything he would look more like a sailor or seaman.

In each case the victims are brutalized and left out in the open to be discovered. Each crime seems to escalate in violence. Many feel Jack was disturbed during the attach of Elizabeth Stride which is why her body wasn’t cut up like the others. If so, this interruption would have simply left the killer frustrated and unsatisfied, which is why his next victim Catherine Eddowes is so terribly mutilated. While this certainly makes sense, some feel that Stride was not a Ripper victim and may have been a copycat. This is also the time where a cryptic message is left on the wall near the first victim. Is this a deranged prank, simple graffiti, or did Jack have time to kill Stride, write a message and then move on for another victim? Is he at the height of a frenzy or is more than one killer at work?

There is plenty of evidence to support a copycat with hundreds of letters coming in to the police claiming credit for the kills and even the name Jack the Ripper comes from letters sent in. Very few feel this was from the actual killer, but the name is now synonymous with the mysterious figure.

While Jack may not have named himself many believe he did send letters to the police or at least to George Lusk who received a severed kidney in the mail. While previous letters reported he would offer up the ears of his next victim rather than a kidney many feel this was an offering from the real killer. This was the only time he actually sent a token to the police although he certainly took organs from his victims. What happened to those one can only imagine.

The final victim is the most gruesome of all. Mary Kelly works from within her room and it offers far more privacy and time for her body to be mutilated. When she is discovered it is the most violent crime scene of them all. In some places she is stripped right down to the bone, body parts cut and missing, and the room soaked in blood.

Scotland Yard had dozens of suspects to work through, yet none of them would ultimately match. There are definitely some unsavory characters at the time, but they all had alibis. Forensic evidence was non-existent so putting the murder weapon in someone’s hand wasn’t going to happen. The police quite literally would need to catch the killer red handed to make an arrest.

A total of 149 policemen are put on patrol to catch the killer. But it won’t do any good since no more murders occur. Everything goes quiet and no more prostitutes are murdered in this way.

After Mary Kelly, the killings stop. Or did they? Seven months later some murders are investigated that have a similar trait, but few believe them to be the work of the same hand. So why did Jack the Ripper stop? Certainly his fractured mind wouldn’t allow him to simply give up and control himself. So what happened? Did he escape to another country? Was he caught for another crime and locked away? Was there another incident that ultimately caused his death? Some conjecture he was actually institutionalized, but the connection to his previous crimes was never made. Theory speculates he left the country and headed to Chicago. It’s certainly possible he met his end at the hands of another. He may have become a victim of the violence that plagued the East End where he is supposed to have lived.

After all these years, experts are no closer to the identity of the killer. While books continue to be written offering suspects and evidence, it’s nothing more than theory and conjecture. All the evidence is circumstantial and while they may make a solid case there is very little true evidence to support their findings.

It’s even hard to understand why he was committing the murders. What set him off? Was the one of the very first sexually based killers? What prompted him to only murder prostitutes? And where did he come from? Did he move to the East End from somewhere else or did he grow up in this squalor and finally snapped? As we know from all the crime dramas we see on TV there had to be some trigger, some traumatic event that set things in motion. And in theory, there should have been previous signs of his behavior. He didn’t come to kill women over night, there would be a pattern; a pattern of abuse and mentally unbalanced behavior.

Was Jack a doctor or a butcher? Did he have some medical skill? Many movies, such as From Hell speculate he was a doctor involved in a Royal cover-up to protect an illegitimate child. While no evidence exists to actually support such a theory, there is also very little to support he was a doctor. While many originally felt an anatomical background would be needed to cut up the bodies as he did, further investigation suggest that only a few people of the time felt Jack was skilled with a knife. Does it take skill and experience to wield the long razor blade that was probably used? Or did he just have practice in the art of killing from previous misdeeds?

Jack the Ripper will continue to be the classic whodunit that will keep people interested because he came out of nowhere, committed terrible crimes and then just as quickly, disappeared without a trace. He almost defies understanding and even with the forensic skills and data analysis we have today, he still remains a secret.

While there are volumes dedicated to Jack the Ripper, here are just a few on this mysterious figure.

Jack the Ripper on Wikipedia
The Casebook of Jack the Ripper
The Case of Jack the Ripper – Perennial Thriller
The Enduring Mystery of Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper Revisited
Jack the Ripper on Amazon
Hunt for Jack the Ripper
The Hunt for Jack the Ripper

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