In the Shadow of the Seven Stars
Hunting the Ripper
Related song: Gravediggers
A Letter from Jack the Ripper’s Pal
While most – and maybe all – of the letters purportedly written by Jack the Ripper may have been forgeries, some did contain curious details and were even sent to individuals far from Whitechapel or London. One such letter was addressed to Mr. Thomas Porter of Hucknall Torkard in Nottinghamshire, who immediately turned it over to the county police upon receiving it. The letter was reproduced in The Congleton and Macclesfield Mercury and the Cheshire General Advertiser on Saturday, December 1, 1888.
The letter bore the “E.C.” (Eastern Central) postmark, which would mean that it was sent from Central London or a surrounding district. The Eastern Central Postal District includes almost all of the City of London and parts of the London Boroughs of Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Westminster.
The writer of the letter is purportedly a man who was formerly in the employ of Mr. Porter, when that gentleman was in business as a saddler at Hucknall. In the letter, the writer indicates that he left his employment in Hucknall and traveled to Colorado in the United States for some time. On his return voyage to England, he reports that he befriended a “Bavarian” who convinces him to stay in London rather than return to Nottinghamshire. It is the “Bavarian” who entices him into a life of crime as an accomplice to the Jack the Ripper murders.
A group of riders poses in front of a cog railroad car at the top of Pikes Peak on June 29, 1892. Construction began on the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway in 1889 and on June 30, 1891, a passenger train carrying a church choir from Denver was the first to make it to the summit. Photo, Joseph G. Hiestand, courtesy of Pikes Peak Library District, 001-3537
Although the general agreement is that the letter is a forgery and has no merit, the claim is still curious in light of the Elizabeth Stride murder on September 30, 1888, which, based on eyewitness testimony, does appear to be the work of two men working together; that is, if Israel Schwartz’s version of the night’s events is to be believed.
An Eyewitness Account
According to Schwartz, Elizabeth Stride’s assailant was about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, aged around 30 with dark hair, a fair complexion, a small brown moustache. He had a full face, broad shoulders and appeared to be slightly intoxicated.
As Schwartz watched, the man tried to pull the woman into the street, but then spun her around, and threw her onto the footway, whereupon the woman screamed three times, but not very loudly. Israel Schwartz appears to have believed that he was witnessing a domestic attack, and so he crossed the road to avoid getting involved.
As he did so, he saw a second man standing, lighting his pipe.
As Schwartz passed him, the man who was attacking the woman called out, apparently to this second man, the word “Lipski,” at which point the second man began to follow him.
Schwartz panicked and began to run, and had managed to lose his apparent pursuer by the time he reached the nearby railway arch.
This second man, Schwartz said, was aged about 35, around 5 feet, 11 inches tall, had a fresh complexion, light brown hair, a brown moustache, and wore a dark overcoat with an old, black, hard felt hat.
The Murderer and His Accomplice
The presence of the second man is something of a mystery. It has suggested to some that the killer had an accomplice.
While it might be difficult to get a physical description of the men who were in Thomas Porter’s employment, we can at least narrow down the age of the man. If Jack the Ripper did have an accomplice as the letter suggests, then the only clear evidence we have of this possibility is the statement made by Israel Schwartz. In fact, Schwartz may be the only person who ever directly witnessed the Ripper in the act of committing a crime. If so, then an accomplice could just as easily be part of the killer’s M.O. rather than an outlier theory.
The man Schwartz describes as the attacker could possibly fit the description of a “Bavarian,” which would be consistent with the Ripper’s identity in the “Jack the Ripper’s Pal” letter. Although Bavarians are from Germany, the general profile of the ethnic groups in that area of Germany doesn’t necessarily fit the more common blonde, blue-eyed German stereotype. In fact, Bavarians are known to have somewhat darker complexions and tend to be shorter and stockier than their northern counterparts. Presumably, the attacker would not have identified Schwartz as “Lipski” to his accomplice if he had himself been a Jew. The use of “Lipski” is a local euphemism for “Jews” that is based on the murder conviction of a Jewish resident of Whitechapel named Israel Lipski. There isn’t much detail to go on from Schwartz’s description, but it doesn’t seem like we can rule out the possibility of the attacker being a “Bavarian” based on it.
The second interesting aspect of the letter to Thomas Porter is that it is possible to narrow the potential writers of the letter down to known employees of Porter at his saddler business in Hucknall Torkard who may have traveled to the United States in the years prior to 1888. For his part, the letter writer appears to be confessing his sins to a father figure of sorts, to someone who would have been able to attest to his character prior to his participation in the Ripper’s murder spree in the summer and fall of 1888.
Thomas Porter’s Apprentice
It is possible to come up with the names of some of Thomas Porter’s employees using English census records that list household members, including live-in staff. Moreover, Kelly’s Directory of the Leather Trades confirms that Thomas Porter’s saddler business was located on Baker Street in Hucknall Torkard, Nottingham, so the letter’s recipient can be verified by name, location and occupation.
The most interesting individual found through the census records who worked for Porter as a saddler’s apprentice at the Baker Street location unfortunately has a very common name, “William Green.” Both the 1871 and 1881 Censuses list the members of Porter’s family and their live-in staff, including a male apprentice. In 1871, the saddler’s apprentice in the Porter household is named William Green, aged 16, born in Hucknall Torkard, Nottingham in 1855. During the 1881 Census, the saddler’s apprentice living in the household is George W.M. Fisher.
Depending on his exact date of birth, William Green would have been 26 or 27 in 1881 and 33 or 34 in 1888 when the Elizabeth Stride murder occurred and the “Jack the Ripper’s Pal” letter was written. This would put him at about the same age as the man that Israel Schwartz describes as the accomplice who followed him to the railway arches. Schwartz says the man was about 35.
Perhaps William Green ended his apprenticeship as a saddler and then married and started his own household somewhere near Hucknall Torkard. One would imagine a saddler’s apprentice would continue in that same line of work after spending years learning the trade or he would have continued working for Thomas Porter. Perhaps there are local records to trace William Green’s next moves. All we can determine from the census listing is that Thomas Porter took on another apprentice for his saddler business by 1881.
However, from ship manifests listing passengers from England who arrived in eastern ports in the United States, we do know the following: On November 1, 1881, a “laborer” named William Green, aged 27 arrived in Boston Harbor from England on a steamship called the Malta. There is no direct evidence that this is the same William Green from Nottinghamshire, but the ages do match well enough to be plausible. The occupation of laborer is not exactly a mismatch for a saddler’s apprentice, but it is also too common to carry a lot of meaning. Perhaps if Green could have claimed a professional status as a saddler at that time, he would have listed it as his profession. It is hard to know how much thought was given by individuals and reporters to occupations listed on passenger manifests. Regardless, Colorado, at any rate, seems like a good place to move in 1881 for a man who has just left an apprenticeship as a saddler and who is looking for similar employment in his trade.
The letter from Jack the Ripper’s Pal is most likely a fake and any connections to the Elizabeth Stride or Frances Coles murders are tenuous. On the other hand, why would an innocent man confess his crimes to a former employer who would certainly be able to venture a guess as to the identity of the letter writer? Thomas Porter could not have had so many employees that he couldn’t narrow the field to a few probabilities, which means the writer – whether it really be a former employee or not – would understand that the letter itself could levy real-world consequences upon one or more of Porter’s former employees.
This fact alone makes this particular letter stand out from the multitude of letters from or about Jack the Ripper that were sent to police, newspaper editors and individuals around this same time. The question is whether Porter or the local authorities ever did any investigative work related to the letter or attempt to locate any of Porter’s former employees to question them about the confession. From the public record and due to the amount of letters pertaining to the Ripper being sent, it appears they may have simply shrugged the whole matter off as another poorly executed ruse.
Certainly, someone might write a letter like this for revenge, but who would concoct these particular details that pertain to people and locations so far away from Whitechapel if they were apropos of nothing and, therefore, likely to come to nothing? These details stand out as much for being mundane and non-sensational as they do for recounting a scintillating tale. It may all be a fake, but it is curious. Even if the Ripper connection is fake, might the letter writer have traveled to and then lived and worked in Colorado even if he wasn’t Jack the Ripper’s accomplice? Perhaps this letter is a false confession, but it also might be that this is the confession of either a copycat killer or someone who is guilty of another heinous crime that is unrelated to the Ripper murders.
All of which brings us full circle to the Elizabeth Stride murder. Was Elizabeth Stride really murdered by Jack the Ripper? As with the Frances Coles murder, there are details about Elizabeth Stride’s murder that don’t fit Jack the Ripper’s general methods of operation. Both women had their throats cut, but neither suffered further mutilation. In fact, it appears that both murders were interrupted and, for that reason, they both may have been more impulsive in nature and performed in the context of a sexual encounter. This would certainly be the case with the Stride murder if Israel Schwartz is considered credible and the violent scene he encountered was the beginning of the Stride murder.
Are we to believe that two women were assaulted in that same alley in the half hour prior to Stride’s body being found and that the first victim got away from her attackers or was removed from the scene? If not, then we really have no reason to disbelieve the Schwartz account, which would mean that Elizabeth Stride’s murderer had an accomplice, was drunk and assaulted her in a fairly public place (public enough to be witnessed by a passerby), which is a fair fit for the facts surrounding Elizabeth Stride’s death as they are known from other witnesses that night. While Schwartz was the only witness who could describe the attacker, he was not the only witness of the attack.
Another lesser discussed incident involving a direct witness to a possible Jack the Ripper or copycat crime is the Annie Farmer attack on November 20, 1888. In this case, Annie Farmer herself is the witness to the purported crime. The police, however, were somewhat skeptical about Farmer’s claim that she was attacked by the Ripper because her wounds were superficial and she was most likely cut with a dull blade. The Ripper used a very sharp blade and made deep cuts. The Ripper also didn’t typically leave his victims alive and able to tell stories. The same dull blade theory is also one of the rationales for eliminating Frances Coles’ murder from the Ripper cannon as well.
In the Farmer affair, the police concluded that Farmer had stolen coins from the man and then had cut her own throat and shouted “Murder!” when the man discovered they were missing, prompting him to flee to avoid being attacked by an angry mob thinking he was the Ripper. The man did take off in a flash after Farmer had let out her scream and he did exclaim “What a cow!” to a passerby as he left the scene, which might suggest he had been duped in some way, but not necessarily. Annie Farmer never did retract her story and the man never did return to the scene or make a claim for his money as the police suspected he might.
Esther Hall, an indirect witness who tended to a bleeding Annie Farmer just after the attack recounts what Annie Farmer told her as she bandaged her wounds. Farmer did have a cut to her throat that was bleeding profusely.
I [Esther Hall] then inquired, “Do you know the man?”
She [Annie Farmer] replied, “Yes, I was with him about twelve months ago, and he used me ill then.”
She [Farmer] added that the man had a black mustache, wore dark clothes and a hard felt hat and that she thought he was a saddler and that the man made her drunk before he brought her to the lodging house.
The Letter from Jack the Ripper’s Pal was received on December 1, 1888, which, depending on the efficiency of the English postal service, means that it may have been sent from London shortly after the Annie Farmer attack, which occurred on November 20, 1888. Might the letter have been a confession to the Farmer attack, which, because of its timing, location and nature was already mixed up with the Jack the Ripper murders. If nothing else, the timing of the events and the mention of the saddler occupation (not to mention “a hard felt hat”) in both instances is very curious.
The letter from Jack the Ripper’s Pal
“November, London, E.C. Dr. Sir,
I now take the liberty of writing to you hoping I am not taking a liberty in doing so. I have no doubt you will be surprised to hear it is me and a pal of mine doing this work in Whitechapel; but I feel I cannot continue much longer – I shall have to give it up – cannot reign much longer.
Have been in America some years, and since leaving Colorado have been carrying on a “deadly ” (word omitted here) in the East of London.
I feel at this moment as if I could burn or blow all those dens down, and all those filthy low women in them.
When I go to bed at night I can see all my past life before me, can see everything I have done wrong, and thousands of rats: it is dreadful, and when I lie awake in the morning I fancy I’ve been dreaming I am not the man. It is too true, I am the right one.
Oh, I do wish I had gone to Nottingham when I left Colorado, it makes me feel miserable.
Most people think there is only one in the affair, but allow me to tell you – I guess there are two, and that is him who learnt me how to do it, a scamp, but I am as bad as him now, if not worse, for I never feel frightened in cutting a woman up now, felt at times I never should get caught, am just like a maniac.
Oh, how I wish I could do without any more of this sort of life I have been leading of late – must go on or my pal would do for me – I guess it is a sworn thing between us.
When I am talking to a woman I can see the very Devil, would give my life any time If I could just speak to some of my old friends.
Do feel bad just now, hope the Lord will forgive me all the sins I have committed – always feel better in the afternoon when we go in a public-house, and hear some one reading about the Whitechapel affairs, have many a laugh as if I could not help it, when it is getting dark I do feel funny – my pal is a wild wretch, he has learned me how to do all this.
I am a native of Notts, but lived in Hucknell some years ago.
My pal is a Bavarian, I guess.
We met on board a steamship, and I assure you I was mesmerised when I had found out his hideous calling, which had been concealed from me for some time. I had become so intimate with him, and he cast a sort of spell over me.
Myself and my pal are just what they call “Jack the Ripper,” we are not the cause of all the nonsense about that letter-writing and that writing on the wall, we have never done anything of the sort.
You must not allow any hope to exist in your body, I really feel miserable, and scarcely know what to do with myself at this moment, expect we shall pop off another or two, when I guess we go back to Colorado never to return……
Yours good bye
JACK THE RIPPER’S PAL