Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Murder, Myth and Money

I have always been fascinated by the case of Jack the Ripper. After seeing all the movies (including the silents) and reading everything I can get my hands on the desperate search for information has never abated. Certainly I am not alone in this obsession. From the FBI and some of the finest working detectives in the world to crime fiction and mystery writers like America’s very excellent Patricia Cornwell people have presented themselves at Scotland Yard’s museum to evaluate the evidence and render an informed opinion about the identity of the Ripper. All of this notwithstanding, the mythology of Jack the Ripper as a smoke screen for a series of politically motivated murders refuses to die.

The legend holds that a Royal impregnated a prostitute. Afterward he went through some type of marriage with her while five of her friends, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, witnessed. These five women were the Ripper's victims. The woman who married the Royal died in an asylum, and the child disappeared.

According to the allegory the Ripper was actually one of Queen Victoria’s court physicians acting on behalf of members of the government who were part of a secret society. The motive for the murders was to keep the five women silent.

I believe that this hasn’t been about Jack the Ripper for decades. This is a morality play, a cautionary tale for all those who would suffer an upper class or aristocracy without boundaries and above the law. At the time the Ripper was killing much of London’s East End was slum. Whitechapel was one of the worst. Disease, overcrowding, poverty, starvation, unemployment and crime shaped the environment were the five tragic women lived and died. Sometime after the Ripper vanished from the scene the monarchy and the City of London began to clean up the slums. However, by that time the image of a black-caped aristocrat riding in a Hansom cab, sporting a long blade and stalking prostitutes was already deeply ingrained.

The poor people of Whitechapel and everywhere passed the story from generation to generation until it had the full force of a folk myth. We are on the verge of moving back to a time when we have two classes – the very rich and the very poor. Let the Myth of Jack the Ripper be a lesson – if it is a myth.

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