Almost everyone in the world knows about the horrific serial killer Jack the Ripper, whose brutal murders of women brought terror to the streets of the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. It’s the coldest of cold cases. He was never caught and for 125 years no one has been able to solve the mystery of who Jack the Ripper really was, or what caused him to commit the multiple murders.
Suppose new information did come about and suppose there was even a confession from “Jack” himself? This chilling premise is the theory behind The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper.
The idea presented to readers is that in 2008, a man named Alan Hicken (who runs a TV, radio and toy museum in Somerset, England) was contacted by a woman wanting to sell items from her uncle’s estate. The uncle was S.G. Hulme Beaman, the creator of children’s books and TV shows. Among his effects were rare books, paintings, and oh yes – an unpublished manuscript titled The Autobiography of James Carnac, who claimed he was none other than Jack the Ripper. It was written in about 1930, some 42 years after the crimes were committed.
Alan Hicken bought the lot of items from Beaman’s niece and called in two “Ripperologists”, experts on Jack the Ripper, to verify the possibility that the manuscript was real. The experts couldn’t conclude one way or another. They could vouch that the writing was from the proper time period of around 1930. They doubted that Beaman wrote the manuscript as a novel because he was the same author who created loveable Larry the Lamb and Tales of Toytown – an unlikely candidate to write as though he were a diabolical killer. They concluded that the name “James Carnac” was a pseudonym, but for whom?
So, then, is it just possible that the manuscript is indeed written by the elusive, mysterious and certainly insane Jack the Ripper? If readers entertain that thought, the effects of the book are chilling. Could the words they’re reading be something set down by the notorious murderer?
According to the book, James Carnac’s father was a doctor but drank heavily. His mom was very strict. In religious school, he became fascinated by blood. He also enjoyed books by Edgar Allan Poe and books on witchcraft. His father had an affair with a household servant that set off a string of terrible events. Eventually, he inherited money from his father but also his scalpels. After living with his uncle for a while, he suddenly left and his uncle passed away a couple of years later, leaving him money as well. Before then, his uncle sent him a genealogical tree showing that the family came from a long line of executioners.
These events don’t excuse the murders of course, but they might slightly explain them. The cool headedness of James/Jack is frightening. In his mind, he did the women a favor by putting them out of their misery. Earlier, he remarks that someone who wants to cut a throat is no more abnormal than someone who fears cats. The details of the murders are explicit but matter of fact.
Elements of the book seem suspicious. Certain words are used and one wonders if they existed in the late 1920s or 1930, when the book was written. For example, did people talk of being in a “funk” then? Also, Carnac says early on that he could not keep clippings of his killings because it might arouse suspicion if anyone found them. But later, he seems to have a large scrapbook full of items about himself.
But even if it’s merely a cleverly-written novel (“Ripperature” ), the book is well done. And if there’s a remote, outside chance that it’s a real account by the gruesome killer, the thought is enough to cause nightmares while reading it.
Published simultaneously at http://www.bookpleasures.com.