Author's Note: I am heavily indebted to the excellent Jack the Ripper Casebook, which sets out the circumstances of the Whitechapel Murders clearly and succinctly. Any mistakes and errors of historiography, however, remain my own.
Where I have used period vocabulary, or London canting slang I hope that I have successfully glossed it in the story itself. In case the meaning of an archaic word is still unclear, I have included a glossary of selected words, phrases and names at the foot of the text.
That said: Welcome to late-nineteenth century Whitechapel –
"Eight little whores, with no hope of heaven,
Gladstone may save one, then there'll be seven.
Seven little whores beggin for a shilling,
One stays in Henage Court, then there's a killing.
Six little whores, glad to be alive,
One sidles up to Jack, then there are five.
Four and whore rhyme aright,
So do three and me,
I'll set the town alight
Ere there are two.
Two little whores, shivering with fright,
Seek a cosy doorway in the middle of the night.
Jack's knife flashes, then there's but one,
And the last one's the ripest for Jack's idea of fun."
Whitechapel, London. Wednesday 31st October 1888.
The fog chokes the streets. It is very, very dark. Whitechapel is almost Cimmerian, its inhabitants dwelling in near-perpetual gloom. In daylight the streets are thronged with Cockneys, Jews and stevedores, zealously going about the day-to-day business of starving to death. Children shriek and play and pickpocket and beggars clamour for a ha'penny. At night, Spitalfields falls deathly silent, save for the yammering of the drunks and the footfalls and hushed tones of the whores and their clients.
It is quiet at Buck's Row where the first victim was discovered and at Hanbury Street where they found Dark Annie with her throat torn out. It is noiseless too at Dutfields Yard, off Berner Street, where Long Liz Stride lay, minus all the teeth on the lower left side of her jaw.
In Mitre Square, just outside of Whitechapel, it is hushed and dark as Erebus. This is where someone stumbled across Catherine Eddowes with her intestines slung across her shoulder. Four women killed in a month, a district held in thrall by the self-titled 'Jack the Ripper'.
Since Jack's first appearance, the streets, lined with crumbling houses and philanthropic shelters, have become still darker, still more hellish. There has been a fascination with the case in the newspapers. Jack's deeds are blood-drenched, ink-drenched crimes, poured over by the cognoscenti at breakfast with evident, guilty pleasure and chattered about by excited street children, wanting to seem wise and worldly. There are skipping-rope rhymes and games and warnings. Jack's coming to get you.
The Ripper's success in monopolising the national dialogue has infuriated those who have been lobbying hard for reform for the destitute of London. George Bernard Shaw is outraged that the parsimonious prisoners of the circle of hell known as Whitechapel provide now only a kind of grotesque theatre for their betters. He wrote in The Star newspaper on 24th September 1888:
"Whilst we Social Democrats were wasting our time on education, agitation and organization, some independent genius has taken the matter in hand, and by simply murdering and disembowelling four women, converted the proprietary press to an inept sort of communism."
The Ripper himself was not silent. Or, rather, the Rippers (the gleeful products of the publicity generated by the self-conscious flamboyancy of his crimes) were not silent. Hundreds of hoaxers imagined themselves to be Jack, thrilling at his sexual crimes, breathless in the face of the pornography of his violence. They wrote to the police, seeking to identify themselves with the grotesque derring-do of their hero, seeking to emblazon the name of Jack across the annals of history.
Some of the correspondence may, of course, have been genuine. The detail of the severed ear lent credence to the 'Dear Boss' letter which was received on 27th September. "I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled," professed the writer. When it was published in the newspapers, it became insignificant as to whether it really was Jack or a clever hoaxer. The letter helped to build the mythology. "Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again."
Again, on 30th September the police received a bloodstained postcard:
"I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you'll hear about Saucy Jacky's work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn't finish striaght off. Had not got time to get ears off for police thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again. -Jack the Ripper."
The 'Double Event' he spoke of? He meant the slaughter of Long Liz and Catherine Eddowes. At the scene, someone had writ large in chalk the message "The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing." Fearing reprisals against the Jewish community, the police studiously erased it.
On October 16th half a human kidney landed on the desk of George Lusk, who headed the fruitless Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, together with a note which purported to come "from hell", by which, the writer may very easily have meant from the poverty-stricken, saturnine depths of East London:
I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk"
And then there was a silence from Saucy Jack. The denizens of Whitechapel almost, almost began to breathe freely again.
Carrotty Nell and Ginger Kelly stand beneath the gaslamp on the corner of Commercial and Fournier, outside The Ten Bells public house. Compared with the other whores of Whitechapel, they are extraordinarily pretty. Ginger is five-foot-seven-inches tall and is pleasingly plump and buxom. Despite her nickname, she has blonde hair and vivid blue eyes and a remarkably fair complexion, unblemished by pockmarks. She is twenty five years old. Nell, three years her junior, is slightly taller and slightly more good looking, with a shock of red hair and green-grey eyes.
The light spilling forth from the opened door of the pub throws into sharp relief the darkness of Spitalfields and Whitechapel, to which the gaslamps are quite unequal. From inside the women can hear a clapped-out piano belting out Men of Harlech. The noise is almost immediately swallowed by the freezing, thick October air.
"It's bitter cold." Nell says and shivers, then she turns to her companion: "Reckon there'll be many coves along 'ere tonight?"
"It's been slow so far," says Ginger in her lilting Welsh-Irish accent, which has somehow managed to survive her immersion in the harsh, abrasive world of the East End. "Shall we call it a night and head for the pub?"
"You must be a mind-reader, girl!" says Carrotty Nell. "I was about to suggest the self-same thing."
The Ten Bells is crowded, and the ladies of the night have been on their feet all day (except for the brief periods when they have been on their backs) and they don't fancy standing to drink their gin-and-waters, so they strike out down Commercial Street, making for the inn at the sign of the Horn of Plenty, which they hope will still have seats at this hour.
"Ladies save yourselves!" cries a street evangelist as they pass. "Jesus loves you, but hates your sin. So cast off sin, and enter His embrace!"
"If I casts off me sin," says Carrotty Nell, "I will be entering 'is – or rather the Devil's – embrace sooner rather than later. By which I mean starving to death. I'd rather wap for a winne and risk damnation than waste away for want of food and be certain of it."
"Save your lecture for the johns who come here clamouring for Miss Laycock," says Ginger briskly. "Get rid of the demand for those in our profession and we'll all get on with dropping dead of penury, without bothering God or man."
"Socialism," the street-preacher spits the word, "is as much of an offence to God Almighty as whoredom. Beware, O beware, ladies, of the Devil! Beware the Queen of Sheba! Beware the Whore of Babylon!"
"There are worse things than pinchpricks walk these streets," Nell calls back to him as the two women walk hurriedly on down Commercial Street, "and other things from hell we must beware besides the Devil."
"These philanthropists are becoming louder and still doing sweet Fanny Adams," Ginger opines. "Shelters! Philanthropy! Show me one whore who was ever redeemed by their charity! Look at this place. Whitechapel needs to be razed to the ground and rebuilt from scratch. The rich need to re-read their bibles and consider what charity actually means. Jesus Christ was a socialist: Feeding five thousand, talking of wealth and camels and needles. Let the rich look to their wallets and their fancy noserags and remember that Jesus bade his disciples give up their worldly goods."
"Where will it stop?" rejoins Nell, a little flummoxed by Ginger's assessment of religion and politics. "I 'ears that Mr Gladstone hisself has taken to rescuing fallen women!"
Ginger harrumphs her disapproval of Mr Gladstone's efforts. "Trouble is," she says sagely, "most of these do-gooders are living out some fantasy of whoredom. They want to fuck us but they haven't got the nerve."
With this bleak observation, belying Ginger's want of faith in her fellowmen, the two ladies arrive at the Horn of Plenty, and step hurriedly inside. The fog has lifted slightly and it has started to rain. They force their way to the rear corner where there is still room to sit. Nell saves a place for her companion, while she goes to the bar to purchase two tankards of gin and water.
They chat happily, when they are not engaged in the very-serious business of drinking and, eventually, as with all work colleagues, their talk moves around to their job. Tipsy and flushed, Nell begins to recount to Ginger the story of the oddest request she has received from a client:
"One gentleman – strange little man, not bad lookin' exactly, but, yer know, a queerish sort of a feller – anyway, he bids me drink two pints of water immediately when I comes through his door and then sits me down, lifts up my skirts and plays with my cunt. And then after a spell 'e stops and says 'Nell,' 'e says, 'do you need to relieve yerself.'
"And I replies 'No thank you sir.' And 'e makes me drink another glass of water and begins again to fondle round me nethers, gentle-like, 'e's more a tickler than a mauler. After a few more minutes of this he says: 'Nell, do you need to use the chamber pot?'
"And I says all proper like 'No sir, I do not, but thanks for yer concern.' And 'e gives me another glass of water. I'm starting to feel bloated and sick by this time and I doesn't think that I could drink another drop if the gentleman so desired it. 'E begins once more to toy with me. I offers him me milkers to play with, you know, for a bit of variety, but 'e's not interested in any part of me above me waist. He pushes a finger inside me now and flexes it about.
"I'm starting to get a bit damp down there, what with all his tinkering, and I wonders if 'e's being very considerate and trying to make me ready for his cock. More than most of these no good coves would do for yer, I thought, Nell, you've done well for yerself this time my girl. But, turns out, 'e don't want to play the flute, if yer catch my meaning, at least not yet. For 'alf an hour or more this goes on, 'im fingering me quiddity and asking again and again whether I need to pass water. I steadfast refuse to drink any more, unless he offers me gin or ale o'course. Then, at last, I starts to need a piss – not surprising considering how much the odd little feller 'sd made me drink.
" 'Excuse me sir,' I says, 'but I 'ave started to feel the call of nature, as it were, and, crouched down there, you are suddenly in rather a precarious position. It must be all that water I've got slooshing around inside me, and I would be ever so grateful if you would fetch me the chamberpot, else you may find that I'll piss all over yer, if yer'll pardon my French.'
" 'That, Nell,' 'e says, 'is precisely what I want you to do. And if you do it, I'll give you 'alf a crown.'
" ' 'alf a crown!' I exclaims, 'bloody 'ell! You dirty little bugger!'
" 'Of course, if you don't want to ...' 'e says all crestfallen.
" 'Oh no, for 'alf a crown I'll do it! Never yer fear Mister. You want me to start pissin' now?'
" 'No! I want you to hold it in, for as long as you can,' 'e says and 'e strips 'imself naked. And 'e's got the 'ardest most ardent cock you ever did see. I never saw a man so excited. Looks like 'e might spill 'is seed then and there. I takes me skirts off and me shirt and stay and stand starkers in front of 'im. 'Come with me,' 'e says urgent-like and then leads me through to the next room where 'e's got one of them tin bath tubs. 'E lies in it and bids me straddle 'im.
"I does as 'e says. Then 'e kisses me mossie face! There's not many would do that for one of our profession. And so 'e's licking me cunny very earnest-like, as if 'e's 'ungry and wants to eat it.
"Now, I'm starting to get desp'rate needing a piss, so I'm not paying full attention to the bobcull's lapping at my privates, though 'e is very attentive and skilled at it. I'm worried that if I give in to the pleasure 'e's giving me that I'll just relax and send a stream of piss all over 'is face and straight into 'is mouth! I knows the little freak wants me to make water on 'im, but I doesn't think 'e wants it in 'is mouth. And 'e 'as told me to 'old on as long as I can.
"It doesn't 'elp that he starts pressing on me belly as 'e tongues me. 'Ooh sir,' I says, 'I'm right desp'rate now ...' 'E ignores me and keeps on licking me more and more quick and wild. And then, I can't 'elp meself, a little stream of piss escapes from me. 'E don't seem to mind though and actually 'e starts groaning with pleasure. I pisses a little bit more and 'e just drinks it down like it's beer. I'm real uncomfortable now, and it's starting to 'urt I need to go so bad. 'Please, sir,' I says, 'I just can't 'old it in any longer.'
" 'Go on then,' 'e says, real excited. I just let it all go, and I sprays piss all over 'is face. 'E drinks some of it down and the rest is just running down over 'is chin and neck and chest. 'Piss on my cock, Nell,' 'e commands. And I hurriedly wriggle down 'is body leaving a warm stream in me wake. And now I'm weeing on 'is old man like 'e asks and 'is eyes is rolling like 'e's 'aving a fit. I sighs with relief, to be able just to let it go. It feels so good. I've finished now, save for a few last drops. And 'e looks at me all wildness and lust and says: 'Fuck me Nell. Fuck me you filthy whore.'
"Now I could point out the oddness of 'oo is calling 'oo filthy. 'Oo's the more disgusting, the streetwalker or the old man lying in 'is bathtub covered in piss. But I doesn't mention it and instead I go to work on 'im. I plays 'im as tight as a virgin and 'e doesn't last long. He groans and shouts and spurts into me. Then lies back all contented. 'That'll do, Nell,' 'e says. Then 'e gets up, dripping with me stale, and leaves the room. I get dressed sharpish and 'e comes back in, still in 'is birthday suit and gives me 'alf a crown, good as 'is word. It was the easiest 'alf crown I ever earned! I thanks 'im and then 'urries 'ome to wash meself off!"
The two ladies fall about laughing at the follies and perversities of men.
"What peculiar coves 'ave you serviced?" asks Nell, eager for more merriment.
Ginger considers for a moment. "My strangest job was with two young men," she begins, "very proper they were, couldn't have been much more than nineteen winters old. They were prettiest two boys you could imagine, like Grecian statues. One of them was dark and the other fair and both were beautiful. I think, really, they wanted to fuck each other, but didn't dare and had had to settle for doing it through me. They paid me very well.
"At first, all I had to do was lie there with my mouth and legs open and let them have their way with me while they gazed into each other's eyes. Then, one of them hit upon the idea of putting both their several cocks in my quim at the same time. I said: 'You're welcome to try, boys, if you can work out how to do it.'
"They weren't very successful, but that didn't matter since the main point of the exercise was that they had an excuse to rub their dicks against one another. Sometimes one of them would have his prick up in my mother-of-saints while the other rubbed all around me trying to force it in and sometimes it would be the other way around. They didn't manage the feat, but were having a lot of fun trying.
"At last, I said to them: 'Look. One of you put your cock in my cunt, and the other put his in my arsehole.' And I broke free of their fervent fumbling and went over to my cupboard and got some goose fat, with which I greased my hand and then massaged the blonde chap's nob to make it slippery. I bid the brown-haired john lie down on his back on the bed and then I climbed up on top of him and straddled him. I lowered myself onto his upright prick, guiding it into me with my hand. I got myself comfortable, and leaned forward, so as to give the other a chance to put his nimrod in my arse. He hesitated.
" 'Go on, then, if you're going to, young man,' I told him. 'Give it to me up the wrong'un.' He put the purple head of his cock up against my arse and then pushed it into me. I moaned my encouragement. I was like a bitch in heat, Nell, I'd seldom been so excited. He inched his dick further up inside me until almost its full six inches had disappeared up my shithole. So, I had one cock buried deep in my cunt and the other deep in my arse. I began to rock back and forth, and this gave my two clients considerable pleasure. They began to thrust in time with my movements. I thought I was in heaven. I'd never felt like this with a john before. I knew then that I was going to come, which, as you know, is a pretty fucking rare occurrence in our line of business.
" 'I can feel you moving inside her,' said the blonde Adonis, wide-eyed with wonderment.
" 'And I you,' replied his would-be lover.
"Now, they were fucking each other inside me and it felt wonderful. They were so tender and so loving. They had involved me in their amorous game and I was grateful for the scraps that fell from the table of their love for one another. I could almost imagine that they loved me too. They fucked me with long, slow strokes and there was none of the sense of hurry you get with most customers. After a few minutes, the thrusting of their hips became more urgent, and they were both getting pretty close now. I could feel the heat. As for myself, I had never felt so good. My teats were so hard that they ached and I felt flush and hot all over. I was feeling frenzied, there was an aching, yearning feeling that was building and building inside me until it was so intense that I thought I would explode. Then I did. I screamed with pleasure.
"At the same moment, the two young men groaned and I felt their cocks twitching and pulsing inside me and then the soft slap of their come. We all three climaxed together and collapsed in a heap. I didn't want that moment end. To this day, when I'm servicing some unpleasant cove, I think about that time and those two, beautiful young men." She falls into an alcoholic reverie, from which she is roused by Nell's obscene cackling.