Friday, 5 February 2016

You Don't Know Jack

Walter Sickert, Aaron Kozminski, Sir William Gull, Prince Albert Victor – Duke of Clarence and Avondale, Francis Tumblety…all individuals who, at one time or another, were suspected of being the serial killer Jack the Ripper.

History has long been fascinated with the mystery surrounding the Whitechapel murderer. Believed to be responsible for the deaths of at least 5 women, but potentially even more depending on whose interpretation of the legend you believe, his name is known the world over, his story told hundreds of times in the movies and his identify discussed and poured over in countless books.

He has become an almost romantic figure in British history – the dark, enigmatic stranger who appeared from and disappeared into the fog-shrouded streets of London. Yet what should always be remembered is that he was first and foremost a murderer and one of the worst serial killers of all time. Not because of the number of people he killed, but for what he represented and the sheer brutality of his crimes, even by todays standards.

Attacks against women, especially prostitutes in the East End of London were nothing new, yet between 1888 and 1891 eleven murders occurred which became collectively known as the Whitechapel Murders. There has always been debate as to how many of them are attributable to Jack the Ripper, but it is widely acknowledged that Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, are the canonical five victims. Two other women, Martha Tabram and Emma Smith are oft debated as to whether they fell at the hand of the Whitechapel murderer, with disagreement often revolving around their injuries and whether they showed someone beginning to learning his craft or a random psychopath killing them opportunistically.

Whatever the belief, there is little doubt that the grotesque murders attributed to Jack the Ripper received a level of media attention unprecedented up until that point. London was already struggling to manage the Influx of immigrants swelling the population. With work and housing conditions terrible, you had the origins of an economic underclass developing, where robbery, rape and violence were commonplace and the endemic poverty driving many women to prostitution. Combine that with anti-semitism, nativism, racism, social disturbance and deprivation and Jack the Ripper had the perfect mixing pot into which to add his own brand of sadism and cruelty, a level the likes of which the world had not really experience up until that point. 

And it is amongst this synthesis that ‘In Extremis’, the novella prequel to ‘Hellbound’ begins. Starting at the end of the Ripper murders, it takes cotton merchant James Maybrick, long believed to be a potential Ripper suspect, and throws him into a business arrangement with The Brethren.

In ‘Hellbound’, The Brethren are already an established conglomerate with extensions into many businesses and ventures; in ‘In Extremis’ they have only recently been established and are attempting to make their mark in the world.

James Maybrick was already famous due to his suspected murder at the hands of his wife, Florence or Florie as she liked to be called. Florie was charged and sentenced to death following allegations she poisoned him with arsenic, a charge subsequently overturned and the death penalty commuted by Queen Victoria herself.

However, James Maybrick became famous for something else; a journal that was discovered in the early 1990’s that claimed to identify him as Jack the Ripper. At the time, this created a huge media frenzy. Had the identity of history’s most notorious killer finally been discovered? Many debated and still do the authenticity of the journal, is it a recent forgery of a historic one? The fact not under debate is that it reads as though written by a madman.

When discovered, the first 60 or so pages of the journal were missing. Many theorised what they could have contained. Maybrick was long suspected of being perpetrator of a number of killings in Austin, Texas, and a murderer known as The Midnight Assassin. ‘In Extremis’ takes this theory and shows what those missing pages could have contained, not only adding to the mystery of James Maybrick as a serial killer, but also adding authenticity and history to the characters and ‘Hellbound’ mythology.

Florie’s fate, that of James Maybrick and the story’s other key character, Thomas Quinn, are rooted in fact. The journey that took them there is simply wrapped around the world already established in ‘Hellbound’, albeit a century earlier. ‘In Extremis’ will show you how an organisation came to power, how the world’s most notorious serial killer was involved, how a wife and husband suffered because of their desire for justice, and how it all paved the way for a new kind of serial killer 100 years later…one named Obadiah Stark.

Think you know the story?

You Don’t Know Jack…