This morning Dan and myself made a visit to one of London’s hidden gems, the Ripper Museum. Located in Mitre Square in Whitechapel, East London, it is owned by the Guild Of Ripperologists and it’s four artefact-crammed rooms are devoted to the unsolved ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders of Victorian times. But this is no ‘Chamber of Horrors’ or ‘London Dungeon’ but a serious, rather old-fashioned, somewhat antiquated museum, (let’s just say, it could do with a good dusting!). And it’s aim is to commemorate the sad victims of the murders, as well as to serve as a warning from history to young ladies of the present day that there can often be a heavy price to pay for sexual ‘liberation’!
There are shelves stuffed with various odds and ends connected with the case. Framed on the walls are the actual “Dear Boss, From Hell” letters, (purportedly written by the killer himself!). Perhaps most ghoulish of all the things we saw was a jar containing the preserved human kidney (see left) that was sent by the Ripper to the police, (believed to belong to one of the victims). Various press cuttings hang on the walls alongside police photographs of the bodies and crime scenes, (be warned- you’ll need a strong stomach to view those!) and perhaps most intriguing of all are some very peculiar looking waxworks of the murders from a display which appeared at the time of the killings, way back in 1888. As you leave the exhibit, you are faced with the Wall of Suspects; pictures of all those who have been suggested as possible Rippers down the years. (We checked, and Oscar Wilde isn’t up there yet!)
We were shown around the museum this morning by its curator, Mr Geoffrey Kensal, a rather rickety but amiable old man with a cheery grin and a twinkle in his eye, who was a fount of macabre information. (Exciting news flash: Mr Kensal has agreed to host a special event for us at his museum next month to help publicise Dan’s forthcoming book The Importance Of Being Jack. More details soon!) (above: one of the framed ‘Ripper’ letters on display at the museum.)
After our little tour, we went downstairs and perused the fabulous gift shop selling mugs, tea towels and stationery as well as dolls of the victims (complete with removable internal organs- yikes!). Then we went to the café and sat down with Geoffrey to have a nice pot of tea and some scones and a jolly old chat.
“So what do you reckon to our theory?” asked Dan, as he spread clotted cream and jam onto his scone.
“Oh, Oscar Wilde?” asked Geoffrey with a chuckle. “It’s bound to ruffle a few feathers, I shouldn’t wonder. But it’s all fuel to the fire. If it gets more people through these doors then I shan’t complain!”
“But you don’t believe it?” asked Dan with a raised eyebrow.
Geoffrey chuckled again. “I look forward to hearing the full irrefutable facts and finding out what damning evidence you’ve unearthed.” I thought I detected a hint of sarcasm in Geoffrey’s tone and I think Dan did too. I saw his fist tighten around his jam-stained knife.
“Oh,” said Dan calmly, “and who in your expert opinion was the true culprit then?” (Sarcasm detector pinging again!)
“Oh, some nobody,” said Geoffrey with a chuckle, “his name lost forever in the mists of time. Serial killers are always nobodies, and London was as full of nobodies back then as it is now, but by the sounds of all these books you’d think the only people in London in 1888 were the Duke of Clarence, Walter Sickert, Dr Barnardo or whatnot.”
Dan put down his half eaten scone and leaned back in his chair.
“Would a nobody have had the surgical expertise required to carry out those murders?” snapped Dan.
Geoffrey snorted derisively at this, “surgical expertise? Oh, please, not that old codswallop! And anyway, unless I’m vastly mistaken Wilde wasn’t a surgeon, was he?”
“His father was!” Dan shot back triumphantly, “he learnt at the feet of a master!”
“Those killings displayed no surgical expertise whatsoever!” snapped Geoffrey, no longer chuckling, “That’d be an argument only if he’d managed to keep the poor women alive somehow, but any damn fool can hack someone to pieces if they feel so inclined. Just look at Jeffrey Dahmer or Dennis Nielsen, neither of whom were trained surgeons!”
“Ah,” said Dan, “but they were both homosexuals, just like Wilde!” (Dan had got him there!)
“Yes, well,” said Geoffrey, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, and clearly unable to formulate an effective response, “I’ve got a spot of work to do so I shan’t detain you chaps any longer.” I thought I detected some slight reddening in his cheeks. And with that he got up, shaking both our hands and bid us adieu. (No wedding ring, I noticed.)
But anyway, do pop along to the Ripper Museum. It’s a great day out, (perhaps not for all the family, though). Open Mondays to Saturdays 10-5, and Sundays 12-4. They also serve a range of pies in the café named after each of the victims and filled with various offal. (Although Dan and I weren’t quite brave enough to try them!) They’ve got Nichols Pie (steak and kidney) Chapman Pie (chopped chicken liver) Stride Pie (cow lung) Eddowes Pie (sheep’s stomach) and Kelly Pie (pig intestines in congealed pigs blood). Remember to keep checking back here for further details of our special event at the museum next month!