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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15, 1888

Hello everybody! Are my Canadian friends recovering from a turkey and gravy hangover? Are my American friends feeling great this Tuesday morning? Are all of my other global friends waking up to greet another Tuesday (or Wednesday depending on what part of the world you live in)?

I hope you all are, because it is Tuesday Timeline time!

We are smack dab in the middle of October, and my mission statement for this month is to try and bring a little bit of spookiness and scary moments to the blog. I realize that I cannot do this with every blog entry (it's fairly hard for me to make a Thursday Diary entry scary), but I will certainly give it a try with all the other theme days of the week.

This means going back in time to a time period that I've never done before. It also means that I'll really be dusting off the old history textbooks, as today's date is the oldest date that I have ever done in a Tuesday Timeline feature. But when you see what the subject matter is, I think you'll agree that the date I chose was absolutely a morbid sort of way.

Of course, before we get to the main course, we have to settle for some appetizers. But unfortunately, I've completely run out of boneless chicken wings and blooming onions, so you'll have to instead settle for historical memories of the past a la carte with celebrity birthdays drizzled on the side.

Now serving...

1783 – The Montgolfier brothers' hot-air balloon marks the first human ascent by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier

1793 – Marie Antoinette is tried and sentenced to death – set to be carried out the following day

1815 – Napoleon Bonaparte begins his exile on Saint Helena

1878 – In a non-French piece of history, the Edison Electric Light Company begins operation

1894 – Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery office, is arrested for spying

1910 – Airship America launched from New Jersey in the first attempt to cross the Atlantic by a powered aircraft

1917 – Mata Hari is executed by firing squad for spying for the German Empire during World War I

1920 – Author Mario Puzo (d. 1999) is born in Manhattan, New York

1939 – The New York Municipal Airport is dedicated (later to be named LaGuardia Airport)

1945 – The former premier of Vichy France, Pierre Laval, is shot by firing squad for treason

1951 - “I Love Lucy” debuts on CBS

1954 – Hurricane Hazel causes massive damage to the Eastern Seaboard, killing ninety-five people in total

1964 – American composer Cole Porter dies at the age of 73

1965 – The Catholic Worker Movement stages an anti-war rally in Manhattan, New York which includes the public burning of a draft card

1966 – The Black Panther Party is created by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton

1969 – The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam is held in Washington D.C.

1970 – The domestic Soviet Aeroflot Flight 244 is hijacked and diverted to Turkey

1987 – The Great Storm of 1987 devastates England and France

1989 – Wayne Gretzky becomes the all-time leading points scorer in the history of the NHL

1990 – Mikhail Gorbachev is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to lessen Cold War tensions

2008 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 733.08 points – the second worst day in the Dow's history

Are you celebrating a birthday today? Take note, because you share your birthday with Lee Iacocca, Warren Miller, Freddy Cole, Richard McTaggert, Linda Lavin, Penny Marshall, Haim Saban, Jim Palmer, Richard Carpenter, John Getz, Chris de Burgh, Tito Jackson, Larry Miller, Jere Burns, Tanya Roberts, Stacy Peralta, Renee Jones, Sarah, Duchess of York, Emeril Lagasse, Vanessa Marcil, Paige Davis, Dominic West, Matt Keeslar, Ginuwune, Jaci Velasquez, Keyshia Cole, Paulini, Holly Montag, Jesse Levine, Chantal Strand, and Bailee Madison.

So, now we're off to our main topic. The part that ties the Tuesday Timeline all together. And this week, we're going back in time over one hundred years.

Today's date? October 15, 1888!

Yes, 125 years ago, a significant event took place in the UK that scared thousands of people, and made several worry if they would be next. If they would become the next victim of one of Britain's most feared serial killers.

A serial killer who to this day has never been identified.

Ever hear of a person known as Jack the Ripper? If you haven't, I'll give you a little history lesson. And to begin this lesson, we're going to go back even further in time to the beginning of the 1880s.

At the turn of the then-new decade known as the 1880s, the nation of England (the city of London in particular) experienced a huge increase in immigrants – particularly from the nation of Ireland. At the same time, Jewish refugees emigrated into London's East End. As a result, there were issues of overcrowding within the civil parish of Whitechapel. The living conditions within the area grew worse, and people found it difficult to find work or maintain their standard of living, and many residents turned to criminal acts in order to survive. By the end of the 1880s, robberies, domestic disputes, overindulging in alcohol and prostitution became all the rage in London's East End. It probably didn't help matters much that news reports coming out of Whitechapel were filled with tales of anti-semetic demonstrations, social disturbances, criminal acts, and racism.  Why, back in the 1880s, one might think that Whitechapel was as wholesome and carefree as the setting of a standard "Grand Theft Auto" video game.

However, if there was one thing that the civil parish of Whitechapel was good apparently was good for murdering a whole bunch of people and covering up the evidence, as the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper murdered several women who were working as prostitutes in the area.

As if that weren't bad enough, many of Jack the Ripper's suspected victims were murdered in such a way that it was almost grotesque.  Their throats were slashed, and in cases of at least three of the victims, their organs were actually removed from their bodies!  Although it's not exactly known just how many people Jack the Ripper truly killed (at least eleven homicides were reported in the Whitechapel area between 1887 and 1891), it is widely believed that at least five of those homicides (maybe more) were orchestrated by Jack the Ripper.

The five victims that met their ends at the hands of Jack the Ripper were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddows, and Mary Jane Kelly.  And all five victims were murdered during the autumn of 1888 - the period in which Jack the Ripper was most active.

I mean, think about it for a minute.  Imagine already living in a place that is riddled with crime, social deviation, and general unrest and having the added fear of getting murdered by a serial killer whom nobody knows the identity of.  It would be bad enough having to go through that situation in 2013, but with the inventions of security cameras, mobile phones, GPS units, and other technological wonders, I think that anyone who would have those fears might have a fighting chance to escape.  In 1888 on the other hand...I could only imagine that it would be quite frightening.

There was an investigation launched by the police while the murders were taking place, and certainly there were clues that could narrow down the suspect pool.  They suspected that the killer was male, as all of the victims were female.  They also suspected that whoever the killer was, they preferred to do their murders in the late night or early morning hours - and almost always near the weekend.  And because many of the victims had their organs removed, the police speculated that their killer was involved in the medical profession in some manner, be it a doctor, a surgeon, or an anesthesiologist.  

Suspects included Montague John Druitt, a former barrister who drowned himself in December 1888, Aaron Kosminski, who was admitted into a mental asylum in 1891, Michael Ostrog, a master of disguises who was in London during the time of the murders, Francis Tumblety, a doctor who was connected to the death of one of his patients, but was never convicted, and James Sadler, who had a personal connection to one of the homicide victims in the Whitechapel homicide files (but not one of the victims suspected of being killed by Jack the Ripper).  But nobody was ever publicly named as the definitive killer, and with it being over a century since the murders took place, I would hazard a guess that the real identity of Jack the Ripper will remain an unsolved case forever.

So, why have I highlighted October 15, 1888 as having major significance within the Jack the Ripper case?  

It has nothing to do with the date that he committed murder...more like it was a date in which he sent something to the public.

You see, right around the time that the murders were being committed, a series of letters were mailed out - allegedly by Jack the Ripper himself - to various buildings all over London.  At least four letters were sent out through the mail in September and October 1888, and at first, the police believed that the letters were all some big hoax.  The first letter was filled with horrible spelling and punctuation errors and made references to cutting a lady's earlobes off.  But when a second letter was delivered along with the earlobe of murder victim Catherine Eddowes, police began to take the badly written letters a lot more seriously.

And then came the events of October 15, 1888 - the date that Jack the Ripper's third letter was written.  A letter known as the "From Hell" letter.  Have a look at it.

Okay, so I know that the text is hard to make out.  I'll type it out for you - in what could be the most spelling mistakes that I EVER make in one of these blogs.

From hell

Mr Lusk
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women 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

I should probably also mention that accompanying the letter was one of the kidneys of Catherine Eddowes.  Not exactly the nicest thing to send with a letter...but I guess you could say that our letter-writer kept his gruesome as it might be.

Now here's the unfortunate thing about the letter.  It, as well as Eddowes' kidney went missing along with other items from the Jack the Ripper police files.  But luckily, photocopies of the original letter were saved and have been analyzed by several handwriting experts over the course of the last 125 years.

At the time that the letter was written, several hundred letters were also mailed out (likely by imposters), and many believed that the "From Hell" letter was one of those imposters.  However, many researchers defend the letter as being the real deal.

There was also some questioning about the human kidney that was sent with the letter, as some believed that the kidney did not come from one of Jack the Ripper's victims, but from somewhere else.  Even George Lusk believed that the organ was not legit, and as a result, he did not report that he had received the letter until he was prompted by friends to do so.

As for the handwriting itself?  Well, again, people questioned the authenticity of the letter, as unlike the other two letters that Jack the Ripper had sent prior to the "From Hell" letter, this one was not signed "Jack the Ripper".

But interestingly enough, on the History Channel television series "Mysteryquest", a forensic handwriting expert deduced that the letter was real, and he pointed out that because of the linguistics and spelling of certain words, and the way that the letters themselves were written, he believed that the letter was written by someone who was Irish, or had Irish ancestry - which seemingly pointed to only one suspect.  

Francis Tumblety.

Perhaps we'll never really know just exactly who sent the letter, nor will we know just how legitimate the letter really is.  After all, the original copy has since gone missing, and all the suspects have long since passed away.  But it remains one of the biggest unsolved murder mysteries of all time.

And when the third letter was mailed out on October 15, 1888, it only added to the mystery.

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