Jack the Ripper: Letters From Hell
The Jack the Ripper letters are firmly cemented in the public mind as being synonymous with the character of the murderer. The image of the killer taunting police through the mail has inherent appeal. Indeed, the very name 'Jack the Ripper' sprung from a letter alleged to have been sent from the killer. Until that letter's arrival, he had been variously known as "the Whitechapel Murderer" or "Leather Apron." Arguably, without the nom-de-guerre created for him by the letters, The Ripper might now have been forgotten.
What is less well-known is that the police were swamped with letters, and that in all probability every single one was a fake or hoax - including the original letter that coined the killer's grisly nickname.
While many of the letters are now lost, 208 of them have survived (either intact or in facsimile) and Keith Skinner reproduces them all beautifully here, with illuminating insight into how the "character" of the killer evolved with each new communication. He also demonstrates how influential the original "Dear Boss" letter was in informing other letter writers. As an aside, traces of that notorious communication can be seen in the fake letters sent by "Wearside Jack" during the Yorkshire Ripper scare.
With fascinating asides into police procedure - and even the operation of the Victorian mail system - this book is highly recommended for serious students of the Ripper case and presents a compelling, and sometimes disturbing, insight into the character of the popular mind.
Paul Carpenter: 2014-09-08