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The Impersonator

It was raining hard by the time Abberline ventured out of the constabulary; the light drizzle of the early evening having long since given way to the heavy downpour of the night. He was glad of the dry confides of the hackney cab, for aside the usual inconveniences to be associated with an unpleasant drenching, came the added dangers of the London downpour. Like the infamous 'peasoupers' their avoidance was the secret to a long-life.

Whereas in the country-side, such rains brought a welcome freshness and a cleansing of the air, in London, with its multitude of crippled chimneys belching forth vile exhalations of nauseating coal smoke and partially consumed carbon, quite the opposite effect would be achieved. Anyone vaguely acquainted with the London rainstorm, therefore, would do well to stay indoors during the continuance of any such downpour and for a good while afterwards, for the dirty rainwater would accumulate in rank stale puddles, forming a black slime on the concourses and cobbles and the clammy air, would have a certain sickliness to it which should be shunned rather than inhaled, its properties known to bring on a variety of ailments daunting even the shortest sally into the streets.

As they navigated the deserted streets, all around the city was tossing and turning in a troubled slumber. Beyond the carriage window was a night of Cimmerian darkness, of gloom and shadow, intermitted at stretched intervals by cheerless pinpoints of illumination. Such a sad circular pool of night did the gaslight elucidate that as the light faltered, the shadows grew longer again and the cab would dip into a land of impenetrable all-enveloping gloom.

On this night in the rain, hardly surprisingly, even the high street was bereft of its often-strange nighttime population. Gone indoors were the hawkers and beggars, the quack doctors peddling their strange medicines, and the usual assortment of characters who colour the byways till well into the early hours (though I understand that the public houses did a royal trade). Aside from the occasional scoundrel or fallen woman who ventured out to earn her doss money for the night, the streets were lonely and bore an ill silence, intermitted only by the steady pounding of the rain.

A certain melancholy had descended Abberline as he stared blankly from the carriage scanning every inch of rain-soaked pavement in an empty watch, so that he almost missed the drenched figure of the young constable, and probably would have done so, had not a fortuitously placed gas lamp caught the officer full on the face.

"Stop short, cabman!" he yelled, giving the roof a couple of sharp taps with his cane in so doing.

"Right ya 'ar guv!"

The carriage ground to a shaky halt a few paces beyond the policeman and as it did so, seemed more than ever from the shaking that the hansom's wheels were of assorted sizes.

"PC Thompson?" Abberline called.

"Yes ser!"

"Bit wet to be out in't it lad?

"Well…I suppose so ser…"

"Then what are you waiting for, get in we'll take you to where you want to be going"

"Thank you ser" said a grateful PC Thompson and he disappeared out of the wet into the snug interior of the hackney.

Abberline always remembered a face and he certainly remained PC Thompson's, noting to himself how the young constable seemed to have the same unhappy air about his person as the first and last time they had met some two weeks previously.

Thompson in turn not only remembered but admired the plump detective-inspector, whom anyone easily could mistake for a gentleman in the upper echelons of either the legal inns or financial profession.

For a while neither spoke, the pleasantries having seemed exhausted but always hollow on such a miserable night. Now and again, a flash of lightening lit up the streets, in a brilliant burst of daylight and one could sight each and every droplet of rain suspended in the air as if in time. At the next it was night again, darker all the more for having just been a perverted version of day. A terrible boom rolled across the heavens and it seemed the sky itself would crack under its resonance.

Then Abberline in his soft-spoken tone said what was very probably on both their minds, his heavy dark-brown moustache almost stifling his words.

"You think you could have caught him {Jack the Ripper} don't you?"

The silence, which ensued, seemed to last years, before the officer trembled:

"I think ser that I should have given pursuit"

Abberline looked at Thompson with deep-set intelligent hazel eyes. Questioning eyes. There was a humble air about his manner and something kind about his bushy side-whiskers and the young constable found himself continuing, his voice shaking as he spoke. Quite why he confided as much as he did in Abberline was unknown perhaps even to himself, maybe he had to get it off his chest - but whatever the reason, Abberline understood:

"I hear those unhurried steps walking away from me in the darkness even now…in my sleep… when I'm alone… always just out of my sight but I know he's there… I walk in an ill-wind now ser…I am fated by the hand of fortune".

Abberline placed a hand on the young constable's shoulder:

"It's okay lad you did what your duty bade you, no good eating yourself up about it"


"Listen here, summon assistance and remain at the crime scene that's what anyone would have, should have, done…"

"…" Thompson motioned his lips but no sound left them.

"She was still alive man, you couldn't have left her alone to die" continued the detective-inspector.

"I couldn't do anything…"stammered Thompson.

"You tried your best, you couldn't have gone after him and you know that"

Abberline wanted the ripper, or this impersonator, which was quite likely, more than any man but there was nothing now to be done and he pitied the lad, imagining what the youngster was feeling. It had been his first night alone on duty after all, an officer with only two months service in the force, a grisly night that would probably haunt him till the end of his days. No one deserved that. He himself had seen many things in his four and twenty years on the force but after a while the effect became numbed and one developed a stomach for horrors, which a fresh-faced officer couldn't have.

He leant forward and in a sympathetic soft voice barely more than a whisper said: "You did alright officer Thompson"

"Ser?!…Thank you ser!"

And as they drove on through the rain-washed streets and past the cheap coffee houses, lightening raked the sky anew and a low roll of thunder broke the melancholy with a boom and it seemed the dead cried out.

Dedicated to the memory of PC Ernest Thompson 240H, stabbed to death during a disturbance while on duty, Whitechapel, 1900.


This fictional depiction is based on true events. History has recorded the perpetrator as not being the same monster who held the fog-blanketed east end under a terrible grip of terror the previous autumn, but whatever the truth of the matter this much is for certain, the murder of Frances Coles was the last ripper scare. The terror ended and with it Jack, the sad-killer of women, was consigned to the annals of infamy.


Related pages:
  Frances Coles
       Dissertations: Coles, Kosminski and Levy – was there a Victim/Suspect/... 
       Dissertations: My Funny Valentine 
       Message Boards: Frances Coles 
       Police Officials: P.C. Ernest Thompson 
       Press Reports: Daily Northwestern - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Daily Republican - 17 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Daily Republican - 26 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Daily Republican - 4 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Decatur Herald Dispatch - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East End News - 20 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 7 March 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: East London Observer - 28 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 7 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel - 13 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Lincoln Evening News - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Manitoba Daily Free Press - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: New York Times - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: New York Times - 15 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Penny Illustrated Paper - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Penny Illustrated Paper - 7 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Sandusky Daily Register - 4 March 1891 
       Press Reports: Stevens Point Daily Journal - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 14 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 16 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 18 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 24 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 27 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Walthamstow and Leyton Guardian - 28 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Waukesha Freeman - 21 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Woodford Times - 13 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Woodford Times - 20 February 1891 
       Press Reports: Woodford Times - 27 February 1891 
       Ripper Media: Forty Years of Scotland Yard 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands - Frances Coles 
       Ripper Media: Lost London: The Memoirs of an East End Detective 
       Victims: Frances Coles 
  PC Ernest Thompson
       Message Boards: Ernest Thompson 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 15 December 1900 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 8 December 1900 
       Press Reports: Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel - 3 December 1900 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 3 December 1900