5 November 1889
HIM OR HER?
HIM OR HER?
Having made people speak of him in the best or worst of terms, Jack the Ripper has again surpassed himself without leaving any trace.
It seems that Londoners ended up by taking his side with regard to the bloody tithe that the mysterious vampire takes from the miserable flock of Whitechapel, with the regularity of a tax collector. When the murdered sheep reach the number of ten, which, as far as we can see, will not be far off, they will make a cross....
John Bull, born to be respectful and fatalistic, is resigned to his misfortune. Deep in the English character there is always something of the passive, oriental character; it is not with impunity that a people occupies India for many years.
Jack the Ripper, or Jill the Ripper - since his sex is still not determined - has entered into the course of everyday life. His imminent reappearance is awaited just as one awaits the Lady of the Lake, or winter, snow or storm. It is an unavoidable fatality! If the ordinary victims of the Minotaur had money in their pockets or in their stockings, already there would have been founded in some part of the City a Life Insurance Company (Limited) against this new risk, but the said victims often do not have even stockings or shoes.
On the other hand, there have been many conjectures. If the Englishman is a fatalist, he does none the less exercise reason. It would be impossible to say how many daring and extravagant ideas Jack the Ripper has inspired.
The truth is that this case is embarrassing.
It is obviously not a case of a commonplace evildoer who commits his crime for robbery. The poor "horizontales" of Petticoat Lane have neither jewels not wallets to excite anyone's greed, and, in any case, it would still be necessary to explain those mutilations sui generis which are something in the nature of a signature or a hallmark of the unknown killer...
Could it not well be a matter of a new Shylock, of a merchant or businessman to whom it would have occurred to actively acquire goods which are unjustly scorned?
Reference has been made, at least, to the director of a pathological museum in the United States who made it known recently that some time ago an American approached him requesting him to acquire a certain number of fresh portions of the human body, offering the price of 100 pesos per specimen.
In a practical way, like a good Yankee, it was the American's intention, it seems to offer these anatomical specimens, preserved in glycerine, as a supplement to each copy of a medical work which he was going to publish...
It has to be said that this "gift" did not lack originality and would produce fabulous sales. To go from this to supposing that the aforementioned Yankee, not finding commercially available a sufficient number of theatre specimens, may try to acquire them how he may, is only a small step!
So then, this step was taken and the theory became well known last year, not only in the United Kingdom, but also in America, in Australia and in all English speaking countries.
This was doubtless enormous, monstrous, terrifying, but there was nothing unlikely about it. Indeed, whether truth or invention, the affair did not lack precedents. Is it not told how one Burke. To save himself the trouble of going by night to graveyards to dig up bodies, this being too dangerous, had the ingenious idea of murdering beggars and selling their bodies to students, physicians and surgeons, acquiring a sizeable sum?
This tale is legendary in England, to such an extent that the verb "to burke" (to kill someone to steal the body) passed into the common language to describe this special kind of crime.
So then, it is not surprising that in London public opinion has evoked such frightful memories about the motive for the Whitechapel murders. In a matter of the ripping of virgins, as in any other subject, the present can often be explained by the past.
But Jack the Ripper could also be some madman, some monomaniac afflicted with acute eroticism. But equally, on consideration, Jack the Ripper would have precursors, and indeed one of these is famous in Italy. Condemned in 1872, after having evaded the police, by the Court of Justice of Bergamo to hard labour for life, Vincenzo Verzeni (such was the name of the monstrous precursor of Chalequero) who, if he had not died already, would be in prison still.
His career revealed a whole series of frightful deeds which resemble the work of his imitator on the banks of the Thames.
Verzeni, born of a respectable family, seemingly of quiet ways, of irreproachable background, became because of his instincts a terrible criminal. He would tie his victims and first try to strangle them. He possessed the taste and the inborn temperament of the Thugs; this was in his blood, so that, once arrested, at the slightest disagreement with his fellow prisoners, he would automatically roll up tightly his scarf.
In this way he assaulted in less than two years seven women, most of whom were members of his own family. Five times his attempts were frustrated by the unexpected arrival of some passer-by or by the vigorous resistance of the victim, and on all these occasions Verzeni fled without being recognized. Until later in the course events, suspicions were lacking. But in the cases of two unfortunates, one a young girl of fourteen and the other a woman of twenty eight, only their bodies were found, completely naked and so horribly mutilated that it was impossible to determine whether the murder had been arisen as part of some other crime.
The abdomen had been cut along its whole length, the intestines pulled out, the limbs smashed to pieces and the entrails, scattered on the road with the bloody clothing or carefully hidden in the basements or beneath the piles of straw in the vicinity. There was one frightful detail: the killer had the incomprehensible audacity to gather up one by one the victim's hairpins and to hammer them symmetrically into geometrical rosettes into the flesh of the body or into the ground...
Verzeni, the son of austere and Christian parents, obviously belonged to the category of innate criminals whose anatomical and physiological characteristics he had: cranial asymmetry with overdevelopment of the left frontal lobe and the bony crest which is found in the large apes and in primitive savages, ossification of the temporal artery, a squint, etc.
The Italian professor, Lombroso, who examined him in minute detail and quotes him in his book, Il Nomo Delincuente, which is as disordered and vague as it is extraordinary, considers him as an archetype of the epileptic and of moral insanity, in consequence of a morbid perversion of the affective faculties and of a confusion of the will. Responsible at the beginning of the deed, he ceased to be so under the tyranny of a growing delirium which increased as did the act itself. In such moments he felt an enormous strength and either saw nothing or all appeared red. The criminal confessed to Dr. Lombroso that the act of squeezing a living throat and, above all, the mutilation of the bodies, the biting and the sucking of blood, all produced in him a paroxysm of sensual pleasures.
It could well be that Jack the Ripper is a phenomenon of the same type: the intermittent periodicity of epileptic attacks would satisfactorily explain in such a case the Whitechapel murders and the serene impunity of their perpetrator, whose position and reputation would probably put beyond the reach of any suspicion, and could even be that the killer retains no memory of his crimes after committing them, seized with a feverish rush of satyriasis and butchery.
He could even be an implacable supporter of "malthusismo" (reform?), in which case the matter would be one of political economy. And this is not necessarily a paradox. Did not Swift devote one of his most disturbing pages to show that if the custom could be accepted of eating tender babies of poor Irish families, disguised as sucking pig, the future of society and universal well-being would be assured?
In England, the country of eccentricities, anything can be assumed because anything can happen. The lamentable thing is that this dark problem shows no signs of being solved quickly. If the tragedy in n acts of Whitechapel resembles in many ways the frightening inventions of Edgar Allan Poe, it also lacks the investigative genius of Dupin in the "Murders in the Rue Morgue."