Thursday, 15 November 1888
A RUSSIAN COUNTERPART OF JACK THE RIPPER.
A "Saviour of Lost Souls" - Eight Women
Butchered by a Religious Fanatic
- Is He the Whitechapel Murderer?
(New York World.)
A private letter from Paris received per steamship Saale, a late number of the Paris Temps and the very graphic letter of H. D'Altona, published in Der Nene Yorker Herold, contribute each a link to a new chain of circumstantial evidence that now gives fair promise to turn into a loop of hemp about the neck of Whitechapel's homicidal maniac. These advices all point to Nicolas Vassili, a tonsured fanatic of Cherson, in Russia, a missionary among the fallen women of Paris, and a victim, finally, himself, of an unreciprocated passion for a beautiful ame damnee, as the resolute, remorseless and preternaturally cunning avenger with the blood of whose victims all Whitechapel reeks.
No stranger story of love, crime, fanaticism and mania has ever been told. The ferocious stamp of a savage realism marks the history of Nicolas Vassili from the first as that of a man unfettered from human restrictions - a law, a creed, a passion unto himself. He was born in 1847 at Tiraspol, in the Province of Cherson. At that time a religious reform was just beginning to stir from the timeworn ruts of their creed the peasantry and middle classes of Southern Russia. Nicolas grew up to feel its influence to the depths of his strange nature. He grew up to be a tall, stern youth, broad-shouldered, strong beyond the common power of his peers, dark-eyed, pale-faced. His family were well-to-do; he did not have to work, but studied, pondered and became before his majority an ascetic in body as in mind.
At the beginning of the year 1872 the Russian Church made a vigorous effort to repress the spread of this fanatical asceticism in Cherson, of which Vassili was now a leading exponent and which seemed to be running havoc among the peasantry and middle classes. The sect of which he was the rising apostle was that of "The Shorn." When the Russian patriarchs began to persecute them, some of the Shorn were for a resort to arms. Others went into voluntary exile, and among the latter was Nicolas Vassili. He was now twenty-five years of age and
in any assemblage. He had been well educated at Tiraspol and at the University of Odessa, and he had inherited from his parents an income sufficient to his own frugal needs. So fierce had been his denunciations of the oppressors of the Shorn, so vindictive his personal asceticism, that he had already come to be recognised as the young leader of this peculiar sect of the proscribed.
Through him was crystallised and commanded for rigid discipline an observance of the main dogma, the cardinal principle of the creed of the Shorn, which was the total abnegation of all fleshly (especially all sexual) pleasures. To this creed he deemed it his duty to convert the world. He gladly went into banishment, since it gave him an opportunity to make proselytes. The strength of his zeal had eaten up his human affiliations - he was no longer able to agree even with his fellow-sectmen. He went to Paris and made himself known through letters of introduction to several members of the Russian colony there. He did not desire new friends among them, but the opportunity through them of becoming acquainted with the city, with the people and with the cocottes. He had already devoted himself to the salvation of les ames perdues. He was now Der Seelenvetter.
In a month or two his new Russian friends saw him no more. He could now find his way about alone. He took bachelor lodgings in the Rue Mouffetarde. Here his tall, lean, brawny form, his pale, waxy face, his burning black eyes soon attracted attention. He got to be known as an enigma. Amid piles of books he worked away all day and when night came went out into the streets to wander about till dawn. His new mission was big within him, but he had not yet revealed it. Often his concierge would find him in the morning bent over a study table, where she had left him the evening before. By-and-bye people began to talk of the
He would be seen in the bright light of a café entrance, beneath the street lamps in the slums, at the edge of a dim cul de sac - wherever the nymphes du pave congregated or could be found by painstaking search, pleading with them, weeping over them, exhorting them to repent, lead a new life, save their souls and join the sect of the Shorn. From entreaty he passed to malediction, and he would in strange, burning words and with uncouth gestures draw pictures of the perdition to which they were hastening, and from which he begged them to permit him to save them.
Where they showed a sincere interest in his words and promised to try to reform he gave them money from his own purse. But his hopes for their reformation were uniformly disappointed. A few nights would elapse and the same painted faces and mocking eyes he had pleaded with and, he thought, partially reformed would present themselves to him under the gaslight and laugh at "the handsome gutter preacher." Whether they had cried or fled frightened or only laughed at his earnest exhortations, the result was the same. He was unable to reform them.
A change came over the method of his proselyting. He resolved to use force where fair words were of no avail. By smiles and fine language he now decoyed his subjects into some quiet corner, some half-lighted street, where, turning suddenly upon them, seized them with one arm, while the other he gagged and bound and threw them to the earth. Rarely did they escape
Once at his mercy, he presented to their breast the point of his knife and made them swear as they hoped for mercy from God and from him that they would repent and lead pure lives. He was fanatic enough to believe the filles de joie would keep such an oath.
In the Rue Richelieu the handsome missionary met a graceful, blue-eyed girl named Madeleine. He imagined he saw in her an unusually likely subject. He approached and warned her of the dreadful course she was pursuing. She turned her big blue eyes up at him, smiled and then burst into tears. She told him she was an orphan, had been left destitute by her family and was driven into the street by want. She would be glad to lead a different life if she could. He promised to help her. The next day he secured lodgings for her with a respectable tradeswoman, Mme. Guidard, in the Rue Serrurier. He got her a place in a lacemaking establishment. Finally he realised that he, the leader of the Shorn, had fallen in love!
Then he tried to reconcile faith with passion, and besought Madeleine to become one of his sect, to renounce the world and live for the conversion of her fellow-sinners. She might even become his wife, in a spiritual sense only, and live and work with him. She demurred. He coaxed; then he threatened, and carried his point.
But no woman was ever won by threats. And half ashamed of his own violence, Nicolas kept away from Madeleine for three days, He
Only a hand-clasp had sanctioned their betrothal.
The fourth day he went to the apartment he had engaged for her in the Rue Serrurier. The door was locked. When he had knocked violently Mme. Guidard, half frightened, opened her own door and asked him what was the matter.
"I don't know - I - where is Madeleine?" was all he could stammer out. His face was frightfully distorted with a terrible presentiment.
"Madeleine went away," Mme. Guidard replied, "the day you were last here. She said you and she had got a home of your own. Did she deceive me?"
Nicolas said nothing to this, but demanded that the apartment be opened.
"You see," went on Mme. Guidard, "she only removed a part of her wardrobe. She said you would come and take the remainder away for her."
Vassili fell into a chair and groaned. Leaping up like a madman he forced open the little desk he had given Madeleine, and ransacking its drawers finally found what he had suspected, a note in Madeleine's handwriting addressed to himself. He stuffed her other letters into his pockets and sat down and read out to Mme. Guidard Madeleine's last words, which made a fiend of him:-
"I thank you a thousand times for all your kindness. I respect but cannot love you. I am grateful, but why should I sacrifice all my life to my gratitude? That which brought us together separates us. You saved me, but you ought not to ask me as a reward. I cannot reconcile your roles of gutter preacher and lover. Forgive me and forget me?"
From that time on Nicolas gave up his proselyting and devoted his nights to a search for Madeleine. His dagger in his bosom warmed his heart and promised him revenge for her scorn. The only woman he had ever loved could not betray him with impunity. After eight weeks he found her where he had first seen her, in the Rue Richelieu. Without a word he stabbed her in the back. She fell at his feet with a scream. He rushed off mumbling, "She is saved forever; she is sure of Heaven; she can sin no more now!" Then the gutter preacher disappeared and the Parisian police looked for him in vain.
A few days afterwards a cocotte was found in a quiet street of the Faubourg St. Germain, stabbed from behind, dead and mutilated. Three days later another was found wallowing in blood, with the same wounds, in the Quartier Mouffetarde. Tremendous excitement followed the discovery. In a week another was found hacked and slaughtered in the same way. Their money, purses, jewels, etc., were intact in all cases. A panic such as that now in Whitechapel followed among the fallen women of Paris. Nicolas, as he afterwards confessed, killed five of them in fourteen days.
One night in the Arrondissement of the Panthenon a dark figure crept up behind a young girl, stabbed her and started to fly. As she fell she turned and shrieked out, so that the police heard her: "Nicolas Vassili!" Then she died in Nicolas's arms, for he, too, had recognised her too late. He was seized, dragged to prison and tried for murder. His lawyer got him a fifteen years' sentence on the ground of insanity. He confessed his murders to the jury, and told them of his mission on earth. He regretted that he had not killed Madeleine when he first stabbed her and when he left her, as he supposed, dying at his feet.
This bloody monster was released from the asylum in Tiraspool on Jan. 1, 1888. The Whitechapel crimes began in April, 1888. He was on his way to London when last seen in January.