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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Without A Trace - Review by Dean Jacobs

"Michael Wilson produces a gripping read in 'Without a Trace'. What most impressed me about this book was the interesting layout and recount of events that reads much like a diary entry into each character. He sets the scene well and the descriptive manner in which he approaches each murder allows the reader to be present to witness the gruesome act first hand. I love the creepy characterisation he has created for the Whitechapel villain!  His calm, creepy demeanor is perfectly put across.

I did see where he was going with it towards the end, but that didn't detract from wanting to finish it and receive that absolution. A very interesting read overall, with some squeamish moments that will thoroughly delight all of those Ripper buffs out there."

- Dean Jacobs, Author of The Streets of Whitechapel

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Jack the Ripper Blog - Why don't we know who he is?

Hello – Glad you could join me!

So far, in these blogs, I have discussed the suspects and the victims in the Jack the Ripper case. However there is one more thing I always think about when the Ripper is in mind. I always wonder how he was able to get away with it. Why could the police not catch him? This is the topic of today’s blog, the final one related to Jack the Ripper and Without A Trace.

I would like to begin by saying that there is one reason why I chose ‘Without A Trace’ as the title of my next book. It says it all. Jack the Ripper managed to appear out of nowhere, brutally murder at least five people and then disappear again without anyone discovering who he really was. After one hundred and twenty three years, we still don’t know who he was and the honest truth is that we are not likely to find out. This, without a doubt, makes him one of the most elusive killers of all time, if not the most elusive.

But why? Most Hollywood directors and some authors would say that Jack the Ripper was a criminal mastermind who knew how to commit the perfect murder. Some people believe he was a police officer, with the knowledge of how to clean up a crime scene or hid evidence from his fellow officers. How close does it come to the truth?

To be fair to them, the directors and the authors come pretty close. After the Ripper disappeared, only one piece of evidence left at any of the crime scenes hadn’t been linked to a suspect that was later cleared. It was this that gave the Ripper the reputation of an organised serial killer. A slip of Catherine Eddowes’ skirt was found in an alley near her corpse and it is widely believed that the killer may have used it to wipe his hands clean and thrown it aside without thinking. Even this wasn’t enough for the police to nail down a killer.

I don’t think that Jack could have removed evidence of who he was after he had killed. There is one thing that suggests this to me. There was never enough time for the killer to go over the crime scene and remove all of the evidence before the body was found. Mary Ann Nichols’ body was found approximately half an hour after the last police patrol (3:15 – 3:40/3:45). Annie Chapman was found dead thirty minutes after she was witnessed with a customer.  The Ripper had precisely fifteen minutes to kill Elizabeth stride between when she was last seen alive and when she was found dead. Catherine Eddowes’ body was found ten minutes after she was witnessed alive. That, I believe, is barely enough time to do the damage he did to her body. It is possible that the killer had time to destroy evidence left on Mary Jane Kelly’s body; however I find it highly unlikely for this to be the case, as it doesn’t make sense for the killer to leave enough time to destroy evidence, when he clearly didn’t need to with the previous four murders. It is therefore, I think, highly unlikely that Jack the Ripper was a police officer.

This leaves one with the impression that Jack went out for the kill, knowing how to leave no evidence behind. I am guessing it would take someone who had already killed countless times to have that amount of skill. Of course, this could well be the case, which narrows down the list of suspects considerably. Known serial killers and trained assassins...on second thought, maybe not so likely after all.
Where, though, does that leave us? None of the above? Not so. Unfortunately, it leads us to a rather boring conclusion, at least as far as story-telling goes. The most likely reason that Jack the Ripper was able to evade capture, and will likely go without identification for the rest of time, is simply that the police weren’t good enough.

Of course, in their defence, CSI hadn’t quite caught on back then. However, forensic analysis had been practiced in different forms in Britain as early as one hundred years before the Whitechapel murders, and still there was a huge lack of crime scene analysis. It is known that investigating officers quickly asked constables to wash away the blood at the scenes, so that there would be as little panic as possible. On the other hand, there was no thought as to the evidence they could be taking with it. One would think that it would be possible to match someone’s handwriting to that found on the Ripper’s letters, but some of those letters cannot even be confirmed to be from the real killer.

Now that crime scene investigation and forensics has become a powerful tool for catching killers, it is far too late. One hundred and twenty three years after the Ripper has been and gone, any remaining evidence has degraded too much to be of any use. It is hard to profile a killer when there is no pattern to his killings and if we could profile him, it hardly narrows down the suspect list. That is how to get away with a crime – outsmart the scene of crime officers for enough time for technology to move on so much, that it becomes impossible for you to be caught. Of course, the downside is that by the time you know for certain whether or not you got away with it, you’ll most certainly be dead.

That seems a sensible place to leave the conversation. As an author, I love to think that the Ripper was just too perfect to be caught, but the truth is, the police could have done a lot more to stop him. Interesting question – would he have still been able to evade capture if the police had done more? Have fun with it.

So, that leads us all to the end of the JTR blog. I sincerely hope once more that you have found it as interesting as I have. It is truly one of the most fascinating cases of all time and deserves the legendary status it has. I have been saying that I wrote this blog in support of my next book, so I’ll get that out of the way.


Without A Trace will be available from the 4th of June 2011 on, later available from Barnes & Noble, Apple iBook Store, Amazon, Sony, Kobi and Diesel for only US$1.99 (British readers, that’s c. £1.21 at current rates). It is really only one possible answer to all of the Ripper questions, but preliminary reports are good and I hope you will enjoy it.


You may not hear from me for a while now, as I’m going to be doing my summer exams and then burying myself under Thicker Than Water re-writes. See you once I’ve pulled my head out of the sand. Once again, I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog.

Until next time,
Michael Wilson

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Jack the Ripper Blog - The Victims

Once again I say hello!

Today, I will be discussing the second interesting factor in the case of Jack the Ripper. Throughout the blogs I have repeated that we know very little about this particular killer. This includes why he murdered the women he did.

Of course, at first glance, it could be very obvious. There is one factor that links all of the women together. All of them were prostitutes. It is often thought that the five women were murdered because of this but when it is the only linking factor, I am not so sure. So, in this blog, I will give you a quick introduction to each of the five women known to have been killed by Jack and go through the reasons they may have been killed.

The first woman killed was Mary Ann Nichols. Forty-three years old and always a Londoner. After having five children, Mary separated from her husband in 1881, at which time she became a prostitute. A year later, her still-legal husband discovered this. Officially, all he did was discontinue his support payments however it could be that in anger, he killed Mary, ashamed of what she had done.
Mary was an alcoholic, known in the workhouses she worked in to be disorderly at times. Between 1881 and 1888 she could have served well over one hundred people. It could be that one of her customers was very displeased with the service she provided or that she somehow scammed one of them. Either of these could have led to her death.
Mary Ann Nichols led a very quiet life publically, so the truth is that we may never know if she did anything to anyone that would warrant her death. This only solidifies the theory that Jack killed her because of her work, as there is no other obvious reason for her death.

The second killing was of Annie Chapman, also in her forties when she died. The reason for this death could be very simple. Half an hour before she was found dead, Annie was sighted with a customer. Moments later, she was heard having an argument with someone in same garden in which her body was found. It may be as simple as the argument getting out and the customer killing Annie. I’m sure, with crime levels much higher in the eighteen-eighties, it would not be unheard of for people to carry weapons for self-defence.
Again, from what I can find, this is the only other theory than her death being caused by her occupation. It is known that Annie did not get along with her siblings, but it seems a bleak theory that one of her sisters killed her.

Next was Elizabeth Stride, forty-five years old and originally from Sweden, moving to London in 1866. Elizabeth Stride was another night-worker known for being drunk and disorderly. In this case, it is impossible that she was killed by her last customer, as he was seen walking in the opposite direction to where the body was found. However, it is possible that the only woman that Jack meant to kill that night was Catherine Eddowes, and that Elizabeth simply got in his way. This could explain why her death was the least brutal of the five and why there is no evidence to suggest any reason for her death, other than she was a prostitute.

After the death of forty-six year-old Catherine Eddowes, Whitechapel prostitutes went out of their way to keep a look out for the ripper. The brutality of her murder leads some to believe that she did something to seriously anger a previous customer, and that that was the reason for her death. Like the other four women that the ripper killed, there does not seem to be much else we know about that leads to their deaths.

The Irish Mary Jane Kelly was the youngest of the victims and her death was the most brutal. Again, it could be down to her angering a customer. Again, there is very little else that points to a reason for her death.

All of this points back to the theory that these five women were killed only because they were prostitutes. To find out more, you must look at the killer, not his victims. If we look at the killer himself, it becomes clear that there could be many more reasons as to why these five women were targeted.

There are several suspects in this case that had a psychological illness of some kind. This fits perfectly with the brutality of the murders, especially the fourth and fifth, as it points to the illness becoming worse. Many people believe that the killer was a very devout Christian who thought he was doing the world a favour by getting rid of the prostitutes. Some theories point towards him being a medical practitioner, experimenting with how much pain the human body could be put through before death. Some people believe he just wanted to send the police a strong message. The brilliance of this case is that any or all of the above could be true and we may never know.

This leads me to my conclusion. The simple truth is that we will not know why these particular victims were targeted until we know who the Ripper was. That way, from his profile, we would be able to find out more about why he did it. Even then it would be difficult, as so much time has passed that we can no longer catch him and ask him exactly why. For now, I think, we should stick with the idea that these five women were killed because they were prostitutes and leave people to make up their own minds. That way, the legend spreads and gets bigger, and maybe one day someone will stumble across the right answer.

I hope that you will join me for my final blog on why the police failed to catch Jack, coming soon.

Until then,
Michael Wilson.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Jack the Ripper Blog - The Suspects

Hello again – I hope you have been well.

Now that the introduction to the case is done, there are three particular aspects of this case that I would like to go through. The first is the topic of conversation for today’s blog.

Who was Jack the Ripper? The simple truth is that no one knows. Because of this, people tend to invent answers. In the Jack the Ripper Casebook, there are thirty-one suspects and over one hundred people can be linked back to the killer from other sources. In this blog, I will write about the most interesting suspects in this case.

The first suspect I would like to discuss seems the least likely. In the weeks after the ‘Dear Boss’ letter was released by the Central News Agency of London, many of Whitechapel’s citizens may have suspected that Jack was indeed a writer for the newspaper, as that would have been the easiest way to get the letter into the paper. However, the police instantly dismissed this letter as a hoax and it was only much later that it was seen as genuinely from the Ripper. Personally I still believe it to be a hoax, as it was one of the letters actually signed ‘Jack the Ripper’. It seems to be too…perfect, to be genuine.
Of course, some say that after Eddowes’ murder, the warnings of ‘clipping the woman’s ears off’ made it genuine. It seems a better idea that the real killer saw the letter and followed its brilliant advice (it was at least brilliant to him).

As I have written, over one hundred people have been suspected to be Jack the Ripper. In the Casebook, three of the thirty-one suspects were doctors. Many people think that the Ripper would need some serious skill with a blade in order to cause some of his victims’ wounds. Most of the wounds were seen as too rushed to be from an experienced hand but it seemed the killer knew how to inflict pain on his victims without causing immediate death; a skill which many thought would take a doctor’s hand, because only a doctor would know the ins and outs of a body that well.

This group of suspects is a favourite for conspiracy enthusiasts. There are so many reasons why Jack the Ripper was able to escape the police. One of the theories, and I must stress the word theory, is that he was able to escape capture because he was a police officer and that he was able to get access to all of the crime scenes in order to get rid of evidence, or that he already knew how to commit a murder without leaving a trace. If you ask me, it is rubbish. I don’t think a right-minded police officer would be able to commit one of those murders, let alone five (possibly more).

Finally, I would like to discuss my favourite theory as to who the Ripper was. Like all great British legends, it can somehow be linked to the Royal Family. The main suspect in three major Ripper theories is Prince Albert Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria. It is widely known that the prince was not the brightest of the royal family and widely suspected that he contracted syphilis. Dr Thomas Stowell thinks that this drove him insane and ‘compelled’ him to commit the murders. It cannot be confirmed whether he actually had syphilis or not. Aside from the fact that the prince was not even in London at the time of the killings, there are many things that point to the fact that the prince clearly wasn’t Jack. Yet, people continue to believe that it was him.
As much as I disagree with this particular theory, I admit that part of me would love it to be true. What exactly would it mean for the royal family if it turned out that Albert Victor was indeed Jack the Ripper? Would they have known? If they had, did they cover it up? This is exactly the reason why I think the prince has stayed in contention for the identity of this infamous killer. Like all good conspiracies, the more controversy it causes, the longer it lasts.

I cannot say too much more without going on for days or giving away the storyline of my own book, which wouldn’t be clever. Of course, if you wish to find out more about the suspects, you can look online on sites such as the Jack the Ripper Casebook (the web address of which is on my first blog) and discussion forums.

Again I hope you have found some questions of your own to ask about Jack the Ripper and that you will learn something from this forum. Next, I will discuss the victims of the Ripper and why they were targeted, so I hope you will join me tomorrow.

Until then,
Michael Wilson.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Jack the Ripper Blog - Introduction

Hello there.

Throughout history there have been a lot of murderers. However, to me, the name of one murderer stands out. The name of one of the most infamous killers in history. Infamous because no one knows who he really was. Infamous for the brutality of his kills. Infamous for disappearing without a trace.

Over the next couple of months, I wish to share with you what I know about this mysterious killer, starting today with an introduction to the case and an overview of what it is that makes people curious when they read up on it.

It was 1888, in the London district of Whitechapel. On the 31st August, the news of the first killing came. The killing of Mary Ann Nichols. By the time the police got to the scene, the killer had already disappeared and they were left with no idea of who it was. On the 8th of September, another woman was killed. This time it was Annie Chapman. Again, the police were left with no idea of who they were facing. Instead the killer left only Annie’s mutilated corpse – throat slit, body cut by a knife and head and neck swollen.

Then, on the 27th of September, the ‘Dear Boss’ letter was given to the Central News Agency of London. Though now this letter is widely believed to have been a hoax, the receiving of this letter was the moment when this legendary man was given a name. Jack the Ripper.

Three days later, there came two more killings. That of Elizabeth Stride was less brutal than the others. However the person who had the misfortune to discover the corpse of Catherine Eddowes possibly never slept again. Her killing was the most brutal of the four, up to the 30th September. The killer tore her apart, leaving her innards lying across the road.

After that, there seemed to be hope for Whitechapel. The killer stopped killing, disappearing again into the shadows. However, it was during this time that the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, Mr George Lusk, received a small parcel through the post. This parcel contained half a kidney and the ‘From Hell’ letter. This letter is, at least to ripperologists, the most famous of all of the Ripper’s letters.

The hope that the people were starting to feel was ripped from them on the 9th of November. In the early hours of the morning, the body of Mary Kelly was found torn apart in her bed. More brutal than the death of Eddowes, and therefore the most brutal of the Whitechapel Murders, this killing signalled the last of Jack the Ripper, as after that, he disappeared forever.

I first came across this case when I was studying GCSE History, three years ago. To this day, it remains to be one of the most fascinating things I have ever studied. I hope you can see why. There are not many cases of history post 1500 that we know absolutely nothing about. That is precisely what we know about Jack. Nothing. We can speculate (and many people have), and some may claim that they can make an intelligent guess, but in the end there just isn’t enough evidence to know.

As has already been written, Jack is infamous because he left no evidence at the crime scenes. This makes him a better criminal than most modern killers. So many other questions surround him as well.  Who was he? Where did he come from? Where did he go? Why did he kill those five women? How could he escape after killing as brutally as he did?

One thing is for certain. Never before have I seen someone instil so much curiosity into people. Type Jack the Ripper into the Internet Movie Database. There are thirty-five hits from all over the globe. That is only IMDb. Try YouTube. Eight thousand, four hundred and forty hits. Historians still try to figure out who he was. The police are still asked how he got away. He inspires authors and filmmakers alike to imagine the truth behind the legend and put it down on paper or on screen, only for that action to increase the obscurity of the story.

Personally, I don’t get why historians still try to figure out just who Jack the Ripper was. Can’t they see what they mystery is doing? Jack’s story has become one of the best in history, leaving people everywhere wanting to know what actually happened. Why can it not just be a story? Don’t you think that, at least in terms of what he has achieved in giving the world something to think about, that is the least Jack deserves?

So – what do I want you to take from my next eBook, ‘Without A Trace’? The more subtle meanings I hope you discover for yourself, but I sincerely hope that the book inspires you to go and find the sources on this legend and look at them. I hope you can ask your own questions. I hope you can form your own opinion on what actually happened and who Jack the Ripper really was. I hope you can feel the same rush of curiosity that I feel when I look at this case.

I hope you will join me for my second ‘JTR’ blog on the 15th April to learn more about who the main suspects in this case were.

Until then,
Michael Wilson

NB: This is an internet source that I found incredibly useful when I was researching for Without A Trace. It is a full database of information on the Whitechapel Murders.