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From Hell, Mr. Lusk

'In the 98 years since Jack the Ripper Ruled London, the Questions He Raised Have Yet To Be Uttered, Much Less Answered.' (1986)

Ted Bundy, recipient of an unexpected - if temporary - largesse from the State of Florida, sits on death row as a convicted murderer. Like most recent executions, Bundy's is to be subject to the incessant debate over the Death Penalty in particular and our criminal justice system in general. Insofar as these conflicts can be reduced to the comprehensible, the questions may be posed as follows:
1. Regardless of the crime, does society have a right to take a life (and if it does, will the action undermine the civilized aspects of that society)?
2. And is there such a thing as rehabilitation for a mass murderer, or any murderer?

These questions, which the strict would insist must be the hypotheses to be weighed in any following essay, are nothing of the sort. For our purposes, they should remain rhetorical questions to merely reflect upon. There will be others.  For in any search for 'answers,' one must frame the right questions. There is reason to consider the possibility we have yet to consider unpleasant truths that would allow us to do that.  

Therefore, these observations will be somewhat different than many you might read outside pulp fiction or the more gruesome newspapers. For one thing, certain murders will be described beyond good taste, with full intent to shock. And this revolting reading will suggest another question: what is the symbiotic relationship between those who write about macabre crimes and those who seek out and read them? Because of the eerie, compelling fascination exerted by these murders, actions so removed from any recognizable impulse, it is hard not to see how religion consigns them to the abode of Evil itself. And it is difficult to be comfortable even considering these questions, and not to think there is something the matter with you for bringing them up.

Now, movie critics complain about 'slasher' movies ("Halloween 1 – 34”, "Friday the 13th XXVI’), and political groups - especially feminist groups - point out that just about all the victims are women, and that there must be a deep hate/fear implicit in these deeds.  It may actually be that this is the best light that can be shown on these representations, and that they proclaim an ancient, possibly biological horror beyond current civilized explanation. As the gate receipts show (and show world-wide for those of you tempted to insert social/political theories about the ills of capitalism), violent death and the witnessing thereof has a large, willing, and persistent audience.

It may be, by way of a tendered hypothesis, that we have to drop the insistence that a Ted Bundy is a murderer, because he is something much worse.  This distinction is not addressed by the current variations in the murder charge.  

Take a simple but annoying crime. For example, the Tarnower murder by one of his odd mistresses.  The worst that can be said about the character of Jean Harris is that she was a pathetic, vain, lonesome woman with delusions of romance and reality.  She did, from all accounts, somehow fire four bullets into the body of Herman Tarnower while she was ‘trying to commit suicide,’ an explanation that garnered the scorn and ridicule it so richly deserved. And she should be punished for her crime. But is she a danger to society? And should funds be expended to protect us from her? She is a simple murderer, guilty of a crime of passion.

Ted Bundy, on the other hand, is a murderer and rapist.  Sort of.  He was, and is, a particular type of murderer, a man who came to achieve sexual satisfaction by the infliction of pain unto death.  Bundy is known to have killed, then mutilated, then engaged in necrophilia with his victims. Sex with a corpse.  He may have killed around fifty women; in his last days of freedom, he killed a child by his traditional methods.  Among his revealed mutilations: removing the nipples of some victims with his teeth.  Nevertheless, he is considered only a qualitative step removed from Jean Harris.  Should the two be compared? No, we need to be protected from the deteriorating mind of Ted Bundy.Yet the same legal arguments are trotted out to keep a Ted Bundy alive as for some thug who killed 7-11 clerks in a robbery that was botched.

This comparison may be due to the fact that the public: - us, bucko - is not yet focused in on the term 'sex-murderer.' It does not mean, for example, that the murder was committed to cover up an initial crime of rape. It is murder solely for sexual release. Detente, if you will.It might be profitable, at this juncture, to review what is meant by the term Satanism. To most of us, it probably brings to mind weird people and Black Mass and Devil worship, which it often does. But it specifically refers to people who can achieve no sexual satisfaction except when performing a blasphemous act, desecrating some religious ritual. The intricate procedure and ceremony that often accompanies these acts are - consciously or unconsciously - constructed to provide the excuse and opportunity for those sex acts. This is offered to show how a perverted sexual drive can bring about an intricate body of sham that can confuse the ill-informed about the real goals of the crime.

The first contemporarily acknowledged sex-murderer was the madman of Whitechapel.  Ninety-eight years ago this month, that section of London's East End - an immense ghetto of the Industrial Revolution's refuse - saw what might be the most terrifying crime wave in history. It affected the population's belief that the State had any interest or ability to protect them. The end to the pall it cast is not yet.

The spree of Jack the Ripper was not, in truth, much.  Five women (resigned by incredible poverty to prostitution in the traditional, mythic projection by socialists, then and now) were murdered over the course of four months. But the mounting mutilations, hinted at by a Fleet St, with its yellow flags waving, finally went beyond description and way off the pier of belief.  It solidified the position of Jack the Ripper as the most famous criminal in history, a mythic creature known world-wide and something of a joke, these days.  A look at his crimes stifles the smirks.

He was never caught. The police were revealed to be utterly incapable of solving the crime. They never really came close. The Ripper sent letters to the press, although only two are given majority nods and only one is unanimous. The best known, the one preserved in the museum of New Scotland Yard, is now thought to be a fake sent by an enterprising journalist.  But whoever signed it gave the name Jack the Ripper to the world.

The cosy relationship between the mass murderer and the press (see: Son of Sam) was initiated by the Ripper. His descendents sometimes admitted to copying him.The one letter that everyone agrees came from the real Ripper doesn't use that name at all. When this letter was received by the leader of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, it contained part of one of the kidneys of Catherine Eddowes, a recent victim. The full effect of the letter cannot be achieved without seeing the handwriting, but its contents give a suggestion of the mind at work behind it. The spellings are as written.

From Hell

Mr. Lusk  
Sir I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman
prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it
was very nise  I may send you the bloody knif that took
it out if you only wate a whil longer
signed
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

The meat enclosed was thought to be that of an animal and for a while the letter was not believed. Then, it was pointed out that it was a kidney from an alcoholic - like the victim - and in any case it had the exact amount of vein missing from the body.By the by, how does Jean Harris look to you now?  For that matter, how about Ted Bundy?  Risen in your estimation?  Just curious. Well, maybe this will extend the distance.Weeks after Mishter Lusk received that charming package, the Ripper's worst murder was achieved.  It was about a month after the last killings - two in one night, including Catherine Eddowes - which was a long time for the Ripper.  He had a lot of enthusiasm for this job.

It is supposed that the Ripper engaged the services of a prostitute and, in the normal manner, engaged in standing anal or rear position sex with her. At the moment of his release - or just before - he slit her throat.  His victim of Millers Court, Mary Kelly, also acquired the following wounds: her face was skinned of flesh, her breasts and kidneys removed and placed on the table by her bed.  One thigh was stripped to the bone and the flesh placed on the table with the breasts.  Her liver was removed and placed between her legs, her intestines removed and strewn about, the head was nearly severed, the left arm nearly severed and the hand placed in the body cavity. Other things. There is a photograph.

The Ripper left her eyes open. This was considered a stroke of good fortune, for ninety-eight years ago learned people thought the last thing a person saw before he died was imprinted upon the iris. So lights and cameras and a great deal of time was spent trying to get a picture of the Ripper from the eyes of Mary Kelly.

This was 1888, the prime of the British Empire.  And at the very capital of that Empire, in the very heart of the city the State could not protect its citizens from a monster that lurked in patrolled areas, wrote letters to the press, existed in its very midst. Nobody knew how, or why, or who.  Or what.  But the Ripper was human, all right.

Then the murders - or the ones attributed to the Ripper who had, after all, a certain style - stopped.  One suspect, a favorite of police and the man's own family, committed suicide right after the orgy at Miller's Court. His name was Montague Druitt. This is no actual evidence to his guilt, just suspicion.

While the Ripper remains a convenient and stuttering illustrative example of one end of 'human behavior,' he is not the only one and he is not the worst. There have been many other Rippers, the last being in Yorkshire five years ago, the worst being in Germany between the wars.  His crimes invite comparison.

For example, U.S. cavalrymen scalped the genitalia of some Sioux women in the 1850's when they attacked a camp. Like the Ripper, these mutilations were performed on the dead, and were not uncommon among the Sioux themselves. Yet, to try and achieve the moral high ground in any of this is an academic concern between different camps of historians and ethnic groups with an axe to grind.  Odd, this is; your bracelet of Pawnee baby hands vs. my woven belt of public hair.  Can we compare the gruesome actions of young men in the heat of conflict to the Ripper?  Even if rape was a preliminary action?

Back to the Death Penalty for murderers; I wonder if any of you against the Penalty at any time have squirmed some in reading this? And is it due just to the nature of the described crime, or for the fact that arguements against the death penalty on behalf of a Jean Harris (or a robber who killed in desperation during the commission of a heist) must also be on behalf of a Ted Bundy by extension?  Because we refuse to admit a more serious offense than murder, the argument is weighted down with issues perhaps not relevant.

In 1947, a body was found in a Los Angeles park.  It was of a young, beautiful B-girl. Her body had been hacked in two at the waist. Then the body was cleaned, drained, and made 'presentable,' by which it is meant she had had her hair dyed and set after death. The Black Dahlia murderer was never caught either.

In all murders like these, it is assumed that the guilty party is male.  While there are very few women known to have committed crimes of this sort (Elizabeth the Blood Countess would bathe in the blood of young village girls after lesbian activity), there may be more.  Science is considering the possibility that women are more violent than previously thought.

In the April, 1986 issue of "Science" magazine, a study of baboons has startled the anthropologists’ legions and, by traditional extension, sociologists. It seems baboon mothers cheerfully kill each others' babies, gang up and kill or beat each other, and entice rival groups of males to fight over them.  If true - and if it truthfully has bearing on other primates (Jane Goodall's work with chimps suggests it is true) - this is not good news for official feminist positions on rape and battering.  If studies lead to comparisons with human behavior, it is possible to construct a defense scenario for a violent rapist driven to it by a female.

Let us not forget how many victims of Rippers are prostitutes.  One of the letters considered a possible from Jack the Ripper says the writer is "down on whores."  Is this connection between violence and sex new, if not exclusive to our species? No, but the connections are faint and implied. There is plenty of connection in various myths about rape passing for seduction; some of the myths are now called soap operas.  But, in a different vein, the word for orgasm in French means 'little death.' And when someone says "Fuck you,” the etymologists suggest it is the confusion of two words of different heritage that are pronounced the same in English. "Fuck you" has no sexual meaning - they say; it means 'may you have an early death.'

And then, there is the tradition of sacrifice at religious ceremonies that include orgiastic sex.  Human sacrifice, in just about all religions.  And then there is the sex-murderer himself. An act of pleasure and resplendent with symbols of renewal and life is twisted to form an equation with death.  

If Jean Harris had killed her rival as well as the good diet doctor, and if the state of the event had a death penalty, she would probably die for the crime. Yet, a Ripper would be considered insane and just put away. It costs at least twenty to thirty thousand dollars just to keep a killer on ice per year. If Charles Manson lives twenty years, he will cost California at least a half million dollars.  You can't measure human life in dollars? Really? What about Charles Manson's life?  He sucks funds from the state that could go to the handicapped, the half-way houses, and survivors of the crimes he caused.  

Insane or not, so what? Whatever the reason these people kill and torture and terrify, once convicted they are best served being put to death.

Sherlock Holmes was created in 1886 by Arthur Conan Doyle in A Study in Scar1et. He received warm reviews and mild popularity. In 1891, Doyle brought him back in a series of short stories, and Holmes found immediate, worshiping acceptance from a public that to this day sends him thousands of letters a year. One hundred years since his creation, Sherlock Holmes still needs a secretary, supplied at no little expense by the occupant of what would house 221B Baker St., if there had ever been one.  Sherlock Holmes is the best known name in the world.

It is not hard to see why. The intellectual giant of deduction - all knowing and always successful, and working outside of the police, who he despises as idiots - was the exact opposite of the Ripper of Whitechapel three years earlier.

Jack the Ripper may be an abberation, or his kind may be throw-backs to a bloodier past of the cerebral cortex, but he required a mythic hero to cast against. If Holmes is a walking Age of Reason, calmly facing crime on behalf of right, the Ripper was perceived as an animal from the abyss, and the disquiet he instilled has not been relaxed by the thought he was not - is not - alone.

His brethren are among us yet - Conan Doyle thought that the Ripper might be a woman disguised as a man - and there is as yet no clear understanding of their motivation. Poverty, abusive parents, impotence, these somehow do no quite fit the bill for a person who enjoys hacking people to pieces, especially when this becomes necessary to achieve sexual release. It may be that the Ripper himself had the best explanation for his demented life.  "From Hell, Mr. Lusk."