Jack The Ripper – “a different breed of killer” – “FROM HELL” (Hughes Brothers, 2001)

Even those who are not True Crime aficionados know of Jack the Ripper, a mysterious serial killer who slaughtered women in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888, took body parts for trophies, and on one occasion wrote to the authorities boasting of having eaten a victim’s kidney. Well, half a kidney – the other half was enclosed in the letter, and was positively identified as human tissue. The letter was entitled “FROM HELL”.

In my thesis, I date modern, domestic cannibalism from 1888, when Jack the Ripper murdered five or more women in the summer and autumn of that year.

The From Hell letter was sent to the Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee in October with a box containing half a kidney.  The letter stated that the writer had taken the kidney from a woman, and half of it was enclosed as proof. “tother piece I fried and ate it very nise” (sic).

This letter, and the half-kidney, are featured in this week’s movie.

A huge literature has developed on the history and likely identity of Jack, but none of it is conclusive; the crime writer Patricia Cornwell argued that the Ripper was the famous artist Walter Sickert. Others have written credible accounts of other suspects, including Prince Edward Albert Victor, second in line to the British throne. The enduring mythology of Jack the Ripper, though, depends on the fact that he remains unknown, a figure hidden by his presumed uniformity with those of his milieu. Jack was the domestic cannibal – murderous, voracious, and indistinguishable from any other citizen, just another face in the street, as demonstrated by the fact that he was never apprehended, or even conclusively identified.

Jack rapidly became an international phenomenon. A Chicago doctor wrote in the Medical Standard that,

… the Whitechapel murderer is a cannibal pure and simple. The Whitechapel murders are clearly the work of a lunatic of the so-called “sexual pervert” type, fortunately rare in Anglo-Saxon lands but not infrequently met with in Russia, Germany, Bohemia and France. In these lunatics there is a return to the animal passions of the lowest cannibalistic savage races. Cannibalism is shown in a thirst for blood, and these animal passions come to the surface when the checks imposed by centuries of civilization are removed either by disease or by the defects inherited from degenerate parents.

So critical to the creation of the domestic monster was The Ripper that almost a century and a half later, books and films are still investigating and theorising on his acts and identity.

Jack went “viral” long before the internet was around to invent the term. Jack conventions are held around the world offering attendees the opportunity to view and buy merch and listen to “experts” tell them who Jack (maybe) was. Many books have offered definitive proof of Jack’s secret identity, only to have other experts contradict them. One writer actually bought at auction a shawl belonging to one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes, and had it forensically examined, finding, through links to the DNA of descendants, that it contained her blood, and the semen of a long-suspected Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski. Seems conclusive, doesn’t it, but other Jack-fans were sceptical; DNA can be contaminated. Richard Cobb, who organizes Jack the Ripper conventions, told the Guardian that the shawl had been “openly handled by loads of people and been touched, breathed on, spat upon.”

This film, From Hell, has a somewhat more circuitous lineage, being based on a graphic novel (formerly called comic book series) by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell which was published from 1989-1998 and then collected into book form. That novel is based on a 1976 non-fiction book by Stephen Knight with the rather unfortunate title of Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. Knight’s theory proposes a conspiracy by the Freemasons, in which high-ranking Freemason Sir William Gull, royal surgeon to Queen Victoria, is told to cover up the marriage of a shopgirl, Annie Crook to Prince Albert Victor, the heir to the throne, which had resulted in a baby who would be in line for the crown, particularly as the Prince was dying of syphilis. The murders themselves were not the crimes of passion common in impoverished London, particularly from the pimps that the women feared most, but involved the careful dissection of the bodies and removal of organs and often vulvas. The basis of many theories was that these were clearly the work of an educated man with medical or at least anatomical training.

“Martha Tabram was raped, tortured and killed. This is methodical. The butchery is irrational, yet meticulous and deliberate. Altogether a different breed of killer.”

The film had mixed reviews, getting a 57% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I found it an easy to watch, interesting tale told with some gusto, by a stellar cast: Sir William Gull, physician to His Maj and presumed serial killer, is played by the late lamented Ian Holm, who was playing a sweet, doddery, 111 year old Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the same year he played Jack.

Johnny Depp plays Inspector Abberline, the cop searching for Jack, with his usual brooding sensual close-ups, while Heather Graham (Boogie Nights) is quite luminous as the sex worker Mary Kelly, who becomes his love interest as well as a target of Jack. Then there’s a delightful performance by Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from the Harry Potter films) as Abberline’s sergeant, who quotes Shakespeare as he tries to revive Abberline from his opium den dreams, where he imbibes absinthe laced with laudanum and “sees” the murders as they happen.

Ian McNeice (Bert Large from Doc Martin) pops up as the coroner, and there are a host of other familiar faces. If you like a boisterous story and some great performances, you might enjoy this. But if you are serious Jack groupie, you will wince at the anachronism that puts the receipt of the kidney some time before the murder of Catherine Eddowes, from whom that kidney is likely to have been taken.

Like any fictional recreation of history, there is inevitably exaggeration and speculation. The film depicts an all-powerful Freemason movement infiltrating the police and medical establishment and threatening or killing anyone in their way. There is an evocative depiction of the life of late nineteenth century sex workers (called “whores” by the police, and often themselves, and “unfortunates” in official language). There is also some cursory mention of the classism and racism that English society exhibited in the age of Empire (and still does), seeking to blame the American natives in “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” (perhaps a wink to the serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs?), foreigners, Orientals, Jews, Socialists – anyone other than the rich and powerful. Several scenes feature the hatred of Jews that saw the police and the populace open to antisemitic provocation when looking for a scapegoat. The chasm between the respectable killer and the honest but disreputable poor is made by means of an (otherwise gratuitous) appearance by the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick who, like Jack, was a famous denizen of Whitechapel. He stands surrounded by respectable white men, wondering at his ugliness, but having no inkling of his humanity.

Foreigners, the disfigured, the “unfortunates” and Jews were outsiders in English society, and outsiders are denied the protection that other citizens expect, and so are easily accused, attacked, killed and sometimes even eaten. The “unfortunate” mother of the royal baby is kidnapped and given a frontal lobotomy, a new scientific technique which was instantly turned to the advantage of the elite.

In Victorian England, the poor were blamed for any and all of society’s ills, with the idea of suspecting a rich, educated man excluded from consideration. Of course, the Indigenous people in Queen Victoria’s empire were similarly objectified, enslaved or slaughtered, also using the benefits of modern technology such as the gunboat and machine-gun.

The movie opens with a quote, Jack, saying “One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century.”

I can see no other reference to such a quote in any source other than this movie, but it has a certain ring to it, it makes sense of this modern drama between the rich, who only ever want more, and the poor, who scrabble just to stay alive. At a time when the environment has been appropriated and cannibalised by the ruling class, has Jack’s comment in 1888 proved prophetic?

Jack the Ripper was less “a return to the animal passions of the lowest cannibalistic savage races” and more a manifestation of the voracious appetite and greed of modern capitalist industrial society, where the value of everything, including the life of humans and other animals, is counted only in monetary terms, and the marginalised and objectified are cast out and consumed.

Cannibalism News Kerala: bodies cut up, possibly eaten

Indian media is consumed with news that Kochi City Police in the Indian state of Kerala are investigating whether the accused in a human sacrifice case “cooked and ate the flesh of the victims”.

City Police Commissioner C H Nagaraju said the police are still collecting evidence. He told a press conference on Wednesday 12 October 2022:

“There’s some information that the accused ate parts of the body after killing the victims. It is being investigated. We have to conduct DNA analysis and other scientific examinations.”

Three people were arrested the day before in connection with the murder of two women in Elanthoor ­— Padmam (52) a native of Tamil Nadu, and Rosily Varghese (50) a native of Thrissur.

Those arrested were Muhammad Shafi (52), a native of Perumbavoor who is currently residing in Kochi, and a couple — Bhagaval Singh (68) of Elanthoor and his wife Laila (59).

Bhagaval Singh and his wife Laila ran a massage centre at Elanthoor in Pathanamthitta district. Shafi is alleged to have brought the two women to the couple’s home in June and September, where they were brutally murdered by the couple.

The remand report filed at the Judicial First Class Magistrate court confirmed that human sacrifices for prosperity were the reason for both murders. Occult killings have become a recurrent theme in Indian criminal typology, much like serial killers in the USA or narco-cults in Mexico.

“Mohammed Shafi proposed that consumption of human sacrifices would ensure economic prosperity.”

The Ernakulam Judicial First Class Magistrate Court on Wednesday remanded all three accused to judicial custody. The police said they will approach the court seeking custody of the accused for 12 days to initiate further inquiry and collect evidence.

Commissioner C H Nagaraju said that the first accused, Shafi (aka Rasheed), is a “sexual pervert”, as there were sadistic injuries found on the private parts of the victims. “He is a hardcore criminal, a psychopath. We are investigating whether there are more accused and if more such cases happened,” the commissioner said.

“In 2020, Shafi raped a 75-year-old woman and inflicted grievous injuries on her private parts as well. This indicates sexual perversion and psychopathic behaviour.”

Padmam, who was living in a rented room in Elamkulam and selling lottery tickets, was picked up from near Krishna Hospital in Kochi, at around 10.15am on September 26. Police recovered a clip from CCTV footage in which Padmam was seen getting into Shafi’s car. She was offered Rs 15,000 by Shafi, according to the remand report. The two reached the house of Bhagaval Singh and Laila at Elanthoor around 4 pm the same day. The remand report says,

“At the bedroom located in the central part of the house, Padmam demanded money from the accused persons. Following the argument on it, they strangulated Padmam using a plastic rope. When Padmam became unconscious, she was shifted to another bedroom on the western side of the house. Shafi inflicted injuries on Padmam’s private parts with a knife and then slashed her throat, which led to her death. Later, all accused persons cut Padmam into 56 pieces using a cleaver and knives. These parts were collected in a bucket and dumped at a pit which was dug up in the compound of the house at the northern side.”

In the interrogation, the accused person reportedly confessed to a similar human sacrifice carried out in June 2022. The other victim, Rosily Varghese of Ashokapuram, Aluva, was taken to the couple’s house at Elanthoor and was reportedly offered Rs 10 lakhs for acting in a movie.

“Rosily’s hands and legs were tied to the bed in a room in the centre of the house. A piece of cloth was inserted into her mouth which was also taped with plaster. She was stabbed by Shafi and her throat was slashed. Later, her private parts were cut and preserved. The accused persons then cut up her body into several pieces and collected them in a bucket. The body parts were later dumped in a pit dug at the eastern part of the house.”

The Hindustan Times reported that police were using cadaver-sniffing dogs and digging at Shafi’s property to determine if there were any more victims buried there.

The couple allegedly admitted to consuming the victims’ flesh after each murder.

When asked if the accused persons cooked and ate the body parts of the two women, the Kochi Police Commissioner said:

“For human cannibalism to be proved there has to be a proper examination.”

It is reported that Shafi reacted with a smile when police asked whether he had eaten the flesh of the murdered women.

Sources in the investigation team disclosed that many internal organs from the two bodies were not found. “There were no lungs, livers, kidneys in the bodies of Roseli and Padma, the women who were sacrificed as part of the ritual,” said a member of the investigating team. The post mortem reports say that the dead bodies had been cut by a person familiar with human anatomy. Though Shafi conceded that he had worked as a mortuary assistant and was versed in handling dead bodies, the police have not ruled out the possibility of an outsider in the “mission”.

Yet another factor that concerns police is the revelation by the husband-wife team of Bhagwal and Laila that Shafi had assured them that the victims’ flesh could be sold, authorities claimed. Shafi allegedly told Singh and Laila, according to IANS,

“Some people who do certain [types of worship] eat human flesh.”

The flesh could net the couple up to Rs 20 lakh ($US24,280), and a buyer was already on their way to pick all of it up, Shafi claimed, according to investigating officers.

The hacked bodies were preserved in the refrigerator in the residence, where Shafi allegedly told police they had stored 10kg of human flesh. The refrigerator is stained with human blood and Shafi’s fingerprints were found on it. The investigators also came across a pressure cooker that apparently had been used to cook the flesh.

Reports are going around Kochi that Shafi may have sold cooked human flesh through the eatery owned by him in Ernakulam.

Animal sacrifices were carried out in Kerala until banned in the 1920s. Manu Pillai’s book Ivory Throne indicates that humans were at one time among the animals sacrificed, and that that human sacrifice used to be performed at the Panayannarkavu Devi Temple near Mannar.

Kerala Higher Education and Social Justice Minister Dr R Bindu said that the disturbing incident of human sacrifice was the result of “the frustration caused by globalisation.”

“People are falling into traps as they desperately try to make a quick buck as a result of globalization. In such a situation, some people are easily duped by false illusions that human sacrifices can bring them wealth.”

As the forces of neo-liberal capitalism turn us all into voracious consumers and simultaneously raw materials for commodification, it should not be surprising that the sacrifice and consumption of other animals for food, leather, experimentation or other uses is expanding into the sacrifice and consumption of human ones.

There is a comprehensive report on this case on NDTV, including a long interview with the Kochi Police Commissioner: