Friday, November 30, 2012

Tag, I'm it! Ten Questions about "The Heart Absent"

Friend and fellow writer Nikki Hopeman tagged me, and because I’m a good sport, I decided to play along.

Basically, I’m to answer the following ten questions, then tag five other writers to do the same about their respective works.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

While I’ve more or less decided my next book will be “The Hooterville Book” and will be (mostly) non-fiction, I’m more interested at this point in talking about the book I actually have coming out shortly, “The Heart Absent.”

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always been a British history buff and during a visit to London when I was 18, I went on one of those “Ripper Tours” where they take you to the sites of the Ripper murders. The tour guide decided to use me as the model to show the rest of the tour where the Ripper, well, “ripped” up his victims. At the time, I found the experience understandably creepy, but years later I believe it spawned my early interest in the infamous crimes.

The idea to write a book about “Jack the Ripper in love,” however, came from repeatedly viewing the crime scene photos of the corpse of Mary Jane Kelly. So many aspects of her murder differed widely from the other “Ripper murders” – or at least the five canonical murders most expert Ripperologists agree were the handiwork of the faceless, nameless terror nicknamed “Jack the Ripper.” She was murdered indoors, in her own living quarters, and it’s generally accepted that she quite willingly brought her killer to the scene of her horrible demise. She was younger and more attractive than her predecessors. Her death was more gruesome than the others. The Ripper took the time to do to her what he wasn’t able to do to the rest, or so it appears. He literally dissected her like she was some kind of hideous experiment. All of the aforementioned details combine to paint a picture of her murderer as someone who had a personal connection with her. The obvious connection, in my view at least, is that he was in love with her and, perhaps, she spurned him.

The idea to make James Nemo, the “Ripper” character in my novel, an artist who liked to paint prostitutes came from Patricia Cornwell’s novel “Portrait of a Killer,” in which she accused the British painter Walter Richard Sickert of being Jack the Ripper. Her theory doesn’t hold water and falls apart under any real scrutiny, but the notion of Jack being an artist I found appealing and romantic. As one of my former mentors often said, “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”

3. What genre does your book fall under?

“The Heart Absent” is a historical horror novel with elements of romance and (I hope) elements of literary fiction. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Scoff all you like but when I picture James Nemo, I picture Leonardo DiCaprio. For Mary Jane Kelly, Mena Suvari is my gal. She’s beautiful but not in a conventional way and I’ve had a girl crush on her since “American Beauty.” For Charlotte, the classic hooker with a heart of gold, I’d cast Christina Hendricks. She’s got an awesome combination of beauty, brains and boobs, which is exactly how I picture Charlotte. For Joseph Barnett, our hero, the choice is less clear. When I started writing this novel, Joe had a full head of hair but by the time I typed “The End” the man had no hair at all! Since he’s the hero of the novel, I’d cast one of my own personal two choices for sexiest man alive: Jon Hamm or Charlie Hunnam. (Whichever one is willing to shave his head, grow a scraggly beard and participate in a very elaborate casting call. Meow!)

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“The Heart Absent” is “My Fair Lady” gone horribly wrong.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

“The Heart Absent” will be published by New Libri Press in early 2013. It will be released in e-book format first followed by a (paperback) hard copy.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The idea for “The Heart Absent’ first occurred to me in 2003 but the bulk of it I wrote while enrolled as a graduate student at Seton Hill University. It was my thesis novel for my Master in Fine Arts degree.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The following titles aren’t necessarily in my genre, but they definitely inspired me: Brett Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho” and Margaret George’s “The Autobiography of Henry VIII.” “The Heart Absent” fall somewhere roughly in the middle.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I plead the Fifth Amendment. People who really know me will recognize part of the story as closely mirroring aspects of my own life. That’s all I’m going to reveal for now. The rest I'm saving for Oprah.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

“The Heart Absent” is a story about Jack the Ripper’s evolution from boy to man to monster, but there are many other topics tackled in the novel. I would like to think it’s also a parable of sorts about the consequences of controlling relationships. Some may consider parts of the novel to be irreverent in terms of religion. I did that on purpose. Finally, in spite of the rather dark subject matter, the novel is sprinkled with humorous one-liners and the strong ties of friendship between some of the major characters are certain to warm the cockles of your heart.

Next, I’m tagging Gordon Hooper, Sharon Bailie, Cindy Lynn Speer, Ron Gavalik and Sheldon Higdon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bragging on the Amazing, Dancing Emo Boy: Part Infinity

When school bells rang in late August alerting California area students to the first day of class, Allen Free wasn’t among their ranks. The 14 year old California resident wasn’t playing hooky, however; he was at home packing his bags, preparing to leave for the greatest adventure to date of his young life. In early September, Allen travelled to downtown Philadelphia where he’s currently enrolled in the Rock School for Dance Education, the premiere school for young dancers aiming to make ballet a career.

Allen spent the summer at the Rock School in their six-week summer intensive before opting to enroll in their year round program. After auditioning for the school’s directors, he was offered a merit scholarship to help defray tuition expenses. In addition to studying dance for roughly five hours a day, he is continuing his general education studies in the school’s Rock Academics program. He lives near the campus in a townhouse style dormitory with other young dancers, sharing space with roommates who came from as far away as Japan to attend the prestigious training institution. He will remain at the school for the entirety of the 2012-2013 academic year, returning to California only on holidays.

Understandably, Allen’s mother, Carla Anderton says she already misses him terribly. Still, she is quick to point out this opportunity is the culmination of over a decade of hard work, determination and dreams.

“Allen started taking dance lessons when he was five years old and basically never looked back. He knew then, just as he knows now, that his life’s goal is to become a professional dancer. He has spent countless hours learning and practicing his craft, and attending the year round program at the Rock School is the next logical step in his artistic development,” Anderton said. “When he graduates from high school, he’ll be able to write his own ticket, career wise, not to mention he’ll likely qualify for a college scholarship so he can continue his study of dance.”

Over the years, Allen has studied ballet at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Shirley Dean’s School of Ballet and Modern Dance, Pennsylvania Southern Performing Arts Academy, the Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy and the Fayette School of Ballet, among others. He has appeared in about a dozen ballets, dancing in progressively advancing roles as his skill level increased. He has also performed in a number of musicals including repeat appearances on the stage in California University’s Steele Auditorium.

While Anderton explained Allen has reached this stage in his development on the strength of his, well, toes, she gratefully acknowledges the support he’s received over the course of his burgeoning career. 

“I can’t say enough good things about Shirley Dean as a teacher, nor can I thank Brianne Bayer Mitchell enough for generously donating her time to give Allen private lessons and to otherwise support his efforts. Kelly Jenkins of Fayette School of Ballet was instrumental in training and encouraging him early on and, finally, Dr. Michele Pagen of the Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy seemed to recognize Allen’s potential and cast him a number of roles that I believe helped him grow as a dancer and as a performer,” Anderton said.

It’s difficult to say what’s next for the young dancer but if his past efforts are any indication, he’s headed in the direction of greatness. In the meantime, his mother is busy counting down the days until Thanksgiving break when she’ll get to see him again, if only for a few days.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Was this Jack the Ripper's Knife? Well, maybe... Then again, maybe not...

Sir John Williams and his now infamous blade
As you may recollect, last week(ish), I weighed in on the subject of whether or not Jack the Ripper was a woman. Specifically, I examined the notion that “Jack” was one Lizzie Williams. Today, let’s climb into the Slightly Wayback Machine and discuss another theory: Was this Jack the Ripper’s Knife, and if so, could the hand that wielded it have belonged to Lizzie William’s husband, the surgeon Sir John Williams? Is it worth noting Sir Williams was surgeon to Queen Victoria, herself a fixture in many Ripper conspiracies? Could the autumn of fear have been precipitated by Sir Williams’ frustration with his wife’s infertility? Is there anything at all, well, suspicious about the fact that in the past year, Sir William’s great-great-great nephew has found himself linked to not one but two potential Rippers?

Writer Jesus Diaz, who penned the aforementioned, linked Gizmodo article on the subject, makes a fatal error in his opening paragraph. He suggests there were “eleven Whitechapel murders.” This sort of misinformation does little to establish credibility. Most serious Ripperologists insist Jack was only responsible for five “canonical” murders, with some believing there were six if you include Martha Tabram.  But, I digress. It is not our task to get caught up in details… or is it?

Moving on. According to this particular theory, Sir Williams’ previously mentioned nephew, Tony Williams, stumbled upon the knife and three uterine cell slides in his late relative’s possessions. The knife is believed to be a match with the description of the weapon outlined in case pathologist Dr. Thomas Bond’s postmortem reports.  Allegedly, Sir Williams was so distraught about his wife’s inability to bear children that he took to murdering random prostitutes so as to discover a cure for infertility.

Or at least that’s the story Tony Williams is trying to sell. He claims his ancestor left London after the final Ripper murder, which would of course make sense if he were in fact Jack.  But, again, as in the case against Lizzie Williams, is there any evidence?

Owning a knife similar to that which was believed to have been used in the murders (as documented by Dr. Bond) is quite damning, assuming there was only knife of its kind ever produced. Post Industrial Revolution, however, we know weapons were mass produced like any other commodity. We also know that owning a weapon isn’t necessarily proof that the owner personally used it in the commission of crimes. Owning three uterine slide cells is evidence of nothing, particularly when one is a surgeon.

The connection to Queen Victoria is worth remarking on. In last week’s post, I debunked the idea that the Queen’s physician, Dr. Gull, would have had the physical strength to carry out these crimes, whether he was part of a far-reaching Masonic conspiracy or simply liked hacking up hookers for kicks. So, with Sir Williams, we have a loose thread tying him to another potential conspiracy. Unfortunately, it’s a conspiracy that’s been more or less dismissed by serious scholars of the case.

Sir Williams’ so-called motive is rather dicey as well. Certainly, there have been no shortage of men throughout history who’ve despaired of getting a child/heir on their lawfully wedded wives. Case in point? Paging Henry VIII, who had two wives beheaded for this “crime” (among others conjured up to assuage his conscience). But to opine a man with no other history of violence suddenly decided to start carving up perfect strangers for “research purposes” is quite ludicrous.

Speaking of motivation, we can’t fail to examine the motives of Tony Williams, who – naturally – has written a book on this subject: Uncle Jack: A Victorian Mystery. He can’t possibly be hoping to profit from “exposing” his long dead relative as a cold blooded killer, can he?

In a nutshell, just as in the case of Sir Williams’ spouse, there are simply no facts to establish this theory as remotely credible.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Was Jack the Ripper a Woman? Deconstructing this Latest Myth

Lizzie Williams

A couple of months back, several of you sent me links to an article featured in the UK version of The Huffington Post announcing a new addition to the Ripper canon, another “non-fiction” tome purporting to reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper. This particular book – Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman – alleges the infamous and elusive killer may have been a woman. It isn’t a new idea, it’s certainly been floated before, but as an amateur Ripperologist, I felt compelled to address the specific claims made by both the book’s author – one John Morris – and the blog post’s author, Sara C. Nelson.

Ms. Nelson’s words/text are in bold, my responses are not. You can find her original post here.

“They’re among the most famous unsolved murders in history, and the mystery continues to deepen.”

No, it does not. The mystery is no more or less mysterious than it was in 1888. The mystery, which in the case of Jack the Ripper is “whodunit” to at least five prostitutes from the East End of London, remains the same: Who killed these women and why?

“Suspects for the shadowy figure who came to be known as Jack The Ripper have ranged from an itinerant Polish labourer to the eminent Victorian doctor Sir William Gull, and even the painter Walter Sickert.”

Allow me to weigh in on two of these. Sir Gull, a Victorian era physician, was SEVENTY-TWO YEARS OLD when these violent crimes were committed. I’m not saying 72-year-olds can’t be evil. I am saying a 72-year-old man, particularly one living in the late 1800s, wouldn’t have been physically capable of carrying out these murders.

As for Walter Sickert, famously fingered by the writer Patricia Cornwell, there is no evidence of any kind to support her claims. Still, it makes for a nice story and there may be a small nugget of truth to the idea that Walter Sickert might have known one of the victims. Serious Ripperologists Andy and Sue Parlour put forth the notion in The Jack the Ripper Whitechapel Murders that Mary Kelly may have accompanied Walter Sickert on a trip to Paris before she met her untimely demise. Hmmm… he was an artist, she was a prostitute, perhaps she WAS an artist’s model. Let’s take it a step further and imagine he fell for her like Professor Henry Higgins fell for Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Now THAT is a good story. I can’t believe no one’s written it down. Wait… I did, and it’s due out soon from New Libri Press. I’ll keep everyone posted. But, back to Jack and the fact that there is no concrete proof of the allegation that the Ripper murders were carried out by either Sir Gull or Walter Sickert.

“But another theory has emerged – that is the chilling suspicion the person who carried out the 1888 murders was actually a woman.

Author John Morris puts forward his suspicions in the book Jack The Ripper: The Hand Of A Woman. ”

One wonders how the murderer’s sex influences whether or not the suspicion is “chilling” but that’s merely a quibble. So, let’s keep an open mind and see what evidence author John Morris found to support his now “chilling suspicion.”

“As a result of extensive research by Morris (and his late father, who was equally fascinated by the riddle) he believes the only satisfactory conclusion is that Jack was, in reality, a woman.”

So far, all we’ve established is Morris isn’t the only fruitcake in his genetic larder. But I’m still listening.

“In a well-argued case, Morris names the key suspect as Lizzie Williams, wife of Royal gynecologist Sir John Williams - later considered a suspect himself. Trapped in an unhappy and childless marriage, Lizzie’s only route of escape was cut off when her family fortune was lost.

Dependent on her husband for wealth, reputation and security, Morris argues that Lizzie would have done anything to defend her marriage.”

Wow, the leap from defending your marriage to viciously dissecting prostitutes who may have posed some general, unspecified threat to it is practically boundless. And the tale of hapless females forced into marriage after losing their family fortunes is one I’ve certainly seen before. Victoria Holt built a career on this theme.

“The story of Morris’s research includes many twists and turns as he examines the principle players, the killer’s motivation, and modern day cases that bear some similarity to the Ripper murders.”

I’m really unclear how examining modern day cases for similarities to the Ripper murders is remotely productive. A modern day killer did not commit the Ripper murders, and whoever he/she/it was, wouldn’t be alive to commit modern day crimes. Seems like spinning your wheels, no?

“The Ripper victims were all prostitutes, murdered and mutilated in the foggy alleyways of Whitechapel. By the surgical nature of the wounds, the killer was assumed to have some surgical knowledge.”

Here we have one of the great fallacies of Ripperology, that the killer possessed anatomical knowledge. Again, there is no proof of this and all claims to the contrary are pure speculation. When you have a sharp blade and the intent to kill someone, you don’t need a medical degree. You just need either the element of surprise or good aim.

“Morris's theory is supported by the findings of an Austrian scientist who in 2006 used swabs from letters supposedly sent to police by the Ripper to build a partial DNA profile of the killer.”

Fantastic. Another crackpot theory based on “findings” from letters which – and here’s where the author of this post gets it right – were “supposedly sent to the police by the Ripper.” It has a good beat and you might even be inclined to dance to it, but again we must return to our own now familiar tune: there is no concrete evidence of any kind that proves these letters were penned by “Jack the Ripper” or any other of his infamous monikers. In fact, there’s no real basis for the very existence of Jack the Ripper, but that’s a different song I’ll save for another set.

“The results suggested that the person who murdered and mutilated at least five women from 1888 onwards may have been a woman.

Ian Findlay, a professor of molecular and forensic diagnostics, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had developed a profiling technique that could extract DNA from a single cell or strand of hair up to 160 years old. Conventional DNA sampling methods require at least 200 cells.

Dr Findlay, who is based in Brisbane, travelled to London, where the evidence from the still-unsolved murders is stored at the National Archive.

The material, which was kept by Scotland Yard until 1961, includes letters sent to police at the time, some of them signed "Jack the Ripper". Most are believed to be fakes, but a handful are thought to have been written by the killer.

Dr Findlay took swabs from the back of stamps and from the gum used to seal envelopes, and possible bloodstains. He took his haul back to Brisbane, where - concentrating on swabs from the so-called "Openshaw letter", the one believed most likely to be genuine - he extracted the DNA and then amplified the information to create a profile.”

I don’t even know where to start with deconstructing this. Wasn’t this more or less the plot of Jurassic Park?

“The results were "inconclusive" and not forensically reliable, but he did construct a partial profile and based on this analysis, he said, "it's possible the Ripper could be female".”

Yes, Mr. Morris, it is “possible” but – wait for it – is there any evidence to support this? No? Well, there it is.

“Last year a retired British murder squad detective put together what he claims is an image of Jack The Ripper.”

Last week I saw the face of Mary Magdalene on a slice of tomato, but you won’t catch me writing a book about it.

“Trevor Marriott created an e-fit of the man he believes was the responsible for the Ripper murders, a German merchant named Carl Feigenbaum, for a BBC television program.

Feigenbaum was a suspect at the time of the murders, and reportedly told his lawyer that he had a desire to kill and mutilate every woman who falls in my way." He was later convicted of killing his landlady in Manhattan, and died in the electric chair in New York's Sing Sing prison.

No photographs of Feigenbaum exist, so the e-fit (an electronic artist's impression) was based on eyewitness descriptions.”
Right, because eyewitness descriptions from the late 19th century were notoriously accurate, especially when you added alcohol to the mix.

“There are hundreds of suspects who have been investigated by sleuths through the years, but no-one has ever been able to conclusively prove the killer's identity.”

In my opinion, the Ripper crimes will never be solved. However, the legend of Jack will endure and, as I opined earlier, it’s a good story with no end of potential twists. Mr. Morris has and will continue to sell books, shoddy premise aside. As a fellow author, my hat is off to him. As a Ripperologist, my concern is not whether he can spin a fine tale, it’s that he’s calling a work of fiction factual which muddies the already murky waters of investigating these crimes.

Just my two cents. As for my own very fictional take on our boy Jack, stay tuned for further updates on the release date.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Our Continued Fascination with Jack the Ripper" - Originally presented at Drexel University on October 29, 2011

The year is 1888, the place London, England. The last halcyon days of summer draw to a close. Victoria is queen, with thirteen years left in her 63-year long reign, her consort Albert long dead. The gulf between the haves and the have nots – much like today – is expansive. It’s yet another example of the 99% versus the 1%, if you will. While there are those who exist in luxury, there are even more living lives of quiet desperation, doing whatever it takes to secure their next meal and to ensure they have lodgings for the night.

Still, regardless of class, the people of London have no idea what awaits them in the Autumn of Fear, and of the terror that will unite them in spite of their vast differences.

A nameless, faceless killer begins stalking the streets of the Whitechapel section of London, preying on the area’s most downtrodden residents: the poor, “Unfortunate” women who sell their sexual favors on the mean, cruel, unforgiving streets. From seemingly out of obscurity, he emerges and begins killing the prostitutes who ply their trade in the East End.

Before his fiendish work is done, the murderer dubbed “Jack the Ripper” will claim the lives of at least five women, the generally accepted “canonical’ victims. Though it’s questionable just how many women Jack killed, today I’d like to focus on those five.

Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols is first to meet her end at the hands of the “Ripper”. On August 31, she is discovered with her throat severely cut and multiple stab wounds to her abdomen in Buck’s Row.

Eight days later, Annie Chapman becomes the Ripper’s second victim. She is found around 6 a.m. by John Davis with her throat viciously slashed open, her intestines resting on her shoulder and her uterus missing.

The Ripper’s next victim, Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, suffers only the indignity of having her throat cut but she is no less dead. It is thought Jack was interrupted before he had a chance to mutilate her body like her predecessor Annie Chapman.

This theory gains credibility when the body of Catherine Eddowes is discovered roughly an hour later. Eddowes is the first of the victims with extensive facial mutilations. In the words of an old English proverb, Jack “cut off her nose to spite her face.”

Mary Kelly is murdered in her own bed on November 9, murdered most foul, virtually dissected in what should have been the safety of her own lodgings. It would take less time to mention what about her was intact than what wasn’t. The Ripper took his time with her, took the time he wasn’t able to take with the others. The end result is the stuff of nightmares. Gruesome as it is, her death perhaps marks the end of the terror. Or does it?

There are many suspects, and multiple theories as to why the crimes were committed, but despite the efforts of the police, the killer is never apprehended.

The legend of Jack the Ripper endures. Why, you might ask? Circumstances then and now contributed to the public fascination with the Ripper.

Today, I’d like to talk specifically about that fascination, and why it’s stood the test of time.

Many decades before Charles Manson, O.J. Simpson or Casey Anthony, Jack the Ripper quickly becomes a media sensation, a century before the advent of Court TV. This begs the question: What medium is responsible for spreading the word?

The answer can be found in the answer to a simple riddle: What’s black and white and read all over?

Newspapers. Newspapers, the medium that led to the coinage of the phrase “If it bleeds it leads.” And, in the case of Jack the Ripper, there was no shortage of blood. I’ll refrain from passing judgment on the ethics of the industry as a whole, but there’s no question the Jack the Ripper murders were a veritable goldmine for the press, particularly after they began publishing the letters allegedly written by the killer. Of course, they weren’t the only industry to profit from the crimes, nor would they be the last.

Thus, the legend is born. Further, an enduring record is left in the form of “letters” and newspaper articles, cementing the myth of Jack the Ripper.

Fast forward to the present day, when our continued fascination with the Ripper has become a science of sorts, Ripperology.

For the laymen among us, according to the Urban Dictionary, “Ripperology is defined as being the study of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. Though the term has not made its way into the mainstream, those who study the case, or are simply enthusiasts are referred to as 'Ripperologists'. This does not simply refer to finding out who the killer was, but who all of the victims were, along with various "evidence" such as the highly debated credibility of the Ripper letters.”

The popularity and even the existence of Ripperology can be explained by a host of factors.

There’s the obvious. We don’t know who Jack was and as much as we might not want to admit it, we likely never will.

Having said that, why do we keep banging our heads against this impenetrable wall? Why keep puzzling over this elusive enigma?

There’s a simple answer. Speaking personally, as a writer and reader of fiction, it’s a good story, with compelling elements like graphic violence, sex and romance and celebrity.

Anyone who doubts we as a society glorify violence clearly has never borne witness to an execution or a dramatization of the same. Though in the present day it’s a mostly sanitary affair, executions in the past were gory spectacles that drew large audiences. Audiences that included men, women and children. The Ripper murders were no less a spectacle, and discounting the death of Liz Stride, the graphic violence he (or she) visited upon the victims escalated with each new murder. Jack was the ultimate performance artist, always raising the bar and tragically enough, his work made people sit up and take notice. It made the general public take stock of their own mortality. It was common enough to die from disease or malnutrition or from overindulging in alcohol or drugs, and now people – particularly women and specifically women - had to contend with the notion that they could be the next to meet a violent, random, horrific end.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Ripper is an indisputably a romantic figure, whether it plagues our conscience to admit as much or not. He’s the ultimate tall, dark, possibly handsome stranger. And the crimes are often used as a backdrop for love stories. In recent history, for example, the 2001 film From Hell, starring the swoon worthy Johnny Depp and the drop dead gorgeous Heather Graham, suggests a romance existed between Inspector Frederick Abberline and Mary Jane Kelly. While that seems laughable in view of all the facts serious and even amateur Ripperologists know to be true, the storyline of From Hell resonated with audiences.

I have my own theory on why we romanticize the Ripper murders, particularly in regard to the violent death of Mary Kelly, and why stories like From Hell, where (spoiler alert) she actually escapes her terrible fate: the details are just too horrible for us to most of us to accept. It seems so random, and yet so very personal. Just as we’ll probably never know the identity of the Ripper, we’ll also never know whether there was a connection between killer and victim.

Romantic love aside, the very nature of the Ripper murders was highly sexual. Though it’s true nearly all reports reference “no evidence of connexion”, the Ripper still doubtless violated the “personal space” of all his victims. Among the accepted canonical victims, only Liz Stride was spared the indignity of the killer attempting to remove and/or removing sex organs.

Harkening back to Mary Kelly, not only were the aforementioned so-called organs of generation horribly mutilated, but the Ripper also took her heart as a souvenir. Dr. Bond’s postmortem reports concludes with that chilling phrase “the heart absent” (which in the interest of full disclosure is the name of the novel I just wrapped up.) Still, this phrase conjures up not only the image of the absence of Kelly’s heart but also the apparent lack of heart the killer possessed to commit such atrocities in seeming cold blood.

Jack the Ripper was a celebrity in his own right, but there are also many celebrities among the ever widening pool of suspects, including a royal prince, a famous artist and a beloved children’s artist.

The Royal Conspiracy. One only has to look back to the recent royal wedding to know that the Royals – now as in then – are a hot topic in the press and in the public imagination. Take a dull witted prince looking for love in all the wrong places, add a dash of Masonic conspiracy and you’ve got a story that’s guaranteed to enthrall audiences.

Even Lewis Carroll, author of the children’s classic Alice in Wonderland and Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass – has been suggested as a Ripper suspect, though there’s no real evidence of any kind to support this rather farcical theory.

Ripperology has spawned a cottage industry of sorts. Case in point? Just look around you. We gather together because of our commonalities, because of our mutual and continued fascination with Jack the Ripper, and also because in many instances we stand to profit from exploring these crimes. And, I think if our motives are pure, if we approach the study of the Ripper’s handiwork with the overall goal of finding him out and holding him (or her) to account, it’s a noble venture, whatever we stand to gain from it.

Outside of this room, and out of the realm of those who “study” the Ripper, there are also those who’ve built commercial enterprises on the back of this mysterious figure. I can’t speak to their motives, but their success is quite evident.

Even a cursory search of the Internet reveals dozens of tour companies offering “Jack the Ripper Walking Tours” including the one run by London Walks with often times guide and noted Ripperologist Donald Rumbelow.

There are books, movies, even video games about the Ripper crimes.

Finally, why do we study these hideous crimes? We do so to honor the memory of the women who perished at the hands of Jack the Ripper, if for no other reason than so that their lives were not given in vain. These “Unfortunate” women weren’t just Ripper victims, they were wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters and friends. These women weren’t just Ripper victims, they were victims of their own respective circumstances and of the times they lived in. They deserve to be remembered in life as in death. While justice may never be served and their murderer may never be taken to account for his horrible deeds, as long as we don’t give up the search for the Ripper, I think they’ll continue to rest easy in their graves, just as we continue to be fascinated with their killer.

To view the entire October 29, 2011 presentation at Drexel University via Microsoft Silverlight, click here. To view the individual slides from the presentation, click here. (To ensure the slides play in the proper order, please select "Play Backward on This Computer" from the Options menu on the upper right.)