Skype Tweets somewhere in London as a video call.
The call is accepted and a blond woman dressed in a pink sweater appears on the laptop screen.
The picture is displayed, but the sound is cut off. The beginning of the conversation is just as sticky as you can imagine.
- Hey! Hey? Is this working? Hey!
- Hey! What did you say, the picture froze for a moment?
- Well now, well now, now it works.
The woman on screen is British-based historian Hallie Rubenhold and this is her coronavirus book tour.
Historian Hallie Rubenhold (b. 1971) was born in Los Angeles, USA. He has lived in Britain for a long time and has worked as a curator for the National Portrait Gallery, among others.
At the time of the interview, Rubenhold should be marketing his book about Slasher-Jack's victims in Helsinki, but the virus canceled all trips to the same future.
- I had been waiting for my trip to Helsinki for a year! It’s such a charming little capital, Rubenhold says in dismay.
The title of Rubenhold's work is The Five, in Finnish Five.
The award-winning work was published in English a year ago and to date has been translated into more than a dozen languages. The translation was recently published in March.
The book has won a £ 50,000 Baillie Gifford award, among other things, and the British broadcaster BBC plans to make a TV series based on the book.
The title of the book refers to the five victims held in 1888 by Mary Ser “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, who were considered safe by the serial killer who had ruled London in terror.
In his work, Rubenhold focuses on their stories. Under what conditions were women born? Who were they? How did they end up at Whitechapel in London, where they were killed?
While doing background work, Rubenhold was surprised at how little of the victims had been written before. However, more has been written about the murders of Whitechapel than about any other crime.
The historian cites as an example the mammoth razor They All Love Jack, published a few years ago.
- The more than 800-page book had a total of maybe four pages about these women. It is so typical and derogatory. Without them, the Legend of Ripper-Jack wouldn’t even exist.
Indeed, Rubenhold’s book is essentially a work about Victorian women.
An important part of the story is also the milieu, London’s East End and Whitechapel, which was a vicious rat trap in the late 19th century. Almost 80,000 inhabitants were crowded there.
English scholar-philanthropist Charles Booth divided the inhabitants into “poor, very poor, and semi-criminal, with some exceptions for the middle class.
Rubenhold says none of the five women were born in Whitechapel - everyone ended up homeless there as a result of a long personal downward spiral, family problems, divorce or bad luck.
For example, Elizabeth Stride, called “Long Liz,” came from as far away as Stora Tumlehed, Sweden. The family was called Ericsson.
Dorset Street, chosen as London’s “scariest street,” was also located in the infamous area. According to local police, it was the intrusion into which the “worst and lowest” had ended up.
Books, articles, movies, and series about Ripper-Jack often repeat as a starting point that the five victims subsisted on this crowd of people by selling sex.
In light of the evidence, this is not the case, says Rubenhold.
It is a finding that completely changes the perception of the world’s most famous murder series.
Many of the most popular theories about Ripper-Jack’s identity are built around the idea that it was specifically a madman who hates prostitutes.
However, according to Rubenhold’s three-year investigation, only two of the five victims were undeniably sex workers.
The erroneous conclusion was influenced, firstly, by the fact that most of the victims were found in dark alleys and, secondly, by the fact that the autopsies revealed that the women had died half asleep. The only one not found on the street was Fifth Victim Mary Jane Kelly. He was smashed into his bed.
The slicer was thought to lure women into remote alleys for sex and then kill them.
Rubenhold points out that at least three victims were known to sleep their nights on the streets, and when they were killed, they had not had money for a dormitory.
- The most obvious conclusion was not made by the police: The slicer struck the women while they slept.
This error led to the wrong emphases in the investigation and could have contributed to resolving the fact that the killer was never caught.
However, the theory of prostitute mutilation was too apt to be questioned. Whitechapel’s prostitutes were bottom-up, a safe distance from the middle class.
In the top opinions, the victims were considered deserving of their destiny. In a letter to The Times, a senior official from one of the colonial agencies also praised the “unknown surgical genius” who cleaned the East End of its evil inhabitants.
- It served as a lesson for the society of that time. And that teaching was that evil women are punished, says Rubenhold.
The historian says he is amazed at how many Slicer enthusiasts - the so-called ripperologist - love that narrative, the narrative, even today.
Hallie Rubenhold made her book for more than three years. The work was published in English in 2019.
Rubenhold says he started getting hate mail months before his book was even published.
He was accused of lying, distorting evidence, and campaigning for Me too through historical research.
- It was absolutely crazy! When my book was selected as the Book of the Month at the Waterstones Bookstore and I wrote a blog at their request, the text attracted fanatics like fly paper flies. I was compared to Holocaust denier David Irving, Rubenhold says with a laugh.
- I was asked who the hell I think I am. Many of the senders of the hate mail were older men who had clearly begun voluntary isolation long before the coronavirus epidemic broke out.
Rubenhold, on the other hand, understands the amount of feedback. In Britain, the Ripper Mystery has swelled the industry with its murder scene tours and by-products. The most passionate enthusiasts have been developing their own theories about the murderer for decades.
- They have read the same old books over and over again, and then discussed them with each other in the same forums. Theories have become such a big part of their identity that they imagine they own the Ripper-Jack.
- And I was a woman who came from outside the community to tell you that you are wrong.
To avoid misunderstanding the book, Rubenhold has not found any new, revolutionary source for the events of more than 130 years ago.
No encrypted information, no unexpectedly popping up contemporary diaries.
Rubenhold’s work is basic research based on various registers, government documents, the elimination of unreliable or contradictory sources, and the avoidance of speculation.
Rubenhold speaks of his book as “ethical true crime”.
Therefore, he does not want to guess the identity of the Ripper-Jack. He is not even interested in it, as the hard evidence about the murderer has long since disappeared.
As a warning example, Rubenhold cites Patricia Cornwell, a leading name in criminal literature, who in her book Portrait of a Murderer (2002) sought to prove that Ripper-Jack was in fact an impressionist, Walter Sickert.
Although the story of the bloodthirsty painter was Drawn, the evidence remained weak and the timeline holes like Emmental cheese.
- Cornwell spent millions of dollars on his settlement. The identity of the killer cannot be inferred by browsing newspaper archives. It’s simply impossible, says Rubenhold.
- Therefore, the guesswork about the identity of Slasher-Jack should already be stopped.
However, this is not the case. The serial murders took place at the same time as Bram Stoker wrote about Count Dracula, Arthur Conan Doyle, the master detective Sherlock Holmes, and Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll, tortured by his dark side.
In the ascension of fictional mystery narratives, Slasher-Jack became an almost supernatural creature whose dark figure travels forever in the fog of foggy and creeping gas lights of London.
The character of the slicer in the film From Hell, directed by Albert and Allen Hughes.
According to Rubenhold, it has almost been forgotten that Ripper-Jack was the right person to kill real people.
He killed 43-year-old Polly, a blacksmith's daughter. Annie, 47, whose children suffer from maternal alcoholism. Elizabeth, 44, who came as a migrant from Sweden to England at the age of 22. Catherine, 46, who tattoos the initials of her beloved on her forearm.
The last to die is about 25-year-old luxury prostitute Mary Jane, who told several different versions of her life and whose real name is still unknown.
Tomb of Catherine Eddowes at City of London Cemetery.
Photo: Pete Aarre-Ahtio
- Their stories are important for many reasons. First, because the things they are experiencing are still relevant. Domestic violence, homelessness, addictions, migration, human trafficking.
- And secondly, because we have not been interested in their lives before. They have only been insignificant women. We can never find out the identity of Ripper-Jack, but we can remember his victims.
Hallie Rubenhold: Five - Unknown Victims of Ripper-Jack (Atena). Published in March 2020. Translator Mari Janatuinen.