In the Whitechapel neighborhood of London in 1888, five women were horribly mutilated and murdered by the infamous killer, Jack the Ripper. Though there were many suspects, the monster was never caught.
This recently discovered memoir from the 1920s introduces a new suspect: James Willoughby Carnac, a little-known figure who claims to have been the Ripper. Carnac describes the events and geography of Whitechapel in 1888 with chilling accuracy, including details of the murders that appear to have been unavailable to the public at the time. He presents a credible motive for becoming Jack, and, for the first time ever, a reason for ending the killing spree. Ultimately, you, the reader, must decide if this is simply one of the earliest imaginings of the caseand a groundbreaking literary addition to the Ripper canonor if it is the genuine autobiography of Jack the Ripper himself.
"A text that will no doubt be debated for years to come."Alan Hicken, Montacute Museum, Somerset, England
"Intricate and creepy."The Daily Express (UK)
"Easily read and worth it for the ending."Kirkus
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Read an Excerpt
When a man has attained to any degree of note or notoriety, he becomes afflicted by the itch to write his autobiography. I question whether the months of labour involved in carrying out such a task are often justified by the result, unless we regard as that result the mere satisfaction achieved by the autobiographer in writing continuously about himself to the extent of some seventy thousand words. So few of these autobiographers have anything of interest to say apart from the more or less technical interest attached to the narration of the steps and line of conduct which led the subject to eminence.
It is true that certain autobiographers may mildly amuse us by retailing the witty thing Sir Herbert Tree-or some such famous person-said to the autobiographer, and so forth; or it may pander to our love of scandal by vilifying the autobiographer's contemporaries. But, on the whole, I feel that the frame of mind in which the autobiographer sets about his thankless task is the frame of mind in which the club bore button-holes me and tells me of the wonderful things he has done, the witty things he has said and what a clever fellow I must understand him to be.
Why then am I setting to work, at the age of nearly sixty-nine, to write my autobiography? Mainly, I think, because I have been nursing an exciting secret for forty years; I have had to guard that secret during my lifetime but there is a certain satisfaction in feeling that I can arrange for its disclosure after my death. And there have been so many speculations regarding the identity and motives of Jack the Ripper that I feel it to be almost a duty finally and definitely to put those questions to rest. And I may also be influenced by another matter. In several of the numerous articles which have appeared from time to time Jack the Ripper has been dogmatically described as a homicidal maniac; this statement has been made so often, in fact, that its truth seems now to be almost universally assumed. I recently observed an article in a popular encyclopaedia which refers to: "Jack the Ripper, a homicidal maniac who..." etc. It may be that I grow touchy as the years increase, but I must admit that statements of this nature tend to irritate me.
The fact of this matter is that the writers of articles on Jack the Ripper-and I have heard that a story about him need never remain unsold-have either too much imagination or no imagination at all. In the former category are those who weave theories of extraordinary ingenuity; in the second are those who, being unable to apprehend any human actions which depart from their own standard of smug normality, fall back upon the old phrase-a homicidal maniac.
Forty years have elapsed since a mention of Jack the Ripper was sufficient to cause a shudder, not only in the East End of London, but in all parts of this country. A shudder based not altogether upon a horror of murder-as it is technically called-for many murders have been committed which have aroused no more than a rather pleasant excitement; but based more upon a shrinking awe of the unknown. For J.R. was not only a killer; he was a mysterious and bizarre killer, and in his efficiency (though I say it myself), his ubiquity and yet his uncanny invisibility, he appeared to the popular imagination to embody in his unseen personality the attributes of a ghoul. From my own recollection of the period I am able to say that, incredible as it may now seem, J.R. was actually regarded as a supernatural being by the less enlightened members of the community.
Now when a personality takes on this apocryphal aspect it is very difficult for the ordinary unimaginative person to conceive of him as a human man who was born, eats, loves and laces his boots. He cannot realize that that being has his thoughts and feelings and his own personal perception of the universe; being incomprehensible, the unknown must be a maniac.
And so it may come as a surprise to some that J.R. was a human man and that what he did was due to reactions which simply differed in some respects from the reactions of his fellows.
I need hardly say that my name is not Jack. I have given some thought to the question whether I should disclose my name at once or reserve it as a bonne bouche for the end of the record. But I have decided, mainly by the thought that I may never live to complete the work, to enjoy in imagination the sensation which the early mention of my name will afford to my associates. My name is James Willoughby Carnac.
"What, our Carnac!" I can hear old So-and-so saying at the club. "It can't be!" And then he will scrabble over the pages until he perceives my portrait (which I hope will be reproduced in the book). "Why it is!" he will cry. "But it can't be! This is a joke. Why, I have sat opposite Carnac in this smoking-room every day for years!"
But I assure you, my dear old friend So-and-so (I feel it would be unfair to specify your name and so fling your body to the reporters), that it is no joke. At least, not the kind of joke you have in mind. You may hardly be able to credit it at first, perhaps because you have read that J.R. was a homicidal maniac, and old Carnac was obviously sane. Why, he could play bridge! But, leaving out this question of lunacy, surely you must realize that J.R. did actually exist? That he met people; sat next to them in trams and theatres; bought things in shops. And he became prominent only forty years ago, you know. What possible reason can you have for assuming that he did not live out his three score years and ten? People do; you are no spring chicken yourself, my dear So-and-so, if you will forgive my mentioning it.
When you have read this account and discovered that it contains nothing incongruous nor, in fact, anything you cannot yourself confirm with a little trouble, will you, I wonder, feel horrified? No; I suspect your sensation will be pride. You have had the extraordinary privilege of talking almost daily to J.R. for nearly fifteen years without knowing it; what a topic of conversation is now presented to you!
I think, by the way, I should enclose with my manuscript a request that the six complimentary copies, which I understand are usually presented to an author by his publisher, be sent to the club. Otherwise my autobiography may never penetrate to that backwater.
Since this autobiography will not be published until after my death I can allow myself entire freedom in writing, bearing in mind, however, that convention has set certain bounds upon what is permissible. This book is not intended to be read aloud to the family circle, but on the other hand I do not want it impounded by the police. But although I may have to touch delicately upon one or two matters, there is this point: I have no relatives and no one need suffer, therefore, as a result of the obloquy which (society being constituted as it is) will attach to my name. And I have been careful not to refer by name to any person who is, to my knowledge, at present living.
As regards the ultimate publication of the manuscript: this has cost me much thought. But I am not without resource and a little ingenuity will, I think, overcome the difficulty. After all, there are such things as literary agents, and if my executor does not get involved over some difficulty with probate I see no reason why the plan which I have dimly evolved should not be successful. At least the manuscript should get as far as a publisher's office if my executor honourably fulfills my instructions and does not allow curiosity as to what it is he is dealing with to master him. As to any profits arising from publication, these must go with my other assets which, having no relatives, I am leaving to a charitable institution connected with animals. At least that has been my intention; but recently it has occurred to me to alter my will and to leave everything to the Police Orphanage. The idea rather appeals to me.
Before closing this somewhat rambling preface it is necessary for me to say a few words regarding conversations in this book. Truthfully to reproduce these verbatim after a lapse of forty or fifty years is obviously impossible; but a book devoid of conversational matter is, to my mind, dull; it lacks anything approaching vividness. The conversations here are therefore "reconstructed," being based upon the gist of the matter spoken of and clothed in the characteristic dictions of the people concerned as I recall them. In some special instances, however, the words actually used have remained fixed in my memory despite the passage of years; Mrs. Nicholl's remarks about her canary, for example. And when I mention Martha Tabron's ejaculation of "Oo Gawd!" which she managed to utter through my clenched fingers when the light caught the blade of my knife, I am reporting actual fact. She said exactly that, no less and-no more.
And a last word to the general reader. This is not put forward as a work of literature, but simply as a record of the main incidents of my early life. I make no pretence to any literary ability, and skilled writers are not made at the age of sixty-nine.