Jack the Ripper conference opened by descendant of cop in Whitechapel Murders hunt
PUBLISHED: 16:11 11 November 2013 | UPDATED: 18:11 11 November 2013
A descendant of a police officer involved in the 1888 Whitechapel Murders opened Saturday's session of a three-day Jack the Ripper convention in London's East End marking the 125th anniversary of the "autumn of terror".
Author and researcher Melanie Clegg’s talk at the old Shoreditch Town Hall was about the most mysterious of the Ripper’s known victims, Mary Kelly.
“So much is known of the other victims, but Kelly remains the woman of mystery,” she said.
“There is such as lack of evidence about her early life. Carnarvon comes up a lot in the research. She may have come originally from Limmerick, but no-one is 100 per cent certain.”
Kelly was the most mutilated because she was killed in the privacy of her own lodging room in Miller’s Court, when the Ripper “was sure he wasn’t going to be disturbed and could do whatever he wanted.”
Melanie’s great, great, great, great grandfather was Police Sgt David Lee, who lived with his young family in the section house of Commercial Street police station in 1888.
She is using her ancestors for the setting of her latest historical novel, From Whitechapel, due out next year. It is about a teenage girl—her great, great, great-grandmother—living through the terrible autumn of 1888.
“The main character is his teenage daughter living in the building where the hunt for Jack the Ripper was taking place,” Melanie revealed.
“Sgt Lee was on the scene, but we haven’t come across any records of him having found any of the bodies or anything like that.”
"Mortuary photographs were taken of Mary Kelly’s eyes because of a Victorian misconception that the retina recorded the last image she saw before dying, so you could see the killer—but those photographs disappeared and no-one knows what happened to them"
Mary Kelly was murdered in her lodging room at 13 Miller’s Court, behind Commercial Street, on November 9, 1888, less than a-quarter of a mile from the police station where Melanie Clegg’s ancestor was on duty.
Ripper tour operator Philip Hutchinson then took delegates to Shoreditch parish church, where at the back once stood the old Shoreditch mortuary, the place where Kelly’s body was brought for examination.
Kelly had been so badly mutilated that she could only be identified by her eyes or ears, he told delegates standing in the rain at the site of the old mortuary building—where another mystery surrounding her emerged.
Philip explained: “Mortuary photographs were taken of Kelly’s eyes because of a common Victorian misconception that the retina recorded the last image the person saw before dying, so you could see who the killer was.
“But those photographs disappeared. No-one knows what happened to them or to the mortuary report.”
The retina theory had long been discounted, he added. But as late as 1927, Brown and Kennedy who killed Essex Pc George Gutteridge at Stapleford Abbot when he stopped them in a stolen car “shot out his eyes in fear that the retinas could be used to identify them”.
The delegates were then taken by coach to Mary Kelly’s grave at St Patrick’s RC cemetery in Leytonstone.
This was followed by an evening conference at Whitechapel’s Mumbai Square Restaurant close to the graffiti found in Goulston Street that many believe was scribbled by the Ripper on the night of the double killings of Cathy Eddowes and Lizzie Stride.