I’ve always been fascinated by Jack the Ripper. It’s probably not possible to be captivated by British culture and not also be curious about the dark deeds of their most infamous citizen. And so of course a walking tour through Jack’s stalking grounds was high on my list of things to do.
There are a number of these tours, but make no mistake, the London Walks tour is the best. Our guide was Mr. Donald Rumbelow, considered to be the world expert on the Ripper. A former London police sergeant, now a crime historian, Mr. Rumbelow’s written a number of books on the Ripper, and he owns what is believed to be Jack’s knife!
The tour begins outside the Tower Hill tube station, across from the Tower of London. When I first arrive, there are only a few people, but before long there’s a large crowd and I get worried that it will be hard to see. Then Mr. Rumbelow appears, wearing khakis, a button-down, and a rumpled jacket, wheeling a little cart filled with copies of his latest book. He’s very kindly, chats with everyone.
And then the tour begins, and I soon forget my worries. Because Mr. Rumbelow is a master storyteller. As he leads us to each site, he weaves the tale of the Ripper murders in a straightforward fashion – gruesome details and all – but with respect for the victims. No sensationalism. Just the cold hard facts told in an engaging way, with a dash of humor. Mr. Rumbelow is very diligent about making sure everyone can hear him and gets to see each site. He shares details that I’ve never heard or read before. For instance, I didn’t know that the first victim, Polly Nichols, had been married, with five children, before taking to the streets. I didn’t know that Catherine Eddowes met up with Jack outside a church – St. Botolph’s – and that this church was used by many prostitutes as a kind of pick-up spot because it was situated on a busy roundabout. If a prostitute stood in one place for too long, she could be arrested for soliciting. But if she kept moving, the cops would leave her alone. So the women would walk around and around St. Botolph’s until they found a customer. Crazy.
But it’s when we cross over the boundary separating the City of London and the East End that I really become captivated. It’s in the East End that I feel transported back in time, as if I could be a woman in 1888, walking the same cobble-stoned streets. The same streets Jack must surely have stalked. Many of the buildings in the East End have survived from the Ripper’s time, which is why it has such an aura about it. But the feeling goes beyond that – a nameless sense of the many hundreds of people who lived there in such poverty, struggling every day to raise a few pence for a bed and a bite to eat.
Mr. Rumbelow guides the Ripper tour only a few times a month, but he’s well worth the wait. Go online here to see which dates he’s walking.
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.