A Special Brand of Courage
And what of the dreadful Ripper, that destroyer of women, that cloud darkening countless innocent lives? Some see his bloody hand still, in every gruesome crime since. Others are satisfied he has fled to some murky corner of the world taking his evil with him. As the official force never laid cuffs upon him, much of London has redeemed Sherlock Holmes with the rumor he helped put a quiet end to the killings. There is in fact no end of speculation.
The truth is no one can offer a perfect solution: not Scotland Yard, not the Home Office, not even the World Famous Detective. Even so, the startling result of Holmes' private investigation deserves to be told. In the shadow of renewed accusations emerging against him, I offer it up as my own small candle against the darkness.
Here, then, are the facts as I know them ...
Some weeks following the death of Mary Kelly (officially the final victim] I was helping Mrs. Hudson arrange furniture, when Holmes returned from a lengthy hiatus. That day stands out clearly in the folds of my memory, for it was the only time I was ever to hear his final opinion on the matter. He did not at first share the whole of it, but portioned it out in small servings, much like an elaborate meal. Whether he feared I could not digest it all at once I cannot say.
He began with surprising subtlety, helping me shift the sofa and asking what I thought to be the average height of a man? Upon noting my guess of 5-foot-7 was correct he commented that would be rather tall for a wife but perfectly suited a husband, then returned to our rooms.
Throughout the day he re-appeared no less than a dozen times! inquiring which scalpel I recommended for abdominal incisions, where my book on mental abnormalities had got to, and other curious matters. On one occasion he saw me with the Times, and snatched out an article which suggested 'leather apron' was in fact a woman. This he read at first with some amusement, then flung it back with a disgusted snort. When next descending the stairs he had the pertinacity to inquire if I ever kept company with ladies of the night, which surprised not only myself but our landlady as well! Instantly he excused his question: "It is just as well Watson, for I understand many of them do not at all enjoy the profession." Once more he mysteriously retreated to higher ground.
About mid-day his maddening behavior reached its zenith. In a storm of impatience Holmes sat down defiantly in the very chair I was obliged to move, demanding whether I had any new opinions on the terrible murders ... the dam finally burst. I required immediate explanation, only to discover that all morning he had been eager to offer one.
The gauntlet thrown and accepted at last, Holmes marched back to his sanctuary, taking me along as captive.
At our very door the detective paused turning to confront me. His frustration had completely evaporated ascending the stairs, replaced now with a most mischievous grin. He cleared his throat not once, but twice, before speaking:
"Well here we are at last, Watson. One would never suspect you have been eager for this moment! I near ran myself ragged on those stairs, and was out of questions to goad you. In the end I had to drag you here," whereupon he opened the door with a flourish and an exaggerated bow.
Indeed it had been months in coming, yet I found myself wholly unprepared, for in entering our rooms I plunged into a dense wall of smoke! The windows were shut tight and every surface coated with ash. Near the fire a dozen wads of paper lay across the floor, as if tossed with careless aim. Peering through the haze I noted our table dragged close to the fire and nearly empty of its aging bundles, maps, and newspapers. Holmes had spent the morning destroying them.
Brushing aside a layer of gray he now claimed a seat beside the fire and invited me to join him. I chose instead a chair beside the window, and let in a chill breeze bearing precious oxygen.
He was clearly impatient to begin, "Watson, I have often told you when one eliminates the impossible ...."
Ruffled at the state of our rooms, I reflexively completed the threadbare axiom. He repaid me with a smile: "Remember it well, Watson. You need constant reminding! Also I am fond of warning you against making assumptions with insufficient evidence. You accept these tenets? Marvelous, Watson. You are a wise man. Simply capital! Allow me to start by telling you I thought I had looked everywhere for the Whitechapel killer, but only a week ago did it occur to me there was one place I was overlooking."
"The Queen's guard? The Tower of London? Where have you possibly left out?"
"Not so fast, old friend," he chided. "You must come to it gradually as I did, or you will think me an utter fool."
Unsatisfied, I persisted. "Darkest Africa, perhaps? Or the American frontier? Surely, Holmes, you have covered every inch of London's daily life."
At this he somewhat hesitated, as if transfixed. "Daily life ... yes. What irony you should mention that very thing! More than ever it seems you were sent to guide me in my missteps, but you are too late this time for I have arrived there on my own. As it is I might still be lost as you, Watson, had it not been for a fortunate accident. Unknown to you I returned here after midnight last Sunday to reconsider my list of suspects. In my tired state I clumsily bumped the table and scattered pages and pencils all across our floor." (The mysterious noise which woke me stood at last explained.)
"I wished not to disturb you so gathered up my fallen sheets and let myself out again. Once downstairs I began to re-sort the pages, all several hundred of them, bemoaning the fact my suspects were now mingled with my victims, my 'high certainties' with my 'low possibilities'. And suddenly, I knew."
"Knew," I innocently asked? One of his bolts of inspiration, I had no doubt, for the usual outward signs were an unexplained absence and a messy sitting room.
Holmes nodded absently. In silence he crumpled and tossed more pages into the grate, re-igniting a small crescendo of flame. One could hear the fresh crackle, smell the dryness, and we watched them burn down before he added more. Holmes drew out his everyday pipe now, adding a dockside shag to the room's stale aroma before speaking again.
"I realized I'd been looking only at daily life, though I did consider many unusual suspects. Dignitaries for one. Here are those," said he, rolling them into paper logs for incineration. "At last they are off my list," tossing their pages into the fire. Taxi drivers and stage actors were next as he released more suspects in the purifying flame. This seemed my best opportunity to put to rest a theory that had cost me some sleep at night, so I chanced the question ...
"And what of female suspects, Holmes? I gather you found the article in this morning's paper entirely unacceptable."
"Oh it was not the concept I found intolerable, Watson, but their dreadful interpretation of the facts. Still I am more than willing to grant these particular women their freedom. The clues do not lead to any of them," and so saying, he placed them one at a time in the grate. More newspapers and the physicians on his list soon followed. With practiced patience I watched and listened, as the villains occupying our table these past months dwindled down.
A sudden chill swept the room raising a cloud of ash, and I reluctantly closed the glass against the wintry afternoon. Against the parched atmosphere I filled our glasses, searching out a cushion for my tired feet. Obviously it would be some time before Holmes came to the point. His explanation had in fact just begun.
"It is small wonder he chose Whitechapel, Watson. It is a breeding ground of poverty and despair, much like the Kolari province. London's very bedrock of cheap rentals, doss-houses lining the streets, alleys carpeted with filth. The place cannot help attracting monsters like Kivi and the Knife. Not more than a year ago, Mr. Charles Booth marked the entire area in black in his poverty map of London, declaring it vicious. I have my own maps in my head but Booth's are usefully accurate in some regards.
"Whitechapel is also crawling with desperate women who soon learn the oldest profession, if they do not bring it with them. For a pocketful of change one can have either a bed or a willing partner. Both if a woman has her own room. It is frightfully easy game for the wicked, like so many sheep ready for slaughter. Which reminds me. Did you know citizens have actually urged slaughterhouses be moved from London, to avoid putting ideas in people's heads?"
"I have heard something of it," I replied.
Holmes sneered. "When will they realize evil ideas are not put into our heads, but are there already? We are born with them! Making it harder for me to find a ham sandwich will do nothing to bury the darkness in men's souls. The only solution is to illuminate the darkness and deal with it." And as if worried ham sandwiches might someday be scarce, he called down for several to be made.
"Dorset Street, off which the final victim lived, has an especially poor reputation. It is a slender ribbon running through the area like a scarred vein. That prattler Reverend Barnett called Dorset the 'wicked quarter mile.' At either end one finds a run-down pub, and as if to contain its wickedness one end is capped with a church and the other with a convent."
"I have been through there with you," I felt compelled to remind him. "We were after a schemer of some sort."
Holmes pondered a moment. "Hmmm, that man Philby. He promised positions in nice homes to every pretty woman he met, but the only positions he filled were street corners in the west end. Fortunately his victims were few. His standards were too high for Whitechapel, insisting the women had all their front teeth and were acquainted with bathing."
Humbly I confess my attention was divided at that moment. I raised the window an inch, testing, and found the bluster died down. I at once cleared my lungs and left it cracked to air the room. Still I held up my end of conversation: "You called it human trade, as I recall."
Holmes winced at this unpleasant reminder, for slavery in any fashion was an atrocity in both our minds. Then he addressed a more direct question, "Did I describe how they died, Watson?"
It was an unmistakable shift in conversation, carrying with it a new tone in Holmes' voice. Purposeful. Encouraging. I hastened to answer.
"Invariably by strangulation and cut throats, was it not?"
My friend nodded grimly. "There is certainly no easier way to kill someone than come up behind and go for the throat. It is quickly done, requires hardly any strength, and prevents their calling for help. Assuming they trust you enough to turn their backs! Some of the women were strangled, by cloth rather than hands or rope, judging by the marks on their necks. Others simply had a blade pulled across their carotid." He felt under the cushions now for the slipper of tobacco. The thought of more smoke moved me back to the window.
"Watson, you recall the final victim? The way she died was surprisingly different from the others, and provided a number of unexpected leads. You know I find the unusual features of a case more revealing than the ordinary, so let us begin with those.
"The widow Mary Kelly was the only victim attacked indoors, murdered in her own apartment. There was no immediate cry for help and no forced intrusion, so we must presume she invited the killer in. We know her profession. It should come as no surprise she opened her door to him."
"Nonetheless, that poor girl," I remarked with undisguised pity. "How was she to know the Ripper and the Reaper lurked side-by-side at her doorstep?!"
"Patience, Watson, we are getting to that. Know too she spent a remarkable amount of time with her killer - hours possibly - before the end. Yet to live more than a few minutes in the Ripper's presence is almost inconceivable. Obviously he was in no hurry to murder this one.
"Another distinct feature was the nature of the savagery, the worst of the lot. The one who did this was no amateur butcher. But most curiously, the victim seemed to die without a struggle. She was found lying on her bed with clothes folded to one side. The fingers of one hand were clenched either in pain or determination, but as the hand was not open, fingers not spread, she apparently made no effort to throw up her arm to fend off the attack."
"But were they not together for some time, Holmes? Could he not have waited for her to fall asleep?"
"She was awake, Watson. She sang to him for over an hour, apparently almost till the fateful moment. Her neighbors heard this. On this particular night she showed no fear of this man, though you will soon see that he generally terrified her. And well he might. On her bed was found only the remains of a human being. Part of one arm was detached, much of the abdomen removed, all the organs extracted from the body. Her heart was actually missing from the room, taken by her killer. Her legs pared to the bone, like a filleted fish ..."
Something clicked inside me.
"Holmes! You once claimed her man was a fisherman. Practiced with a knife, no doubt. Just now you said she let him in, sang to him for an hour. A stranger buying a prostitute's time is surely not there for music. And the missing heart, perhaps a jealous lover's souvenir!"
He gave an astonished look, congratulated me even. "Fine observations, Watson! Not accurate, but bold and crackling! In a few years perhaps ... but you will see. You must get it all today, for tomorrow I shall do my best to forget it."
My sudden elation faded.
"The victim's face was removed almost completely, Watson, with other pieces of her spread all about the body." His voice was analytical, unemotional, as if describing a common autopsy. It was a tone familiar to every physician, and every mortician. I reacted in similar manner, for it was a means of shielding frail human egos from nightmare realities, but it was not foolproof. In an unguarded moment Mary Kelly's suffering washed over me in a flood. In my mind I saw her clenched fist, her flesh torn from unwilling bone. I shivered in revulsion.
"Surely it was the most horrible death imaginable, Holmes, though murder is always a terrible way to die."
"That it is Watson, except for one petty detail," said he, setting down his pipe. He opened wide the second window for a few precious moments, breathing the crisp clean air.
"And that is?" I inquired with no particular emphasis.
Holmes finished his drink and poured another, offering me the same. When I declined he pushed the glass toward me more forcefully. Somehow I recognized the import and accepted. "Here is the first significant detail for you to ponder, Watson, "said he with finality. "Mary Kelly's death was a suicide."
We had come to it at last. The Great Detective had set the stage for all that was to follow.
Astounding as this was, still there were other things I was not prepared to hear, and he allowed me a few minutes before returning to his seat. When the haze had begun to clear he closed the window with uncustomary gentleness. The last of the necessary papers went into the fire then. Holmes filled more time arranging his chair cushion and sipping his drink. He next changed the clay for the Meerschaum, fired the bowl, and puffed in perfect tranquility. The third wisp of smoke signaled the curtain's rising.
"Does that shock you?"
I eyed him through the faint cloud. A woman slaughtered like an animal, her heart torn from her body, a suicide? Twaddle and nonsense. Preposterous.
"Certainly not," I lied. Holmes grinned back through the pipe cloud.
"Watson, we have just now eliminated the impossible. Every page of it has been burned. All that remains is well within the realm of possibility, all that remains is this one sheet I hold before me. But I remind you I cannot prove any of this and will not speak of it again." I nodded my understanding.
"I tell you Mary Kelly chose suicide over a life of failure. The fact it was impossible for her to butcher herself does not rule out the fact it was her decision." Some energetic puffing thickened the cloud, and simultaneously darkened it. "She knew exactly whom she was bringing home that night. Just as she knew it was her likely doom. Ah, I see this does set you back some after all."
Indeed! That someone identified Leather Apron was sensational news. That she would not instantly bring it to the authorities outrageous. Yet none of this ruffled my friend in the least. He continued puffing up his smoke screen. The play had just begun.
"It was not her live-in lover, Watson, as you supposed. Nevertheless the killer had been with her on several previous occasions. She determined this would be the last time. That is another significant fact so mark it well. On this final visit she made it her business to detain him as long as mortally possible, and when he could no longer be entertained, she resolved upon her final act. When all other delays were exhausted, her singing to him, her dancing and teasing, she fished out his deadly knife, making it impossible for him not to use it. She commenced the suicide."
I fought back the spreading fog and mystery as one. Fanning my paper I asked what could possibly cause a woman to choose such an end?
Holmes threw his head back like a chimney. A lazy funnel climbed towards the ceiling. "The reason any desperate mother would so choose, Watson. The same reason a wretched father would travel the Earth then drown himself. The reason you and I risked life itself. For an innocent child."
He leaned towards me, "She did it for the boys."
"Hers, and his."
I was now completely surrounded by the cloud, entirely lost within it. At once I gasped for clearer air and clarity. "Her child? His? What are you saying, Holmes?"
"I'm saying her child ... and Torvald's."
Mary Kelly had tried. Tried with commendable ambition to have a good life. From an early age she planned, as most hopeful young girls do, to arrange for herself one filled with love and family and every other thing which might bring future joy. Only with passing years did ambition begin to fade, love give way to more practical concerns. In her final years she was alone, impoverished, and given to drink. She had lost all those she truly cared about, living in a world of constant fear. And every day her list of disappointments grew longer.
By the end she had drifted to life's lower-most rung of the living, a mere step above death itself.
It wasn't so in the beginning. At sixteen she married a caring, hard-working young collier, but he was tragically lost in a mining accident. With neither husband nor income to fall back on but a new son to look after, she moved in with the only relative able to take her, a cousin in the habit of prostitution. Mary's alluring aspect soon encouraged her to join that trade, but immediately she suffered the trials of a terrible disease and long illness by it. A lengthy recovery left her unfit in every conceivable way to continue raising the boy. He was, regrettably, placed with abusive relatives.
Far from fading under the strains of separation, Holmes discovered Mary's love for the child grew ever stronger. Though her trade and guilty habits kept them apart she spoke always of her future with the boy in the better times to come. They kept in distant touch, through her brother in the Scots Guard. Getting him back in her life came to be an obsession, and driven by this one overpowering desire Mary Kelly schemed endlessly to escape the life of a hired woman.
"She traveled to Paris on the arms of an unknown man," explained Holmes, "in search of a fresh start, but two weeks later he threw her over. She was thereafter taken in by a figure known to her friends only as Mr. Stone, who likely needed a bed warmer and offered food and shelter in exchange. She confided to a friend it was then she began to let herself go. Her self-respect and circumstances began to fall rapidly.
"While still quite attractive she moved in with the stoneworker Fleming. That lasted a few short months before their mutual abuse, his hitting her, her drinking and flirtatious ways around other men, put an untimely end to it. I heard of the foreigner Mr. Josephson as well," Holmes tallying them all on his fingertips. "There may have been others - I do not know the entire score - who likely promised much and delivered little. There were women who boarded her as well, a Mrs. Buki on Saint George's Street and a Mrs. Carthy," continuing now on his second hand.
"Eventually she met Joseph Barnett. A decent enough fellow, a one-time fisherman as you recalled, more recently a common laborer at Billingsgate Market. Again she packed bag and baggage to move in. You see the pattern of desperation? Only this time there was prospect of it lasting. It went almost a year, in fact, while the couple descended through London's layers as their money shrank. From time-to-time Mary supplemented their income with a night foray, but overall Barnett objected to her prostitution.
"Several who knew Mary confided her 'Irish temper' was another strain on the relationship. When fortified with drink it had surprising strength behind it. Back in September she was actually fined for being drunk and disorderly, and her brawls with Barnett were notable for their ferocity! An officer who knew her on sight also remarked on her reputation for violence. I suppose it is inevitable when one is surrounded by such evil influences, Watson. But whether it was the trade, the drink, her temper or notorious jealousy, the two parted ways. He claims it was friendly, no doubt fearing he might be suspected in her murder. Others recall a loud confrontation during which a window was broken. There was even some suspicion he had been cheating on her! In the end Barnett moved out leaving her to pay the rent, and those who knew her best say it finally broke her spirit."
Holmes paused to refill his pipe as I digested what he had long known, that the Ripper's final victim was perhaps ready to give up her life. There was drink when she could get it and men when they could pay, but little hope for her of better days to come. Hers was indeed a sad commentary on modern times.
"With Barnett gone she had nothing really to look forward to, Watson. Surely you see that. She had on top of all this weight a daily reminder of all she had lost. One of her neighbors on Dorset Street was a coal dealer; Mary could not possibly pass the door without remembering her lost husband and happiness.
"To add more misery to the mix, she seemed deathly afraid of some stranger who recently entered her life. Several acquaintances report she dreaded this unknown man, and would hardly speak of him. Not even nature was accommodating to the poor girl, Watson! London's weather had nothing to offer but cold rain and bitter winds all season. I must someday write a monograph about the effects of depressing weather on the number of suicides, as there seems to be a direct relationship. It should make very interesting reading."
Then an ironic new thought occurred to him.
"Do you believe in luck, Watson? Mary Kelly certainly had her share of the bad variety. She lived off Dorset Street, in a back alley which broadened into Miller's Court. I note that she lived and died in apartment #13."
At this melancholy moment Mrs. Hudson interrupted, and I was eager to let both her and the fresher hallway air into our rooms. In infinite patience she overlooked the deadly smoke and ash, and asked would we be having supper or just the sandwiches? With no other thought but to escape the deadly atmosphere I offered to help bring something up, when Holmes rose from his chair.
"I've a far better idea," he announced to the room in general. "We should take a walk."
"Mrs. Hudson started. "What, all of us? It's bitter chilly out there, Mr. Holmes. I should not like to go just this moment!"
At smiled and touched her shoulder in a kindly gesture. "No not all, dear lady. What I have to say is only for the ears of Dr. Watson. It is a business I am certain you would not wish to dwell upon. But I thank you for the sandwiches." At this welcome reassurance she called down for the boy to bring up a scoop and dust pan. She meant to shovel our rooms clear the moment we deserted them!
And so while Holmes gathered his notebook and other items, I wrapped our meal in sandwich paper, and together we braved the afternoon chill. A gust carried Mrs. Hudson's last remark to us as she closed the door behind "... mind you the Knife has not been caught yet!"
My friend suddenly turned with guilty look. "You will think me an insensitive clod, Watson, but I have forgotten to tell her she needn't worry about him any more! Those dark days are over." And with these few words we turned our backs to the wind.
We proceeded up Park Road driven almost entirely by brutal gusts. It was the long empty way round Regent's Park, a route Holmes preferred when he had a private talk in mind, and in response I pushed fingers deep in my pockets bracing from shrill winds.
Walking in silence for a quarter-hour we finally entered the park, each musing over private reflections. Mine were on the vastly different world we shared from that of the Ripper's victims. Not four miles from this very spot Mary Kelly and four other women had perished at his merciless hands; the difference a few miles can make is almost diabolical. I was only brought back to the moment by Holmes taking out his notebook.
"We have had a good life, Watson," said he, sensing my thoughts. "I trust we shall have no regrets when it becomes our turn."
I walked on in silence.
"Ahh well. Life is a complicated matter. Apparently more than one would expect. Barnett actually returned to Mary shortly before the end hoping for some sort of reconciliation. It might have been another fresh start for her, but he did not stay. I believe that finally made up her mind.
"Altogether I gathered a half-dozen clues she'd decided to end it all, Watson, and shall offer them in the order I myself discovered them. The first notable one is a comment made just one day before the end, Thursday the 7th. Mary spoke with a friend saying 'don't make the mistake my life has become.' On Mary's last day she warned another - let me just consult my notes - she told Lizzie Albrook 'whatever you do, don't you do wrong and turn out as I have.' Clearly these are things one says when they face up to a life of regret, Watson. The sort of wisdom one shares when they believe the end is at hand. A third woman told police Mary had grown desperate about news of her boy, was claiming she would rather die than see him continue to be miserable!
"Even louder than her words were her actions. You know she faced eviction and desperately needed money. How, then, do we reconcile the fact on her last day she was seen at three taverns paying for drinks? She also burned her green baggeries. You must know these women 'green bag' and sell clothing as a second income, especially what customers leave behind. Mary sold Barnett's boots not long before and had other items ready to pawn, yet on her last day burned it all, including the bonnet she was so fond of. This behavior would seem on the surface extraordinarily odd but fits neatly into the picture of someone about to end it all, the drunken binge, the burning bridges.
I had been walking alongside absent-mindedly, wishing Holmes would turn back to our warm rooms on Baker Street, when I realized he'd stopped in his tracks and was now several yards behind.
... and Redemption
He was standing beside a fire barrel of the sort used to keep warm when out of doors, waiting for me to walk back to him. He then paused for two other fellows to walk off before he raising the curtain on the final act. It would be the Great Detective's only such performance, and he was determined I should be his only audience.
"Watson, it is my opinion she was drinking to find her courage. She was preparing for the end, preparing to meet the killer one last time. I also believe she was determined to find redemption for the ruination of one life and perhaps save another. The first was her own son, whom she had exposed to a wretched upbringing and for whom she considered herself a wholly unfit mother. The second was Torvald's boy, whom she had come across the first time she met Uuno Kivi -- for he was the man who so terrified her the final days on this earth."
I was stunned! "You have proof of this?"
"Ample. You may imagine when I heard of a strange man giving Mary Kelly the shivers I was determined to identify him. Odds were he was not only her killer, but quite possibly Jack the Ripper all rolled into one. It would be a significant step forward to find him out. Are you prepared for what I found out?"
I indicated nothing would ever again startle me.
"Very well then. We shall take you on faith." And with that he pulled from each pocket an object, a fragment of cloth from one and slip of paper from the other. These he pressed tightly into my hands, instructing me to keep them safe for the time being. I immediately folded them together without examination. Holmes removed from his coat a flask now, took one drink and replaced the cap before proceeding.
"It is time to introduce Uuno Kivi's part in all this. You already know much about him, principally where and when he first entered the play.
"Now I must tell you a few important things the ambassador's tight-lipped aide left out. Kivi was not just a butcher, it turns out, but a man of equally strong passions in every direction. He was a member of the Teurastaa only because no other outfit would tolerate his extreme behavior. Whatever urges came to him consumed him like a hot flame. With food he ate till he almost burst. In brutality none were his equal. And as for lovemaking, well, he was a man of many passions, not all of them fatal. London could never offer him the sort of lawless wilderness he was accustomed to. Instead it had Whitechapel, and there at the bottom of the human cesspool he and Mary Kelly first collided."
But try as I might, distracted by cold, hunger, even the curious items in my palm, I found myself wandering in and out of the talk. So much had happened, so much brutality, so much despair. So much waste. I began picturing the unfortunate Mary and brutal Kivi on a collision course, the inevitability of innocence confronting evil amidst the dregs of society. And yet, this Mary was nowhere near the innocent which fate had introduced me to.
My Mary had suffered as well, but rose above it. They shared their name only. Mine was an angel, the other Mary a ...
I engaged Holmes with idle questions to allow me more time to think.
"Eh, Watson? How can I be certain it was him? On the night of the killing, a neighborhood busybody saw the man who entered Kelly's apartment with her. She described him as a man of short stout build, blotchy face, with moustache and shabby coat. It sounds remarkably like Kivi, does it not? I had to be certain, but therein lay a problem. Once having made the deal to keep Finland and Russia out of the papers, the authorities took great pains to hide every detail from the public, Kivi included. Mary's death had already attracted too much attention for their general comfort. Remember she was found on the day of the Lord Mayor's parade ..."
My Mary. I remembered that very first moment, her sweet face, clear blue eyes, daintiest of gloves ... but Holmes was becoming emphatic again ...
"... literally swarmed upon the scene, mobbing a policeman. Still I had to know. They have their secrets, Watson, so naturally I must have my methods. Using an admittedly crude subterfuge I managed to locate the body and get this witness a look at Kivi's remains. She claims he was almost certainly the man she had seen. You know what this means?"
I suddenly woke to a sharp jab. "Certainly!" I responded emphatically.
Then remembering his need for discretion, lowered my voice. "It means the man was a foreigner," not at all certain what question I was answering. I was clearly off the mark and Holmes showed his disappointment. His explanation now shifted in a new direction.
"I see you need more preparation, Watson, so let us change course a moment. Let us first go back down the road Mary Kelly took. I have said already her case is what led to my solution. Need I remind you she despised her trade from the first? Her earliest encounters put her in the infirmary for nearly a year, and those that followed introduced her to drink and a string of abusive men. It is to be expected, perhaps. Elizabeth Stride's man was well known for violent tendencies, and another of Whitechapel's fallen angels was reportedly savaged by five men in a public place. In any event, Kelly's trade was the single greatest barrier keeping her boy from her, and in her own little way she began to speak out against it."
This did surprise me. "Against the trade?! Did you not say earlier she herself decided on the occasional night foray, despite her husband's objection?"
"She had no husband, Watson, she was a widow. Now do try to pay attention. You must remember she tried to leave behind prostitution a number of times; she encouraged others to do the same. There was even rumor of her lashing out at women who defended the business! earning her the nick-name of Black Mary. Some say the mere sight of women in the trade past forty enraged her, for it was stark reminder of her own dismal prospects. Prophetically she once remarked women in the trade are too frightened of their handlers to ever quit, that only some terrible fear might force them, a fear, she said, 'worse than death'.
"Her prediction was surprisingly accurate. If the Knife did any good at all, it was for a time reducing the number of women on the streets. In my opinion they are all of them safer indoors. Many took to selling posies or matches to get by, rather than risk the alleys after dark. She was right too about theirs being a dangerous, lonely, unrewarding profession. It not only invites violence but breeds it, to the point where victims are indistinguishable from villains. When Mary Kelly reached the absolute bottom and threw in with the likes of Kivi, she must have realized how far she'd fallen. This had something to do with her suicide, but was not the whole of it.
"Tabram, another woman I have mentioned, was horribly murdered in early August about the time Klami and Kivi arrived here. She was stabbed dozens of times while still alive, blood oozing from her, every breath an agony. The police do not believe she was one of those unfortunates in the Ripper's gory collection, nor do I. The Ripper's victims were slain quickly, by the simplest method ... "
I have no idea how long we stood together in that penetrating chill, our eyes on barren patches across the park, our thoughts on the complexities of the tireless investigation. But I marveled at Sherlock Holmes. In a few short weeks he had pieced together the minute details of hundreds of lives, people who were in summertime complete strangers to him. Many he had never met or ever would. Some had already passed beyond this world, leaving behind only shadows of their past. Yet in his brain their lives were mapped as surely as the streets around me.
Scotland Yard's tidy habit was to bundle details into neat little lists. My friend spread them out in all their messy complexity. Crime was living history to him, something pulsing, obeying rigid laws of logic and reason. I always hoped when he moved to a higher sphere he would at last find challenges suited to his cosmic intellect.
Another jab brought me back to the moment, "... what say you to that, eh, Watson? Let us return to the general conditions now. The Yard certainly backed itself into a corner when they pronounced Kivi the Ripper, for the deal had already been struck with the embassy. They can never claim the villain gone as officially he never existed. It is a delicious dilemma for them, don't you think?
"Oh, his name will surely fade from the papers when no more victims are found, but it will be touch and go. The one thing they botched most often was in going over the crime scenes. They never even returned to our last stop, once the bodies were removed, and that's where I found those."
Following his eyes, I was startled to find myself still clutching the two objects.
"When that woman identified Kivi as Mary Kelly's slayer, I went immediately back to the boiler room where the boy ... where the boy was lost ... to see if I had possibly missed anything. You know we were in something of a fret over the child when we were there before. The first thing that I found is that fragment matching Mary Kelly's dress. It was in Kivi's hideout and had been soaked with blood, proof he was tied to her murder. I also believe the heart was wrapped in that very cloth. Oh do not worry, Watson, I have rinsed it thoroughly."
Repulsed nevertheless, I instinctively dropped it, straight into the fire barrel! Holmes made a quick movement to snatch it back out but stayed his hand. "Just as well," said he. "It is better burned."
Even in his excitement Holmes too felt the creeping chill, rubbing his hands over the flame re-kindled on the last remnant in this world of poor Mary Kelly.
"I must now get on with the last significant details, Watson, before we freeze out here. I should have worn my other coat."
I half pleaded we could always go back inside.
"No, it is better told out here in the cleansing air, away from Mrs. Hudson's civilized world." He paused once more, glancing about keenly for eavesdroppers, but started again when he noticed me shifting my feet to keep warm.
"The note explains everything, Watson. Read it."
With numb fingers I unfolded the small scrap, which said in a crude rushed hand: "FILE BY POST".
Was it a mailed package? Had the slip been attached to something? I stared blankly. Holmes looked earnestly back. "The writing is Mary Kelly's. I found the note beside the pole where the boy was chained. It was meant for him."
It took a little time to sink in. The post, the chain, the boy. But that made even less sense. "But the boy knew no English, Holmes!"
He drew his coat tighter. "She had no way of knowing Watson. Because Kivi spoke a little she assumed the boy did. Don't you see the point is she was there! Or has the cold frozen your brain? At some point Mary Kelly was in that same boiler room, and I suspect more than once. I told you not all his passions were lethal. In short order she must have deduced what kind of man he was and it filled her with fear and loathing, the same effect he had on all who came his way. She also guessed what would be the boy's ultimate fate. She could not miss seeing his severed fingers, his ear nailed to the post over his head like some hunting trophy!
"Each visit there must have lasted some little while, satisfying Kivi's lusty urges, for she had time enough to look around and make a plan. You recall the writing tablet we saw in Kivi's lair? That scrap in your hand is from the same tablet; I compared the torn edge. You remember the rusty tools scattered about? She saw them too.
"I commend her resourcefulness and courage, Watson! She hid a file near the post, out of sight but within reach of the boy. And when Kivi was distracted she scrawled this note then got it to the boy. I found the note lying open behind the post where he was chained, then looked for the file. It was lying under a rag untouched. He never knew it was there."
For a moment grief overwhelmed him. We waited before going on.
"The boy would need time to free himself. Mary risked everything to give it to him. She lured her killer to Miller's Square, his only time there if my clues are sound, intending to busy him for as long as possible.
"I doubt very much Kivi went there intending to kill her. She had proven steady entertainment for him, and was apparently trustworthy, as he kept her in a grip of fear like the boy. The boy always came straight back after stealing food, and she always came back when he summoned. was just as reliable. Kivi had no reason to kill her; he would have to find another woman to satisfy his needs. Consider also, Watson, Kivi was afraid of being caught at his old tricks. He was certainly not used to so many people about, so many eyes watching him. He had traded empty wilderness for the city of London, and like any frightened animal found a hole to hide in, seldom leaving it. For his reason alone I believe Klami was Martha Tabram's killer. Kivi was doing his best not to attract notice.
"Now it is logical if Kivi had no intention of killing her, yet did the deed, someone else put the idea into his head. Whatever her original plan, I believe sometime during the evening Mary Kelly's night of drinking and thoughts of suicide came into play.
"She had seen the tormented young boy, near in age to her own, and fretted possibly for days over his fate. It was clear to her that the child suffered; that he too was dreadfully frightened of Kivi. Surely she believed no one else knew of his whereabouts and desperation.
"In the final analysis she could do little for her own son, but this one might be saved, and herself redeemed in the process. She fished out Kivi's knife and provoked her own end."
Several hours had passed since our talk began, and even the idea of Mary Kelly's suicide, fantastic in every detail, seemed reasonable to me now. It was a bold theory, one which would never occur to the ordinary mind. But the mind of Sherlock Holmes is far from ordinary! When the police and society pronounced Mary Kelly an unfortunate tragedy, just one more random victim, Holmes alone had questioned. He alone hunted down the facts of her life, all the people in it, and the complex twists and turns of her life.
My friend has been accused, I may say far too liberally, of being a cold fish. It may be true he has a hard exterior, but such is the necessary armor for one who surrounds himself with the human criminal. Rest assured, deep in that mine shines a vein of gold. For proof consider those final attentions Holmes gave poor Mary Kelly, in its way a tribute to the unfortunate woman. To Holmes alone she meant something more than a sensational headline in the Times. Without his solitary struggle for the whole truth about her, we might never know her loss was more than poor judgment. That more than likely Mary Kelly's tragic death was the noble sacrifice of a loving mother for a frightened child.
Still the result sickened me. It all seemed so unnecessary.
"It this is true, Holmes, it was terribly foolish! If indeed he had no plans to murder her, why not play along till he left, then lead back the police?"
"And so she might have, Watson, if she could be certain of the twisted alleyways there. You must remember she was in drink each time there, and you saw yourself it is not an easy place to find. Would the police even credit a woman with her reputation for drink, bringing them such a wild ranting tale?"
"But if she had waited, Holmes, just another few days."
It was a regret shared by my friend, one he kept to himself though it preyed on him at night. When I caught him rubbing his ribs he realized I was aware of it.
"Watson, we were all trying to save the boy. Had I been quicker they might both be alive today. It is a dreadful weight on me, Watson. I don't think I will ever get beyond it."
Again we fell silent. The wind was also subdued, the chill softened. I knew Holmes shuddered more from emotion than weather, and could not let him carry that burden unaided. "Holmes! Fate has a stronger hand than any of us! Yet here we are, the terrible darkness behind, the Ripper vanquished by your own hand. One could not ask for more." And with my speech said I began moving haltingly back towards Baker Street, hoping to draw him back to the comforts of his own surroundings.
He had a most peculiar look. Raised his head to the sky and dropped it again, rooted to the spot.
"The story would end there, Watson, with the London force and Scotland Yard in perfect agreement for once. Even their blundering got them as far as rumors and half-truths will allow. They know, for instance, Uuno Kivi and Aleksis Klami were working in murderous combination, and responsible for a spate of brutal killings. They point out, as even you observed, the Ripper appeared about the time of their arrival; both men were insanely brutal in their dealings; and since their demise the killings have ended. They can rightly tell you Mary Kelly was the Ripper's final victim, that Kivi killed her.
"For them the case is now closed and sealed forever. I congratulate them. But they are dead wrong."
I trudged back to the blackened barrel.
"Watson, the Ripper was in Mary Kelly's room that night, but it was not Kivi."
At last I was prepared to hear all of it. I removed the sandwich from my pocket and offered the second to Holmes. He refused it.
"We won't be here much longer, Watson. There is only one more detail in the story." Hungry though I was, I graciously put them away.
"I said I had only been looking in daily life, till I spilled all my notes together. It was only when I mixed up the sheets separating suspects from victims I realized there was yet one more place to look. That's where I found the Ripper, Watson, among the dead, for the Ripper passed away the same night as Mary Kelly."
It was to be the final act in a carnival of shocks. "Someone else was present?!"
"Someone besides Kivi? Obviously, Watson. That night the Finn butcher killed Mary, he also murdered London's own."
Partners in evil flashed through my mind, like Kivi and Klami.
"It must have been a remarkable encounter, Watson, the two of them eye-to-eye, each intent on their lethal purpose. I wonder if they discussed it before the bloodbath?"
My mind was racing, searching for an image to do it justice. "What a fearsome confrontation, Holmes! One knife against the other. Surely a fitting nightmare ending for one of them. But how did the Ripper come to join forces with Kivi? Can you say? And why has no one else realized this?"
Holmes didn't speak.
"Come now! I have waited too long already. What fragment remains? Who was the Ripper?"
"You know his name?" Holmes nodded. Yes.
"And in your mind you are positive of the identity?" Again, yes.
"And you are not saying?" He looked down at the barrel.
"Very well then, Holmes, I am turning to go. After my first step I will not turn back again." I hesitated, saw no reaction, and spun on my heels.
A hand suddenly fastened upon my shoulder.
I had never seen so much as moisture on that angular cheek, where that single drop now appeared. I cannot express even now the effect it had upon me. The cold was forgotten entirely, I heard not the wind, felt no more hunger. The whole of my being focused on that thin salty streak.
"It is not reluctance, old friend," he said trembling. "It never was that. But how to tell you." He found a small bench nearby and collapsed against it. I joined him.
"The Ripper was there, all right, Watson. So was Kivi. But the final monstrous detail was too obvious, the trees hiding the forest. And now you too have the facts, Watson. All of them. You are becoming quite the logician. If I give you time you may figure it out on your own someday."
Still I listened with every fiber.
"You of all people, Watson, should be intimately acquainted with the Ripper's true name."
"I ?” fell unintended, astonished, from my lips.
Holmes was stoic once more, sure and dependable, certain. He leaned over for just a second saying "you proposed to it” then left me there. Left me with nothing but my thoughts, and the insignificant scrap of paper I consigned to the fires of redemption.
Holmes tells me it is the individual who corrupts the world. That without the human taint upon the earth, it might indeed be a paradise. That even in the best of souls lurks an evil capable of blossoming into something horrifying. He may be right.
Before we reached our rooms once more, I was to hear snatches of his fantastic theory. That the man often seen with the Ripper's victims, 5-foot-7 wearing dark clothes, was Mary Kelly in disguise. That she herself was surprisingly tall for a woman (5&7). That after dark and from a distance, in clothes conveniently left behind by her male customers, none would know her from any other man. That it was coincidence witnesses saw the murdered women with other men shortly before each killing; they were surely with many men each and every night. The real killer would never murder a woman he had just been seen with, if they had a close look at his face.
That the Ripper's victims had no fear of their attacker at first, did not flee, allowed their backs to be turned. Lived within a few blocks of her apartment, died within a few minutes of her encounter. Were killed quickly, in the easiest possible manner. Were not butchered while still alive as a man would butcher, did not long suffer as Kivi would make them suffer. Their death scene showed signs of jealous rage, jewelry taken, faces marred, clothing shredded, their very sex removed, utterly destroyed.
He said the Ripper knew the area from long experience, knew the people and what would rouse suspicions, blended in as one of the them. Knew the beats and schedules and habits of local police.
That Mary Kelly hated what she had become and the trade that made her so, yet was bitterly, helplessly, hopelessly trapped in that life. Was enraged by other, older women, who were resigned to die as prostitutes. Women who gave in to the trade, gave up all hope of escape. Was surprisingly violent when drinking, remarkably strong for a woman, when angered. She had earned her nick-name Black Mary. Enraged by a cheating man. Outraged by her powerlessness to save her own boy from the terrible life she brought upon him. Made desperate by drink, loneliness, poverty.
He believed she was possibly lashing back at prostitution, driving women off the streets. Believed the reason she burned certain clothing in her final hours was to erase any trace of what she wore those nights she prowled the streets. Believed she could no longer bear her murderous guilt, and when fate offered her the chance to end the guilt, redeem herself ... save at least one helpless young boy ... she made her choice.
It was another astounding theory, as remarkable as any in his long career. Also wholly unprovable, yet supported by clear evidence and just as impossible to disprove.
If true, Holmes may have plumbed the very bottom of Whitechapel's nightmarish season of murder, found the devil in the shadows of a tortured soul.The authorities will not enter into this debate, and I am hardly in position to challenge facts. I cannot deny some overlooked clue, some other explanation, may yet lie buried beneath London's many layers, but at Baker Street we are of one opinion. For the Great Detective the facts are clear and in perfect harmony. The Ripper died that wet and chilly November night, just off Dorset Street in Miller's Court . . . . . Apartment #13.
The End . . .
October 7, 2005