From Hell-Jack the Ripper graphic novel review

From hell, a graphic novel authored by Alan Moore and designed by Eddie Campbell, details the identity, motives and actions of the infamous Jack The Ripper killer of the late Victorian era. At first glance, the rather hefty book (which I later learned was published in separate volumes comic-esque style) didn’t grab my attention, but Waterstones had set aside their own section so all the same I gave it a flick through. The most obvious thing that strikes you is the fact that it is, indeed, a graphic novel (with pages cut up into illustrated tiles complete with speech bubbles etc). I sheepishly brought it to the counter, and wondered all the while was I just after buying a sicko’s version of a childhood Beano or Dandy comic. After finally closing the book on that awful Dean Koontz novel 77 Shadow street, the review *cough* rant *cough* of which you may find https://kyle8414.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/a-very-frightful-read-for-all-the-wrong-reasons/; I opened this on a bus and started my way through it.

A couple of pages in it was clear, very clear actually, that this was not some half-ass comic a wash-up writer had conjured up in a couple of weeks. Almost immediately you can feel the research bringing the pictures to life, and rather admirably you seem to forget after a while it’s all speech bubbles and short narration.

The premise of the novel is fascinating. Starting just before the Ripper murders that happened in autumn 1888, the book gives us a whole host of characters to play with. Some are the future detectives of our case. Others play the part of the victim. Even from the start, we are exposed to the man who will become the killer; a notion that at first I thought would take from the mystery but later on only seems to fuel the drama. Over a hundred years after the Whitechapel murders occurred, today we have over a hundred and fifty well recognised suspects ranging from Alice in Wonderland writer Lewis Carroll to Jill the Ripper-a woman the police might have investigated at the time. Alan Moore, however, chose to go with a suspect who first surfaced in the 1970s and has remained a favourite among conspiracy theorists ever since. Though the author admits himself evidence for the theory is limited, he nonetheless seems to convince you it is the only solution.

In chapter one, we are introduced to ‘Eddie Sickert’, who is actually the Prince of England at the time and only posing as an upper class gentlemen after the Queen and his family entrusted his education to one Walter Sickert (overall he is the grandson of Queen Victoria and second in line to the throne). He quickly becomes involved with an East End girl who becomes pregnant with his child. When the child is born, the royal family hear and quickly seize the mother to cover up the scandal. Mary Kelly, whose name is forever remembered as the last of the Ripper victims, was friend to the mother at the time and knew of the Prince’s identity. Now stuck for money, her and her other ‘working-girl’ friends attempt to blackmail the throne through Walter Sickert. When word of this reaches Victoria, she quickly orders her then trusted doctor Sir William Gull to take care of the problem, and so the killings begin.

While, as I have mentioned, only scraps of evidence link the royal family to the killings, Alan Moore manages to create a whole world around it, with various twists and turns that ensure even someone with a knowledge of the killings (which I actually could claim somewhat after visiting London a few times) is kept on their toes. His attention to detail is wonderful, as he focuses in on Victorian vocabulary and thoroughly creates the area of Whitechapel alongside artist Eddie Campbell. What struck me very early on was how academic the piece actually was, as surprisingly a large amount of imagery, themes and symbolism seem to crop up. Luckily, this does not drag from the story and only seems to be put in to satisfy the more thorough readers, like an adult returning to an episode of The Simpsons and relishing new jokes.

Each of the five murders play out very dramatically, with Moore managing to stick to the historical facts as best he could including witnesses, times of death and the movements of the victims. The obvious black and white of a comic strip here becomes haunting. Whereas most Ripper lore (if I can coin such a term), seems to focus on the killer, this is undoubtedly a story of the victims. Never before have I seen literature on the topic painstakingly show how one by one the next girl feared for her life as the fruit of their blackmail attempt turned sour.

While the whole plot revolves around a very edgy theory, it is rather comforting to see Alan Moore helps debunk a couple of his own mysteries while he moves through it. These include some of the supposed letters from the killer, which in modern culture remain such a point of fascination for crime enthusiasts and may have even been the catalyst behind some of the zodiac letters, who killed in the 20th century. Something that sticks out as a theme is how the murder of five prostitutes in such a gruesome manner does serve as a base for the horrors of the twentieth century, where we endured two World Wars and were at the mercy of horrific serial killers.

Later on in the piece it moves very much towards the story of Fred Abberline, who actually was the lead detective on the case. While many of the details for obvious reasons are fictional, it once again moves away from the limelight of the killer and shows a more human side to the murders we miss in Hollywood interpretations. The idea of police cover-ups also comes to the fore which adds another layer of complexity to a gripping tale. I would doubt I could find another comic strip out there that can manage to tell such a horrifying story yet at the same time conjure up questions about things such as the role of women, and the view of the poorer part of society. The East End was seen at the time as violent and unmanageable, with most of the employment listed as prostitution. In a time before finger prints or criminal profiling, the foggy streets of Whitechapel were like a murderer’s playground. It was a part of the job for the five victims to be trusting of men, and unfortunately this led them straight to their doom.

Hollywood films such as Saw or Hostel may have succeeded in numbing our minds to the effects of violence, but even so this was terror on a whole other scale. Somebody stalked the streets of the East End for three months, and hunted women there. He was never found. We will never know his name. All we have left of him is pictures of his destruction, and here or there a vague description from a passerby. Long dead, even in his own time he was a ghost.

 

I would definitely recommend From Hell to anybody with an interest in graphic novels, which I cannot even claim to have. For lovers of crime and horror, it would also be very suitable. Very explicit in its imagery but I suppose that’s part of the genre.A film adaptation starring Johnny Depp also exists, though I’ve read the two differ broadly.

Soon on Monday Mysteries, I’ll take a very detailed look at Jack the Ripper, starting when he did in late August. I promise you it will be word the read. Until then, it’s on to Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind for me.

 

 

Monday Mystery-Laureen Ann Rahn

Laureen resided with her mother, Judith Rahn, in an apartment on Merrimack Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. She was a student at Parkside Junior High School and made good grades. She was last seen at her home during the evening hours of April 26, 1980. Two of Laureen’s friends saw her approximately one hour before her disappearance and reported that nothing was amiss at the time. She has never been heard from again. Judith’s then boyfriend was a professional tennis player and both he and Judith had been out of town at a tournament the night the incident occurred. Normally Laureen accompanied them but being on spring break from school she asked to stay home on this occasion to which her mother agreed.

That evening Laureen and two friends-one male and one female, spent the evening drinking beer and wine in the Rahn’s apartment. Only fourteen at the time, the trio were afraid of getting caught by Laureen’s mother. This caused the boy to leave through the back door when he heard voices in the hall that he assumed were Laureen’s mother returning. He stated that he heard the door being locked behind him. When Judith arrived home at midnight, she discovered that the lightbulbs on each of the three floors of the apartment building’s corridors had been unscrewed, leaving the floor her apartment was on in an eerie darkness. Her front door was unlocked, but Judith checked in Laureen’s bedroom and thought she saw her daughter asleep there. In the morning however, she discovered this was in fact Laureen’s friend, and Laureen was missing. Her friend said she’d last seen her asleep on the couch. Judith’s mother found the back door unlocked, but her daughter’s brand new trainers were still in the living room. Initially the police suspected the daughter had run off, but her own mother dismissed this theory, as Laureen had left her purse and clothes behind her. The authorities then changed their story to one that assumed the girl had left willingly, but aimed to return.

Judith discovered that she had been charged for three California phone calls on October 1, 1980, three months after Laureen disappeared. Judith did not have any friends or relatives in California at the time. Two of the calls had been placed from a motel in Santa Monica to another motel in Santa Ana. The third call was placed to a teen sexual assistance hotline. Authorities attempted to question the physician who maintained the hotline, but they were unable to ascertain if he knew any details about Laureen’s case. An investigator followed up on the hotline tip in 1985. A man identifying himself as a plastic surgeon answered the call. He said that numerous runaway girls occasionally visited his wife at their home. He also told the investigator that one of the young women may have been from New Hampshire. The individual claimed that Annie Sprinkle, a woman who allegedly worked with his wife in the fashion industry, may have had information concerning several runaways. Authorities learned that Sprinkle was involved in the pornography industry and scanned several of her films in an attempt to locate Laureen. No evidence linking Sprinkle to Laureen’s disappearance was discovered and she has never been implicated in her case.

An investigator visited California on Judith’s behalf in 1986 and located the two motels involved in the October 1980 phone calls. Authorities said that one of the establishments may have been used by a child pornographer named “Dr. Z.” Investigators were unable to link “Dr. Z” to the teen hotline and it is not known if pornography was involved in Laureen’s disappearance.

Roger Maurais, Laureen’s childhood friend in Manchester, received a call from a woman identifying herself as “Laurie” or “Laureen” in 1986. Maurais’s mother answered the call and said that the person claimed to be her son’s former girlfriend. The caller’s identity remains unknown.

One of Laureen’s family members reported seeing a girl matching her description in a Boston, Massachusetts bus terminal in 1981. Judith received phone calls around the Christmas holidays for several years from an unknown individual. She said that the person listened silently when Laureen’s sister answered the phone, then terminated the call shortly afterwards. The calls stopped after Judith changed her phone number several years after Laureen vanished.

A witness reported that a prostitute in Anchorage, Alaska matched Laureen’s description. The unconfirmed sighting occurred in 1988 and authorities said that the witness based his recollections on her 1980 photo. The woman was not believed to have been Laureen as a result of the time lapse.

In April 2005, a Nevada investigator contacted Judith and said Laureen bore a resemblance to a murdered young woman whose body was found off a dirt road in Henderson, Nevada in October 1980. Judith goes not believe the Nevada woman is her daughter, but officials are investigating that possibility.

Judith moved to Fort Myers, Florida during the years after Laureen’s disappearance. She believes that her daughter placed the three California phone calls in October 1980. Laureen enjoyed singing and dancing at the time of her disappearance and dreamed of becoming an actress. Investigators continue to suspect that foul play was involved in her case, which remains unsolved.

While there is no evidence that the two cases are connected, it is worth noting that Rachael Garden, another petite brunette about the same age as Laureen, disappeared from a nearby town just a month before Laureen did. Garden’s case remains unsolved as well and is also classified as a non-family abduction.

Is this a case of serial abduction, or were the police correct at first in suggesting Laureen had simply walked off? Who did the raised voices in the hallway belong to, and did Laureen indeed lock the door after her friend had left? Why was her friend not taken? Perhaps the perpetrator did not know Laureen had guests. Most mysteriously, why were the corridor lights unscrewed in a building without CCTV, and why has no trace of Laureen ever been found?

Monday Mystery-Dyatlov Pass Incident

Introduction

The Dyatlov pass incident refers to the mysterious deaths of nine ski hikers in the northern Ural mountains on the night of February 2, 1959. A group was formed for a ski trek across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk Oblast. The group, led by Igor Dyatlov, consisted of eight men and two women. Most were students or graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute.

At the point of their disappearance, the goal of the ill-fated expedition was to reach Otorten, a mountain that was approximately 6 miles away. The unfortunate hikers never reached their destination, and chillingly enough, the word “Otorten” translated from Mansi (indigenous peoples in the area) language, means “Mountain of the dead men.”

The two women on the expedition were Zinaida Kolmogorova and Lyudmila Dubinina, and the other men were Alexander Kolevatov, Rusterm Slobodin, Yuri Krivonischenko, Yuri Doroshenko, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, Alexander Zolotarev, and Yuri Yudin.

On the morning of January 27, 1959, the group left Vizhai to begin their trek.Vizhai is the northernmost inhabited settlement in the region. On January 28th, one of the hikers, Yuri Yudin, fell ill and had to turn back.This turned out to be a life-saving turn of events for Mr. Yudin, as he is the sole survivor of the doomed expedition. On January 31, the group began to climb.

On February 1st, the hikers reached Kholat Syakhl, the mountain pass that has since been renamed “Dyatlov Pass” since the incident occurred.When they reached the pass, their plan was to cross over and set-up camp on the other side.Weather conditions worsened, a snowstorm ensued, and the hikers lost their direction due to decreasing visibility.In the confusion of being lost, the group discovered that they had hiked to nearly the top of the mountain pass, so they decided to pitch camp where they were, and head out the next day.They never made it past this point.

It was decided beforehand that Igor Dylatov was to send a telegraph on February 12th to the group’s sports club as soon as they reached Vizhai upon their return. February 12th came and went, with no communication from the hikers. Most people were not alarmed because delays are not uncommon for expeditions – besides, they were nine experienced and capable hiker. The families of the hikers became increasingly concerned in the days that followed. On February 20th, the Ural Polytechnic Institute formed a rescue party consisting of students, and faculty – to no avail so that eventually, police and army forces mounted a full-scale official search and rescue party for the nine missing hikers.

The bodies found

On February 26, the searchers found the abandoned and badly damaged tent on Kholat Syakhl. Mikhail Sharavin, the student who found the tent, said “the tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the group’s belongings and shoes had been left behind.” Investigators said the tent had been cut open from inside. A chain of eight or nine sets of footprints, left by several people who were wearing only socks, a single shoe or were barefoot, could be followed and led down toward the edge of nearby woods. At the forest edge, under a large cedar, the searchers found the remains of a fire, along with the first two bodies, those of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear. The branches on the tree were broken up to five meters high, suggesting that a skier had climbed up to look for something, perhaps the camp. Between the cedar and the camp the searchers found three more corpses, Dyatlov, Zina Kolmogorova and Rustem Slobodin, who seemed to have died in poses suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent. These four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs that those who had died first had apparently relinquished their clothes to the others. Zolotaryov was wearing Dubinina’s faux fur coat and hat, while Dubinina’s foot was wrapped in a piece of Krivonishenko’s wool pants.

A legal inquest started immediately after finding the first five bodies. A medical examination found no injuries which might have led to their deaths, and it was concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. Slobodin had a small crack in his skull, but it was not thought to be a fatal wound.

An examination of the four bodies which were found in May changed the picture. Three of them had fatal injuries: the body of Thibeaux-Brignolles had major skull damage, and both Dubinina and Zolotarev had major chest fractures. According to Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny, the force required to cause such damage would have been extremely high. He compared it to the force of a car crash. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds related to the bone fractures, as if they were crippled by a high level of pressure. Major external injuries were, however found on Dubinina, who was missing her tongue, eyes, and part of the lips, facial tissue and a fragment of skullbone;she also had extensive skin macerations on the hands.

What happened on the expedition that drove nine experienced hikers to start off into the woods, some barely clothed? What force killed four of the company, whose injuries are inconsistent with violence?