Horror & Dark Fantasy

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The Hunt for the Leather Apron

On August 4th, 2014, a researcher at the British National Archives came across a sealed envelope entitled “The Leather Apron.” It had not been opened in over 125 years. The envelope contained many elements of a closed investigation into the famous Jack the Ripper case. Among the items was the written testimony of the twenty-one-year-old son of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, the woman considered by many to be the first official victim of Jack the Ripper. While her son, Edward John Nichols, had been estranged from his mother for eight years after she abandoned her family, he became obsessed with her shocking murder and vowed revenge when he found out about a potential suspect—a local man who had been extorting money from prostitutes known only as The Leather Apron.

The following is a hand-written account by the young man on Metropolitan Police stationary—the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard, dated September 31st, 1888.

• • • •

Sirs—

When I ferst herd me Mum had been murdered I thot me Dad were havin a go at me. Dad thot nothink good of her after she left us 8 yeer ago. After yeers of fightin an splittin up, he had finally cot her doin some dodgy tings round Whitechapel, tings she ought not to be doin like bein wit other men drinkin an carousin an other unladylike stuff. That were enuff to end it once an fer all time. I em one an twenty now—old enuff to know wot them tings are. I been wit girls kissd em an done tings maybe I should not. I knowed Mum were troubled an liked to chase away her demons by drinkin gin, but all on account of Dads filanderin behaviors wit a nurse many a yeer back.

Mum an Dad fot like lions an blood were spilt by both sides, one were always leeving the other in a lurch. All five of us keds were left to fend fer ourselves wit me holdin the clan together. In the end Dad coodn take it no more an kickd her out. Or she quit us, dependin on who yer talked too. That were 8 yeer ago an Dad raised us in the time bein. Mum liked to sneak round sumtime wen Dad were away at work usually to scrounge up a bob or two but them visits became less an less until they stopped all together a few yeer back.

Cos of all them rumors floatin about, sum keds at scool liked to put insults inta me ears—Yer Mums a whoor who sleeps around fer a cup o gin! I am quick to anger an usually boxed em in the ears an told em to fook off. But I knowed it to be tru she slept around to make money fer herself as she had been unable to keep stedy werk as a maid.

Once I went down to Whitechapel Road to see her wit me own eyes. There she were— standing in a doorway on Bucks Row gussied up wit lipstick an blush—she had a hunger in her eyes that Id only seen when she cood not get a drink inta her belly. I hid an watched her fer a good hour as she tawked up strangers an forainers. When she went off wit one feller I cood not follow—the thot made me sick in me stomach.

Dad always blamed her fer our misfortunes but Granddad says it were Dads fault. When that toffer nurse of his started comin around to our place I cood not stand to be wit Dad no more an I quit him. I were livin wit me Granddad fer a good while when Dad came over one dey an spouted off that Mum had finally gotten wot she deserved. She is dead! He had tears in his eyes but bitter anger on his tongue an sed words I am sure he regretted later. Granddad almost kicked him out but they were both so overcome wit grief they fell inta each others arms an did not say another word fer a good long while.

When Dad sed he were going down to the morgue to identify the body I sed I were comin too. I still cood not believe wot he sed—I needed to see Mum fer me self. He had herd awful tings about her death an sed it were not fit fer a mothers child. We argued sumtin fierce but I am no longer a child so he coodn stop me. But as we entered that evil place, a stillness over came us an I thot of fleeing. I steadied me head an ses to meself—no, I must see wots become of me Mum.

It had been a good 2 yeer since Id seen her up close. But the undertaker warned us she were not as we knew her no more. She were now 43—people had always sed she looked a good ten yeers yunger. Well no longer. When the man pult back the sheet on her body I cood not believe wot me eyes saw. She looked like a dummy sumbody had made up of wax. It were certain it were no human body. First off—her hair were grayin an she were missin all her front teeth. Then there were bruises on her jaw an her nose were all off like it had been broke. But the eerie part were—her eyes was slightly open.

I looked away but it were then that I saw the slit on her throat. I knew then she were done in. Dad were shaken an only sed it has come to a sad end at last. We all knew it wood end badly fer her, it were just a question of when.

The undertaker man started to pull the sheet back up but Dad stopped him. Show us the hole body he sed. The undertaker looked shocked as did Granddad but Dad wood not let it go. He had to see fer himself. The man warned him that her front side had been cut open an her innards violated. Dad herd as much. The man sed it were not proper fer human eyes. Dad sed he were no longer human do wot I tell yer. The man looked grim but did as Dad sed.

When the man lowered the sheet an I saw a gaping casm that had once held me baby self— I lost it. Granddad had to take me outside to calm me nerves. Seeing Mum laying there on a cold stone slab as lifeless as a dead carcuss in a butchers window well thats enough to makes any man lose his faith in God.

At the funeral I coodn even look at Dad. Summit inside me blamed him fer Mums awful demise. If he hadn a had a mistress Mum wood not a took to drink an runnin away from us. An if that hadn happened she wood not have ended up on the streets doin wot she done. She had much wrong in her life but he were to blame fer most of it.

In them days that followed no witnesses came forth wit any news on the killer. The papers played up all the brootul details as they saw fit. I cood not read any of it. I kept making inquiries to the City Police an the Metropoliten Police but they cood not be bothered. They cared little fer whoors—wots one more dead theyd say when me back were turned.

But when a week passed an another woman showed up boochered in the same neighborhood in the same vicius way as Mum—neck slit, stomach cut open—well the gates of hell opened up an the rumors started to flow.

It were a gang of thugs, people sed. No, it were a single left handed killer. The papers started sayin it were a serial killer on the loose on account of a couple a dead whoors from the month before now bein lumped in as victims wit Mum an the other.

Talk were cheap an life weren worth much in these parts. People died all the time cos of the squalor down ere. This aint the west side us eastenders are the scrap of human kind an we are kept downwind so the likes of the Queen should not have to smell our dirty selves.

But this were different. People got scared. It were the viciusness of it all that raised a panic. And mixed in the murky smog of London where you sumtime coodn see the hand in front of yer face—that made it all the more fearsome. An unknown killer on the loose in the fog o London were the stuff of nightmares.

Dad took to drownin his sorrows wit drink. But I were too angry to drink. I wanted to do sumthin else. I wanted to see Mums killer die.

An if the police coodn do it— I wood.

I took a room at a doss-house down by Bucks Row. It broke me heart to see how Mum had been livin. It were almost worse than bein dead. Whoors an tricksters drunkards an sailors it were all mixed up in a soup of filth an decay. Even if the rumors of the prince whooring it up at nights down here were true, I knowed Queen Vickie werent livin like this. They cared not a whit fer us lot.

I wandered the streets. I dint know wot I were looking fer. Maybe I expected to see the killer hangin out on the corner wit me Mums death in his eyes. But all I saw were loneliness an despair an pain, thats how I were feeling at least.

I started talkin to some of the locals tryin to find someone who knowed me Mum. Fly paper sellers, shellfish mongers, cross sweepers, broken down poets, crippled beggers an the like—if Granddad or Dad found out wot I were doin theyd take a fist to me head an straighten me out fer good. But soon I found an orphaned street girl who had knowed her, an I have to admit I were so overcome to heer the stories about her life that it were almost too much to take in.

The girl sed sumtime Mum slept in the doss-house on the corner, other time in the streets or squares wit herself. Sumtime Mum wood give her a few pence to help her out. Other times she spent her money as soon as a trick were done— stopping at a gin joint on her way back an spending her 3p. Then she wood turn around an find another feller. Sumtime if it were too cold an damp fer customers and she cood not afford a bed she wood wander around the churches where the police coodn arrest her as long as she kept moving. The last time shed seen her, Mum had spent her last tuppence buyin a bonnet to make herself look pretty.

Id seen that bonnet in the belongings the coppers gave me Dad.

People started talkin sayin it were a forainer who done it, maybe a Jew. No regular person cood do such horrible tings. Certainly not a proper English man. Rumors started spredin about one bloke in particular—a Jew they called the Leather Apron. They called him that cos he were always wearing one—some sed to keep the blood off a his cloths. A freshly washed apron had been found near the body of the second woman Anne Chapman an that set the rumors off an runnin.

When that news rag The Star did a big writ up on the Leather Apron the story spred like fire. They sed the Leather Apron wore a deerstalker cap just like the one that Sherlock Holmes character did that were all the rage last Christmas. Only this bloke he were a downright scoundrel— extortin monies from the local whoors an killin them who refused to pay. The killers eyes were small an glitterin the article sed. He were a Jew an the worse most sinister kind—his lips always parted in a grin. They sed he prowled around after midnight wit slippered feet an a sharpened knife an the scariest thing about the Leather Apron he moved about like a whisper as the whoors never herd him comin till it were too late.

Well a damn riot near broke out when that article hit the stands. Police took to the streets lookin fer this Leather Apron man wit the sharp knife. Folks pleeded wit the police cryin out fer justice. Fights broke out an many Jews was attacked by mobs. The whoors were skittish an some took to carryin sharp objects to protect demselves. Nobody seemed to care nothink about me poor Mum no more—just fer their own sorry hides. I coodn blame them none.

After that when anyone found out that I were the son of poor Mary or Polly as they called her, I got no more sympathy just a look of horror. Word got out in the doss-house I were stayin in an I were asked to leave by the manager he feared it were too dodgy an that the killer wood come after me too. I felt cursed, an maybe I were. I started drinkin meself, sumthin Id not done much of. But gin were downright cheap ere an it took the edge off of tings. An once the edge were off everythin else started to happen.

A whoor called Emily who knew Mum took a kindness to me an I spent moren a few nights in her warm bosom. But she soon became scared o me cos I started having delirium an dreams about the Leather Apron. I saw a man wit a mustache sharpening his blade I saw me Mum standing under a gas lamp I saw the Apron take her from behind I saw the blade an the blood that flowed.

After a few nights o this reched torture, I cood not stand it no more. I wanted to kill the bastard meself before he drove me mad. I begged mums friend to help me an she finally broke down an confessed the Leather Apron were a man named Jack Pizer. He had beaten her a coupla times an taken her doss money. She hated his guts but he were no Jew—just a bastard. She herd he were in hidin, maybe at his cousins place down on Whitechapel Road. I made her take me there.

It were a simple row house wit a butchers shop in front. She thot the butcher were his cousin. He were wearing a leather apron too but she sed he were alright, just cheap. It were the cousin Jack who were the rotton apple. I told her she cood go now but she warned me not to take the law into me own hands. I told her I weren gonna do nothink— I just wanted to see the man who done in me dear ol Mum.

When I finally got up the nerve, I went into the butcher shop. The cousin were much bigger up close. He looked me over all queer like. There were a lot of police detectives an worse—newspaper men—roamin around the neighborhood looking fer the Apron. The cousin were clutchin a bloody butchers knife as I interrupted him cutting up sum sort o meat. He asked me wot I wanted an I just froze. I had no weapon on me— no knife or gun or even a rope. Suddenly I werent sure wot I wanted. I pretended to busy meself by looking at his meats but his stare got the best of me an when he looked away I bolted fer the door.

I were a coward. I went an found the spot where Mum had been kilt. It were night by then an dark as soot as there were no lights on the east side. But I knew where the spot lie it drew me like a siren. The street were barely lit by a window above. I stared stupefid at somethin dark on the cobblestone—me mums blood stains.

I blacked out.

When I awoke I were in a jail cell. It took me a moment to realize wot happened to me. I cood feel a lump on me head an thot maybe the Apron had smacked me upon me noggin. I called out fer a guard but they ignored me.

Beside me in the next cage were a man who were cryin— he had some great sorrow in him rambling to himself. I cood tell he were a forainer type a Jew from Poland or the like. He were upset an spoke of the demons in his brain. A guard finally came to tell him to shut it, callin him Kosminski an some hateful names. The man ignored him an kept yammerin away sayin he were at fault. I begged the guard to let me out an he sed not till I were sober an I told him I had nowt to drink but fainted when I saw the spot ware me dear Mum were murdered.

This shut up Mr. Kosminski who just stared at me in horror. The guard seemed to know who I were an suddenly sed I cood go. He watched me the hole way out wit a look of such pity it made me ill.

I were determined to find this killer now. The ferst thing I done when I got out were to go to Dads place as I knew he had a collection of knives that I cood borrow. He were not at home but me little brother Percy were watching me other siblings. He asked me wot I were doin ere an I told him to mind his own. I went to the back room where Dad kept his knives. I found a good one that fit in me hand an I cood conceal. I slipped out the back window inta the alleyway.

I headed straight to the butchers place there were many coppers policing the streets now an some vigilante groups were watching everyone suspicious like. I started to sweat if they found me carrying a knife wot wood they think? That I done in me own Mum?

When I reached the butchers I decided not to go in again. I cood not face that man. Insted I snuck around to the back down the alley that smelt like rotten flesh and fish guts. A skanky mutt were licking sometin foul I did not want to see what. The fog were thick as thieves but I cood see a small space that had nowt but a tiny doorway an a window. The door were locked. I peered into the window an saw wot looked like a small storage room. There were a makeshift bed of straw layin on the floor an then I saw the deerstalker cap an a leather apron.

The window did not open, so I took me knife an used it to pry open that tiny door. The lock were fragile but it popped open an I were in.

It were much darker in there than I thot. Me eyes coodn ajust quickly but as soon as I stepped inside I drew me knife an set out to find mums killer.

It did not take but a second. Two feet in the door slammed shut behind me an a giants arm took me from behind wit a blade at me throat. By the Lords mercy I dropped me own knife I were shakin so bad.

Wot do ye want?! shouted the man his breath smelt like gin an herrin.

Me eyes almost came out me head I were so panicked.

Are ye wit that rag of a paper The Star? Or are ye a copper?

I shook me head no an felt me own piss dribblin down me leg. Tears came an I knew the end were near. I cood feel the cold blade on me neck edging inta me flesh.

Mum! I am comin to be at yer side done in by the same blade o death! I cried.

The man whipped me around. Who are ye?

He were huge. A neck that were as thick as me waist an a mustache that looked like a wild animal. His eyes were wicked an wild. Who are ye, he sed again shaking the life out of me.

It all came blubberin out. You murdered me Mum not a week ago so yer might as well do me in too I no longer wish to live an if I cannot watch yer die then I might as well join me Mum in heaven!

I waited fer death to come.

He stared at me wide eyed wit madness in his face. You are the son of that woman who were kilt last week? he asked.

I nodded.

He got very angry very quick, his hands grabbed me collar. He shouted I did not murderer yer Mum! I may be many shameful tings an have done much wrong in this world but by Jesus a murderer I am not!!

Wit each word his grip got tighter an tighter. I found it harder an harder to breathe as he kept shouting I am no killer I am no killer I am no killer! over an over he yelled his eyes gettin darker an darker wit madness.

I felt me mind fadin fast an the next thing I new there were a great commotion in the front room the sound of men comin fast their boots poundin on the wooden floor their steps grew louder an louder until the door exploded open. The room were filt wit coppers all shoutin an grabbin at the Leather Apron before I became his next victim.

I fell to the floor when they tore his grip away, me breath poring back into me lungs. The Apron fought em off like they were nothink it took 6 fellas just to pin him down to the ground. I scrambled away from the madness right into the proper boots of a man in a bowler hat wit a big gray mustache.

He pulled me aside an when tings were under control told me he were a sergeant Mr. Thick. He looked at me an asked who I were. I told him. He asked if I were alright an I sed aye right enough to see this killer die.

The sergeant rubbed his mustache. Jack Pizer! he sed.

Jack stopped struggling an looked up at the man. They seemed to know each other. Jack whimpered By Jesus I am no killer Guv.

The sergeant looked at him long an hard. I know ses Sergeant Thick.

Did I hear right? By Lords mercy! He is the killer! I ses.

Sergeant Thick did not believe me. I know this man an he is a downright scoundrel. But he is no killer. He were in jail when yer Mum died. I am sorry fer you but the killer is still on the loose. You have me word.

The air went right out of me lungs again. The killer were still alive an well an waiting to strike again? My mind were spinnin.

They took Jack Pizer away, told him he had to leave London fer his own safety an he went willingly. But right before he left the shop he reached into his pocket an pulled out 2 Guineas an handed it to me.

Wots this I sed.

I dont care nothink for nobody but that is wot I took from yer Mum these last weeks. I am damned either way God forgive me.

They left an a constable now waits for me to finish writin of these events laid out before you. Sirs me mind is blinded wit confusion Mums still dead an me soul dead too. If the Leather Apron is not her killer then the killer is still out there waiting to be found.

By Jesus I will find him even if it takes to the end o me days on this earth.

• • • •

Edward John Nichols’ testimony was of little use to the authorities. The next day, two new victims were found within minutes of each other. The Jack the Ripper letters began to appear in print and his legend sealed in history—though the killer was never caught. Little is known about Mr. Nichols, but subsequent reports state that after years of searching and trying to live a normal life, he was later admitted to an institution for the insane.

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G. Neri

G. Neri

G. Neri is the Coretta Scott King honor-winning author of Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty and the recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for his free verse novella, Chess Rumble. His novels include Surf Mules, the Horace Mann Upstander Award-winning Ghetto Cowboy, and Knockout Games, winner of the Florida Book Award. His latest book is a middle grade mystery about the childhood friendship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote, called Tru & Nelle. He currently writes full-time and lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife and daughter. Visit him on the web at www.gneri.com.