By: Shane Lambert
Students of the unsolved Whitechapel murders in London in 1888, murders that are commonly attributed to an unknown assailant named Jack the Ripper, will recognize the name Charles Lechmere. Now long dead, he was an individual who lived in the area of the murders at the time when the murders were committed. This he has in common with some thousands of people.
But he is considered a leading suspect in the murders by many in modern times because of circumstances that he does not have in common with any of his fellow Londoners. Lechmere’s incontrovertible connection to the Jack the Ripper mystery is that he was seen hovering over the body of one of the recently-murdered victims. This much has been ascertained about him.
Whether he was hovering over the body to have a look at it as an innocent passerby or whether he was admiring his work after killing the victim has been debated in modern times. In fact, Lechmere’s culpability in the Jack the Ripper murders was the subject of a documentary not too many years ago, a documentary that’s still on Youtube as of December 3rd, 2019. The documentary prominently features Swedish journalist Christer Holmgrem making his case that Lechmere was the infamous serial killer. The documentary was titled “Jack the Ripper – The Missing Evidence” (directors: Martin Pupp, Sam Taplin).
Lechmere, back in 1888, was associated with the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, otherwise known as Polly Nichols. Lechmere’s own words on his relationship to her death is that he found the body. Certainly, this could be an on-the-spot lie and whether or not this is true is central to the Lechmere debate. It could be that Lechmere did find the body and then decided to hover over it. But it could also be that he didn’t really discover the dead body but created it himself, meaning he would be Jack the Ripper.
On this matter, one thing I will state is that if you discover a dead body in contemporary times, you’ll often need to be cleared of killing the person. This is something I’ve gleaned from reading literally hundreds of missing person’s reports and the affiliated articles over the years (I am an “Active Member” of websleuths.com and I have my own missing person’s blog). If the same kind of circumstances occurred in modern times then modern police would be very interested in Lechmere — this is something I am very confident in.
I don’t remember the documentary on Lechmere making this exact point, that modern police would be very interested in Lechmere because he discovered the body. However, “Jack the Ripper – The Missing Evidence” makes the following points:
- Lechmere was seen hovering over a the dead body of a person that Jack the Ripper killed;
- Lechmere gave a misleading name to police when he had to confront them;
- His path to work would have brought him near many of the murders;
- Other murders not on Lechmere’s route to work were located near the homes of his family members (and may have been committed on his days off);
- There were logical holes in his story regarding the timing of finding the body;
- Lechmere had a troubled upbringing like many serial killers.
None of the above individual points are all that enthralling. But so many Ripper suspects have ‘evidence’ against them that is complete hot air when looked at critically. The case against Lechmere is not full of hot air at all. It is conjecture but the conjecture is reasonable and intriguing.
For me, the elephant in the room with Lechmere is that he was seen hovering over the dead body of a known Ripper victim that was dead for a very short time. That’s more than just eyebrow raising, it does, in my opinion, make Lechmere the leading suspect. While we are only talking about an individual murder, once you figure out who committed one Ripper murder then you do figure out who committed them all.
Lechmere’s Short story connection
At this point, I will remind you that this isn’t an unsolved mysteries website. It’s one that publishes short stories and offers commentary about historical ones. For the balance of this article, I’m going to look at a short work of fiction that just might pertain to Jack the Ripper, a short story that was written in the first person.
Back in February of 2018, I decided to plug Lechmere’s name into a historical newspaper database that I have a membership for (newspapers.com). I searched for “Charles Lechmere” to see how his name showed up in reporting from the 1880’s or just in general.
My searches for Lechmere’s name were actually quite disappointing until I came across a short story with a protagonist named “Charley Lechmere.” “Charley,” as a variant of Charles, had largely evaded my keyword searching but I did find it at last, mainly because of another user’s tag.
What I’ve wondered is if the short story was written by someone who knew or suspected that Charles Lechmere committed the White Chapel Murders. Perhaps this writer, for fear of blow-back, chose to reveal his suspicions in an opaque way. Literature does allow you to imply things because, quite frankly, literature doesn’t have to be true.
Certainly, literature is full of indirect references as the events or characters that authors describe are so often metaphors for something else. The Big Bad Wolf, for example, is more like a pedophile lurking in the forest looking for a virgin to rape rather than an actual wolf. The story describes the dangers of the society it was written in but without the author explicitly treading onto topics that might cause him blow-back. Using metaphor, fiction writers can actually cloak what they are talking about while still talking about it.
Somewhat along these lines, I will argue that the short story I read, called “The Story of a Perversion,” represents the point of view of a man who feels a rage towards prostitutes. I believe this interpretation to be correct independent of any connection to Charles Lechmere or the Whitechapel murders of prostitutes in the summer/fall of 1888.
As far as the connection goes, readers should not expect a deductive and conclusive naming of Jack The Ripper in this publication: this is a site that analyzes and publishes short stories — and that’s not going to yield a smoking gun or bloody knife that can be tied to someone’s 130-year old DNA. I make no apologies for not being able to prove what I think, however, I do feel as though my analysis of “The Story of a Perversion” should be a part of Ripperology.
From June 15th, 1894’s The Westminster Budget
The story appears below and it is from Page 14 of June 15th, 1894’s The Westminster Budget, a publication from the Greater London Area. The readers of this article must read the short story before reading further. I uploaded it in five parts so that the font size made the words legible.
Analysis of the story
Firstly, let’s look at the title: “The Story of a Perversion.” Perversion, with a Google search, is defined as “the alteration of something from its original course… of what was first intended.” So then the question then is what course is changed in this story? I will argue that the protagonist’s intentions towards women, or at least a singular woman, has altered in this work of short fiction.
The story tells of a man named Charley Lechmere. He is a man who is travelling within England when he meets a woman in a hotel, a woman that he finds agreeable. He wonders if his current trip might be a life-changing one because of this meeting: “Why,” the narrator asks, “should not my visit to Beachside begin a new era in my life? Who was this handsome girl?”
With those statements, we see that the first intended course that Lechmere had for this woman was to fall for her charms and pursue a romantic relationship with her. However, the narrator then begins to reference something that he hates: advertisements. While enjoying the romantic atmosphere of the evening, the moon lights an advertisement outside and it bothers him while, conversely, the advertisement delights the woman.
When this story is taken literally, then it’s one many of us might relate to. Advertisements might be something that a lot of us hate.
Who among us hasn’t felt that a cluster of billboards simply blocked some scenery and that it would be better if the billboards came down because of that? Who among us has not been annoyed by a television program that was loaded with just a few too many commercials?
In “The Story of a Perversion” the advertisements, which are for horseradish, are a major point of contention between Charley Lechmere and the woman. His hatred for the advertisements is such that he claims to have lobbied against them in a political forum. Meanwhile, the woman, who is named Hilda Horribell (sounds like “Hilda Horrible”) not only admires the advertisements but, in fact, she is actually the beneficiary of them. Her father owns the horseradish company whose product is featured.
If you are sticking with a literal interpretation, then the short story has a twist ending. The man’s perversion is that he started with wanting to marry Hilda but then learned something about her he didn’t like. The title leads us to conclude that its his feelings for the woman that have changed route or become perverted.
The story could also be analyzed from another perspective, one that I will review quickly starting with a simple statement: newspapers sell ads. Accordingly, from a business perspective, it would be in The Westminster Budget’s interests to publish something that critiques the emergence of competing forms of advertisements.
Things like billboards and advertisements on the sides of buildings can certainly be viewed as an eye sore to many. But from a newspaper’s point of view, they are also a threat. Newspapers want those that would like to purchase advertising to use the columns along their articles — not public spaces. From this point of view, the publication of “The Story of a Perversion” is a tacit attack against non-print advertising.
However, a metaphorical interpretation could see advertising as a metaphor for prostitution. Before scoffing at that and dismissing it as an arbitrary connection, consider the following points.
We’ve all heard the saying “Sex sells” and certainly there are prostitutes on streets that try to be eye catching, just as advertisements are. This commonality between how prostitutes have to operate and how advertisements have to operate is significant in my opinion. Both prostitutes and advertisements need to stand out on the street in order to be effective.
Furthermore, both the hotel and the night-time setting do hint at prostitution in some ways to me. Prostitutes have been called “Ladies of the night” and hotels, if you’ll take the opinion of a former hotel manager (me), do have some clandestine activities in them from time to time (even the nice hotels).
From the point of view that advertising is actually a metaphor for prostitution, the man starts out interested in pursuing a relationship with Hilda. Their conversation could then be viewed as the man learning about her being a prostitute — something that changes him.
The man’s literal claim to be against advertisements would then metaphorically be taken to mean he is against prostitution. His political actions against the advertising industry could be taken to mean he has politically lobbied against the practice of prostitution.
In my view, the way advertisements are described in the story could be a description of prostitution in a major city or area where it was rampant. Consider the following statements which literally describe the advertisements in the story; however, instead try to understand “the thing” to be prostitution and not a billboard or sign. The following two paragraphs then read as though the man has bumped into a fair number of prostitutes as a traveler. He is politically opposed to prostitution and yet finds that he can’t escape it – and he blames prostitution (….or prostitutes) for ruining his vacation.
The last statement, about the woman’s affinity for “the thing” reveals the changed course for the man. He loses his feelings for her and instead starts to hate her. That’s the “perversion” or changed course: he started out as a man who was interested in true romance with Hilda Horribell (also sounds like Whory Belle) but ended up a man who hated her.
In the final paragraphs, the narrator changes the wording of the slogan in the advertisement from “What is Life without Hope” to “What is Life without Love.” The last line of the short story, “And I am in the business,” is ambiguous but can’t really be read to mean that he’s in the horseradish business. It could be read to mean that he’s in the advertising business but it could conversely be read to mean that he’s in the business of “Life without Love.” That could be his lament at not finding romantic love in his life and the effect that it had on his soul. It is a very grim statement for him to make.
Getting back to Jack the Ripper
So who is a man that hated prostitutes in England at about the time of this story’s publication? Jack the Ripper is the best answer and real-life Charles Lechmere is a strong suspect for being Jack. It could be that the author of “The Story of a Perversion” believed Charles Lechmere to be a suspect and named him Charley Lechmere in this story as a reference. Maybe this short story is an Easter Egg that Ripperologists were supposed to find.
For those that think that Charles Lechmere was Jack the Ripper, “A Story of Perversion” should be intriguing. That’s because it’s a story that tells the tale of one Charley Lechmere, a man who changes from an adoring suitor to someone much more bitter. What causes that bitterness? Something as trivial as advertisements if you take the plot literally. But, in this case, I think a literal translation might be shallow.
I think prostitution is between the lines in the story based on the setting at a night-time hotel and based on the fact that prostitution ran rampant in England at this period in history — as rampant as the advertisements so described in the story. I think that the content of the short story reveals growing animosity within the protagonist toward Hilda, who could be viewed as a representation of all prostitutes. Could be that’s got something to do with one Charles Lechmere, a historical figure with a strong circumstantial case against him for killing prostitutes.
It’s a weird coincidence to say the least.
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