Chandler stared at the computer screen as a picture downloaded. After Duke Lanoix, an old friend of his had rung he’d raced over to the museum to view the attachments on the large screen they had there. He was also keen to compare the new information with some of the archive material they had stored.
Jenny as usual preempted him with a coffee. She handed it to him as he clicked on the attachments in Duke’s email. “I haven’t seen you this excited since you discovered that new brand of coffee.” Chandler smiled. “Duke’s an old friend of mine. A Sheriff out in Louisiana. He came to London to give a talk on the significance of polysaccharide in long term body preservation.” Jenny looked at the screen. “Mmm, I’m sorry I missed that, sounds riveting.” The screen filled with handwritten letters in copperplate writing.
Chandler tapped the pictures with his finger. “Do you recognise that name?” He pointed to the return address and the faded copperplate scrawl. Jenny smiled. “Of course I don’t, but I’m guessing it’s something to do with your favourite subject.
Chandler moved around the room, pulling down reference books, comparing writing in some of the illustrations. “When Duke came to London we got to talking about famous unsolved cases. Turns out he’s a bit of a fan of Jack’s work.” Jenny caught a book that threatened to fall off the shelf as Chandler dragged more materials out. She looked at a copy of the famous framed letter from the Ripper “Great, just what the world needs, another Ripper freak in the services of law and order.” Chandler flipped open a book. “Look at the similarity in the writing. He pointed to the copperplate scrawl inside the book.
Jenny turned to the front cover, read the title: JACK THE RIPPER - THE FIRST AMERICAN SERIAL KILLER. “Didn’t everybody write like that in those days?” Chandler shook his head. “Only the educated. Literacy wasn’t as widespread back then.” Jenny looked at the picture in the book. A serious looking man with a big moustache. “Dr. Francis J Tumblety? You think the letters are from him?” Chandler moved around the room, animated. “That’s the return address, the handwriting matches. This is a big deal.” Jenny nodded. “So this guy Tumblety…”
Chandler printed out the pictures, watched as the printer spewed them into its tray. “Tumblety was a quack, a man who pretended to be a Doctor. The police pulled him but they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. After he left London he travelled between St Louis and New Orleans. He was arrested at one point trying to buy an exhibit from a museum.” Jenny flicked through the book. “What sort of exhibit?”
Chandler looked up from his printouts. “He seemed to have a thing for the female uterus.” Jenny pursed her lips. “Yuk, and the police didn’t think that was significant at a point when a serial killer was hacking prostitutes to death and cutting them open to harvest their organs?”
Chandler pulled down another folder sending a cloud of dust into the room. “He was writing some medical paper about growing the human foetus in vitro. He had some theory that they could be conceived in an external womb. There were a lot of medical experiments carried out back then we wouldn’t allow now. Frontal lobotomies on the insane unnecessary surgical sterilizations. He planned to send out a woman’s uterus with each copy of his work.”
Jenny shook her head. “Christ, I was happy with a plastic doll on the cover of my copy of Jacky.” Chandler smiled at her Northern humour. “When he died in 1903 he left a fortune in his will.” “Where did he get that from?” Chandler shrugged. “Nobody really knows...there were lots of theories...he was a bit of a con artist as well as a quack...” “A Sort of Victorian Dr. Shipman.” Chandler nodded. “I guess so. He was also very charming and a bit of a ladies man.”
Jenny stared at a photograph in an open book. An original black and white press picture of Mary Kelly’s mutilated body at Millar’s Court. “Yes, great bedside manner.” Chandler looked over at the picture. “I think he had issues…with women.” Jenny snapped the book shut. “So your friend Duke, what else has he found that’s got you so excited?” Chandler flicked up pictures on the screen.
The old coach being winched out of the swamp. Forensic pictures of the mummified corpses twisted together being worked on. “Well apart from the original letters from inside the coach they pulled out of the swamp from Tumblety which they’re stabalising, they also found five female corpses inside the coach. This gets Jenny’s full attention. “How on earth did they get there?” Chandler looked at her, his eyes burning with determination. “That’s what I intend to find out.”
Chandler rubbed sleep from his eyes. He’d been up all night going over the pictures that Duke had sent him. The copperplate writing and the timeline between the disappearance of Tumblety, the murders, and the storm that swept Louisiana in 1893 had thrown up too many questions for his fevered mind to cope with.
He must have nodded off at some point because he had woken to the smell of fresh coffee and opened his eyes to find a mug steaming on the desk next to him. Jenny appeared at the door. “You need to get some sleep.” Chandler grunted. Smoothed his hair out of his eyes and straightened his jacket. “I’ll be fine.” Jenny smiled. “I very much doubt that. You have bed hair that makes you look like something from a Laurel and Hardy film and it smells like a tramps bench in here…quite an old tramp if I’m being truthful.”
Chandler caught sight of himself in an old Victorian pub mirror on the wall and had to agree. “Okay, I’ll grab some breakfast and have a shower.” Jenny produced a package wrapped in a paper napkin from behind her back.
“Thought you could do with one of Peg’s special breakfasts in a bun.” Chandler unwrapped the napkin. Peg’s breakfast buns were legendary in the canteen. It was virtually impossible to eat one of them without a substantial cleaning operation. Chandler tucked in to the gooey concoction and mumbled his thanks. Jenny headed for the door. She turned with Colombo like precision. “Oh, and just to give you fair warning Harris is dropping in later.”
Chandler nodded, his mouth too full of crispy bacon and greasy sausage to allow a full response. Jenny slipped out. Harris was in charge of the the museum budget. It was always a matter of contention as it was neither police work nor a public attraction. Chandler had always advocated expanding the museum so that the many artifacts could be put on public view rather than being stored out of sight in a warehouse. Harris saw the whole enterprise as a sideshow and was constantly looking for ways to trim the budget.
Harris was a saturine character, over six foot tall he walked with a self inflicted stoop, in constant fear of banging his head on the low ceilings in part of the old building. Chandler always thought he would have made an excellent mortician with his hangdog expression and pallid complexion. Chandler had finished his breakfast, topped up with another coffee and managed to shower and remove some of the worst creases from his jacket and face before Harris appeared like a Lowry matchstick man in the doorway to his office. “Rough night?” Harris always had the ability to annoy Chandler just by opening his mouth.
Today was no exception. “Just working on something that could transform the finances of the department and possibly lead to greater departmental co-operation with our friends across the pond.” Chandler forced a cheery smile in Harris’s direction. Harris opened his eyes a fraction wider. He’d listened to many of Chandlers plans for the museum, none of which had produced any income…quite the opposite in fact. “Really? This wouldn’t be anything to do with Jack The Ripper would it?”
Chandler bridled, things were already starting to head downhill. “In a way.” Harris waited for him to continue. He slid the print outs across the desk. “These letters turned up in a coach buried in a Louisiana swamp…” Harris studied the pictures. “Ah, Dr. Tumblety. One of your favourite suspects. How does this help our finances exactly?” Chandler stared at him. “Well for a start it’s a collection of letters from Tumblety which could reveal important new information…but more importantly there’s the small matter of five unsolved deaths.”
He placed the picture of the grotesque human sculpture in front of Harris like a cardsharp producing a full house in a gambling den. Harris pursed his lips. Chandler sometimes thought that even if he’d brought Lord Lucan to him in handcuffs Harris wouldn’t have shown any reaction. Harris picked up the printout and studied it. “I’m sure the Americans will enjoy unraveling this particular mystery.”
Chandler could feel his blood starting to boil. “What? All the evidence points towards the victims being from England during the Victorian period, five women, in the middle of a swamp along with documents connecting them to one of the main Ripper suspects…why would you want to let the Americans take over the case?” He stood there. His hand clenched around the edge of the desk so hard the flesh was turning white. Harris cocked his head on one side. Chewed his lip. “You can’t just jet off on some departmental jolly. We have budgets to be approved, channels to go through.”
Chandler looked at him. “This could be one of the greatest discoveries of the 21st century.” Harris looked at him. Dissapproval oozing from every pore. “We don’t have the funds. In fact I’ve been told to cut down on your lectures.” “But this could change everything we know about the Ripper case.” Harris shook his head. Another of his irritating habits.
“Not everyone shares your obsession. I have budgets to trim, committees to report to...” Chandler couldn’t contain himself. He’d never liked Harris and this was the last straw. The man was an idiot.
“What happened to you Harris? Since when did you become a spineless pen pusher?” Chandler saw his face redden. It was the nearest Harris ever got to reacting. “Be realistic Chandler...no one’s interested in history anymore. They’d love to shut this department down. Letting you blow thousands flying across the Atlantic on a wild goose chase would be just the excuse they need.”
Chandler shook his head. “That’s bullshit, it could be the making of us...we’d have loads more visitors, paying visitors...if we had something great to show them...” Harris stared at him. “You don’t get it do you? Everyone’s fighting to hang onto their jobs... trying to keep their families together.
He paused, gave Chandler a hard look. “Do yourself a favour, give it a break...” Chandler stared at him. “No, this is too important.” Harris turned to go. “I’ve tried to support you, let you do your research, use the department’s facilities...” He threw up his hands. Headed for the door.
“If you want to chuck away your career it’s your funeral.” He shut the door quietly, which was even more annoying to Chandler than if he’d slammed it.
Chandler’s stared at the closed door.