16 March 2011

Crime & Law Enforcement: The Embankment Murders

By Amanda McIntyre

I admit I love research! It’s probably the most fun I have when starting on a new story. My greatest delight is finding tidbits of information that few know about, or like the ‘Thames torso murders,’ literally overshadowed by the more media frenzied coverage of Jack the Ripper.

May of 1887 began a period of terror for Londoners that remains one the most discussed and famous of the city’s unsolved murders-and I’m not talking about our famous boy, Jack, though it gave me pause to wonder if he might have had something to do with what was dubbed the “Embankment Murders,” and inspired my upcoming gothic erotic romance mystery, The Dark Seduction of Miss Jane.

That spring, downstream from the city, in the Thames River valley, a gruesome discovery is made by two rural workers when they pull from the murky waters a bag containing but a torso of a woman. In the weeks to follow, various other body parts (assumed to be related to the first) were found at locations in London, with exception of the head and the upper chest portions. Though medical examiners tried to piece together their findings, it was the ultimate ruling of the Police Surgeon that this was not ‘medical dissection’ for purpose of educational means, but rather a calculated murder by someone with ‘medical knowledge,’ of the human body.

The onset of summer brought not only record heat and spotty showers, but an ever growing social unrest, due in part by a recession that forced England’s rural workers to emigrate to the city only to clash with the immigrants already taking many of the new industrial positions. On top of everything else, Her Majesty, Queen Victoria and her court were up to their elbows in planning the grand festivities of her Golden Jubilee, and with so much publicity surrounding the rallies in Trafalgar Square and these unresolved murders, the Queen was putting more pressure on her plain clothes division to tidy things up if possible before her grand June celebration.

That division, known as the CID (Criminal Investigations Department) was formed earlier by the Queen to create a liaison of highly trained, plain clothes Inspectors and a handful of constables as a liaison between the Yard and London’s citizens. In my story, Inspector Randolph Mansfield has become one of the CID’s youngest Chief Inspectors, driven by his past, he tries to feel the demons that haunt him and yet push him to solve the cases of those victims who cannot speak for themselves. He meets a young American woman, sent away to London to escape the scandal of a broken engagement within a powerful family. Not one to be held down to the social shackles of women in this era, Jane had a vision of the future, to be the first woman investigative reporter in a field where men still dominated journalism, other than articles depicting social etiquette for women. Her life is changed by a number of incidents upon her arrival in London and little by little, Jane finds herself drawn into the dark underbelly of London, where facades and secrets are part of life—where admiration turns to lust and desire turns to murder.

Determined to find restitution for the dark guilt that he carries inside, Inspector Randolph is driven to obsessive over-working, an aspect that has left him void of emotion and only able to ‘feel’ anything when he partakes in his secret liaisons of a decadent gentleman’s club called McFarland Manor. When Jane goes undercover at the manor, certain the mysterious admirer leaving her notes can be trailed back to the club, Randolph intercedes, hoping to frighten her into giving up her ridiculous notions, but not expecting to discover a woman who is not like any woman he is ever known.

As the tone of the notes to Jane change and become more menacing, darker and more dangerous, Randolph must risk his career and her trust, to reveal to Jane his true identity, when he suggests that she is in danger and must return to Boston for her safety.

The embankment murders continued in London almost in a macabre form of an ebb tide over the next year or better during which time Scotland Yard had a new case to deal with, known as Jack the Ripper. The media and London had a strange fascination to Jack and this case quickly overshadowed the Torso murders of earlier months. Oddly, at a lull in Jacks; reign of terror, just when London was set to breathe a sigh of relief, another unidentified torso is found, systematically severed in similar fashion to previous victims. Random discoveries were made of body parts in the river and at strange locations throughout London. One report tells of a body part being tossed over the privacy gate of the Shelly estate, where Mary Shelly had previously drafted her story of creating a monster made of body parts, Frankenstein.

It leaves a question in my mind, whether the two murderers might have been one in the same, or at least inspired one another. None of the victims of the embankment murders, save one, was ever identified or known to be a prostitute as in the cases of the victims of Jack the Ripper.

To further add to this mystery, a few years after the Ripper chaos subsided, the bodies of a handful of prostitutes along the American East coast states were found murdered in similar fashion. There are some historians of the Ripper case when studying the murders of these American prostitutes that suggest the killer, who they believe had escaped one time from a London asylum, had made his way to America, changed his name and taken an apprenticeship to a furniture-maker in the New York area. The skills back then of an upholsterer of furniture would have required the careful skills and training of a particular, razor-sharp knife.

There are many theories of course and I leave it to you to decide. And what became of Jane and Randolph? You’ll have to of course, read The Dark Seduction of Miss Jane to find out!

To win your choice of one of my backlist historical print books, tell me what you find is the most interesting of unsolved or unexplained cases in history?

Researching history, listening to all types of music from classical to Kamelot, spending time with family & friends, and appeasing her strange infatuation with the Great Lakes, Amanda McIntyre to challenge her characters and her readers to look beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary, where anything is possible! Til next time, be well.