Ripper Street, And The Man On The Heels Of The Ultimate Whodunnit

We talk to *the* top Ripperologist about the mystery that just won't die...
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We talk to *the* top Ripperologist about the mystery that just won't die...

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Grimy, violent and disturbing, it's nice to see Ripper Street returning to our screens. One of the more compelling serials of recent times, the show's been thrown a lifeline by Amazon Prime Instant Video. A more welcome resurrection hasn't occurred since Mr and Mrs Lazarus got their little boy back.

Although it's set in the aftermath of Saucy Jack's infamous spree, the presence of the world's first serial killer hangs over the proceedings like a particularly noxious pea-souper. So what is it about Jack The Ripper that continues to fascinate us? According to Donald Rumbelow, one of the world's foremost experts on what he less sensationally refers to as "the Whitechapel killings", the answer's very simple

"It's the fact he wasn't caught," says the author of The Complete Jack The Ripper. "Had he been rounded up, he'd have been just another mass murderer - not that those can't be intriguing in their own right. But the fact Jack escaped capture means the general public has had to try and plug the void in its imagination. Hence everyone from Queen Victoria's grandson Prince Eddy to Alice In Wonderland creator Lewis Carroll being put forward as suspects."

Donald Rumbelow doesn't have a lot of time for the wild flights of fancy that are found throughout what's crudely known as 'Ripperology'. While top crime writer Patricia Cornwell points her finger at the 19th century painter Walter Sickert and the American doctor Francis Tumblety remains the preferred choice of countless contemporaries, Rumbleow fears the answer is probably far more mundane.

"In all likelihood, 'Jack' was a local man, very well acquainted with Whitechapel," he explains matter-of-factly. "As for what became of him afterwards, that too is probably pretty unextraordinary. As we know today from these appalling shootings in America, the people responsible tend to kill themselves after reeking so much havoc. That the Whitechapel murderer committed suicide is perfectly within the bounds of reason."

If the above gives the impression that Donald Rumbelow is a killjoy, the truth of the matter is you couldn't hope to meet a more fascinating man. As his guided walks through East London have introduced the Ripper mystery to countless new generations so he remains one of the few men worth talking to about Jack's reign of terror; a fact that led to a very interesting encounter in the early noughties...

"When I'm showing people around Whitechapel, I get all sorts of questions. One particularly popular one is whether it's true that Johnny Depp came on one of my walks before making From Hell. The truth is, Johnny didn't actually come on one of my scheduled walks. Instead, I spent a good couple of hours with him, investigating Whitechapel, showing him where the murders took place and discussing different theories as to the identity of the killer. Of course, when I got home and told my daughters what I'd been up to that day, they almost killed me!"

We can think of no more fitting end for the undisputed Don of Jack.

Series Three of Ripper Street will begin streaming on Amazon Prime Instant Video from 14 November