There will be a dual Pittsburgh connection tonight when the History Channel premieres "MysteryQuest -- Jack the Ripper."
Appearing in the 10 p.m. broadcast is Pittsburgh handwriting expert Michelle Dresbold, who concludes Jack the Ripper was Francis Tumblety, an "Indian herb doctor," and abortionist from Rochester, N.Y., who once lived in Pittsburgh among other American cities before moving to England.
"If my theory is right, Jack the Ripper definitely lived here," Ms. Dresbold said. "I guess that's one person we're glad left the city."
Another theory the show explores is that Jack the Ripper was actually a woman.
Dr. Tumblety long has been included in a group of men suspected of being the serial killer who brutally murdered and mutilated five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888.
In her 2006 book, "Sex, Lies and Handwriting," Ms. Dresbold wrote she found a match between Dr. Tumblety's handwriting samples from years before and after the killings with that of the famous "Letter From Hell" many believe to have been written by Jack the Ripper.
Since then, she's even more certain after examining additional samples of Dr. Tumblety's handwriting that the History Channel procured for her from a London museum. The samples were of more value for comparison with the "Letter From Hell" because they were written around the same time.
"A person's handwriting can change over a period of time," said Ms. Dresbold, a nationally known handwriting expert whose local clients have included Pittsburgh police and the Allegheny County district attorney's office. "I found a few letters much closer to 1888 and I could see his handwriting changing, getting crazier and crazier.
"The ones closer to the dates of the crimes in the fall of 1888 were most like the Letter From Hell."
So named because "From Hell" was written at the top, the letter was sent to the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee with a piece of a human kidney. The writer said he ate the rest of the kidney and signed it "Catch me when you can."
A pathologist said the kidney came from a person who was about 45 who had advanced Bright's Disease. One of the mutilated victims, Kate Eddowes, was 43, had advanced Bright's Disease and her uterus and left kidney were missing.
I have been interested in Jack the Ripper since I was 13. My junior high gave us laptops in the hopes that we'd be a more computer-savvy student body who would get high-paying jobs with computer skills. Because I was a diligent student, all of my homework was completed the night before assignments were due, so then I'd have nothing to do during my first period study hall. So I used that laptop to connect to the internet and try to do "research" on any topic that came to mind.
Jack the Ripper soon became a favorite partially because the websites were better than the awful Geocities websites I ran into whenever I researched dolphins or the Redwall series of books or some other topic that garnered my fancy at that point. Yes, I have read all the letters believed to have been sent by Jack the Ripper or Jack the Ripper copycats, looked at the photographs of horribly mutilated prostitutes and speculated on the identity of the killer, all before the second semester of seventh grade.
The interest waned when I had looked at most of the good websites online up until that point, but I still watch TV specials on the topic every so often. I even sat through From Hell (2001) which is saying a lot. I probably liked that movie better than most, but it wasn't all that great either (Really? Can't we come up with a better answer for the Whitechapel murders than yet another Freemason conspiracy?)
So you can imagine my internal conflict when I read that a program on the Ripper would be on the History Channel last night, especially one with a theory that the infamous serial killer may have lived in Pittsburgh at one point. I had two options:
- Watch the program for my own sick interest (and for this blog, of course) and take an one-hour break from schoolwork, or ...
- Finish up my article on a grad student fighting depression (due today) and study for my Ottoman Empire exam (also taking place today).
Maybe the program will be on again tonight?