Jack the Ripper historian to offer class on elusive killer

One Ripper suspect was British artist Walter Sickert, who painted the above piece titled “The Camden Town Murder” and whose name has been linked to multiple theories about Jack the Ripper. Another Ripper suspect is beloved children’s author Lewis Carroll, though this theory is considered laughable by most credible Ripperologists.

One Ripper suspect was British artist Walter Sickert, who painted the above piece titled “The Camden Town Murder” and whose name has been linked to multiple theories about Jack the Ripper. Another Ripper suspect is beloved children’s author Lewis Carroll, though this theory is considered laughable by most credible Ripperologists.

Who was Jack the Ripper and why does interest in the curious case persist to this day? These are just a few of the questions posed by an upcoming class on the legendary serial killer.

The class, called “The Autumn of Fear,” is scheduled to be held at the Jozart Center for the Arts in California, PA, will provide an in-depth perspective on the myths, legends, and inconsistencies surrounding the crime courtesy of certified ‘Ripperologist’ Carla Anderton.

While the crimes committed by the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper occurred well over 100 years ago, many remain fascinated by the brutal case. Anderton’s own interest was ignited during a trip to London as a high-school student where a tour guide pulled her from the crowd to demonstrate the anatomical ramifications of Jack the Ripper’s crimes. She’s been studying the case ever since, resulting in the release of her first book The Heart Absent in 2013. While the book involves certain key details of the case, it features a fictionalized portrayal of the killer and a supposed love affair with one of his victims.

Unlike many other historians studying Ripper’s crimes, Anderton’s intention is to focus on the female victims who had the misfortune of crossing paths with this mad man. The Victorian Era was one of remarkable poverty and despair juxtaposed against unimaginable wealth, which lead many women to turn to prostitution out of sheer desperation. These women, sometimes known as the unfortunates, were the perfect foil for the Ripper due to their lowly social status, and Anderton views this as a particularly compelling aspect of the case.

In this sense her interest in the case is a feminist pursuit, which is illustrated within the pages of The Heart Absent. According to Anderton, “I didn’t start off with a tale of morality, but it ended up that way.”

While the book focuses on a fictionalized version of Jack the Ripper and his victims, there are deeper themes relating to women in pursuit of dangerous men, and how these decisions can ultimately end in disaster.

Anderton also retains a real sympathy for Mary Kelly in particular, the last Ripper victim whom she used as a model for the female protagonist in her book. This sympathy affords a deeper level of insight when it comes to these crimes, which is often missing in more clinical examinations of the subject.

Humanizing the victims of Jack the Ripper is just one of the goals of the upcoming class. Anderton also hopes to enable students to devise their very own theories on just who Jack the Ripper might have been by providing a nuanced perspective on the case. Over the course of her studies, she has encountered a number of possible theories, including some rather bizarre musings that the murders occurred as a result of a deep-seated Masonic conspiracy that involved British royals.

As for the type of student who might be attracted by such a class, Anderton stresses that looks can be deceiving. Recalling a past lecture she gave on Jack the Ripper, she admitted that she initially held back on all the gory details due to her audience consisting mostly of older women. However, this was not necessary. “I was very surprised that they wanted more details about the crimes,” she said of the ensuing Q & A session, in which her seemingly genteel audience were primarily concerned with the more gruesome details of the case.

Though the subject matter is decidedly macabre, Anderton’s enthusiasm and depth of knowledge brings it to life for her students. The Jack the Ripper class will be available in autumn 2015, with class fees being used to support the center so it may remain a vital educational resource for those living in the Mon Valley. “The Autumn of Fear” is set to begin Sept. 22. This four week long course will meeting every other Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. Cost is $50. Reservations required. FMI: 724-938-9730 or carla@jozart.com.
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Story by Stacie Adams for Pennsylvania Bridges

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