THE ROMANCE OF CRIME
Updated: Apr 26
VILLAINS AND DEVIANTS, INVENTED AND AUTHENTIC, TAKE THEIR BOW ACROSS NEVERLAND IN SHADOW
Crime scene locations of the 'canonical five' Jack the Ripper victims: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.
Neverland in Shadow is peppered here and there with crime and criminals. Wendy's a bit light-fingered at times. And Peter's just an out-and-out thief. Hook? When it comes to bending the law he's certainly persuadable. So here's a rundown of those others in the story living less-than-saintly lives.
The Connecticut Ghoul
A fleeting mention of this U.S. serial killer is made very early in the story. This invented criminal - one of a roll call Wendy ponders whilst trying to fall asleep - is inspired by the sensational monikers the media quickly staples to real-life killers. For example, the Milwaukee Cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, Harold Shipman Doctor Death, and John Wayne Gacy the Killer Clown.
The Charing Cross Poisoner
Hook expresses a wish that Peter should be residing at Her Majesty's Pleasure in Crippingham alongside this killer, a poisoner who is identified only by his or her's surname: Denbeigh. Crippingham is a secure hospital, not a prison, but any kind of incarceration would have suited Hook nicely.
Beautiful and functional. Handy poisons resource cards as found at Writers Write
The Sidcup Axeman
Next, Hook unshackles a fellow Crippingham resident: Claridge, the Sidcup Axeman. It is left to reader's imagination to conjure up Claridge's crimes.
The Lollipop Killer
In the same rant, Smee, eager to ingratiate, supplements Hook's referencing of Denbeigh and Claridge by offering up a character named Edwards, of Chigwell in Essex: the curious Lollipop Killer.
The Black Widow of Watford
Adding yet another mugshot, Hook sees Smee's Edwards and raises the game, introducing Mrs Yardley: the Black Widow of Watford.
Although these deviants are mere background characters, it was fun to imagine them, and to juxtapose their sensational crimes - axe-murder, poisoning - with largely unsensational locations: Sidcup, Watford etc.
The Spicerhill Spectre
Much later in the story, Wendy recalls a local legend: that of the Spicerhill Spectre. Across the conversation, this character - said to haunt Spicerhill Spinney - is derided as a rubbish hybrid of Jack the Ripper and Spring-heeled Jack, both of whom are referenced below.
Although the reference is fleeting - literally just a throwaway remark, really - it was appealing to apply to urban London a bit of a rural-style legend in the vein of The Blair Witch Project's haunted woods. It also provides an opportunity to pay tribute to a great film, its poster graced by a chillingly matter-of-fact synopsis...
There's something wicked in the woods...
Jack the Ripper
The Victorian killer, about whom nothing and everything is known, has been the subject of so much study that the phrase Ripprerology has been coined to summarise the field. Nothing new then can be learned here.
What's interesting though is how the passing of time has granted permission to romanticise this topic. Heck, it's even treated flippantly in Neverland in Shadow itself. But amid the ideal of foggy London streets - which contemporary weather reports confirm were actually a lot less foggy than legend has it - and the films and TV shows, the books and tours, it must always be remembered that real women and real lives were destroyed.
A Penny Dreadful of the day depicts a discovery.
The canonical five
Such is the fug that swirls around the Jack the Ripper crimes that even the notion of the canonical five - the five women whose deaths are thought linked to one murderer - is still debated and scrutinised.
Killed between August 31st and November 8th 1888, these women were named Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.
Jack the Ripper pops up in the Neverland in Shadow story as referenced earlier. He makes an appearance prior to this also, and in a most appropriate setting. Further explanation would cross the spoiler boundary though.
The other Jack populating this post, this Spring-heeled version is a real curio of the Victorian age.
He was a fiend, it is said: kitted out in a cloak and oilskins and possessing eyes resembling red balls of fire. Adding to these, Jack breathed flames, had clawed hands and was able to leap unfathomable heights (that’ll be the spring-heeled bit then).
Sighted for the first time in 1837, in London, it’s reported that Jack sprung up across Great Britain, and was scaring people stiff until his final flourish, in Liverpool, in 1904.
"Details of absorbing and thrilling interest..."
Beyond supernatural explanations, one suspect for at least one incarnation of Spring-heeled Jack is Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquis of Waterford (26 April 1811 - 29 March 1859) by all accounts a show-off and a practical joker. He may well have found amusement in dressing like a twit and scaring servant girls. Or maybe Spring-heeled Jack really was a supernatural entity...
Wikipedia has a very decent potted history if you’d like to read more about this perplexing character.
The celebrated Demon Barber of Fleet Street gets a brief mention in Neverland in Shadow, so qualifies for a spot in this post whether he likes that or not.
"I'll plump for the vegetarian option, thanks"
The grisly tale of Todd who, with accomplice Mrs Lovatt, turned his customers into meat pies, is considered wholly fictitious. Unless you're journalist and author Peter Haining, whose book Sweeney Todd: The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street claims that such a person existed.
Haining, coincidentally, wrote a similar book about Spring-heeled Jack: The Legend and Bizarre Crimes of Spring Heeled Jack. The writer's claims, however, regarding both characters, are widely dismissed by scholars.
KANe, the British SAVINGS Bank robber
Another cursory and wholly fictional character, but one that adds a little colour to Neverland in Shadow. Kane occupies the Deptford bedsit above Smee's own. Kane's drunken rages, and the noise from his weekly shower, drive Smee from his home and to the questionable sanctuary of the nearby Crippingham Arms.
No, not the fraternal organisation. These Masons are associates of Hook, and a thinly disguised - and dangerous - blend of rival London crime firms the Krays and the Richardsons.
Two lumps, please: Reg and Ronnie Kray.
Alfred and Frederick Mason are interesting characters in terms of how they reveal Hook's simultaneous desire to stay within the law whilst flirting with operating beyond it. It's a reciprocal relationship: the Masons rely on Hook for the properties with which they strengthen their empire. Hook? He experiences the thrill of criminal association and the comfort of knowing those who'll happily do his dirty work, should dirty work be required.