29. Phantom Assailants: Part One
One hundred years previous to Jack The Ripper’s reign of ghastly terror, London was overshadowed by another spectral attacker – a phantom aggressor that, although seemingly dreadful and unique, would simply become one of many urban legends pertaining to mysterious and elusive assailants across the world, with many actually analysing the peculiar cases of ripping, and asking ‘did such psychopaths exist or were they the product of local hysteria’?
Between 1788 and 1790, an evil jester of an attacker prowled the capital. His repertoire of sadism included: stabbing the faces of women through a fake nosegay, slashing at clothing and bounding away into the shadows, and stalking females and hurling obscenities. Even more strangely he had attached blades to his knees and stabbed at women’s buttocks, leaving more than fifty victims with shredded clothing and sliced flesh.
Unfortunately descriptions of the maniac were all too inconsistent, despite the many victims, and local panic hit the streets, with a No Monster Club being formed, involving men who, as club rule, began to wear badges in order to let terrified women know that they were not the dreaded spectre, and were approachable.
The famed Bow Street Runners police force were unable to track the ripper, as local thieves had a field day amongst the melee of piquerism and panic.
Finally, after one hazy encounter at St. James Par, a 23-year old Rhynwick Williams was accused of following an Anne Porter. Despite having an alibi for other attacks, Williams was charged by the magistrates for the defacement of clothing, which, during the time, was given a harsher penalty than attempted murder. It seems that some higher authority was simply out to charge an innocent man to clear up the panic, but after such an absurd hearing, Williams was granted a retrial. However, even shoddy evidence could not prevent a six-year jail term.
The attacks continued, but to a lesser extent, and then faded into folklore.
By Neil Arnold