London walks: Jack the Ripper

For my birthday (33!) I went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour of East London, at night. Whoa, scary. I did the same walk 20 years ago or more, and I remember thinking it was the coolest, but this time around my expectations were low because not much is as cool as you remember it, especially if way back when you were a barely a teenager, or maybe even younger.

Last night's tour was given by Donald Rumbelow, who from what I can tell is the world's leading expert on Jack the Ripper. He's former London police, a sergeant and now crime historian.

I didn't remember much about Jack the Ripper, but after being refreshed, what strikes me most is how tame the whole thing could be considered, by today's standards and all things considered: There were five murders over an autumn stretch of about nine weeks. For some reason I always though the scope was much larger, much more violent and calculated, but it seemed to be mostly crimes of opportunity, a threat that disappeared nearly as quickly as it arrived.

One thing I found interesting: The Jack the Ripper nickname most likely came from a forged letter, written by a journalist to the newspaper, so the name Jack the Ripper was almost certainly rejected by the killer himself. Nobody knows who the killer was, and most of the theories about specific suspects are a waste of time, and presented only to sell books, films, whatever.

As for Rumbelow, the tour guide, he was pretty good, I suppose, but I didn't hear or see anything that made me feel like I would've been cheating myself to take the tour with another guide within the same company, or another tour company entirely. The tour itself, and the information, is all quite basic, but for what it's worth, Rumbelow was the guy who toured Johnny Depp around East London in preparation for his role in From Hell, the Jack the Ripper film from 2001.