Somehow, in the process of murdering, disemboweling and surgically removing the organs of five London prostitutes in the fall of 1888, the notorious Jack the Ripper found the time to write a letter, wrap it around a preserved kidney and mail it to the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. “Sir,” it read, in smudged, vertically elongated script, “I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise.” The return address read “Hell.”
The missive forms the basis of “The Letter from Hell,” Chapter 19 of the new book “Sex, Lies, and Handwriting: A Top Expert Reveals the Secrets Hidden in Your Handwriting.”
To come up with a personality profile for the letter writer, author Michelle Dresbold, who trained with the Secret Service and writes the syndicated column “The Handwriting Doctor,” applies several tricks of the handwriting-analysis trade. We learn, for instance, that since the script is unruly, the content disorganized, and the grammar and spelling full of mistakes, the writer was not “[someone] whose actions were well thought out and planned.” Logical enough. Other findings, however, strike the uninitiated as a little far-fetched: On the basis of a single letter “I,” for instance, Dresbold concludes that “the writer’s mother did not play a significant role in his life,” and that “while he had a relationship with his father, it was strained.”
Using the conclusions from her personality analysis, Dresbold dismantles some of the long-standing theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper. One, which was put forth at the time of the murders by the then-Assistant Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, was that the Ripper “and his people were low-class Jews.” Dresbold, however, contends that the letter’s spelling errors were actually phonetic spellings of Cockney- or Irish-accented English. Further, she says, in 1880s London most “low-class Jews” would have spoken primarily Yiddish and very little English — not enough, in any case, to produce a letter from Hell.