I know it might sound strange but this is the only known photo of Tommy Knightley – at least that I know of. He looks mysterious – right? You couldn’t describe his appearance, not with all that smoke and that’s the way Tommy liked things. You see he ran with the night, and always kept company with all the dark things of life; never stepping out into the real, honest, light.
The photo was taken on one of those typical 1952 evenings in London. You can’t tell it from the picture but he was surprised when I stepped forward to take it.
So surprised that he tried to threaten me – but two can play at his game – and so I melted back into the dust and fog and simply disappeared.
Not that he didn’t know where to find me, and I could bet on him doing just that, sooner rather than later. He was like a dog with a bone – he wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard you tried to stop him.
Ask anyone in London where Knightley came from and they’d most likely say he was from the East End of the city. But you ask a policeman and he’d tell you something different. There was no record of a Tommy Knightley being born in London, or anywhere else for that matter around about the time that he was supposed to have entered the world. So maybe he lied about his name. Perhaps he lied about his age. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.
One thing is for sure, he didn’t have any family, or partner to speak of. In all the time I was tracking Tommy Knightley, I never knew him to get close to anyone. He was, as the clever folks say, an enigma.
Yet he couldn’t survive in that state forever and I was going to be there when the truth was finally unveiled. Except that I had been trailing him for over five years and every time I thought I was getting close, he would scuttle away like a rat to another hiding hole and I would have to start the search all over again.
Things happened when he was around, I mean bad things. Gangster things, people disappearing – that kind of stuff.
I remember one man talking about him in a London bar and describing Knightley as the devil himself. There was one other famous story about him – and when you realise that he was born in the 1890s you might believe it – and that was that he was Jack the Ripper’s son. Jack the flaming Ripper’s offspring. Sometimes it seemed a ludicrous idea, and at other times it made a lot of sense.
Like father, like son.
I know that some of you people don’t believe that there was a Jack the Ripper; that he was the product of a government under pressure to make folks look the other way. But I can tell you that all the people I’ve talked to in the East End, especially the older ones, will tell you they know who the Ripper was – that was Knightley’s father and that he was Satan incarnate.
Maybe you can see where I am going with this one – that perhaps if I caught up with the man, not only would I get the demon put in prison but I might also get the truth about his father. One way or another, I would know if the old man was the Ripper or not. I mean this is a London and it is only sixty years on from those murders – there are still folks out there who remember, who can’t forget.
Then it happened one dark, foggy night, not long after I had taken the photo of him, he walks up behind me. Tells me to stop following him or I’ll be sorry. Says that he won’t think twice about slitting my throat, just like his old daddy did to those girls.
“Who was your father?”
“You know,” he said and pushed me in the back. “He was the greatest man of all time,” he continued. “Folks will be talking about my father for ever.”
“There was no Jack the Ripper,” I said, mainly just to annoy him.
“You think?” He replied. “Those women had bits missing and I’ve got them,” then he chuckled. My blood ran cold.
He continued: “They say that you die twice, once when your heart stops and once when the last person mentions your name. Well my father isn’t going to die any time soon, because folks just keep talking about him. You on the other hand, will feel my steel through your gullet one of these dark nights. When you least expect it. When you’ve forgotten about me and I’ll jump behind you and cut you up just liked my daddy showed me.”
Then he disappeared into the darkness. I have to tell you that it was one strange encounter. I couldn’t sleep for a while. I haven’t seen him in a long time – not in a long, long time but something tells me he’s out there — waiting.
She liked to call him ‘Joseph’, that way he seemed a bit more human.
It was her turn tonight to wash and bathe him. Poor soul. Some of the other nurses would run a mile rather than get anywhere near him. But she felt she was different. She was used to the wild ones.
Sometimes people would come in and poke him, just to hear him squeal but she would give them all short change and hurry them out of the room. She didn’t want any of that hanky-panky, not when she was on the ward.
And as she washed his beaten body down she saw the mellowness in his eyes, somewhere behind that grotesque face was a heart beating. One that was kinder and more honest than the rest of the folks who walked this sick Earth. She felt like he was almost a baby at times and wanted to lift the huge head and cuddle it. Tell it she was sorry for what God and man had done to him.
She knew people were easily fooled. An ugly face, meant an ugly heart and a pretty one, meant intelligence and love. Yet nothing could be further from the truth – the one – the one she loved, that is, was the prettiest man she had every set eyes on. He had told her he loved her and when she looked into his eyes, she believed him.
Some pretty packages hide dark and dangerous souls.
When she had finished washing and drying him or it – she wasn’t quite sure – it had looked at her with the softest eyes she had ever seen. It made her feel almost human, too.
She knew she was pretty, the way the patients and the doctors stared at her – the way the navvies shouted after her in the street. But most of all, she had to have been pretty to have landed the most beautiful man in Whitechapel. Yet, as she’d come to find out, that behind those beautiful blue eyes of his was a heart as twisted and dark as the lanes leading to the hospital.
She had heard whispers in the hospital that the police thought the Ripper might be from there. There were suspicions and one of them was a name she didn’t really want to repeat: his name.
She had found out late in their relationship that those pretty blue eyes had taken other women to bed – but she couldn’t see him as being the Ripper. He had cheated on her sure. He had hit her more than once, but that didn’t make you a murderer.
She knew what did make you commit murder, but she wasn’t telling. Just like the way she had worked out how someone could kill Joseph. It was as simple as taking the pillow away while it was sleeping. She would do it one day – kill, Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man just because she could, just because she wanted to.
But until then, she would satisfy her thirst by killing off those trollops who had dared go to bed with her man. She devoured the ways and means. She loved making them suffer.
Jack the Ripper? Don’t make me laugh. For she knew she saw the face of the Ripper every time she looked in a mirror
bobby stevenson 2017