If, by chance, you happened to be in the Windy City between May 28th and June 2nd of this year, you would have had very good reason to be terrified. During this period, Chicago was being stalked by a horror so frightening, so fascinating, that it ranks with the great mysteries of all times. It’s been the fictional subject of novels, plays, films, even an opera. Now, here, are the true facts…
May 21st, 3:00am, across the state line at Werner’s Boom-Boom Room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Michelle Schiffler, dancer, whatever, had just done her last number. I mean, really her last number…
Michelle finishes her dance and returns to office. She does not see someone waiting in the shadows. But she hears the soft rasp as he draws a sword from within his ornate cane. She screams, but it does not save her. The man leaves after finishing his gruesome task, prompting the bartender to investigate. Seeing Michelle’s body, he yells for bystanders to grab the man. Several people try, but the intruder easily fights his way free.
May 24th, 11:30pm, three days later, Milwaukee. Again. Debbie Fielder, 22, 5’ 9”, weight 120, hobbies, breaking horses and collecting bone china. Debbie wanted to be successful. She should have settled for being alive…
Debbie emerges from a basement doorway beneath a sign, “Miss Physical Therapist Contestants Only”. In a nearby alley, a dark clad figure leaps from the fire escape, cutting off her escape. He pulls a sword from his cane, and viciously stabs the terrified woman.
The following morning finds Carl Kolchak in the office of his boss, Tony Vincenzo. The two are discussing Carl’s conduct during his coverage of a robbery. At that scene, Carl behaved like the Commissioner of Police, placing several citizens under arrest and commandeering a private car. In doing so, he severely damaged the relationship between the Independent News Service and the Chicago police department. To punish him, Vincenzo assigns him the task of writing the advice column, substituting for “Miss Emily”, who is vacationing. Among the many bizarre letters is one from a reader complaining about a strange man in Wilton Park, whose bizarre costume and strange stare frighten her. Kolchak, fed up, flees the office over Vincenzo’s strident objections.
May 26th, Laramie Street, 3:55am, Chicago. Miss Laura Moresco, age 24, a masseuse. She was fond of stuffed animals and had been given one as a gift by an exceptionally satisfied customer. She was anxious to get home and find a place for it in her bedroom.
Laura Moresco is walking home, carrying a large stuffed panda, and goes right past a dark-suited figure, who draws a sword from his cane and moves quickly after her. A deep slash silences her. Her purse and panda, slashed, are scattered across the sidewalk.
Carl’s police scanner tips him to a “Code 5”. A homicide suspect is on the building at the intersection of Laramie and Pulaski. Carl arrives in time to see a man racing along the edge of a building. Police, racing after him, fire several shots, but do not stop him. Twice, officers catch up to him, and twice he overpowers them. Finally, the man appears cornered. But he takes the express route to the street, leaping from a fourth story roof and landing on his feet without injury. More than a dozen officers close in from all sides--and the suspect hurls them in all directions. Finally, he races directly for Carl, clearing him with a leap, and disappears.
May 28th. They had the Ripper trapped, treed, and cornered, but he got away. And later, no one could agree on what they saw.
Vincenzo visits Carl at his desk, concerned about the quality of his “Miss Emily” answers. There, he discovers Carl writing about the Laura Moresco murder and becomes furious; that story belongs to Ron Updyke. But his tirade is interrupted by the return of Updyke, who visited the scene of the killing. Updyke is almost green; he’s clearly not the man to handle murder stories. Just talking about Moresco’s near-beheading has turned his stomach. Vincenzo sends him home, while Carl smiles serenely in the background.
Carl goes to police headquarters for the press conference. He confronts Captain Warren with difficult questions--among them, how did the Ripper survive a four story drop? Carl also meets Jane Plumm, a competing reporter whose paper received a letter from the Ripper--a letter containing certain details withheld by the police, suggesting the writer is the real killer. Horse trading with Jane Plumm, Carl learns the letter contained a bizarre rhyme: “And now a pretty girl will die, so Jack can have his kidney pie.” Carl is stumped until Jane reveals that the murderer cut out Laura Moresco’s kidneys--just like the original Jack the Ripper did. He also learns there have been groups of mutilation murders all over the world.
May 29th, 11:00pm, the Loop – Chicago’s answer to Times Square--miles of neon, crowds, excitement, and the usual big city tourist traps. And that night, a very unusual tourist.
A dark garbed figure enters the “Sultan’s Palace” massage parlor. We can see the head of his cane is a devil’s head, as the girl explains the services. Sending the client to a room, the girl calls another girl, Sheryl, to watch the desk. But Sheryl has barely sat down when sounds of a struggle begin, and end with a scream. Seizing a club, Sheryl races in and is horrified by what she sees.
Later, Ron Updyke enters the massage parlor. There he finds the message left by the killer: “Jack is resting. Be reborn. To finish up on Wednesday morn.” Then he manages to catch sight of the latest victim, which causes his last meal to begin a furious fight for freedom with his stomach. He staggers off towards the men’s room as Carl arrives at the front door. But Carl is barred from the scene. A car horn draws his attention to a couple in a nearby street. They claim a caped man ran into the street, and they hit him--at 30 miles an hour. The damage to their car backs up this claim, but there is no sign of the man. According to the driver, the man they hit walked away.
Back at the office, Carl shoves all the Miss Emily letters into a desk drawer. From a different drawer, he retrieves a book, “Ripper Murders Throughout the Ages”. Tony sees this book, and again reminds him that it's not his story. Carl next claims to be helping Updyke, who he says is a “bibliophiliac” who takes books from the library and never returns them. The story gets wilder and wilder, with Carl claiming there’s a warrant out for Ron’s arrest, and a bemused Vincenzo seemingly buying it. Finally, though, Vincenzo wants to know where the Miss Emily letters are, and Carl claims that because they’re all done, he has time to help Ron--all in the interest of furthering a team spirit at the INS offices. Bemused, Vincenzo acknowledges Carl’s cheery departure--but then notices Carl’s bookmark: a Miss Emily letter. A few moments more, and he’s discovered several desk drawers filled with unanswered Miss Emily letters--the old Vincenzo rage is back.
Meeting with Jane Plumm, Carl learns she has been interviewing Ripper candidates--she’s up to number nineteen. Warning her that this is foolish, he learns she is prepared for trouble: she carries a .38 snub nose revolver in her purse. Carl, noting the similarities in method, speculates that the killings are all the work of one man, but Jane scoffs: that man would have to be well over a hundred years old. Her theory is that it’s a “contagious psychosis”. Carl then mentions a German ripper who was hung--and shows Jane a picture he took that he believes shows a rope burn on the neck of the Chicago ripper. “Or,” Jane scoffs, “it could be a carbuncle.” Each ripper claimed five lives, which means Chicago has two victims yet to kill--and if he follows his pattern, both of them will die this very evening.
Carl believes he’s dealing with the original Ripper and returns to the Sultan’s Palace, certain that he will return to the same spot to kill again just as he did in London. At the massage parlor, Carl attempts to explain this to the woman, but in dancing around the issue he manages convinces her that he wants to watch her having sex with another man. That’s a problem, for she is a detective Susan Cortazzo, working undercover. She hands him over to another detective, Phil, who handcuffs him and escorts him away.
June 2nd, 1:20am. Warren’s plan was to get me out of the way, and it seemed to be working.
As Carl is being taken away, the Ripper approaches Susan Cortazzo. She sees him in the mirror, whirls and shoots him at nearly point blank range--without effect. Phil cannot stop him; the two detectives wind up in a heap, while the Ripper flees. In the hallway, shotgun blasts don’t slow him; outside, he bulls his way through four officers and leaps a patrol car, fleeing down an alley. More officers are called in, and the car carrying Kolchak returns to the scene, granting him a front row seat to a debacle: Chicago’s elite “Tac Squad” is entirely overmatched by a single suspect. Once again, the Ripper juggles a dozen or more officers effortlessly, finally evading the last of them in the direction of a tall fence. Leaping onto it, he is stunned--it’s an electric fence.
At headquarters, Carl is freed and his possessions returned, but his film has been exposed. But Captain Warren generously offers Carl the chance to take some more at the Ripper’s arraignment. But Carl is sure this Ripper is the Ripper, and will not remain in custody long. Warren greets this with skepticism, even threatening to have Carl certified mentally ill. Carl claims this Ripper has killed over seventy women, and that attempts to hang him and to shoot him have been equally unsuccessful. Warren is convinced the Ripper is safely incarcerated on the maximum security floor, but even as their conversation is taking place, the Ripper is tearing the door of his cell from its concrete moorings, and escaping.
Carl, meanwhile, is worried about Jane Plumm. Her paper hasn’t heard from her, and she is not at home. But he discovers that one of the Rippers she planned to interview was located in Wilton Park. And that is precisely where Jane is now waiting. Carl has remembered something, and is desperate to find the Miss Emily letters. Finally, he does; upending the bag, he begins a frantic search for the letter from the lady whose creepy neighbor has “X-Ray eyes”. That lady lived in Wilton Park.
The letter leads Carl to Miss Aginweiller. She points out the house where “old X-Ray eyes” lives, telling Carl he only goes out at night. Miss Aginweiller reveals that the man met a girl in the park earlier this evening. Carl realizes the girl could be Jane Plumm. Carl investigates the house, which is rotten and decayed. A trip to the “Brennan Building Materials and Electrical Supply Company” nets Carl a box of gear. Returning to the house, he dons heavy lineman’s gloves and runs some thick wire from the electrical box through the yard. Then, smashing a window, he enters. Inside, the old house is as decayed as outside, and largely unused. But upstairs is a small room, with a few amenities: a hot plate, a bed, an umbrella stand full of sword canes, and… someone behind the curtain. No--it’s just an empty pair of shoes.
As Carl’s investigation continues, the Ripper returns. He notes the evidence of Carl’s passage, but continues upstairs. Carl darts into the closet to hide, and as the Ripper puts away his hat and then his cloak, Carl’s terror mounts. Finally, a yell forces its way from his throat and he sprawls out of the closet. Ripper and reporter regard each other briefly; the Ripper is finally revealed: a handsome man of early middle years, heavily bearded. Then the spell is broken and Carl flees, the Ripper in pursuit. Tripping over a chair, Carl discovers poor Jane Plumm, the Ripper’s latest victim. Then he gets back up on his feet and through a window, the Ripper right behind. Carl goes across the yard and splashes through the pond, and as the Ripper wades in – Carl drops in the live wire. He’s right about the Ripper--electricity is his singular vulnerability, and the electrified water makes short work of him. But the box overloads, and the house goes up like tinder, destroying the evidence.
And here’s the postscript: when they drained that pond, they found nothing – nothing, but some old clothes. For some reason, the police suddenly decided they wanted those, and my head. I don’t know how Vincenzo will handle the charges of arson and malicious mischief lodged against me by Captain Warren, but that fire was a big one – a six-alarmer. A blast furnace couldn’t have done a better job: everything gone. The house. My story. The evidence. Like they say: ashes to ashes. One thing survived the inferno, however. There’s enough of it left to read the maker: “Peel’s Footwear, London, Southwest 1.” They’re still there, of course, but they don’t make this style shoe any more. It was discontinued over seventy years ago. Seventy. Years. Ago.
Convinced no one would believe his story, Carl yanks the page from his old typewriter, chuckles, and leaves the office.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 29, 2015