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 the dressing room. She does not see someone waiting in the shadows. But she hears the soft rasp as he draws a sword from his ornate cane. She screams but it does not save her. Moments later the man leaves, his grisly task done. The bartender sees a man coming from the dressing room and races to investigate. When he sees Michelle’s body he yells for bystanders to grab the man. Several people try but the intruder fights his way free easily.
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 marked, “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, severely damaging the relationship between the Independent News Service and the Chicago police department. To punish him Vincenzo assigns him the task of writing the “Miss Emily” advice column since the regular writer is on vacation. 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 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.
Carrying a large stuffed panda, Laura Moresco walks right past a dark-suited figure. The figure moves quickly after her and draws a sword from within his cane. A deep slash silences Laura. Her purse and the torn panda scatter 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 follow him, firing shot after shot without effect. 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, leaps clear over him 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. They seem a little terse. 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. Updyke is almost green. He’s just come from the scene of a killing and he’s clearly not the man to handle murder stories. Just talking about Moresco’s near beheading has soured his stomach. Disgusted, 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? He also meets Jane Plumm, a competing reporter whose paper received a letter from the Ripper. The letter included 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 to one of his victims. Carl 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. He carries a cane with a devil’s head. One of the masseuses explains the services and then sends the client to a room. She calls Sheryl to watch the desk and goes to join the client. But Sheryl has barely sat down when sounds of a struggle begin – then end abruptly with a scream. Seizing a club, Sheryl races in, and is horrified by what she sees.
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 catches sight of the latest victim, causing 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 because INS already has a reporter inside. A car horn draws his attention to a couple nearby. 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, he 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 the book and once again reminds Carl that this is not his story. Carl 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, Vincenzo demands to know where the Miss Emily letters are. Carl claims they’re all done and that’s why he has time to help Ron – in the interest of furthering a team spirit at the INS offices. Overwhelmed, Vincenzo acknowledges Carl’s cheery departure. Then he notices Carl’s bookmark is a Miss Emily letter. Moments later he has discovered several desk drawers jammed full of unanswered letters and his customary rage erupts.
At a 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. She also tells Carl there have been ripper-style murders committed in groups throughout recent history. Carl notes the similarities in method and 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 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 the Chicago killer has two victims left – and if he follows the pattern both of them will die this evening.
Carl returns to the Sultan’s Palace, convinced he’s dealing with the original Ripper – and for that reason, certain the killer will return to the same spot to kill again. At the massage parlor, Carl attempts to explain this to the masseuse. But in dancing around the issue he only convinces her that he wants to watch her having sex with another man. Unfortunately for Carl, she is a detective Susan Catazzo working undercover. And what she thinks Carl wants to do is most definitely a crime. She hands him over to another detective 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 Catazzo. She sees him in the mirror, whirls and shoots him at nearly point blank range without effect. Phil cannot stop him. The detectives land in a heap as 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, then flees 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 outclassed by a single suspect. The Ripper juggles a dozen 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. The ripper hangs for a moment and then falls to the ground.
At police headquarters Carl is freed and his possessions returned, but his film has been exposed. Captain Warren generously offers Carl the chance to take some more pictures 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 as this conversation occurs the Ripper is tearing the door of his cell from its concrete moorings and escaping.
Carl 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.
Wilton Park triggers a memory. Carl is desperate to find the Miss Emily letters because what he remembers is written in one of them. He finds them, finally, in Tony’s office. Upending the bag, he begins a frantic search for the letter from the lady whose creepy neighbor has “X-Ray eyes”. Carl remembers that the 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. A girl Carl realizes could be Jane Plumm.
Carl investigates rotten and decayed house. Then he takes a trip to the “Brennan Building Materials and Electrical Supply Company” for some electrical gear. Returning to the house, he dons heavy lineman’s gloves and runs thick wire from the electrical box through the yard. Smashing a window, he enters. Inside the old house is as decayed as outside and largely unused. Covers hide the furniture and dust is everywhere. 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 investigates further, the Ripper returns. He notes the evidence of Carl’s passage but continues upstairs. Carl darts into the closet to hide. As the Ripper puts away his hat and then his cloak Carl’s terror mounts. Finally, a scream forces its way out and Carl sprawls out of the closet. Ripper and reporter regard each other briefly; the Ripper is finally revealed: a handsome bearded man of early middle years. Then the spell is broken and Carl flees, the Ripper in hot pursuit. Tripping over a chair, Carl discovers the Ripper’s latest victim, Jane Plumm. Struggling to his feet, he lurches through a window into the yard, the Ripper right behind. Across the yard Carl splashes through the pool. The Ripper follows and Carl drops in the live wire. His guess was right – electricity is the Ripper’s singular vulnerability, and the electrified water burns him quickly to nothing. But the electrical box feeding the pond 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 wryly and leaves the office. Share this article with your friends