The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
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A REPORT BY DR. CHESAPEAKE MARCHPANE, SPECIAL TO THE RUN OF PLAY
In further chronicling the forces at play in the haunting of the Almunia house at Abbots Langley, it is necessary to take into account a local legend, widely repeated in the vicinity of Leavesden, that somewhere in the asylum graveyard lie the remains of the serial killer known by the alias or pseudonym of “Jack the Ripper.” The precise origin of the legend is impossible to pinpoint; however it is certain that, on 3 October 1888, shortly after the second of the confirmed or “canonical” Ripper murders, the following letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph, dated from St. Albans and signed by someone called “X.”
SIR – Just about twelve months ago an inmate of the lunatic asylum at Leavesden, near Watford, escaped while out with others in the charge of keepers. He managed to get into the Bricket Woods, and has since evaded capture. The local paper warned females against being out at night in the neighbourhood, as this man was dangerous only to women. The question is, whether the authorities in London have had this lunatic’s description, as the fearful crimes of the East-end point to such a person. – Yours obediently,
St. Albans, Oct. 2.
The inmate in question, according to the account of his escape published in the Hertfordshire Advertiser a few months before the first of the Ripper killings, was a certain Macdonald, a doctor who had practiced in India before suffering the obscure inner breakdown that led to his confinement in Leavesden. All accounts point to his being a tall man, ragged in appearance, with rough, bushy whiskers and dark skin; according to that invaluable reference, Hertfordshire Murders by Nicholas Connell and Ruth Stratton, he was marked by a tendency to murmur or even to shout to himself. He was seen twice soon after his escape: once when he asked a group of travelers the way to St. Albans, and once when he met a solitary man on Lye Lane near the Bricket Wood railway station. Hooded or cloaked by darkness, he is reported to have lit a match and thrust it into the stranger’s face to see to whom he was speaking.
Macdonald is supposed to have survived on nuts and berries in Bricket Wood for some time, before disappearing into Black Boy Wood just as investigators seemed to be closing in on his trail. No trace of him was ever subsequently found. Reassurances published both in the Hertfordshire papers and in the Telegraph informed the public that he was in all probability not homicidal and offered no cause for fear.
The belief that Jack the Ripper is buried at Leavesden, however, is far more likely to have sprung from the fact that in 1891, a person was committed to the asylum who not only was believed by the chief inspector at Scotland Yard to be the killer, but had once been identified as such by the only witness to have seen the Ripper at work. The inmate was Aaron Kosminski, a “Polish Jew hairdresser” who had lived in the Whitechapel district in London, at the geographical center of the murders. Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten’s written memoranda of the case describe him as possessing “a great hatred of women, with strong homicidal tendencies,” and he exhibited symptoms of insanity which included public masturbation and a paranoid fear of being poisoned that eventually caused him to slink along London streets, eating from the gutters.
At an identity parade in a home for convalescent policemen in Hove, Kosminski was identified “unhesitatingly” (according to Sir Robert Anderson) by “the only person who ever got a good view of the murderer,” an individual whose own identity, not unfittingly, is now as mysterious to us as that of Jack the Ripper. The witness refused to testify against Kosminski because (according to marginal notes left by Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson in his copy of Sir Robert Anderson’s The Lighter Side of My Official Life) “the suspect was also a Jew, and also because his evidence would convict the suspect, and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged which he did not wish to be left on his mind.”
In February of 1891, Kosminski was confined at Leavesden after a brief stay at the Colney Hatch Asylum in London. His committal papers state that “he is guided and his movements altogether controlled by an instinct that informs his mind.” His medical certificate reported his claim to “know the movements of all mankind.” He experienced “hallucinations of sight and hearing” and as late as 1916 (by which time Kosminski was reported to be little more than a shell, murmuring brokenly to himself in German or Yiddish) he was described as “at times very obstinate.” However, he appears to have lived relatively peacefully at Leavesden until his death in 1919, at which time the Leavesden Asylum Football Club, having reassembled after the war, were on their way to winning their third consecutive Herts County League Western Division championship.
It is interesting and not a little unsettling to note that the 1891 census at Leavesden also lists as an inmate a 32-year-old “book folder” named Selina Coles, confined as a lunatic, whose sister Frances was found with her throat cut under a Whitechapel railway arch at around the time of Kosminski’s committal, in what has been widely regarded as the last of the Ripper murders. Selina Coles died at Leavesden at the age of 37, four years before the turn of the twentieth century.
I cannot say whether it is more than an affect of imagination to suggest that, in the persons of the insane doctor Macdonald and the mad barber Kosminski, it is as if the killer known as Jack the Ripper had set out from the ground of Leavesden to begin his dark career and returned to the same ground when he finished it. But whether or not the monk-like apparition that has lately appeared in the home of Manuel and Ana Almunia on the former Leavesden grounds is itself an emanation of whatever dark power issues from the fissure that makes such speculations appear merely germane to the place, it is at once natural and terrible to view their haunting as another expression of the deep and lurid magic that lives on in that part of the world, which once hid St. Amphibalus, and more recently led to the creation of the Leavesden Film Studios, where the Harry Potter pictures were made.
by Dr. Chesapeake Marchpane · March 2, 2008[contact-form 5 'Email form']