While we are semi-officially still on our annual August hiatus (try saying that with a mouthful of candy floss), we did appreciate a happy confluence of interests in Saturday’s Grauniad: Chris Petit’s review of David Seabrook’s Jack of Jumps. In the follow-up to his much admired (by Petit’s mate Sinclair, unsurprisingly) All The Devils Are Here, Seabrook looks at the not-quite-as-famous-as-the-other-Jack “nude murders” of West London in the mid-60s, which we’ve mentioned before in the form of Brian McConnell’s superlative (and better-named) Found Naked And Dead.
Petit clearly enjoys the book, appreciating its hard-won evocation of London as a “a city haunted as much by a lost popular culture as by its missing souls.” However, he makes virtually no comment on the facts of the case: an opportunity not missed by Stewart Home in his review of the book (as elaborated upon at a recent 3:AM event). Home considers Seabrook’s version of events both improper – he implicitly accuses an untried, and very possibly innocent, man – and unoriginal: the main thrust of the book is culled, uncited, from an old Times article.
Home also points to an earlier review of Jack of Jumps in the Grauniad‘s sister paper, The Observer, wherein the reviewer takes issue with Seabrook’s “rancid” and “lip-curling” distaste for the victims. Two reviews so far apart are unusual, and as much as we love Petit we can’t help but note that he is, like Seabrook, a Granta author.
This increasingly forensic examination of the details of past crimes brings to mind Alan Moore’s ruminations on the obsessive ranks of ripperologists he joined to write From Hell. What Petit considers “forgotten, luminous detail” (citing “On this occasion she bought a bottle of Lovibond’s Vat 30 whisky”), Moore, in the appendix to From Hell, sees as strip-mining the field, tracking over the same turned-over earth until it becomes a quagmire. Repeated investigations cross-reference one another, the amount of information increasing but it’s value dropping, forever trapped within the same area, in the manner of Koch’s snowflake; for the ripperologists it is Whitechapel, 1888, for Seabrook, McConnell, Home and others it is Hammersmith, 1964-5. Such an approach is not too distant from Petit and Sinclair’s filmic aesthetic either: the grainy close-up, the lurking camera, an attempt by art to recoup the damning immediacy of CCTV.
As such true crime accounts multiply, they increase the likelihood of others being attracted to the field. Just as it took decades for the Ripper crimes to start to auto-generate ever wilder potential murderers – the initial Jews, butchers and local psychos graduating to the police force, society painters, royalty – so it has taken 50 years to actually name a scandalous (i.e. conspiratorial, establishment) figure in the Hammersmith killings. We may now expect to see others piling in, the boundaries of West London expanding to envelop the smarter ends of Town.
For instance, it’s not hard to see how the hookers and coppers of the nude murders could be tied to that other defining trope of 60s London: the Fab Four. Much like the Ripper murders, the Hammersmith killings stopped abruptly, and in both cases criminologists professional and amateur looked to contemporary obituaries to explain such a sudden and unusual cessation of violence. Only a few years later, rumours began to surface of an even greater conspiracy: Paul Is Dead. Paul McCartney, Beatles’ guitarist, departed this earth scant months after the last known killing in West London, decapitated by the windshield of his Austin Healey on the streets of St John’s Wood. We think we should be told.
Update: For the sake of completeness, we also found this little piece of puff by Iain Sinclair in The Guardian’s summer reading recommendations (scroll down). And yes, we know Paul played the bass (see comments).