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Authors: Sally Spencer

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Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness

BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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© Sally Spencer 2007

 

Sally Spencer has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 2001, to be identified as the author of this work.

 

First published in 2007 by Severn House Publishers Ltd.

 

This edition published in 2014 by Endeavour Press Ltd

 

 

 

Prologue

 

February—August 1900

 

Emma Walsingholme had been missing for two days when Giles Yarrow, an agricultural labourer, came across the body.

It was a misty, early-August morning, and he was on his way to work. He would say later that it was purely by chance that he glanced into the drainage ditch—and usually add, with a shudder, that he would never stop wishing he hadn’t.

The girl was lying on her back, and the first thing Yarrow noticed about her was her face—or rather, the lack of it.

She had been a pretty girl in life, with a slightly upturned nose and well-defined cheekbones. Now—from her hairline to what was left of her chin—there was nothing but a morass of splintered bone and gristle.

Yarrow lowered his eyes from the horror that had once been a face to the throat, which was ringed with dark bruises, almost as if the girl were wearing a black pearl necklace.

He lowered them even further, on to the girl’s dress. It was made of a rich velvet, and was a finer piece of clothing than his own children could ever have even dreamed of owning. The police had said it was green, and small patches of that colour still survived, floating like small lonely islands in a dirty brown sea of dried blood.

It was then that he noticed that, although both the girl’s shoes and her gloves were clearly in evidence, the hands and feet that had once filled them were not.

Yarrow climbed down the steep embankment, and began to search around close to the body.

‘Lookin’ for ’er ’ands—that’s what I were doin’,’ he would later explain to his cronies in the pub. ‘Daft thing to do, thinkin’ about it now, but at the time it seemed important to find ’em an’ give ’em back to the poor little mite.’

But the hands were not there to be found!

And neither were the feet!

*

The first girl to be butchered in this way had lived in Yorkshire and had disappeared six months earlier. Her name was Sarah Cavendish, and, like Emma Walsingholme, she had been the daughter of a minor local aristocrat. She had vanished somewhere between her family’s country estate and the nearest village, where she had been planning to carry out a few basic errands.

Search parties had been organized, but it was not until two days later that her handless, footless, faceless and badly lacerated body had been discovered lying in the middle of a copse of trees.

A murder of so sensational a nature had naturally enough dominated the newspapers for several days.

But though thousands of words were written on the subject, none of those writing them—or none of those who drew the gruesome pictures that accompanied the text—considered for a moment the possibility that this was anything more than a random killing by a local madman.

And then the second girl of good family had disappeared in Derbyshire—a place some fifty miles away from Sarah’s murder. And when her body turned up—and was found to be mutilated in exactly the same way—the newspapers lost even the small measure of self-control that they had previously been exhibiting.

A wandering maniac was on the loose, they screamed.

A vicious, heartless killer had set out on a rampage of killing! And who
knew
when—or where—he would strike next?

The moment that the Prime Minister saw the articles—ringed in red—sitting on his desk, he personally rang up the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard.

‘But it’s not the Yard’s policy to investigate provincial murders, sir,’ the Commissioner pointed out.

‘And it’s not
my
policy to stand by and do nothing while the children of England’s ruling class are slaughtered like game birds in season,’ the Prime Minister replied tartly.

‘Of course not, sir,’ the Commissioner of Police agreed hastily. ‘But we still have to consider—’

‘I want your best man on the case,’ the Prime Minister interrupted.

‘Perhaps if you discussed the matter with the Home Secretary, sir, he might be able to explain to you the—’

‘The best officer you have—and I want him on it
now
. Is that clearly understood?’

‘Yes, sir,’ the Commissioner said. ‘It’s clearly understood.’

*

The man entrusted with the task of tracking down the fiend behind the killings was Superintendent Ernest Bullock, a sound officer with a great deal of experience and a strong record of convictions. He arrived in Derbyshire reasonably confident that he would have the case safely sewn up within a few days. Two weeks later—after working round the clock, and still having failed to come up with a single significant lead—that confidence had taken something of a battering.

And then a third girl’s body was found.

...And a fourth.

...And a fifth.

Emma Walsingholme was the ninth girl to have suffered the same grisly fate, and had Superintendent Bullock not been stricken with a severe case of influenza, this would have been the eighth murder he had fruitlessly attempted to solve. But the flu was undoubtedly what he had, and so it fell to others to pick up the burden.

 

 

Saturday—Monday: Lost Weekend

 

The sun was already setting when the two men who had inherited the Emma Walsingholme case from the indisposed Superintendent Bullock climbed out of the pony cart and walked over to the ditch where the girl’s body had been discovered. The first of the men—the elder—was in his middle thirties, nearly six feet tall and without an excess ounce of fat on his spare frame. He had penetrating green eyes, a large nose that was almost a hook, a wide mouth and a square jaw.

The other man was younger, shorter and fatter. In a few years he would no doubt come to be regarded as avuncular, but at that moment he merely looked a little overweight.

The taller man—Inspector Sam Blackstone—surveyed the miles of flat, open countryside that surrounded the ditch.

‘Looking around me, I don’t see a lot of potential witnesses to the crime, Archie,’ he said.

‘Neither do I, but someone’s bound to have seen something—even in a place like this,’ Sergeant Archie Patterson replied, optimistically.

‘You think so, do you?’ Blackstone asked. ‘You’d have thought there’d have been witnesses to Jack the Ripper’s murders, too, considering they all took place in the heart of London. But there weren’t. And if it was that easy for Jack to go undetected, it must have been a bloody doddle for this bastard.’

‘At least there’s a pattern,’ said Patterson, who was not willing to abandon his usual cheerfulness quite yet.

‘Oh, there’s a pattern, all right,’ Blackstone said dourly. In fact, there are two or three patterns, when you come to think about it. The problem is that none of them make any sense, do they?’

‘No, I suppose they don’t,’ Patterson agreed, reluctantly.

‘Why would the killer have mutilated the girls in the way that he did?’ Blackstone asked.

‘Some men get pleasure from inflicting pain on women.’

‘True. But they like the women to be conscious enough to really
appreciate
the pain—to
scream
with the pain. That’s why the whip’s the preferred instrument for inflicting that kind of damage. But cutting off the hands and feet is as likely as not to send the victim into deep shock and unconsciousness. It’s too
crude
a torture for a man who enjoys seeing his victims suffering. And why take the hands and feet away with him?’

‘Maybe he wanted to keep them as a memento.’

‘Surely
one
hand or
one
foot would have served that purpose.’

‘More than served it,’ Patterson said, and though it was still quite warm, he shuddered.

‘Then there are the deep lacerations to the body. The dress was soaked in blood, but the material wasn’t damaged, which means that the killer took the girl’s dress off before he slashed her. Now, I can see why he might have decided he wanted to do that.’

‘You
can
, sir?’

‘Certainly. He’d have wanted to see the wounds opening up as he was inflicting them. But why go to the trouble of putting the dress back on when he was finished?’

‘I don’t know,’ Patterson admitted. ‘I can’t even begin to understand what must have gone through his mind.’

‘And why are all his victims from wealthy families? If there was a ransom demand, that would make sense—even if he
did
then kill the girls for his own twisted pleasure after the ransom had been paid. But there’s
been
no such demand, so why is he focusing on the rich?’

‘Maybe when we catch him...

‘We won’t catch him,’ Blackstone said dismissively. ‘I know Superintendent Ernie Bullock. He’s a bloody good copper, by any standards...’

‘Even so...’

‘...and if he’s come up with nothing from the previous
seven
murders, we’ve absolutely no chance of coming up with anything on this
one
.’

‘But we’ll try,’ Patterson said.

‘Of course we’ll try,’ Blackstone confirmed. ‘We’ll bust our guts on it—just as Ernie Bullock has been doing—but it won’t do us any bloody good.’

*

It was on the Monday morning following the discovery of Emma Walsingholme’s body that the Honourable Jack Hobsbourne, MP, made the decision to use the series of murders as a convenient peg on which to hang a cause very close to his own heart. And it was in the Monday afternoon session of the House of Commons that he caught the Speaker’s eye and was given the opportunity to do just that.

There were the inevitable loud groans from the government benches when Hobsbourne stood up to speak—and even a few, more muted ones, from his own side of the House.

It was not his comparative youth that engendered such hostility whenever he chose to make a speech, though that clearly was to be held against him to some degree. It was not even the fact that he was a radical—although many of the more established members believed that any sentence containing the word ‘radical’ should also include the phrase ‘given a sound whipping’. What raised most hostility was that Hobsbourne was clearly—and worse,
unapologetically
—from a working-class background, and thus had no place in the hallowed halls of government at all.

‘We live in an unequal and unjust society, Mr Speaker,’ Hobsbourne said, ‘and if proof of that is needed, we have only to examine recent events. Look what happens when a girl from a stuck-up country family is found murdered. The police are immediately mobilized, and Superintendent Bullock—one of Scotland Yard’s most experienced and senior officers—is dispatched with haste to investigate that murder.’

‘Shame on you!’ bayed a back-bench member opposite. ‘Have you no pity for the poor child who died?’

‘Indeed I do have pity for her,’ Hobsbourne countered. ‘But my pity is not solely reserved for young women born into privilege—young women who have never shivered in the cold of winter, nor wondered where their next meal is coming from. My pity is wide enough to include those without the rich and influential parents who are able to see that justice is done by them. My pity also encompasses the weak and the powerless.’

‘Oh God, he’s about to mount his hobby horse,’ said one of the government front bench wearily to his colleague next to him, and though he spoke in a whisper—as was normal on such occasions—it was a
stage
whisper that half the House could hear.

‘The Right Honourable Gentleman opposite is quite correct in his assumption that I am about to address—yet again—the subject of child prostitution,’ Hobsbourne agreed angrily. ‘But if I were a mere rider of hobby horses, I would sit on his side of the House, where “special” interest is the
only
interest.’

There were cries of ‘Shame!’ and ‘Withdraw,’ but Jack Hobsbourne chose to ignore them.

‘What I’m talking about here is a matter of both vital moral importance and national disgrace,’ the radical MP continued. ‘Girls as young as ten or eleven are being bought—or kidnapped—on our streets, even as we speak. But this so-called government does nothing about it. And why? Because these young girls, drawn from the poorer levels of society, don’t matter to it. Well, they matter to me! And they matter to my electors! And if this government won’t take action, then it’s time we voted in a government that will!’

The Home Secretary had been listening to the speech with a sense of growing disquiet, and now he made a mental note to have a word with his parliamentary secretary the moment he left the chamber. There was no doubt in his mind that Hobsbourne was right about the extent of child prostitution on the streets of London, but he really wished the brash young MP would not make such an issue out of it. Still, since an issue
had
been made, he supposed he would have to take some kind of action. A couple of arrests would probably be all it would take to pacify the bloody man for the moment, he decided, and he was sure the Metropolitan Police could arrange for that to happen without rocking the boat too much.

*

Superintendent Bullock arrived in Staffordshire on Monday afternoon, shortly after Hobsbourne had finished his speech in the House of Commons, and made his way immediately to the police station that Blackstone and Patterson had been using as their base.

He looked rough, Blackstone thought. ‘You should have stayed in bed, sir,’ he said sympathetically.

Bullock coughed violently. ‘You’re spot on, Sam; that’s
exactly
where I should be,’ he agreed. ‘But I couldn’t just lie there, not while this madman was still running around. Besides, Sir Humphrey Todd called me, and said my immediate presence was required here.’

‘I thought he was on a fishing holiday, somewhere in Scotland,’ Blackstone said.

‘So he is. But when he read in the newspapers that you’d been assigned to the case, he...well, he...’

‘Hit the roof?’ Blackstone supplied.

‘Not to put too fine a point on it, yes,’ Bullock agreed.

That the Assistant Commissioner had reacted in such a way was hardly surprising, Blackstone thought. The two of them had had a stormy relationship, and it was well known at the Yard that one of Sir Humphrey’s greatest ambitions was to see Blackstone kicked off the force.

‘And it ...er...doesn’t end there,’ Bullock continued awkwardly. ‘Not only does Todd not want you to be in charge of this investigation, he doesn’t even want you anywhere near it. So while I personally would be more than happy to have you working with me, I’ve not really been given any choice in the matter.’

Blackstone nodded. ‘I quite understand the position you find yourself in, sir. I’ll go and pack my bag.’

‘You’re taking this very well,’ Bullock said, slightly suspiciously.

‘Orders are orders,’ Blackstone said flatly.

‘And you’ve always been one to ignore them when they didn’t suit you,’ Bullock replied. ‘I know you of old, Sam, and once you’ve got your teeth into a case, it’d take a team of wild horses to drag you away from it. So why don’t you tell me what’s really going on in that head of yours?’

Blackstone reached into his jacket pocket and fingered the rough envelope it contained.

‘The truth is, sir, that walking away from this investigation is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.’

‘But...?’

‘But there’s a pressing personal matter that I need to deal with.’ Bullock raised a quizzical eyebrow.

‘And what might this “pressing personal matter” concern?’

‘This morning I got a letter from an old army comrade who’s a salt miner now. He’s in trouble, and he’s asked for my help. So I intend to take a leave of absence and do what I can for him.’

Bullock grew thoughtful. ‘Since you seem willing to drop every-thing and rush to his side, he must be a very good friend indeed,’ he said.

‘I said he was an old
comrade
, not an old
friend
,’ Blackstone pointed out. ‘I was a sergeant and he was a private. He had his pals, and I had mine.’

‘Ah, so if it’s not a question of friendship, you must feel indebted to the man,’ Bullock guessed. ‘Is that what it is—a debt of honour?’

‘More or less,’ Blackstone agreed.

Bullock nodded. ‘Then you have as little choice over going as I had over keeping you. But before you leave, I’d appreciate it if you’d brief me on the progress you’ve made.’

Blackstone sighed. ‘We’ve made no progress at all, sir. There are a few things we
know
—like the fact that the killer’s not a local man...


Do
we know he’s not a local man?’

‘I think so, sir. He’s killed in four counties. It’s possible that he might be based in one of them—though that’s unlikely, since he seems too careful to go shitting on his own doorstep—but he can’t be local
everywhere
he strikes, and so there’s no reason to assume he’s local here.’ Blackstone paused for a moment. ‘You must surely have worked all this out for yourself, sir.’

‘I have,’ Bullock agreed. ‘I was checking to see if you were thinking along the same lines. Carry on.’

‘He’s not a local man,’ Blackstone continued, ‘so you’d have thought that in a rural area like this, someone would have spotted him. But the Staffordshire police have questioned hundreds of people—and not one of them has reported seeing any strangers around at the time the girl disappeared.’

Bullock put his hands to his head. ‘It’s a bloody nightmare,’ he groaned. ‘It’s as if the man was invisible. Every killing is a carbon copy of the ones that preceded it, and no killing moves us any closer to catching the murderer. I’m never going to collar this bastard, Sam. He’s going to kill again and again and again—and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.’

‘You might think of bringing in Ellie Carr,’ Blackstone suggested, tentatively.

‘Who?’

‘Ellie Carr. She’s a doctor, and she works at University College Hospital, London. She specializes in forensic pathology.’

‘Forensic pathology?’ Superintendent Bullock repeated, saying the words carefully, as if they came from an alien tongue. ‘What—in God’s name—is that, Sam?’

BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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