By Katherine Ramsland

Recently, I published a supernatural murder mystery, The Ripper Letter, based around items related to Jack the Ripper. It all began with a mysterious correspondence known as the letter “From Hell.”

Let’s get some background first about the 1888 crime spree in London’s Whitechapel. Not everyone agrees on when it began, but officially, it was the end of August. Two prostitutes were murdered in two separate events a week apart before the so-called “double event,” two killed on the same night in September. Two weeks later, a letter came to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, accompanied by a grisly trophy: half of a kidney, seemingly preserved in alcohol.

There have been many stories about this kidney, from it being a practical joke by a medical student to being the very kidney that had been cut from one of the victims. The note's author indicated that he'd fried and eaten the other half, which was “very nise.” He offered to send "the bloody knife" in due time. He closed with the taunt, "Catch me if you can." No knife was forthcoming. The letter heading was “From Hell.”

FYI, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of letters sent to police and news outlets purporting to be from the Whitechapel killer. His moniker, “Jack the Ripper,” came from one. No one knows if JtR actually wrote any letters, but some Ripper experts claim that if he did, the From Hell letter is the best candidate.

I don’t debate Red Jack’s authorship, because for my fictional purposes, it doesn’t matter.

Let’s get to my aha! moment.

In Ripper historian Donald Rumbalow’s The Complete Jack the Ripper, he describes how he discovered the now-famous photo of the slain Mary Kelly (an alleged Ripper victim) in some disorganized police files. He published it in Police Journal in 1969. Realizing he had quite a find, he looked for other Ripper items and learned that the original From Hell letter had gone missing. Thanks to police photography, there was a copy.

Ripperologists Stewart Evans and Keith Skinner confirm this story in Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell. Just to be sure, I looked on several Ripper Forums. Some participants speculated that the original letter is in the hands of a private collector; others believe a cop pilfered it.

Bestselling writer John Saul urges us to condense our story triggers into a “What if?” question, so I thought: What if the “From Hell” letter is missing for a reason more sinister than being pinched by a souvenir collector?

I formed a story around this idea. Because I’ve researched crime history, I know about occult notions linked with the Ripper murders, including one that features a rather peculiar suspect, Robert D’Onston Stephenson. An occult group that knew him had also acquired some ancient codes via a sixteenth-century British mystic and alchemist, John Dee, who reputedly talked with angels. It was an intriguing juxtaposition of elements. Letters and codes and secret ceremonies.

In The Ripper Letter, I placed the missing JtR letter in the hands of a private collector, the father of my protagonist, Dianysus “Dee” Brentano, a young NYPD detective who discovers that she’s a key part of a supernatural universe that is about to implode. Her latent gifts, along with her father’s secret activities, suck her straight into danger. When she’s shown the From Hell letter, she sees more in it than the surface message. There’s also a code.
Thus, learning about a seemingly insignificant incident, the missing Ripper letter, launched this journey.
I’ve also visited the Whitechapel area to walk the Ripper’s neighborhood, and it was great fun to weave it all into a romantic forensic mystery that combines angels and vampires with uber-killers and ancient alchemical codes.

To buy:

Katherine Ramsland is a bestselling writer of nearly 60 books, a consultant to crime shows and documentaries, and a professor of forensic psychology.

She spent five years working with Dennis “BTK” Rader on his autobiography, Confession of a Serial Killer, and is an internationally recognized expert on serial murder.

With The Ripper Letter, she launches the Hearts of Darkness e-series. Related photos for The Ripper Letter can be found at


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