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Knock Together Your Kneecaps, My Ugly Ones

In the New York City of the 1890s, there was a series of gruesome murders conducted in such a manner as to prompt local authorities to believe that notorious slasher Jack the Ripper had expatriated from overseas, or that there was a studious copycat at work. As with the original Whitechapel murders themselves, these crimes were never solved.

Lowly prostitutes were gutted and splayed, their uteruses removed and entrails tangled like umbilical nooses around the necks of the corpses, with the bodies left among the garbage in back alleyways to later be discovered by passing strangers fated to nightmares for the duration of their days. As with the Ripper murders they remain unsolved, but warranted a big enough deal for the FBI to decades later open a file on the matter. With my trusty old press badge I was permitted, after several months of official requests, to read in person these records at a small branch office at Langley Field in Virginia, at the start of 2010.

Being originally from nearby Kentucky, I had accumulated an interest in this case particularly, as Kentucky was literally founded as a prison colony for housing the America’s first rapists and murderers, where they were entrapped by dense forest and the Appalachian mountains. The oldest Catholic Proto-Cathedral outside of the 13 colonies, over two centuries old, is located in Bardstown, Kentucky. The peoples of the bluegrass state today are descended from the rejects of the rejects, the worst of the worst, yet in this New York City case was arguably to be found the country’s first true serial killer, whether it was Jack or not. And so I saw it as a shame he was never caught and brought if not to justice, then to the place the Native Americans called The Dark and Bloody Ground. I had been involved in a prose anthology project concerning Ripperology, and thus pursued the New York City angle with the feds eventually willing to send hard copies of their files to the office at Langley. The anthology project ultimately fell apart for reasons beyond my control, but the thread I followed led me in the strangest direction.

I believe the NYC killer was grandson of early Church of Latter Day Saints leader Brigham Young, William Hooper Young, who later went to prison for murdering his own prostitute wife. In all my research none have ever considered William, nor has anyone ever weighed the Mormon “blood atonement” rite with the Ripper’s style. Yet the fact remains Mormon sects had made their way into the United Kingdom some 40 years prior to the original Ripper murders, and wherever there are Mormon groupings, there are fundamentalist offshoots to be found as well. Extremists have continued blood atonement to this day, as novelist Jon Krakauer covered in his phenomenally-researched Under the Banner of Heaven book. Having anything to do with the original Ripper murders or not, I believe Mormon hierarchy suppresses that William was indeed the NYC killer.

Self-proclaimed “Ripperologists” hate that I came up with something more plausible than any of their hundreds of theories regarding Lewis Carroll or Freemasons, so my feeble attempts at bringing this story to light in recent years has always been taken as impudence. Regardless, Jack loved sensationalism, as would any perverse fan looking to repeat his sins. Media sensationalism was literally birthed by the leather apron from hell. History knows the weird meta-killing of Shakespeare by the Ripper in NYC, a guaranteed headline-grabber. But financial holdings of the Mormon church aside, why should the FBI have something to say on a murderer who murdered before the FBI even existed?

William Hooper Young was a missionary in NYC frequenting prostitutes when the Ripper or copycat was killing them there. That much is incontrovertible truth. Perhaps he was acting in accordance with the avenging angel extremism of his theology, or perhaps he was insanely inspired by Jack the Ripper to exert his own apparent misogyny at the point of a blade, or perhaps he was just plain mad. Maybe all of the above. And perhaps the earlier Whitechapel murders also remain unresolved explicitly because any closer examination of the madness of Christian beliefs is as taboo a consideration as realizing a killer clutches his knife the same way a child clutches its mother’s hand.