Monday, 11 June 2012

The Short Life of Long Liz

1888: A Jack the Ripper Novel is available to buy now from Amazon

In writing a novel based on the most notorious serial killer in history, I never thought that the introduction of one of the victims would allow me to add a touch of levity to my story.

Of the canonical five, Liz Stride shares the least amount of time on the page before her murder but in doing so, she left an indelible mark upon me. Perhaps she is the breeziest of all the victims but she suffers what was perhaps the hardest, most brutal murder of them all - she was the one who fought back.

Elizabeth Stride was known to almost everyone she knew as "Long Liz." It is often assumed that this was owing to her height but at 5' 5" Stride would not have been particularly statuesque in an age of diminutive people, (Queen Victoria herself stood at only 4" 11") Other theories have suggested that her moniker came from her slender frame or even her leggy, wide gate as she walked.

For the sake of simplicity, this is never addressed in my book as there are few things I find more tedious in novels than unnecessary exposition. The origin of her name, like so many other aspects of her life, remain a mystery.

We know this much about her. She was born in 1843 on a farm a little north of Gothenburg, Sweden and moved to London in 1866, whereupon she took up work as a seamstress and inevitably, a prostitute (a crime for which she had been charged several times in the years before her move to England.)

She could read English relatively well and was a fluent speaker and she seemingly took well to her new home, quickly finding a relationship with a Michael Kidney who she would live with on and off for her remaining years (despite marrying another man, John Stride in 1869)

Liz was clearly somewhat of a fantasist. One story she liked to share was that her husband and child died while aboard the SS Princess Alice - a paddle steamer that sank in the Thames in 1878 after a collision which resulted in the deaths of around 640 people. She claimed she survived by climbing the mast of the ship and lost her lower front teeth after being kicked in the face by another fleeing passenger.

In truth, her husband was alive and well and did not die until 1884. Details such as this are always interesting to hear when you're trying to flesh out a character for a novel. In 1888, Liz Stride became a dreamer, before she was a liar. Someone for whom the blissful escape from the miseries of her life can be achieved by fantasising about a different life.

Liz's final moments will not be recounted in this post as the impact, I believe, works by having its fully brutality intact. However, I will say that all of the details recounted in the book are entirely accurate, from the initial meeting, to the fleeing witness and the shout of "Lipski!" Even the pack of Cachos Mints that was found in her hand plays a role.

What I did omit is that the fleeing witness, Israel Schwartz claimed that he saw another man, standing in the shadows of the yard and smoking a cigarette, who followed him for some distance. If this story is to be believed, it may bring into question whether there was only one killer, or, if Liz Stride was killed by the Ripper at all.

Of course, Liz Stride was not to be the only victim that evening - Long Liz and Catherine Eddowes will forever be remembered as the bodies left on the streets on the night of the "double event."

In fact, the Ripper had a lot of work left to do...

Yours truly,
Charlie Revelle-Smith,

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