On August 31st, 1888, Mary Nichols became the first victim of the killer who would become known as “Jack the Ripper.”
The lack of motive, coupled with the sheer brutality of the mutilations inflicted on her body led to much speculation in the press as to what sort of person could have carried out such a senseless atrocity.
Newspapers began combing the pages of criminal history to find comparable barbarous crimes to help understand a murder that, in the eyes of many journalists, was, quite simply, beyond comprehension.
ANDREAS BICHEL THE BAVARIAN RIPPER
Several newspapers fixed upon the case of Andreas Bichel (1760 – 1809), whose crimes, committed between 1806 and 1808, had shocked Bavaria when they finally came to light, and whose motives were every bit as obscure and unfathomable as those of the unknown miscreant who had carried out the Buck’s Row murder.
On Friday 7th September, 1888 – which, coincidentally, was the day before the killer would strike again and murder Annie Chapman in Hanbury Street – The Pall Mall Gazette published the following article about the crimes of Andreas Bichel, and pondered whether the motives of the Whitechapel murderer could have been similar:-
A PRECEDENT FOR THE WHITECHAPEL MURDER
BY MR. WILLIAM WESTALL
“Owing to its exceptional atrocity and seeming purposelessness, it has been suggested that the Whitechapel murder must needs be the work of a maniac.
The utter poverty of the woman is against the supposition that the murderer’s motive could be greed; jealousy is equally out of the question; there is nothing to show that she had enemies; and, even assuming a motive, no sane malefactor, after cutting his victim’s throat, would deliberately mutilate her out of pure fiendishness.
People who argue thus (though it is, of course, quite possible that a maniac may in this case be the criminal) forget, or do not know, that there are, unfortunately, many instances on record of murders equally purposeless and atrocious having been committed by persons whose sanity was beyond doubt – unless we are to believe that all who in times past have taken pleasure in human suffering were insane, and that cannibals and contemporary savages, who torture prisoners by way of pastime, are irresponsible and, therefore, guiltless lunatics.
SAVAGES IN EVERY COMMUNITY
In every community, however highly civilized, are savages, and probably potential cannibals, who are restrained only by fear from gratifying their homicidal propensities, and who, occasion serving, and when they think they can reckon on impunity, do gratify them.
A striking case of this sort, resembling in several of its features the Whitechapel murder, occurred some four score years ago in Bavaria.
THE REGENSDORF MURDERS
In 1806 there lived at the village of Regensdorf a day labourer of the name of Andreas Bichel.
Very little seems to have been known of his antecedents, but he was a quiet, industrious man, and in comparatively easy circumstances. He lived in a decent cottage with his wife, who had the reputation of being as quiet as himself, and to whom he appeared to be warmly attached.
Nevertheless, the Bichels were not well regarded by their neighbours, partly because they kept themselves very much to themselves, Andreas seldom, if ever, appearing in the village alehouse, and being otherwise of a reserved, unsociable disposition.
It was, moreover, said that his honesty was not above reproach, that he did not disdain on occasions to pick up any unconsidered trifle that came in his way, but his peculations were so insignificant that they had never got him into trouble.
ANDREAS BICHEL FORTUNE TELLER
He also earned a few coppers by telling fortunes, and one way and another the Bichels were supposed to be making a nice little thing of it, and even laying money by.
And so things went on until the early part of 1808, when a young woman of Regensdorf, named Katherina Leidel, mysteriously disappeared, and her friends sought for her in vain.
Walburga, a younger sister, said that in the previous month word had come from Bichel that he was quite alone, and if Katherina wanted to have her fortune told he was ready to see her.
On this Katherina informed Walburga that Bichel had a wonderful glass, in which those who looked could see their future, and after putting on her best clothes went, as the other supposed, to his house.
Bichel, on being questioned, said that Katherina had indeed paid him a visit, but that after staying a short time in the house she went away with a man whom he did not know and could not describe.
It was then remembered that two years previously another girl, of the name of Barbara Reisinger, had disappeared under precisely similar circumstances.
She went to Bichel’s house to peep into the magical glass, and had not been seen since.
THE GIRLS’ CLOTHING
Moreover, Bichel’s wife had sold some clothing which Barbara’s friends recognized as having belonged to the missing girl, the possession of which Frau Bichel accounted for by saying that Barbara, having married a rich man in another part of the country, had no longer need of her peasant costume.
It further appeared that Bichel had obtained from Barbara’s parents, who were densely ignorant and credulous, the rest of the girl’s clothing, by saying that she had got a good place in a distant town, and he would send it to her.
When these things came to the knowledge of the authorities, Bichel’s house was searched and himself and his wife were arrested.
In the house were found several articles of clothing which had belonged to Katherina Leidel.
These Bichel averred that he had bought in the market at Regensburg, and he still held to it that he knew not what had become of the missing girls.
His manner, however, was that of a guilty man; his answers were contradictory and for the most part palpably false.
The suspicion that the girls had met with foul play grew stronger, yet though Bichel’s house and premises had been thoroughly searched, no evidence of murder having been committed was for some time forthcoming.
THE BODIES FOUND
But one of the local constables noticed that whenever they went to the house his dog prowled, smelling and barking, about an outbuilding, used for storing firewood.
This put him on the right track; he had the wood removed; and buried in the ground under the wood were found parts of a human body.
Beneath a heap of rubbish were found other remains, and, finally, the bodies of both the missing girls were disinterred, frightfully mutilated.
It was evident that, after killing them, the murderer had disembowelled them and torn out their hearts.
Nevertheless, Bichel still remained obdurate.
He made an admission one day only to withdraw it the next, and confession being necessary for his conviction, the examining magistrate had recourse to an expedient which was hardly ever known to fail; it was believed to be more effective as a means of extorting admission of guilt than the question by torture, abolished in Bavaria only a short time previously.
Bichel was taken to his own house, and, in the presence of the mutilated remains of his victims, solemnly exhorted to tell the truth and save his soul.
His guilt he could now no longer deny, and three days afterwards he made full confession.
He had killed both girls in the same way.
After enticing them into his house to have their fortunes told, he persuaded them – as an essential preliminary to the efficacy of his incantations – to let him tie their hands behind their backs and bandage their eyes.
The rest was easy. Barbara Reisinger he killed by a stab in the neck with a knife, Katherina Leidel by a blow on the head with a hammer.
He then cut open the body – as it might seem, out of pure devilishness – and bathed his hands and covered the house floor with blood; thereby, of course, greatly increasing the chances of detection.
His motive, as he alleged, was to appropriate the girls’ clothing – of which, however, he admitted he had no need, and could only dispose of with great difficulty.
A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
Feuerbach, the German criminalist, has written a remarkable study of this case in its psychological aspects.
He characterizes Bichel as a man at once cunning and covetous, secretive and timid, quite capable of committing terrible crimes for small gains, and murdering for the mere pleasure of killing – always provided he could do so without immediate danger to himself; the ultimate risk, the chances of detection, he was too stupid either to estimate or understand.
Of a crime that demanded for its execution courage, strength, and skill, he was altogether incapable.
Before venturing to kill Katherina Leidel and Barbara Reisinger he had them safe in his own house, bound and blindfolded. If they had looked him in the face he could not have raised a hand against them.
It was timidity, not sobriety, that kept him from the alehouse; he feared the jeers and disliked the jokes and rough ways of the village louts, because he had not the courage to resent them.
The cruelty and pitilessness of his nature were aggravated by a consciousness of his own cowardice, and his greed was excited by the sight of any evidence of wealth.
Whenever he saw a well-dressed girl he wanted to rob her and take her clothes.
He invited other girls besides Leidel and Reisinger to come in their best and have their fortunes told; but either because they went in company, or his courage, such as it was, failed him, they escaped.
It is highly significant that it never seems to have occurred to him to inveigle into his house either a man or a boy.
Bichel was sentenced to death and beheaded.
HIS RACE IS NOT EXTINCT
There is, unfortunately, no reason to believe that the race of Bichels is extinct.
It is probable that the miscreant who committed the Whitechapel murder has much in common with him.
None but a densely stupid man, devoured by greed, would risk his neck for such insignificant plunder as he could obtain from a street-walker; none bu a stealthy coward would steal on a woman unawares and cut her throat; and, finally, none but a creature with a lust for blood and devoid of all sense of pity would, after killing his victim, mutilate her body.”