The delightful village of Kessingland in East Suffolk has much to offer the casual visitor. Its village church, dedicated to St Edmund, is one of the finest in the area, and it boasts an imposing 98 foot high church tower that was built in 1436.
Indeed, so delightful is it that it is not the type of location you would associate with the Whitechapel murders.
And yet, in 1888, the people of the village were much perturbed to find that their church had, apparently, been visited by someone claiming to be the notorious “Jack the Ripper.”
The Norfolk News, carried the story of what had occurred at the church in its edition of Saturday 3rd November, 1888
BREAKING INTO KESSINGLAND CHURCH
A DISGRACEFUL INSCRIPTION THE RECTOR’S BOOKS
“The village of Kessingland has had a new topic for gossip during the last few days, which has for the moment overshadowed the allotments controversy and Culver’s mysteriously broken head.
The church has been sacrilegiously entered, and some daring individual has had the presumption to walk into the vestry, where on Sunday the rector robes himself in white surplice, and actually write some silly nonsense in the parson’s books about his being Jack the Ripper from London.
A CLUMSY JOKE
Although the whole affair is nothing but a clumsy joke, yet, coupled with the last unpleasant discovery made in this self-same vestry not long ago, it has given rise to a great deal of disagreeable comment and surmise.
It seems that the iron gates at the entrance of the church porch are kept locked, but they are constructed in such a fashion that they can be opened without using a key. The door leading from the porch to the church is always ajar in order to ventilate the sacred edifice.
The Keesingland folks are rather primitive in their habits and customs, and this accounts for the brilliant device of “airing the church,” as it is called, by leaving open the main door.
MR GEORGE WALKER DISCOVERS THE CRIME
To an ordinary mind it would not be a source of wonderment to find that the porch gate fastener had been slipped and an entrance effected; but when Mr. George Walker, the church clerk, walked up the path of the churchyard last Saturday afternoon his usual leisurely manner, he stood stock-still in amazement when he beheld that the gates were open.
He quietly walked into the church to see if the daring intruder was still meditating, but he was not visible, and thereupon the clerk did the wisest thing under the circumstances – he communicated with the police.
THE POLICE ARRIVE
Police Constable Smith soon appeared on the scene, and commenced a careful examination of the place.
Like a shrewd officer, he first turned his attention to the “donation box,” and found that this had been tampered with in a very awkward manner altogether unworthy of anyone styling himself “Jack the Ripper.”
The individual had not laid his plans with much forethought, for he was driven to take the dustpan handle from the coal box in the vestry to force open this box.
The attempt was a failure, for the handle broke into three pieces and the lid could not be forced open. One portion of the handle fell into the box and the other two pieces were considerately taken back into the vestry.
THE BOX WAS EMPTY
Even had the intruder been successful he would not have been rewarded for his pains. The box was emptied a fortnight previously by the rector, and, as the Kessingland folks who attend the church are not very liberal in their offertories, the box was empty.
THE WRITING IN THE BOOKS
No further trace was found by the police officer of the unlawful visitor until he reached the vestry, and there discovered that the individual had left behind him specimens of his calligraphy in two books belonging to the Rev. W. Woodward.
The writing was in ink, in badly formed letters, but, as will be observed, the spelling was very defective.
In one book the inscription was, “I am Jack the Ripper, from London. I am goen to kille you.” The other, which was in the Catechism, was similar, minus the threat.
This is the extent of the mischief done by this clumsy joker. Nothing else was disturbed.
It is believed that the outrage took place on Friday, as everything was left secure on the previous day.
THE RECTOR SPEAKS OUT
On Sunday evening the rector improved the occasion by speaking of the iniquity of which the offender had been guilty. Years ago the offence was one punishable by death, and now the law would visit the wrongdoer with heavy punishment if detected. The writing itself was bad enough, but for it to have been done in a church made it tenfold more wicked.
Up to the present time the police have no clue as to the identity of the offender.”