By Steven G. Farrell
An homage to the Bowery Boys movies of the 1930s! This is a wild, humorous and slightly chilling yarn that takes us through the alleys of New York’s Bowery as a group of young hooligans known as the Bowery Irish Clowns tries to stop a killer who seems a lot like a certain Jack the Ripper.
The Ripper on the Bowery
Clarence Darrow Shaw, aka ‘Shem,’ member of the Bowery’s Irish Clown social club and an infamous loafer of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, disembarked the 3rd Avenue Elevated Train at Canal Street. He had spent another fruitless day seeking an executive position on Wall Street; now it was time to get back to his real occupation: goofing off with the other Bowery’s Irish Clowns. The job-hunting façade was just a scam to keep his old man at bay in the Shaw family’s tenement apartment. He would do anything to keep his parents from yelling at him. It usually worked. After coughing-up the fare to and from the city Shem had just enough of the money he had bummed off his Ma for a coffee and piece of pie at “Hughie’s Bohemian Café,” the official hang-out for Bugs and the other Clowns. Hughie Kressin the ancient Yiddish-spewing innkeeper of the Bohemian Café, was an easy touch in spite of all of his ranting at the Irish corner boys who cluttered his place. Shem knew he wouldn’t feel secure until he was with the gang. The Ripper wouldn’t dare step into the holy grounds of the café. Hughie was particular about the quality of the people who stepped into his establishment.
“Gee, Bugs will understand why I can’t get my career off of the ground,” Shem said out loud as he descended the stairways of the station. His moronically bug-eyed looks and mumblings always drew stares. He just knew his folks would start harping on him about going back to his old gig at the Fulton Fish Market. “They’re both nothing but Irish harpies.”
Shem drew a bead on Hughie’s just down the block but his vision was blocked when his Dodgers baseball cap fell over his eyes upon his collision with Squirt Sheridan, the tough newsboy who worked the corner and who was a sworn enemy of the Bowery Irish Clowns. Squirt was known for carrying a switchblade knife.
“Watch it, punk,” growled Clancy. “I hope the Ripper cuts your throat before Christmas unless I slice it before Thanksgiving.”
“Excuse me for breathing, young fellow,” shot back Shem. “Never mind Christmas; let me live past Halloween.”
“Get a job, wastrel!”
“Lay a finger on me and I’ll tell the chief,” retorted Shem, adding, “knife fighter.”
Squirt knew he could have mopped up the sidewalk with Shem or any of the other losers in the gang but he didn’t fancy tangling with Bugs McMaster who was still accounted as one of the best East Side sluggers since the days of Monk Eastman, Razor Reilly and Eat Em Up McManus. Shem Shaw the best insurance policy in the entire rapidly decaying neighborhood. Sheridan thought to himself that soon the Bowery would have nobody left in it but winos, bums and the Irish Clowns.
Shem scurried past Kennedy the beat cop.
“Are you still running with the Tinkers from the County Kerry?” hooted the flat foot.
“Oh, go back to the Ninth Precinct,” shot back Shem.
Standing just outside of Hughie’s Bohemian Café was Sarah Shaw, a second cousin of Shem and a third rate hooker on the Bowery. She had once been a very charming and pretty slip of a lass but now she was beginning to look a bit shopworn. Most of the family as well as the old families on the Bowery were ashamed of Sarah’s carrying on. Shem remembered better times and felt pity for a good girl who had gone to the bad. It wasn’t like she was getting rich at it or enjoyed the life.
“Sarah, you better move on before Hughie blows his top or Bugs comes along,” said Shem, peering into the diner to see who was around. Hughie was making a banana spilt for two fat dames while Bennie, Gyp, Murphy, Jordan were taking up valuable space at a table in the far back of the shop in between the rarely used jukebox and the too often used restroom. Whitey was probably just closing up the holster shop he operated along with his tough old gaffer Creepy Kelly. The Ferro brothers were still down at their office at the newspaper where they were making a name for themselves as a reporter and photographer with the inside scoop and glossy and gross photographs on the two serial killings that had taken place in the old burg. And the chief, Bugs, was probably finishing up his supper at home where his Ma always put on a good feed since she inherited loot from her bachelor brothers who were all firemen, police detectives and undertakers before they kicked their buckets. Shem was wondering why the Ripper had cut the throat of two lowly street walkers in the Bowery instead of hunting up in the Bronx or down in Brooklyn. One would think the Ripper would find fresher and prettier girls somewhere on Coney Island. Shem could almost imagine the smell of the popcorn, the taste of a hot dog, and the sounds of people screaming on the Ferris Wheel. Too bad it was October and the fair days were over.
“If you let me hold your spare change, Cousin Clarence, I could go home for the night and I would escape Bugs’ wrath for another night. You’re still wrestling mackerel at the Fulton Street Fish Market, aren’t you?’
“Everybody by the name of Shaw has the Fulton Street Fish Market on the brain. Besides, I’m flat broke and have been out of work since I lit-up my box of firecrackers beneath Mr. Silverstein’s chair during his afternoon nap.”
“That wasn’t smart thing to do to your boss, Clarence.”
“It was the fourth of July, Cathy,” snapped Shem. “Where’s your sense of patriotism, lady?”
Sarah suddenly froze in position. Her ears perked up as she tried to hear something over the noises of night time New York City. She peered long and carefully across the street. She studied the spaces in between the pawnshop, the Chinese restaurant and Battleship Marge’s Boardinghouse. Her gaze stayed the longest on the alleyway further down the street and away from the elevated station. Her silence and stiffness scared Shem who was easily frightened.
“Somebody is watching us right now.”
“Stop it right now, Cathy!”
“Do you suppose it’s him?”
“I hope you don’t mean who I think you mean,” responded Shem, biting on his fingernails.
“I bet it’s the Ripper, Shem, out to get us both.” “We going to be number three and four.”
“I wish the chief was here,” whined Shem, starting to cry like a half-wit.
“Boo!’ shouted Cathy, grabbing him by the neck.
Shem’s terrified scream brought Kennedy huffing and puffing down the street and Hughie bolting towards the front door of his dive. By the time the two adults could rescue the boy Sarah was laughing and skipping across the street. Soon she ducked out of sight into the alley that had once held so much fear for her. The copper socked Shem on the arm for issuing a false alarm and Hughie was going to bar him from the Bohemian Café for the night until Shem pulled out a handful of loose coins to prove he was a paying customer for a change. Momma Mary, Hughie’s hefty spouse, glared on at the moocher.
“Hughie, go prepare me a nice bowl of chicken soup and a cup of hot tea while I wait out here for Bugs to show.”
“I’ll chicken soup you,” snorted Hughie, cracking Shem with his cleaning towel. “Millions of Jews sipping chicken soup in this city and I get the Irish kid who likes mine.”
“You mean he likes my chicken soup, Poppa,” countered Momma.
“Bless your heart, Momma Mary.”
Shem Shaw was alone for only a few minutes when he heard a blood curdling scream issue from the alley across the street. He immediately recognized Cathy’s voice. He raced across the street to the entrance but he didn’t venture any further because he assumed that this was probably more of his cousin’s larks. He was peering into the gloom of the dusk when Bugs came up to him and cracked him on the top of the head with his battered hat that was yet another inheritance from a deceased uncle.
“Shem, are you watching Alice’s rabbit disappear down the magic hole again?”
“I heard Sarah screaming down there.”
Bugs frowned at the mentioning of the name of an old flame of his.
“The only screaming that one does is when she’s on her back and earning pennies off of the waterfront riff raff who patronize her.”
“Chief, that isn’t nice to say about a girl down on her luck.”
“She’s down on something,” said the chief, shaking his head sadly as he tugged Shem over to the café. It was time to check-up on the troops. The two had just made their way back to the table that now served as their clubhouse since their numbers had decreased over the years and the younger Mets had chased them away from the old underground clubhouse. The greetings and insults were still in progress when Whitey Kelly strolled in looking pensive as ever. He was forever whipping his hands because he felt he could never get them clean after working in his old man’s all day. The clowns started in on the newcomer when their taunts refocused upon the Ferro brothers, Mario and Bosco, who rushed in from the street. Mario, the reporter, flapped his notebook in the boys faces while Bosco, the photographer, called out for a pose.
‘If it isn’t our very own print boys and the Bowery’s number one newshound and his brother the snapper,” shouted Bugs, making no sense to anybody but himself. Mario ignored the uproar as he ordered a cherry cola from a Hughie who was wondering if the soda was to be paid for in currency or placed on the boys’ ever expanding tab.
In between gulps Marion clued the others in on the latest scoop about the Ripper.
“The coppers are anticipating two attacks tonight.”
“As if one wasn’t enough,” put in Shem. “And now I’m worried about Sarah.”
“Go on, Mario, you interest me for a change of climate.
“It seems that Scotland Yard of London contacted the Bowery’s very own Chief Inspector Rat Rice when they got wind of two Ripper murders here on the Lower East Side of New York City.”
“Why would the Scottish in anyone’s yard be interested in the Bowery?” asked Shem
“Shem, you’re an idiot,” snapped Bugs, smacking Shem with his hat again before turning his attention back to Ferro. “Mario, what’s ole Rice doing about all of these Rippers murders?”
“Scotland Yard, the London police, sent over here to our fair city one Inspector Tommy Farrow to assist Rice and the lads at the Ninth with the Ripper spree because they think our Bowery madman is copying their man in every detail.
“What, the Scottish have their own Ripper?”
“For once Shem has asked an intelligent question,” said Jordan.
Hughie set a fresh cherry coke down in front of Mario as he proceeded to blow his stack. “Haven’t you hooligans ever heard of Jack the Ripper? He was the original Ripper. The neighborhood’s nut case in this neighborhood is a copycat. Jack the Ripper was in all of the newspaper back when I was a fresh off of the boat from Prague in 1908 or so.”
“Try 1888 on for size,” corrected Mario as Hughie fumed.
“Is this Prague in the Queens?” asked Shem.
“Did this Jack the Ripper lurk in the immense London fog and kill girls with a knife?” asked Bugs.
Light bulbs went on all over the café as everybody began to put two and two together.
“My old man told me all about Jack the Ripper,” rumbled Whitey. “You know the old guy lived in White Chapel, London around that time.”
“I thought you were Irish?” asked Hughie. “You’re all Irish or Italian and not a good Jew among you.”
“Hush, Poppa, scolded as she brewed more coffee.
“A lot of Irish lived in London back in those days,” grouched back Whitey, “so what about it?”
“Surely, Mario, Rat Rice doesn’t think it’s the same Ripper after all of these years.”
“The heel isn’t saying, but I’m saying so in my next article entitled The Ripper on the Bowery. Sounds catchy, doesn’t it.”
“You could say it’s ripping.”
“Anyways,” continued Mario. “”I was at headquarters today when the Chief Inspector introduced the limey bobby from England and the first thing the foreigner said was that in 1888 on September 30th the Ripper struck twice, in two different spots, and put the end to two girls.”
“You don’t say,” said Bugs, rubbing his jaw. “The first attack was in late August and the second one was in early September so I guess the Ripper would be ready to strike again.”
Mario consulted his notebook and confirmed Bugs observation. “August 31st and September 8th which were the exact dates that Jack the Ripper done his dirty deeds in London. If he goes ahead according to schedule September 30th is circled on the calendar.”
“This way it doesn’t require any guesswork on the part of chief Inspector Rice.”
“Chief, Squirt Sheridan is pretty handy when it comes to sticking people with a knife,” blurted out Shem.
“Shem has a point there, Bugs,” said Jordan as some the other nodded their heads.
Bugs took a long pause before he finally responded by saying, “Squirt Sheridan has earned himself some serious consideration as a suspect but he’s more of a galoot than a night stalker.”
“And here’s the kickers, boys,” announced Mario, waving everybody closer in for a whisper of a cover-up as he drew the attention back to himself. “The two girls our Ripper killed were named Mary Ann and Annie just like….’
“Jack the Ripper!” the gang sang in harmony.
“So it stands to rationalization that the police know the name of his two promising victims tonight,” said Bugs.
“Smart boy,” said Hughie, clapping Bugs on the shoulder.
“And if the police know that all they have to do is put guards on all of the girls in the Bowery by those names.”
“Elizabeth and Catherine,” said Mario, answering Bugs’ unspoken question.
“The Bowery must have dozens and dozens of girls with the first names of Catherine and Elizabeth,” said Hughie. “Where do the police even start?”
“Cathy’s real name is Catherine,” Shem said to Hughie.
“Don’t bother your Poppa Hughie right now, Shem.”
“Cathy!” roared Bugs, leaping to his feet and racing to the door. “Cathy was in the alley.”
Unfortunately, Bugs was too slow on the draw and Cathy’s bloody remains had already been found by Kennedy. By the time the Irish Clowns reached the far end of the alley a crowd had gathered. Shem, against his will, was pulled forward to identify the body of his deceased cousin. The crowd was
angry and they began demanding that Kennedy take action immediately. The man in blue immediately blew his whistle for more assistance.
Bugs, Shem and the Clowns were all shaking their heads with disbelief as Kennedy began to force the rest of the onlookers to clear the way for re-enforcement. Nobody seemed to pay much attention when Bosco began to snap a picture. The exploding light bulb made everybody jump back.
“Say, what’s the idea?” asked Kennedy, pushing his hat backwards on his head.
“Let’s show more respect for my cousin, young fellow.”
“Evidence,” answered Bosco, popping in another bulb into his camera.
“A scoop, you mean,” said Bugs.
“We need to burn some images to warn the public that a madman is at large,” Mario said in a rhetorical manner.
Bugs would have had more cross words for the newspaper brothers but the alley was soon full of all sorts of city employees. Sirens filled the autumn night air as uniforms crowded into the dark alleyway. Kennedy elbowed a few of the boys aside to usher in Chief Inspector Rat Rice. A roly poly fellow with a Charlie Chaplin mustache followed close behind him. The two bent over the dead girl’s body and examined the mess that had once been her throat and stomach.
“The bloke’s gone and made a mess,” said the chubby man in a thick Cockney accent as he pointed out the gore splattered all over the brick sides of building and all around the alley. “We’re all standing in the blood and guts of this poor and unfortunate soul.”
The foreigner’s last sentence did the job of clearing out the alley that Kennedy hadn’t been able to accomplish. The last thing Bugs and the Bowery Irish Clowns heard was Rice shouting out orders in his that bossy tone of voice of his. Nobody was in a mood for a banana spilt when the gangs retook their
well-worn chairs inside of the Bohemian Café. Bugs looked around to see that several of the key members of his crew were missing in action.
“Hughie, you can fade as I take a head count,” said Bugs. “Go listen to the radio and have Momma Mary rustle up some grub.”
“On your tab I suppose.”
“Yellow bellies,” laughed Jordan. “They took off running at the site of blood.
“Not everybody gets a thrill by the sight of the ketchup like you, Jordan,” snorted Bugs.
“Shem had to rush home to tell his family about….you know,” said Gyp.
“Whitey said he had to check on his old man, Creepy Kelly,” said Bennie. “You know that Creepy can get up to no good if somebody doesn’t keep a close eye on him.”
Bugs rested his chin on his fists and began to ponder the situation. The Ripper was intruding on his territory even if his turf was confined to a few grubby blocks in the lowly Bowery. What’s more the Ripper was now attacking people who the Irish Clowns knew.
“Say, fellows, didn’t Mario say the Ripper was suppose to attack two girls tonight?’
“What about it?” asked Bennie.
“He was suppose to kill a Catherine….and he did; now he’s suppose to kill an Elizabeth.”
“More police have arrived,” noted Jordan. “Rice has called in the reserves.”
The boys paused as more sirens could be heard in the distance. The tiny diner seemed to be engulfed in the loud screams of squad cars and fire trucks. The noise was deafening. Bugs started to holler above the racket. “It is up to us to start patrolling the Bowery to see if we can catch the Ripper. We won’t have any females left if we leave it in the hands of Inspector Rice, Kennedy and the mustache from Scotland Yard.”
“Bugs!” shouted Hughie, bursting out of the back room and racing over to grab Bugs by the arm. “The Ripper has struck again! I just heard a news flash over the radio! The Ripper struck again!”
Benny and Jordan caught a hold of Hughie and forced him to take a seat. Gyp tossed a glass of lukewarm water into the little man’s face in order to settle him down and to get some sense out of him.
“Hughie, if you decompose yourself long enough to speak plain English to us we’re all ears.”
“The Ripper struck again just down Canal Street here only a minute away. It occurred near the East River.”
Hughie’s words rang true as the Bowery was alive with excitement, panic and rage that night. The police and civilians alike padded their way from one site to the other. The Irish Clowns had just arrived at the second murder site when Inspector Rice looked at them and said, “Just the boys we wanted to see.”
“Why us?” asked Jordan.
Kennedy pointed to a chalked graffiti that stood out against the backdrop of blood dripping off of the back of a tattoo parlor.
“The Clowns are the men that will not be blamed for nothing,” Bugs read out loud.
“Shakespeare it’s not,” cracked Jordan. Nobody laughed at his remark.
“But the message is a positive identification,” Rice announced grandly. “Boys you’re all under arrest.”
The arrest of the Bowery’s Irish Clown must have been some sort of ruse by Inspector Rat Rice in order to prove that he and his department were on top of the Ripper Case; for they were almost immediately released. A telephone call to Hughie at the Bohemian Cafe provided them with an airtight alibi. Bugs wondered if Rat had them arrested merely as some sort of twisted joke. Whatever Rat Rice’s motivations Bugs was worried that a lynch mob would be awaiting their return back to their headquarters at Third and Canal. However, their long-time mascot Hughie must have quelled the mob, because all was quiet when the boys marched in to reclaim their table at the back.
“Inspector Rice was just grandstanding for the reporters,” exclaimed Hughie, dishing up free ice cream to smooth over any hard feelings the gang might have for the Inspector. He had done it more than once or twice over the years.
“And for that we’re going to show up Rat Rice by putting our mitts on this so-called Ripper of the Bowery and pulling down his ironed trousers in full view of the radio and newspaper public,” said Bugs.
“The Irish Clowns to the rescue!” said Jordan, rallying the others to the cause.
“The Irish Clowns should get paying jobs instead of butting their noses into police business. If the Ripper doesn’t cut them off, Rat Rice will break them off,” fretted Hughie.
However, once Bugs McMaster had made-up his mind nothing in Heaven or on Earth could dissuade him from the task at hand. The whole affair was had turned personal. Besides, the malt shop kingpin reckoned that he and his crew knew the nooks and crannies better than all of the cops in Manhattan put together. It stood to reason that as neighborhood loafers that they could sneak into every shadow of the Bowery. Bugs came up with the division of labor, sending Jordan and Bennie northwards towards to the outer edges of the Bowery at Fourteenth Street while Gyp, Murphy and Whitey covered the waterfront along the East River. Mario and Bosco were the most useful at their place of employment where they could get tabs on Chief Inspector Rice and Inspector Farrow as well as filter to the gang about any new bulletins about the Ripper. Bugs and Shem would handle the business district beneath the elevated tracks, going from shop to shop to ask question. Bugs decided it as was only a mere formality to stop at the Kelly’s Upholstery Shop to question Creepy Kelly, Whitey’s forever cranky and threatening father.
“I don’t want White Chapel’s hooligan mates under me roof!” shouted Creepy, waving some sort of sharp work instrument beneath Bugs’ nose. The old gaffer’s accent was hard to place; for it was not an Irish brogue or a Cockney dialect but rather a broth of two stirred together.
“Who’s this White Chapel when he’s at home?” asked Shem, ditching behind Bugs’ back.
“I think the old gent is referring to our mutual pal Whitey,” explained Bugs.
“It’s a good a name as any other and sure wasn’t the lad born over in White Chapel where I had me shop back in London?’ challenged Creepy. He suddenly shrunk away from the boys as though he had let the cat out of the bag.
“So Whitey is English and not Bowery Irish?” asked Bugs.
“That’s none of your business, you corner boy, you.”
Bugs didn’t reveal his hand to the other boys when they regrouped at Hughie’s Bohemian Café just before dusk. He spent much of the time studying Whitey’s face and body language as the others recounted their long day of detective work. Bugs had long since realized that the old Jack the Ripper murders had occurred in the crumbling White Chapel section of London’s East End before they had suddenly rematerialized in the crumbling Bowery section of New York’s East Side. The boss of the Irish Clowns knew he didn’t need to be any Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Jack the Ripper was Creepy Kelly, Whitey’s father. Bugs McMaster was nothing if he wasn’t loyal to his fellow gang members and he wasn’t about to help Inspector Rat Rice and Precinct 9 to do their job in locating the murderer. Stopping the Ripper from striking again on the Bowery was altogether a different ball game. Some of the fellows had spied upon Squirt Sheridan at his corner newsstand but it had just been racing forms and girlie magazines all day long.
“Fellows, the best thing we can do is just sit tight until the November Third when this Ripper character is poised to strike again,” announced Bugs, finalizing his decision.
“Shouldn’t we warn the neighborhood that the Ripper could strike again on the Third of next month?’ asked Jordan.
The public telephone began to ring and it refused to stop until Hughie picked it up.
“Can we trust the Ripper to keep to the old schedule?” Gyp asked sensibly.
Hughie shouted over the boys: “Bugs, it’s Mario, and it said the last victim of Jack the Ripper was a dame by the name of Mary Kelly.”
“Whitey, isn’t Kelly your last name?” Shem asked innocently.
“So what about it, mug,” growled Whitey, clenching his fists. “There are plenty of people with the last name of Kelly in the Bowery. Besides, we don’t own a Mary.”
Shem turned away from the wrath of Whitey to address: “And Hugo, Momma’s first name is Mary.”
Hughie rubbed his chin in reflection.
“You’re forgetting that Momma Mary isn’t a night walker…if you catch my drift.”
“More like a nightmare,” Hughie mumbled under his breath but still thankful that his wife was in the kitchen flipping hamburgers for the boys. She had always been known for her fiery temper back in the old country. She was also one jealous old nag. Maybe Momma was Jill the Ripper. Nah, she couldn’t be. Well, one could never tell.
The Bowery’s Irish Clowns spent the entire month of October going from door to door to warn people about the upcoming event of the Ripper’s November appearance. Anybody named Mary was strongly cautioned to stay behind locked doors on in during the opening days of the eleventh month. Catching wind of the Irish Clowns civic deeds, Rat Rice decided to get into the act by hammering up flyers all over the joint re-stating the same advice. The Chief Inspector promised the public that he would beef-up the number of beat cops in the area and went on to promise that on the 3rd he would be pounding the pavement along with Inspector Tommy Farrow, the Jack the Ripper expert sent over by Scotland Yard. The implication was that Farrow had something up his sleeve. The Mayor of New York City had even posted a $10,000 reward for the ripper. As the neighborhood proceeded to set up its defenses, Bugs McMaster was doing some snooping around on his own. He thought it was best to keep his own counsel about his discoveries. The only one he felt comfortable in confiding with was Mario Ferro, who had access to the real inside dope from all sorts of sources.
On November 2nd Bugs McMasters was seated inside of Hughie’s Bohemian Café waiting for his tribe to gather for their war paint and instructions when Hughie ushered him over to the public telephone where Mario was waiting at the other end of the line.
“Any information about Creepy Kelly?” asked Bugs.
“I hope you’re all ears, Bugs; for there was a Jack the Ripper suspect by name of James Kelly, a convicted maniac.
“You don’t say? Creepy could be James.”
“One James Kelly was sentenced to a life in a lunatic house by the name of Broadmoor for the murder of his wife shortly before the Ripper’s murdering spree. He escaped by using some tricks that would have made John Dillinger proud of him. He also went underground for years until he showed up one day at the main gate of Broadmoor requesting readmission. The British fuzz began a search for him back in 1888 but they wrote him off when they figured out he had fled to the United States; and by 1923, the year he resurfaced, they no longer considered him a prime suspect.”
“It adds up.”
“There’s even more, Bugs,” interrupted Mario, adding, “according to inspector Farrow of Scotland Yard there was always a long standing theory among British crime experts that Jack Ripper had brought his hobby over here. A few prostitutes were found sliced and diced here on the Bowery years before we born. He was never captured and it was believed by the authorities that he took off when the police began to close in on him.”
“It must have been before Inspector Rat Rice’s time.”
“Scotland Yard and the London Metropolitan Police have long theorized that the Ripper then continued his murdering all over the country; these attacks being spread-out over many decades.”
“Isn’t Creepy Kelly a bit past all of that now?” asked Bugs, thinking of Whitey.
“Maybe he has an able-bodied assistant,” whispered Mario, thinking of Whitey.
“What else is on your mind, Mario?”
“According to the files James Kelly died in 1927.”
“If Creepy Kelly is indeed James Kelly maybe he pulled a second Harry Houdini escape act.”
By the time Bugs got off the party line the gang was starting to gather. Hughie and Momma were in the kitchen getting hot coffee, soup and sandwiches ready for the boys. Hughie had promised to keep the Bohemian Café open all night long so the boys would have a headquarters and a place to warm-up. The Irish Clowns planning session pulled to a grinding halt when Squirt Sheridan strutted in and put in an order for hot pastrami on rye and coffee to go.
“Put it on my bill, Momma Mary,” grunted Sheridan, seeming the worst for drink.
“I will but this is the last time. You’re up to seventeen dollars and twelve cents and that’s getting too high up there for Poppa and me,” she said. She didn’t want to quarrel with a mean drunk.
Squirt Sheridan glared at the gang but held his tongue as he disappeared into the gathering mist of the late autumn night. He left behind the fumes of cheap whiskey.
“Squirt Sheridan has become a rummy,” proclaimed Jordan, waving away the sour air.
“He must be burning the candle at both ends,” noted Shem.
“Let’s keep an eye on the flames of those candles,” said Bugs.
The Irish foggy dew had thickened into an old-fashion London pea soup fog as the midnight hour approached and past. Shem was happy to be close to Bugs but he would have been happier to be closer to his bed at home. The weatherman on the radio had forecast that the drizzle would intensify in the wee hours of the morning and that that the rain would eventually turn to sleet before it became solid snow. The sidewalks of the Bowery appeared to be uncommonly cluttered with all sorts of people considering the Ripper was about to strike again. Shem wondered how many of them were police officer and how many were onlookers hoping for a bloody show. Then, again, any person passing by could be Jack the Ripper on the prowl. He thought of his dead cousin and hoped that he and Bugs would save the day. He dearly would love to get in a clout or two for Cathy’s sake.
“Do my eyes deceive me?’ asked Bugs, pointing at a figure that loomed a few blocks ahead of them.
The two young men picked up their paces to close the gap between them and the hunched over figure that loomed in front of them. It appeared to be an elderly man. It was also quite obvious he was wearing some sort of top hat that had been out of fashion since the “Gay Nineties”. In his right had the man held a walking stick that he nervously clicked on the cement sidewalk as if he were propelling himself forward; in his left he was carrying a black leather bag.
“Is he going to the opera?” asked Shem.
“He looks like a doctor making a house call back in the olden days.”
The words were no sooner out of the chief’s mouth when the man suddenly whirled around his tracked, lifted up his cane, and charged the two boys at full speed. Creepy Kelly was only inches away from crashing in some skulls when suddenly men leapt out of the shadows and wrestled the man down to the ground. It was Rice, Farrow and a squadron of plains clothes officers.
“Chief Inspector Rice!”
“So you’re still meddling in police business, McMasters,” said Rice, turning away to instruct his men to cuff the struggling menace to society. “We’ve been tailing you all night and we knew you would serve as useful bait to lure Jack the Ripper out into the streets. After all, isn’t your name Marion?”
“Marion!” hooted Shem.
“It’s my maiden name,” said Bugs, stumbling over his words.
“We were hoping Marion was close enough to the name of Mary.”
“My premise was correct,” Inspector Farrow crowed like a rooster.
The chief was in no mood to thank the police for rescuing them. Instead, he was interested in the black bag that had fallen to the ground during the shuffle. All eyes were turned on Bugs as he snapped open the latch and turned the bag upside down. A sandwich and a thermostat of coffee tumbled to the ground.
“Smells like pastrami,” noted Shem.
“It’s me late night snack, you Yankee ruffians,” shouted Creepy. “And why am I in cuffs when I was defending myself against these footpads who intended to rob me of my meal?”
Rat Rice didn’t have the time to sort out the mess because Gyp came running down the street and roaring his head off that somebody had snuck up behind him and pulled his cap over his eyes and had slammed him up against a wall. In between gulps, Gyp explained that by the time he was able to see again, Whitey and the attacker had vanished into the night. He speculated that Whitey was giving chase to the Ripper at that very moment. Gyp was barely finished with his narrative when Murphy tore around the corner shouting bloody murder.
“Bugs, somebody stuffed a trash can over my head and by the time I had gotten the tin off of my noggin the attacker was gone and Jordan had disappeared into thin air.”
Events were tumbling in from all points and things were going to get even more obtuse.
“It sounds like Hughie.”
Soon the chubby little café owner had discovered the small gathering.
“Jordan is hurt and I just saw Whitey racing towards the East River. The Ripper attacked Jordan and he’s dying on the footsteps of my café and Whitey is in hot pursuit of the Ripper. Come away quickly!”
In front of Hughie’s Bohemian Café the boys found Jordan who was up on his feet and holding a hanky to a bloody cheek. However, he was far from death’s doorsteps. Nobody bothered to take a close look at his wound. Meanwhile the police followed Whitey’s footsteps in the thin covering of the fresh snow.
“Get Jordan inside and out of the cold!” ordered Bugs.
Hughie and the gang were greeted with the sight of blood and gore splattered all over the shop. In spite of all of the slashes across the face and the derange destruction of the body, it was still possible to identify the still warm remains of Momma Kressin.
“I was only gone for a few minutes,” said Hughie before he fainted into Murphy’s arms.
“I didn’t hear a thing,” announced Jordan.
“I think Whitey Kelly is the Ripper on the Bowery and not Creepy Kelly,” decreed Bugs.
The police did follow the footprints up to the very edge of the docks where they abruptly stopped. Rice and Farrow surmised that whoever had made the run had concluded by leaping into the East River. The two men were rapidly coming to the decision that it was a fake suicide. The word ‘fake’ was dropped from the official report a few days later when some rough and tough dock worked pulled a body out of the drink with their hooks and it was immediately identified as being the bloated remains of White Chapel “Whitey” Kelly. It would be ruled that the boy was pushed into the river from behind. Oddly enough, it was never recorded if there was another step of prints. The murder was attributed to Jack the Ripper. The Inspector was still supervising the investigation of the mysterious foot prints when he was hailed by Murphy and informed of the slaughter of Momma Kressin inside of the Bohemian Café.
By the time Rice and Farrow arrived to the latest crime scene the Ferro brothers were already there snapping pictures and conducting interviews. The police wanted confessions, not interviews. The next few hours were filled with shouting, crying and accusations. It wasn’t until a snowy dawn was breaking out from over the Atlantic seaboard that Shem asked the least dumb of all of his questions.
“Where’s Creepy Kelly?”
In all of the excitement that old man had managed to drift away into the swirling snow without notice.
“He won’t get far with the bracelets on his wrists,” said Rice, hoping for the best.
“Creepy Kelly must have killed his own son in the shuffle at the waterfront,” declared Farrow, seeking approval.
“I think you have it all wrong there, Sherlock,” butted in Bugs, a smug grin smeared across his pug-nosed face. “It’s true that Creepy Kelly was the original Jack the Ripper but it’s also true that Whitey was his apprentice and he was Ripper on the Bowery.”
“So it’s true what they always say: father like son,” wisecracked Jordan.
“So where’s Creepy?’
“Maybe he jumped into the river with his son,” suggested Bugs.
However, the body of Creepy Kelly was never recovered from the icy river. Years later, a rumor was whispered along the streets of the Bowery that Farrow had wired Rice that James Kelly had reappeared at the gates of Broodmoor Lunatic Prison for a second time. There was also tattle that the old documents were never replaced by new ones. James Kelly had officially returned to the institution in 1923 and that he had been buried on the prison’s grounds in 1927. The English, per usual, were trying to save rather than solve the mystery. It was believed by most that all of this gossip had been spread by the Ferro brothers who had gotten the tip-off from various reliable sources.
Chief Inspector Rice never pointed any fingers at Creepy or Whitey and their reputations were untarnished in the newspapers. The police had found the perfect fall guy the next day when Officer Kennedy discovered a drunk and groggy Squirt Sheridan slumped inside of his battered wooden newsstand; his clothes being smeared all over with fresh blood stains. The thick-headed Mick became the hero of the day when he searched the hood’s pockets and discovered a recently used switchblade.
“I’ve been framed!” screamed Sheridan as Kennedy booted him into an awaiting paddy wagon.
“Tell it to the judge, Jack the Ripper.”
Bugs McMaster for once was heard coming to the defense of his old arch-enemy: “for once in his life the Squirt is telling the truth.”
“Come again, chief,” requested Shem.
“Last night we heard with our own ears squirt ordering a pastrami sandwich and coffee to go and we also found the same such items inside of Creep’s black back. It’s a bit fishy to me.”
“You mean Creepy stole squirt’s stuff and framed him.”
“Somebody by the name of Kelly set-up Squirt for a fall.”
“Aren’t you going to tell the police, chief?’
“I will if I have to in order to save his neck from the noose.”
Bugs Moran never had the opportunity to present his testimony the police and Squirt Sheridan never had a chance to sing like a canary on the witness stand. He was found a few days later swinging from the rafters of his cell. It probably saved him a trip to the hangman’s gallows at Sing-Sing as Bugs McMaster’s pastrami sandwich theory probably would have been ripped to shreds by the district attorney. Bugs didn’t lose any sleep over the suicide ruling that was allowed to stand. Many residents of the Bowery thought it was good riddance to an evil man and it saved the taxpayers money on a trial and an execution.
“It was a bloody good yarn while it lasted,” Jordan was always fond of saying after the Bowery returned back to its grimy and gritty ways. “Somebody should take it to Hollywood and make a movie out of it.”
“You must be the grim reaper,” Bugs once said to Jordan.
“Maybe Jordan here was the real Ripper on the Bowery and he did it just for the heck of it,” blurted out Shem.
Jordan responded with a sickening laugh. He made no denial to the charge.
“Maybe Jordan did it to provide material for a screenplay that he intends to write for a Hollywood B movie,” chipped in Gyp.
“Say, that isn’t a bad idea,” Jordan said coming to his own defense. “I heard California is still sunny this time of season and there are plenty of pretty girls.”
“And victims,” said Shem.
Some of the fellows laughed at Shem’s remarks but they weren’t laughing when January rolled around and they received a gloating postcard from Jordan out on the Pacific coast that closed with the cryptic message of “the Clowns are men that will not be blamed for nothing .”
Jordan made a handful of motion pictures before he eventually died of a drug overdose. Nobody could really verify if he was in a police line-up during the Black Dahlia case.
“Oh, I think Momma would have loved to see Joan Crawford playing her up on the silver screen,” gushed Hughie.
“Hughie, you’re just as bad as Jordan,” fumed Bugs.
“I miss Momma’s chicken soup,” put in Shem before tempers could flare.
Poppa seemed very peaceful and happy once Momma was out of the picture. He had become the scandal of the neighborhood when he started dating a very young Irish colleen from Sixth Street. Nobody had the heart to tell Hughie that it was an established fact that his new sweetheart had been a paid sweetheart beneath the tracks of the elevated. More than a few suspected that the little old Yiddish-speaking man from Europe was no dummy; some even were even whispering that Hughie Kressin was really the Ripper on the Bowery who had manufactured the murders with the ultimate aim of getting rid of his pesky wife.
It was right around St. Patrick’s Day when the residents of the Bowery were putting up their shamrocks, cooking their corn beef and cabbage and dying their beer green when Chief Inspector Rat Rice made an unannounced visit to the Bohemian Café. Lukewarm greetings were exchanged before the Chief Inspector got right to the heart of the matter.
“As far as the mayor and city hall is concerned Squirt Sheridan was the Ripper on the Bowery andhis last two victims were your pals Creepy and Whitey Kelly. It’s too bad about the second body not being dragged up with the nets. Poor Creepy was probably food for the sharks and the crabs somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic,” said Rice.
“Sounds reasonable to me,” said Bugs.
“You fellows wouldn’t be holding out on me?” asked the Inspector.
“We’re no wiser than Precinct 9,” responded Bugs.
“So case closed!”
“So case closed,” Bugs said slowly.
When the Giants were just about to open up the new baseball season at the Polo Grounds against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mario put a serious question to Bugs behind the closed doors of Hughie’s back room.
“So you’ll go to your grave believing Creepy Kelly was the Jack the Ripper of White Chapel, London and Whitey Kelly was the Ripper on the Bowery here in New York City?”
“I’m 100% positive.”
“And I’m 100% positive that Creepy Kelly was the Ripper both times.”
“And I’m 100% positive that I miss Momma’s chicken soup but I don’t miss Momma one bit,” said Shem; his eyes bulging in his village idiot-like stare.
Copyright © 2010 by Steven G. Farrell, All Rights Reserved