Guest Post: The London Monster by Donna Scott

In 1788, exactly one hundred years before Jack the Ripper terrorizes the people of London, a sexual miscreant known as the London Monster roams the streets in search of his next victim…

Thomas Hayes, having lost his mother in a vicious street assault, becomes an underground pugilist on a mission to rid the streets of violent criminals. But his vigilante actions lead to him being mistaken for the most terrifying criminal of all.

Assistance arrives in the form of Sophie Carlisle, a young journalist with dreams of covering a big story, though she is forced to masquerade as a man to do it. Trapped in an engagement to a man she doesn’t love, Sophie yearns to break free to tell stories that matter about London’s darker side—gaming, prostitution, violence—and realizes Tom could be the one to help. Together, they come up with a plan.

Straddling the line between his need for vengeance and the need to hide his true identity as a politician’s son becomes increasingly difficult as Tom is pressured to win more fights. The more he wins, the more notoriety he receives, and the greater the chance his identity may be exposed—a revelation that could jeopardize his father’s political aspirations and destroy his family’s reputation. 

Sophie is also in danger as hysteria spreads and the attacks increase in severity and frequency. No one knows who to trust, and no one is safe—Tom included, yet he refuses to end the hunt.

Little does he realize, the monster is also hunting him.

Who was the London Monster?

Almost everyone has heard of Jack the Ripper, the villain who wandered the streets of London in 1888, killing prostitutes in the dead of night.  Few people are aware, however, that he had a predecessor, a sexual miscreant who terrorized those same streets exactly one hundred years earlier.  Although he did not have a predilection for prostitutes, his weapon of choice was the same.  That man was known as The London Monster.

The Monster going to take his Afternoons Luncheon (etching by James Gillray 1790): The victim is wearing a copper cuirass over her bottom to protect her from his attack.

His reign of terror lasted from March 1788 to June 1790.  Within that timeframe, he attacked approximately 56 women.  This number remains in question, however, because many believe some of his attacks were not reported and others were fabricated.  But more on that later.

In 1790, London was a highly sexualized city.  There were over 10,000 prostitutes, women of all ages from various backgrounds, many of whom were wives trying to earn an extra shilling or two to help with household expenses.  Brothels and molly houses existed in every part of town from Pall Mall to Charing Cross and Drury Lane and, of course, in Covent Garden.  Erotic novels, vulgar songs, and pornographic prints abounded.  Members of all classes frequented live shows with both male and female nude dancers.  Naturally, the sexual malignance of the city brought with it crime and corruption.  In essence, London was rife with whores, vagabonds, and thieves and, therefore, was the perfect place for the monster to thrive.

The Monster Cutting a Lady (print by Isaac Cruikshanks 1790) He is seen here with a blade in his hand and blades attached to his knees, attacking a lady.

Over time, the monster’s modus operandi evolved.  As the story goes, he approached only beautiful women with a comment, many times of a sexual nature, which was met with reproach and disgust.  His actual words were said to be so indecent that the women who reported his attacks wouldn’t repeat them.  In the testimony of two sisters—Anne and Sarah Porter—they accused him of using “very gross,” “dreadful,” and “abusive” language so, out of decency, much of what he said was never disclosed in the court transcripts.   He would insult, abuse, and cut his victims with a knife, sometimes slicing through their gowns and into their flesh.  Some claimed he had a sharp object connected to his hand or knee and would use it strategically in the assault.  Most of the time, the point of impact was in the hip, thigh, or buttocks, some suspecting those areas were targeted with sexual intent.  It wasn’t until April of 1790, that one of his victims was sliced through her nose when he asked her to smell a nosegay with a sharp object hidden inside.  All of these varied attacks stirred up an hysteria that led women to wear copper cuirasses underneath their skirts that covered their backsides, should the monster attack.

The London Monster stabbing Miss Anne Porter (age 21), her sister Sarah
(age 19) beside her. (drawing from The Newgate Calendar 1790)

Men everywhere started to worry over their wives, sisters, and daughters, demanding that the villain be caught.  As a result, John Angerstein, a wealthy insurance broker and art collector, offered a reward of 100 pounds— 50 pounds for the capture and arrest of the monster and the remaining 50 pounds once he was convicted.  This brought about a slew of vigilante monster-hunters roaming the streets at night, accusing and restraining innocent men throughout London.  Angerstein pasted posters all over the city with various descriptions of the monster, all obtained from the victims and witnesses, and none of which quite matched.  He eventually acknowledged the frenzy he created over finding the monster, ironically stating that “it was not safe for a gentleman to walk the streets, unless under the protection of a lady”.

Because of this hysteria, historians believe many of the attacks may have been fabricated.  As the monster was known to attack only beautiful women, several women were suspected of slashing their own gowns and mildly injuring themselves to gain social celebrity.  Essentially, it became a statement of one’s great beauty and, thus, an “honour” to have been selected by the man.  These victims often reclined in their parlours, inviting curious visitors to take a peek at the gash or scratch where blade met flesh.  During the height of the hysteria, the reports were numerous.

            If you read The London Monster, you’ll see that someone was arrested for these crimes.  But was he really the culprit?  Hmmmm . . .

The London Monster:  A Sanguinary Tale by Jan Bondeson.  De Capo Press, 2001.

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Meet Donna Scott

Donna Scott is an award-winning author of 17th and 18th century historical fiction. Before embarking on a writing career, she spent her time in the world of academia. She earned her BA in English from the University of Miami and her MS and EdD (ABD) from Florida International University. She has two sons and lives in sunny South Florida with her husband. Her first novel, Shame the Devil, received the first place Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction and a Best Book designation from Chanticleer International Book Reviews.

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