Capturing the Devil (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4)(10)

As if being dragged away from a particularly engrossing book, Uncle shifted his attention away from the corpse and met my stare. I wasn’t sure why neither one of us ever broached the subject, but somehow, despite the grotesque and horrendous things we subjected ourselves to on a near-daily basis, Jack the Ripper was a topic we dared not touch.

“What is a lesson I try and impress upon you with each case, Audrey Rose?”

“To look at facts,” I answered automatically. I focused on releasing the tension in my muscles, finding that my mind cleared with the task. “To remove emotions and read clues left behind before coming up with a hypothesis based on assumption.”

Uncle nodded. “Part of that includes ruling out options. We’re in the unique position of having examined the Ripper victims. We have intimate knowledge of how those bodies were left, what injuries they’d sustained. That gives us something to compare and contrast, doesn’t it?”

“Ah. I see.” Thomas sat back on his heels, tapping his pen against his journal.

“If this were a scientific experiment, then we’d have the control and variables.”

“Measuring the differences will assist with eliminating Jack the Ripper as the murderer,” I said, understanding Uncle’s methodology better.

“Good. Both of you. Now, then”—Uncle pointed to the neck again—“what would the Ripper have done? What did he do with each of his victims?”

For a brief moment my heart lurched into that dark space I’d fought so hard to overcome. I despised thinking of the Ripper case, but I could no longer hide my grief or ignore the evil that had been done last autumn. It had been five months now since his first murder; it was time once and for all to face the truth and move on.

Thomas half turned in my direction, running his attention over me in a swift, analytical way. I knew he’d not interrupt or offer his opinion unless I gave the signal to do so. While it was tempting to have him confront that monster for me, it was my duty. He might be heir to a dynasty saturated in blood, but so was I.

I clutched my unoccupied hand at my side, holding tightly to my cane with the other. “Jack the Ripper strangled his victims before slitting their throats.

Every one of them. Even Miss Elizabeth Stride.”

“Indeed. He’d been interrupted during that murder, but he still slit her throat before attacking Miss Catherine Eddowes later that same evening. This murderer”—Uncle motioned to the victim lying before us—“had more than enough time to commit his darkest fantasies. He was presumably here with her for hours, more than enough time to carve her up. Miss Mary Jane Kelly’s corpse was nearly unrecognizable as human. There were similar circumstances with that crime when compared to this one. It was committed inside. Miss Kelly was a prostitute. She’d been drinking. Yet this murderer did not follow that same familiar technique of slitting her throat and viciously cutting her up. Yes, this victim may have an organ missing, but it’s not in the same careful manner as our previous cases in London. Now, tell me, what else doesn’t fit with Jack the Ripper?”

I mulled over details of the Ripper case. Each murder scene had been burned into my memory—I didn’t have to dig too deeply to recall their facts. I doubted I’d ever forget those crimes. I stared down at this victim. The bruising on her

neck was different. Instead of the Ripper’s long fingerprint blossoms of crushed flesh, this pattern was more akin to striations. I noticed a pair of torn stockings on the floor.

“This victim, given the marks on her neck, was likely strangled with her own stockings. The Ripper committed his crimes by use of his hands.” Uncle’s expression shifted once again to pride. His acknowledgment was welcome, yet felt a bit strange given the circumstances. I wasn’t sure I wanted my premier talent to be deciphering corpses, but there were worse titles to hold. “The knife”—I nodded toward it—“is also another difference. Jack the Ripper never left a weapon behind.”

“Excellent.” Uncle inhaled deeply. “What is a more obvious difference?”

Thomas pushed himself into a standing position and tucked his journal into an inner pocket on his jacket. “This victim is older than each of the Ripper victims by at least a decade.”

I stopped listening to Uncle and Thomas as they traded theories like weather statistics. A hint of a memory tried surfacing from the depths of my mind. It was hazy, however, similar to squinting at an object through thick fog. I could almost make out the shape of it…

“The unsolved murder from the Etruria, ” I said as the memory finally broke free. “That crime was similar in nature to this one.”

In fact, if I recalled correctly, Thomas and I had worried we’d unleashed a Ripper-inspired murderer in America. The conversation between my uncle and Thomas halted immediately. Both men slowly blinked at the connection. For a few cursed moments, the only sound was our breath juxtaposed with the utter silence coming from the victim splayed out on the bed.

“What we need to do is get a look at the passenger log of the Etruria, ” I continued when it became clear my uncle and Thomas were flummoxed by my deduction. “It might be the best way of hunting down this murderer.”

“Assuming the murderer used his actual name.” Thomas looked skeptical.

“Proof is not required when booking passage across the sea.”

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