Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous murderers of all time. He killed five women in London in 1888 in gruesome fashion. But did Jack the Ripper ever murder people in other countries? Specifically, did he commit a terrible crime in New York City? Aaron Gratton explains.

The Nemesis of Neglect, an 1888 Punch magazine cartoon showing Jack the Ripper as a phantom in Whitechapel.

Anyone familiar with British crime history will know the name Jack the Ripper and the Canonical five, but did the killer’s onslaught cross the Atlantic?

In London, England, five women were found brutally murdered in 1888; all bearing similar injuries that suggested a surgical blade was used as the murder weapon. Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly would all be collectively known as the Canonical five, whose lives were brought to a devastating end at the hand of the serial killer simply known as Jack the Ripper.

Many experts believe those five murders, all of which occurred under the mask of the night in Whitechapel, a district in the English capital, to be the killer’s only victims. However, events that transpired three years later in New York question the legitimacy of those claims.


Timeline of Events

·       August 31, 1888: Mary Ann Nichols is found dead at 3.40am, she suffered two severe cuts to the throat and the lower part of her abdomen was ripped open by a jagged object

·       September 8, 1888: Annie Chapman’s body was discovered at 29 Hanbury Street, also with two cuts to the throat and her abdomen completely cut open – it would later be discovered that her uterus was ripped out

·       September 27: The first letter signed from Jack the Ripper, entitled ‘Dear Boss’, is received by the Central News Agency

·       September 30, 1888: Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes are killed just an hour apart from each other with the former’s body found in Berner Street and the latter’s in Mitre Square

·       October 16, 1888: George Lusk, who headed up the investigation, received the famous ‘From Hell’ letter signed by Jack the Ripper, containing half a kidney that is believed to have belonged to Catherine Eddowes

·       November 9, 1888: Mary Kelly, believed to be the killer’s last victim, is found dead in Dorset Street Spitalfields

Other bodies that were originally thought to have been linked to Jack the Ripper were found in the months and years after the five murders, but experts have since ruled out the possibility of the killer having any involvement.



Half-an-hour before the discovery of Annie Chapman’s body, a witness claimed to see the woman at 5.30am with a foreign, dark-haired man fractionally taller than the 5 feet tall Chapman. If accurate, the description would match that of Aaron Kosminski, a Polish barber who arrived in London in the early 1880s.

An investigation into the killings claims to have DNA evidence linking Kosminski to the murders, although the time between the events and the investigation have cast serious doubt on the results. In truth, no one will ever be able to definitely name the killer.

The nature of the murders would suggest a killer with a background in surgery, due to the precision of the cuts and removal of various organs and genitalia. On top of this, the letters penned with the name of Jack the Ripper also suggest that the killer, or at least whoever was behind the correspondences, to have poor literary skills owing to misspellings and bad handwriting.


Did The Ripper head to New York?

Almost three years after what was thought to be the killer’s final victim was killed, Carrie Brown was found strangled with clothing and mutilated with a blade in New York on April 24, 1891, sparking rumors that Jack the Ripper had crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Chief Inspector of New York City, Thomas Byrnes, had boasted on more than one occasion if the killer had ever shown up in his jurisdiction that he would be caught in a matter of days. Three more murders took place in the following 11 days after Brown’s murder, and rumors of a letter from Jack the Ripper sent to Byrnes, taunting the Chief Inspector with a bloodied body part, were rife. This was officially denied, but several police and newspaper sources claimed the rumors to be true.


One last Letter

Nothing else was then heard of the killer for two years since the events in New York City, until October 1893 when a newspaper received a letter believed to be from the killer. The correspondence bore details of the murder of Carrie Brown and, when inspected by a police officer from Scotland Yard, the handwriting of the letter was said to match that as seen in letters received in London in 1888.

If the letter containing details of the murder is indeed from the killer, known as Jack the Ripper, it would be the last known correspondence of the murderer. This is, of course, far from concrete evidence that the same killer that roamed the streets of London in 1888 showed up in New York three years later.

In fact, London’s Metropolitan Police categorically ruled out any involvement of the killer in the death of Carrie Brown in 1891, suggesting this was the work of a copycat that may have been inspired by Jack the Ripper. The theories remain as to the identity of Jack the Ripper, and whether or not the killer did, in fact, turn up in New York, moved on to another city or remained in London without causing suspicion.


Aaron works for the Jack the Ripper Tour in London, UK. You can find out more about the walking tour here.





In this article Janet Ford discusses the horrific act of infanticide in the nineteenth century with the help of records from London’s Old Bailey court – with cases from London and (from 1856) further afield. It provides an insightful look into this terrible crime in Victorian England…

The Old Bailey in the early nineteenth century.

The Old Bailey in the early nineteenth century.

In the nineteenth century there were 203 cases of infanticide recorded in the Old Bailey.

Of the 203 cases, 83 people were found guilty, 114 were found not guilty and one was a ‘misc’ verdict. Out of the 83 who were found guilty, only 18 were actually found guilty of killing, with three of those being found insane and two with a ‘recommendation’. 65 were not guilty of killing but guilty of the lesser crime of concealing the birth. This shows that even though it was a highly emotional and shocking crime women were not automatically found guilty. The reason why so many were found not guilty of killing was often due to medical evidence, such as the health of the baby and mother. There was also an increased involvement of character witnesses in the courts, who could explain the background of the person, and an increased interest in the criminal mind, especially those of women. Finally, there was more of an understanding of childbirth itself.


What the cases show about the crime and society

The role of Medical people

As all the cases involved doctors, surgeons or midwives, there was a need and want to have physical evidence, rather than just hearsay, in order to get the right verdict and justice. They would have knowledge and experience of all types of childbirth, and so they could provide evidence of it being accidental, deliberate or it being too difficult to tell.


What it shows about Childbirth and its effects on crime

The records show two main aspects of childbirth: the physical effect on the baby and the emotional aspect. The emotional aspect of childbirth was the shame of having a baby out of wedlock - but also of having the father run out during the pregnancy, not being sure who the father was, not wanting to be a single mother, or sexual assault. It meant that women felt they had to injure or kill their baby, conceal the birth or self deliver. They were seen as criminals, which many were, but many were also victims of social attitudes and even of crimes themselves. The physical aspect of childbirth was the consequence of these elements, as women felt they had to deliver on their own. This meant there was no other person to help if the delivery was difficult. An example of the physical affect can be seen with this statement from Doctor Thomas Green in Ellen Millgate’s case.  

Health of the mother and child

The cases show that the health of both the mother and baby were taken into consideration and used as evidence. The health of the mother, such as if she was epileptic, would have affected her ability to care for the baby properly. Poor health helped the mother’s case, as it was out of her control, as did the baby being premature. An example of health being used as evidence is shown with Ellen Middleship, who was found not guilty.

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Born alive

One of the main reasons why so many were found not guilty or only guilty of concealing the birth was the baby being born dead on delivery. It was out of the mother’s control, and so she would have been found not guilty. In many cases, it was too difficult to tell if the baby had been born alive during the delivery, as shown with the case of Elizabeth Ann Poyle.

Personal aspects

Along with medical evidence, personal aspects were also taken into consideration. Personal elements such as good character, age, previous children and the relationship with the father were all taken into account. These elements could show that the mother could not have committed the crime, as it was out of character, or at least helped to lessen the punishment, which did happen with many women. An example is shown with Sarah Jeffery giving a statement about Jane Hale, who was guilty of concealing but not of killing.   



The most shocking aspect of the cases, whether the women were found guilty or not guilty, was violence. Violence could have been caused by cutting the cord, getting the child out, falling, or hitting. This was one of the most difficult aspects of a case, as it could be difficult to determine if injuries were caused by the birth or on purpose. What helped resolve this was medical knowledge, an understanding of childbirth, or eyewitness accounts. The understanding of childbirth helped to explain why there were marks on, for example, the neck and head. This was due to ribbons or rope being used to get the baby out, or the baby falling during childbirth. Even though the marks caused by childbirth were not committed on purpose, it is still shocking to read, as shown with Ellen Millgate - the marks were around a vulnerable part of the baby. With the help of eyewitness accounts, it was only in a few cases where it was determined that the injuries were committed on purpose. An example of this can be seen with Ann Dakin giving evidence in the Joseph Burch and Caroline Nash case, who were both found guilty and given four year penal servitude.

It is one of the most shocking cases due to the violence and a reminder that parents could abuse their own children. But also, as with many of the other guilty cases, it shows that women could be quite cruel and violent. Another element of violence was getting rid of the body. The main example is from this description by James Stone of what he found in Martha Barratt’s room. She was found guilty of concealing the birth but not of killing.  

Mercy towards women

Even with the violence, and the shame of committing the crime, the verdicts and the punishments show that there was an understanding and sympathy towards women, as the majority were found not guilty of infanticide or guilty of a lesser crime. This was due to a better understanding of women, society, childbirth, and the criminal mind over the century.

The cases show that infanticide was a very complex crime, as it involved and was affected by so many factors - health, childbirth, social attitudes, babies, violence and high levels of emotion. It also shows the various sides of the 19th century…


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Anne-Marie Kilday, A history of infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

M Jackson, Infanticide: historical perspectives on child murder and concealment, 1550-2000 (Ashgate, 2002)

Old Bailey Online, January 1800-December 1899, Infanticide 

Ellen Millgate, 28th November 1842

Ellen Middleship, 21st October 1850

Elizabeth Ann Poyle, 22nd May 1882

Jane Hale, 28th November 1836

Joseph Nash and Caroline Nash, 24th October 1853

Martha Barratt, 9th April 1829

In episode 6 of our podcast series History Books, we look at a terrible crime in 1850s London.

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 The podcast is on a book called The Secret Life of Celestina Sommer – Victorian Child Killer by David J. Vaughan.

Celestina Sommer had a tragic upbringing. Pregnant at seventeen, with no support and little more compassion, she relinquished her infant to the baby-farmers. Eleven years on and married, she endured not only vilification but domestic abuse - the man she trusted turning on her with misogynistic cruelty endorsed by a society turning its blind, masculine eye.

The book tells the story about the awful truth of Celestina’s short, tragic life and reveals exactly why she avoided the hangman's noose. Her heart-rending story follows the world's reaction to her crime: parliamentary debates, press outrage, allegations of royal collusion, garishly explicit reports of her trials at the Old Bailey and, finally, her collapse into madness as she struggles through a harsh Victorian penal system and, at the very end, Britain's foremost criminal lunatic asylum of the age.

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If you enjoy the podcast, you can purchase the book here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Take care,

George Levrier-Jones

PS – just to inform you, this podcast is of a darker nature than many of our other podcasts.

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During the autumn of 1888, London was in turmoil. A series of gruesome murders were taking place in the East End. Prostitutes were strangled to unconsciousness or death before being gently lowered to the ground where their throats were cut. They were then mutilated and abandoned, usually in the street. Several names were attributed to the killer who stalked the streets of Whitechapel, Spitalfields and Aldgate. Some at the time simply called him the Whitechapel Murderer, others called him “Leather Apron”. In the modern day, we know him as Jack the Ripper. Nick Tingley explains….


Despite the murders occurring over a century ago, we are no closer to identifying who this mysterious killer was. Historians and Ripperologists have published hundreds of books and papers that describe the murders in exacting detail and have made various claims about the identity of the killer but none of them could ever hope to put the debate to rest. The reason for this is not so much from a lack of evidence, although the presence of today’s scientific methodology in late nineteenth century London may well have stood the police force of the time in better stead. In fact, if there is anything that truly hounds anyone attempting to identify Jack the Ripper, it is the overwhelming amount of evidence that must be shifted through to find the grain of truth.

Jack the Ripper as depicted by Tom Merry in  Puck  magazine.

Jack the Ripper as depicted by Tom Merry in Puck magazine.

There is even debate about how many murders can be attributed to Jack the Ripper. Theories range from the generally accepted five canonical victims (who were all murdered between August 31 and November 9, 1888) and a further thirteen victims who were murdered between December 1887 and April 1891. And whilst the police struggled to find the Ripper, they were hampered by the press, both locally and across the country, who were keen to keep the Jack the Ripper story going for as long as possible. Hundreds of letters were sent to the police during the Autumn of Terror, all of which claimed to have been written by the Whitechapel Murderer. Of those that were not written by fools trying to incite more terror, most were almost certainly written by newspapermen attempting to flesh out the story.

It is from many of these regional newspapers that we can find some interesting stories that show the Autumn of Terror was not just a plague of fear that was rampant in London. It was a genuine horror that spread all across the British Isles and even reached out across Europe.


“I am Jack the Ripper”

Throughout the Autumn of Terror there were many instances of people claiming to be Jack the Ripper. Whether it was in the form of a letter sent to the police or newspapers or whether it was a man surrendering himself to a police station, the newspapers were ready to report it. In fact, many of the smaller regional newspapers even started having regular Jack the Ripper bulletins to keep everyone up to date on the comings and goings of the case.

More often than not, these bulletins were short and matter of fact. One such bulletin from the Edinburgh Evening News (October 11, 1888) tells the story of a man named Gerry who surrendered himself to the police in London, claiming to be the Whitechapel murderer. The report mentions that he was quickly released without charge but still makes a point of mentioning the incident to keep the Edinburgh populace completely up to date with events in London.

With small incidences like these making their way into the local newspapers, it is hardly a surprise that soon stories began to be printed of events where criminals made casual remarks to Jack the Ripper. One such story was printed in the Cornishman (November 8, 1888), which detailed the story of a young St Buryan woman who was accosted by a strange man who announced that he was Jack the Ripper when she refused to walk with him. She quickly ran back to her home and the man disappeared. The following day, Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the canonical victims, was found butchered in her lodgings in London and the newspapers had something more concrete to report on.

These incidences of people claiming to be Jack the Ripper continued throughout 1888, and were reported by the newspapers of the time. Many of these reports came from court proceedings. More often than not, these detailed events where a man was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and, during the course of disorderly conduct, happened to shout that he was Jack the Ripper. While it was apparent that the police were not concerned by these impromptu drunken confessions, the local newspapers were quick to question whether any of these were just the ramblings of a drunken man.


The Ripper Victims Who Weren’t

The Autumn of Terror had spread so far that it was almost inevitable that it would eventually hurt someone. On October 27, 1888, the York Herald reported a story that had come from Northern Ireland. In Kilkeel, County Down, a young lady named Millegan would become a victim of Jack the Ripper. Whilst walking down the street, Millegan was startled by a man who jumped out at her, brandishing a knife and claiming he was Jack the Ripper. Such was the shock of this incident that Millegan fainted and suffered from a fever from which she never recovered.

On the same day, the Aberdeen Journal reported the story of Theresa Unwin from Sheffield who had been found dead at her home. She had committed suicide with a carving knife. Although her husband was keen to point out that there was no history of insanity in the family, Theresa had reported having a dream about Jack the Ripper. The papers were keen to play up to the idea that this dream had been what prompted her suicide.

Although neither of these women probably ever had contact with the man who committed the Whitechapel Murders, it is undeniable that they were victims of Jack the Ripper and the terror that had been spread around the country by the newspapers of the time.


Amateur Sleuths

While the terror inspired many to made outlandish claims of being the Ripper to terrify those around them, others seemed to be inspired to take action to capture the Whitechapel Murderer – sometimes with hilarious consequences.

On October 16, 1888, a few weeks after the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddows, both generally believed to be Ripper victims, “An Elderly Gentleman” wrote to The Times of London detailing his recent trip to the north of Britain. The gentleman wrote of how he had been walking along a road to visit a friend of his when seven young colliers confronted him. The young men apparently believed he was Jack the Ripper and wanted to take him into custody. When the gentleman refused, they attempted to threaten him, with a gun they didn’t have, and coerce him using the authority of the police, which they also didn’t have. The gentleman simply continued walking to his friend’s house at which point the seven lads disappeared.

This was not the only time when people in Britain attempted to take the Jack the Ripper matter into their own hands. All across the country, newspapers began to publish reports of young men who were arrested after beating up other members of the community in the belief that they had found Jack the Ripper. In one instance, a man named John Brinkley was charged with being drunk when he went out into the streets of London dressed in a woman’s skirt, shawl and hat (Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, November 14, 1888). When questioned by the police, Brinkley replied that he had intended to dress like a woman so he could lure Jack the Ripper to him and catch him in the act. It apparently had never occurred to Brinkley, that this act was not only ridiculous but could also have put him in serious danger – although probably not from the Ripper himself. 

The first letter from Jack the Ripper - September 25, 1888.

The first letter from Jack the Ripper - September 25, 1888.

The Travelling Ripper

A month or two after Mary Jane Kelly’s murder, it appears that the wave of terror was beginning to calm down in Britain. Regional newspapers were publishing less about the Whitechapel murders, although it had by no means stopped. By November 27, newspapers were beginning to report on a letter that had purportedly come from “The Ripper’s Pal”. This letter, sent to the Nottingham Daily Express, claimed that the Ripper had come from Bavaria and that he, the Ripper’s Pal, had come from America and that they would soon be heading out of the country.

Whether this letter really did come from anyone associated with the Whitechapel murders, we will never know. What is interesting is that, barely a month after this letter was published around the country, someone seems to have taken it on themselves to finish the story. On December 18, Jack the Ripper reportedly arrived in Berlin, sending a letter to the Chief of Police stating:

As I now intend to stay some time here, I should like to see if the celebrated Berlin police succeed in catching me. I only want 15 victims. Therefore, beware! Jack the Ripper.”


The British newspapers again jumped to report the migration of Jack the Ripper, although they were careful to point out that the German police had already disregarded the note as a practical joke. The fear of Jack the Ripper had spread to the European continent and now it appeared that German citizens were hopping on the bandwagon.

But it didn’t stop there. Within ten days, similar letters and telegrams had been sent to King Leopold in Brussels, announcing that Jack was coming to commit his crimes there. What had been a wave of crime that had been very much contained within a square mile area of London had now become a pandemic of fear across a continent.

Ultimately, the identity of Jack the Ripper will remain a mystery forever. But his legacy lived on and lasts to the modern day thanks to the newspaper coverage of the Whitechapel murders and the subsequent wave of terror that followed.


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In this article, Kevin K. O’Neill looks at crime in early 19th century London. This was an age before the birth of the police, and in this grimly Dickensian world, crime was rife. Some of the crimes committed were simply shocking.

A street scene from 19th century London.

A street scene from 19th century London.

“Napping a Tick”, “Doing Out and Out with a Pop”, and “Teased” were but a few examples of the slang used by the denizens of London’s underworld in the early 1800s for stealing a watch, killing someone with a gun, or being hung. Before the formation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, the original “Bobbie”, London was fertile ground for crime to take root and grow. Sparsely lit by gas in only a few select areas, London was dark, in some areas even by day. With the murk of burnt sea coal hanging over the docks that were busily taking in valuable goods from every corner of the world, all manner of crime was possible, crime that was abetted by this dim anonymity. With a population of about one million inhabitants in the early 19th century, London was sharply divided by class with much of the disenfranchised lower classes active only at night. The only official watchmen, known as “Charlies” because of their creation in 1663 during the reign of Charles the Second, were armed only with a stave, lamp and rattle. Often morally and physically decrepit, they were rarely effective and often the butt of jokes. Indeed, a pastime for the drunk or bored was knocking them over in their watch-boxes.


Social Issues Grow

By the mid-18th century many factors were contributing to the need for a unified police force and social reform. One of the main influences lied in the pervasive effect of cheap gin, or “Blue Ruin”, on the lower classes of England’s populace. In some areas there were unlicensed gin shops, and the crime rate was proportionate to the density of these establishment. Some gin houses, termed “Flash Houses”, were meeting spots for criminal gangs and liaisons between underworld operatives and the greater public, including law enforcement, who would drink and gather information. In 1780, fueled in part by Blue Ruin and economic disparity, peaceful demonstrations against laws emancipating Catholics turned into what history remembers as the Gordon Riots, as part of which there was mob rule during a week long orgy of window shattering and violent assault. Much was said in Parliament after these riots, but little was done.

A scene from a slum in London.

A scene from a slum in London.

Crime was rampant in early 19th century London, with numerous types of thievery permeating many aspects of life in London. Burglary from houses was so common that elaborate precautions had to be taken before leaving home for any amount of time longer than an hour or two. Every coachman was a guard as trunks could be cut from their vehicles in the blink of an eye. Petty thievery was a threat from many vectors such as the destitute “Mudlarks”, who wallowed in the mud of the River Thames hoping for valuable goods to be dropped from ships by chance or on purpose. Swarms of pickpockets haunted the richer areas of the city. Many of the petty thieves were children as young as ten, but arrests are known of children aged six. Beggars, often living the most pitiable existence, lined many of the same streets.

This all meant that several private law enforcement agencies were formed so that businesses and citizens could protect themselves from loss. Known for their fleetness of foot, the exploits of the Bow Street “Runners”, employees of an organization created to watch and protect property on the docks, were followed by the public with sportsman’s glee as they pursued the more successful thieves before they gained safety in the dark slums or “Rookeries.” The rookeries were notoriously dangerous areas in which nobody or nothing was safe - be it life, limb, or property.  Charles Dickens once ventured into several rookeries, including the notorious “Rat’s Castle,” as the St. Giles Rookery was known, but did so only with an escort consisting of the Chief of Scotland Yard, an assistant commissioner, three guards, probably armed, and a squad within whistling distance. Perhaps more worryingly, a bold doctor who entered a rookery commented that he couldn’t even find his patient in his room until he lit a candle, despite the time being near noon.


Resurrection Men

And on to a crime that seems almost unbelievable…

Many of us are familiar with the horror movie theme of stealthy men with slotted lanterns lurking about graveyards with spades in hand in search of a fresh grave. This theme has more basis in fact than most realize as the “Resurrection Men” performed this ghoulish task on most every moonless night to supply the British medical community with fresh cadavers for study and dissection.

The story goes that as a deterrent to crime The Murder Act of 1752 allowed judges to substitute public display of an executed criminal’s body with dissection at the hands of the medical community thus giving the Resurrection Men legal elbow-room. The activities of the doctors and body snatchers were despised by many of the general public though. And mob justice was often dealt out to Resurrection Men caught performing their grim work, while patrols were increased at the upper-class graveyards and the rich bought special coffins to ensure their undisturbed rest peacefully. Finally, the public’s unease at the practice became anger with the Burke and Hare murders of 1828 in Edinburgh.

Burke and Hare, a pair of Irish immigrant laborers turned Resurrection Men, decided to expedite matters by killing sixteen people to be sold to the proxies of an Edinburgh anatomist, a doctor named Knox. The term “burking” traces its origins to the method they used for killing - the use of a pillow to smother victims. Once caught Hare turned the evidence against Burke in court. Ultimately, only Burke was convicted; after Burke’s execution, a hanging attended by thousands, he was publicly dissected in front of students at the University of Edinburgh. Those left outside without tickets demanded to be let in, until finally being led through the operating theater in groups of 50.  Never interred, Burke’s remains were doled out for medical study, with pieces of his skin being used for books and calling card cases.

There were other co-defendants in this trial and they suffered similar fates to each other. After release from prison they were hounded by mobs at first identification. All were aided by the authorities to flee in various directions in search of security through anonymity. Never prosecuted due to his insulating layer of agents and Burke’s denial of his involvement in his confession, even Dr. Knox was vilified by the populace who hung and burnt him in effigy. It is notable that Burke asked that Dr. Knox pay five pounds owed to him for his final victim’s body so he could be hung in new clothes. Trying to address both the needs of the medical community and the moral outrage of the people, The Anatomy Act was passed in 1832.  This law ended the use of executed murderers for dissection while enabling relatives to have the ability to release bodies of the newly deceased for the good of medical progress.  For those who passed without known relatives, legal custodians such as public health authorities and parish councils were allowed the same right.


Now read on to find out about more on crimes in 19th century England, including the original Tom and Jerry, and a famous death in London. Click here.


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The Maul and the Pear Tree, Critchley and James, 1971

Thieves’ Kitchen, Donald Low, 1982