“The London Monster, A Sanguinary Tale”


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Jan Bondeson
256 pages, 34 illustrations, $29.95 cloth

A century before Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London, a sociopathic predator held sway, stabbing and slashing at more than 50 women during a two-year crime spree. London was gripped by fear, outrage and Monster Mania. No one was killed, but the details of these encountersthe bloodshed, the womens ripped clothing, the dark figure calmly observing his victims screams of anguish before disappearing down the closest alley seconds before help arrivedbecame deeply ingrained in the citys collective psyche.

Fashionable ladies did not dare walk outdoors without copper pans over their petticoats to protect them against the Monsters rapier.

Finally, in June 1790 an ungainly young Welshman named Rhynwick Williams, who worked in an artificial-flower factory, was arrested as the London Monster. He appeared an unlikely Monster, with a reasonable alibi for one of the worst attacks. But after two long, ludicrous trials, Williams was convicted.

Was Williams guilty after all? Or was he unlucky enough to fall into the hands of authorities when they needed someone, anyone, to pay for the Monsters peculiar crimes? Physician Jan Bondeson presents a wealth of contemporary evidence from learned and popular sources, as well as research on mass hysterias and moral panics, to reinterpret Monster Mania and compare it to historical and modern instances of similar phenomena.

Publishers Weekly wrote, Bondesons fascinating account will appeal not only to true-crime buffs but readers interested in an unusual slice of history. Enjoy, but watch your back!

University of Pennsylvania Press

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Originally published on January 18, 2001