The London Monster
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The London Monster
A Sanguinary Tale

Jan Bondeson

256 pages | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 34 illus.
Cloth 2000 | ISBN 978-0-8122-3576-0 | $39.95s | £26.00 | Add to cart
Not for sale in the European Union

"Entirely fascinating."—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

The London Monster: A Sanguinary Tale, by medical doctor Jan Bondeson, is the dark-humored true story of a late-Georgian psychopath who lashed out at women in a two-year crime spree until an unlikely suspect was caught, tried, and convicted in a sensational trial. With the pace of a great thriller, Bondeson takes the reader to brutal and bawdy 18th-century England to join in the chase after one of the most outrageous and mysterious criminals of all time, the dreaded London Monster. "Bondeson shares the impresario's glee in whipping off the handkerchief or whipcracking up another curtain on another monster, relishing the absurdity and the fun of it all."—Marina Warner

"Using sensational newspaper accounts, pamphlets, broadsides, and best of all illustrated posters that virtually covered every house and lamppost, Bondeson . . . has written a thorough account of the attacks, the victims, the witnesses, the capture, the trials, and indeed the entire spectrum of such crimes right up to the millennium."—New York Times

"What make the book so interesting is the social climate that produced the Monster. . . . A gripping story."—Lucy Moore, Washington Times

"A visual treat. . . . These hysterical handbills, satirical cartoons, and illustrated verses are sometimes quaint, sometimes shocking."—Steven Saylor, Philadelphia Inquirer

"The case of the London Monster, here narrated in lavish detail, carries real historical significance. . . . An absorbing contribution to our knowledge of metropolitan myths."—Roy Porter, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Illuminating. . . . Bondeson's fascinating account will appeal not only to true-crime buffs but to readers interested in an unusual slice of history."—Publishers Weekly

"A well-told narrative. . . . An attentive, subtle rendering of a strange historical episode, alternatively disturbing and absurd."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In addition to being a compelling crime story, the book is a rewarding history. Bondeson provides an excellent survey of London's social and political life, the interactions within and between classes, and the acute limitations of strictly amateur criminal investigations and police work."—Foreword Magazine

"The medley of violence and macabre comedy will appeal to . . . readers who cannot help bring intrigued as well as disgusted by such grisly matters (and I must confess to being one of these). . . . There are countless connoisseurs of 'real crime' who will welcome this lively and gripping book."—Thomas Wright, Daily Telegraph

"Impeccable. . . . [Bondeson] is to be commended on the level of research that has obviously been undertaken to produce this fascinating boo. Highly recommended for crime historians."—Ripperologist

A century before Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London, another predator held sway. In the late eighteenth century, the city was gripped by fear, outrage, and Monster Mania. A psychopath who had lashed out violently at over fifty women during a two-year crime spree roamed the city. After stalking and verbally harassing his unsuspecting victims, the Monster would assault them with blades shrewdly crafted for his methods of attack. Sometimes he jabbed his victims squarely in the hips and buttocks. Some he kicked in the backside with knives fastened to his knee. Others he invited to smell an artificial nosegay, only to stab the fine lady right in the nose with a sharp spike hidden within the flowers.

The details of these encounters—the bloodshed, the women's ripped clothing, the dark figure calmly observing his victim's screams of anguish before disappearing down the closest alley seconds before help arrived—became deeply ingrained in London's collective psyche. After an immense reward was offered for the capture of the perpetrator by the wealthy philanthropist John Julius Angerstein, one of the founders of Lloyd's, the public's excitement rose. Armed vigilantes patrolling the streets only added to the mayhem, and newspaper reports of each attack roused even greater panic. Fashionable ladies did not dare walk outdoors without copper pans over their petticoats to protect them against the Monster's rapier. And still, the attacks continued.

Finally in June 1790, an ungainly young Welshman named Rhynwick Williams, who worked in a factory for artificial flowers, 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, where he was defended energetically by the eccentric Irish poet, Theophilus Swift, Williams was convicted.

Was Rhynwick 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 Monster's peculiar crimes? Was there even a Monster at all? Considerable doubt has been cast. In The London Monster, Jan Bondeson writes a lively, detailed account of one of London's most notorious sons and assesses evidence for the guilt or innocence of the convicted Williams. He 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. Indeed, in the magnitude of public frenzy it incited, the story of the London Monster bears similarities to the Ripper murders in 1888; in its stature as urban legend, it is of the bogeyman tradition of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. As Bondeson reveals, the London Monster occupies a unique space in London's criminal history and imagination, somewhere between fact and fiction.

Jan Bondeson is the author of A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities and The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History. He lives and works in Wales.

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