MEMORY LANE: The gruesome tale of ‘Robert the Ripper’

BYGONE SCENE: Sandwell Chare in Hartlepool, where Robert Robson once lived.
BYGONE SCENE: Sandwell Chare in Hartlepool, where Robert Robson once lived.
0
Have your say

A TRAGIC tale from Victorian times is the focus of today’s Memory Lane.

It had been less than seven months since Whitechapel murderer Jack the Ripper butchered his final victim leaving her bloody corpse in a squalid London room.

A doctor hurried to the scene, pushing his way through dozens of spectators who had come to see the Ripper, and scooped up Bob’s innards. He then packed them back into a 12in hole in Bob’s stomach, before despatching him to the infirmary.

Norman Kirtlan, historian

Newspapers and newspaper readers across the world – the Hartlepool Mail included – had savoured every gruesome detail about the horrific murders.

But then, on August 8, 1889, when the Mail reported on a horrific local “Ripping” case – townsfolk held their breath. Had the dreaded Jack travelled up North?

“It was fisherman Benjamin Robson who first noticed something was wrong,” said historian Norman Kirtlan, who unearthed details of the case from archive reports.

“At Sandwell Chare in Hartlepool, where he lived with his brother Bob, there was just an empty space where the lad should have been – and a bed not slept in.”

There was also, however, a note scrawled by Bob on a scrap of paper. The barely-legible letter, packed with spelling mistakes and hastily written, read: “It is time that I clear out off the way, as I cannot stand this back-biting any longer. I been sit upon by Dick Gibson and Martin Kaiser and others.

“I am going off thee town, so do not bother about me as you will not see me again. I would have gone to Irvin Lea, only he has been putting all harm on me.

“So goodbye for present and future. All singed. Robert Robson.”

Bob’s peculiar behaviour left no doubt he was troubled. Indeed, he was described by his father as having “eyes which rolled around his head like quicksilver.”

But interviews with his family and friends raised more questions than answers. Investigators were left baffled by the blacksmith’s disappearance.

“No one knows why Bob left, but we do know he headed to Sunderland and rented a room in Mrs Church’s lodging house at Spring Garden Lane,” said Norman.

“There he became just another anonymous face - until Mrs Church discovered his intestines spilling out all over her best candlewick bedspread.”

PC Walshaw arrived at the bloody scene just a few minutes later, suspecting that a mad knife-man – perhaps the Ripper himself – was abroad on his patch.

But, when the officer enquired of the dying man who had committed the ghastly crime, Bob revealed he had done it himself. “I’m tired of living,” he announced.

“A doctor hurried to the scene, pushing his way through dozens of spectators who had come to see the Ripper, and scooped up Bob’s innards,” said Norman.

“He then packed them back into a 12in hole in Bob’s stomach, before despatching him to the infirmary. But Bob was destined to get his death-wish.”

Even the arrival of his desperately worried father did not raise more than a flicker from Bob. “Don’t fret about me,” the lad moaned. “I’ll get up on Sunday.”

Bob also went on to mumble the names mentioned in his note – those he accused of persecuting him.

But Mr. R just shook his head and said: “Never heard of ‘em.”

“And so, with his final accusations off his chest, Robert Robson slipped from this life to the next,” said Norman, a former police inspector.

“With just a small penknife he managed to cause as much damage to himself as Jack the Ripper did to his unsuspecting victims with a 6in gully knife.

“There was one big difference. Once the verdict of “suicide while insane” had been reached the story of Hartlepool’s ‘Bob the Ripper’ quickly became chip paper.

“The other Jack is still remembered to this day.”