On this episode of Unobscured, Aaron Mahnke kicks off a new season telling us about a grisly murder on the Brighton railroad in Victorian England in the late 1880s. This murder brought together a cast of characters and a rapidly industrializing inner city that would continue to play a huge part in the bloody drama that would soon unfold. The story begins with a class chasm that caused unrest in London’s impoverished East End, as factory workers began to realize that their wages didn’t reflect the hours and dangers of their employment. A wealthy grocer named Theodore Bryant, trying to get cozy with the government, decided to put up a statue of the Prime Minister, William Gladstone. Though he could easily afford dozens of statues, he made his factory workers – thousands of women who made matches – pay for it. They responded by splashing the statue with their own blood.
An unblemished sign of progress to Victorian England society was the progression of the railway – it enabled well-off Londoners to continue to work in the city, but live in cleaner, quieter suburbs, leaving the dirt and grime to the poor. But the shiny utopia of the railway was shattered when a body was found brutally murdered just outside the tunnel on the Brighton rail line. Police surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond examined the body of the retired corn merchant: He had been shot, stabbed no less than 14 times, and his gold watch snapped from its chain. A manhunt ensued for Percy LeFroy Mapleton, a man who had stepped off the train covered in blood, claiming to have been assaulted. It was Donald Sutherland Swanson, inspector with Scotland Yard, who found him hiding in a lodging in the East End. A lawyer and coroner named Wynne Baxter presided over the inquest, hoping to be of use to the London detectives and further his own career.
Unrest in the East End had led to riots in the wealthy West End, causing the city to look for a new police commissioner. They turned to the highly regarded soldier, engineer, and surveyor Charles Warren, who had tunneled under Jerusalem to reveal the ancient Biblical city to the world. He had little to do with the railway case, but all these men would be thrown together by much darker forces than LeFroy – a series of horrifying events that came to be known as the Autumn of Terror. “A legend and a legacy paid for,” like the statue of William Gladstone, “with the blood of the East End women.” During this season of Unobscured, and through the eyes of Inspector Swanson, Aaron Mahnke will follow the bloody events that forced together “the most volatile elements of a rapidly transforming society” and still captures the imaginations of true crime fans today: the Whitechapel murders, and the manhunt for the legendary killer known as Jack the Ripper.
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