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This article features Zak, who has developed a video camera able to record the past.

It was early summer in England. Zak walked up the aerobridge into London’s Heathrow terminal with his newly invented video camera (referred to as camera) and small adjustable tripod in a bag slung over his shoulder, his hands in his trouser pockets, whistling a silent tune.

He collected his baggage from the carousel, hailed a cab outside the terminal, and gave the driver the address of the small private hotel within walking distance of Hyde Park, where he always stayed while in London.

Please note: This story features images of deceased people. 

Over the past year, Zak had adapted the camera so that it was able to penetrate what he called "the time curtain." Zak had told no one of his discovery, not even a hint to his wife. If he had wanted to describe the process of the folding back of the time curtain to a layperson, however, he would have likened the process to the riffling of a pack of cards by a professional gambler. The cards have momentary exposure to view, but each card is quickly obscured by the one immediately above it while having its place in space and time fixed. Cutting the deck at any specific place makes it possible to see what card was exposed, in which order, and at what time.

Following that analogy, it would not be possible to see future events because they are yet to happen, much the same as it would be impossible to see which cards had been riffled before they had been riffled. One night about a year earlier, Zak finally realized the astoundingly simple principle involved in modifying a camera to split and record behind the time curtain. It was also basic to the difference in light and sound propagation. It was, he had realized, impossible to record past sounds, only past images.

1Zaks Time Camera Cover 6 x 9

He would have explained the difference to a layperson with reference to the same riffled deck of cards. The cards would make a noise when riffled, but when the cards would be later cut to display any particular card that had been riffled, the card would be visible, but the sound of the shuffling would be gone forever. The basis of the theory was that images, being the products of light, remain forever in the atmosphere, one superimposed upon the other in an infinite procession. In contrast, sound waves, composed of air compressions, beat upon the eardrums momentarily and are then lost forever.

The basis of the solution that had finally dawned upon Zak the previous year was how to "wriggle" a specially modulated and "supercharged" laser beam into the time curtain. What he had discovered was, in fact, based upon a serious advance upon Einstein’s theory of relativity, much as Einstein himself had seriously advanced the concept of Newtonian physics. His discovery was an advance upon the so-called string theory, by which modern-day physicists seek a unified explanation as to the nature of the universe. Zak had not discovered the total solution, or anything like it, but had made enough of a breakthrough to make a time-recording camera feasible.

Once the time curtain was penetrated, the small hole opened in it would start to close again from that time, so that the modified camera would see only the events immediately succeeding the point of opening of the curtain. The folding of the curtain would be visible only through Zak’s modified camera, so to any bystander, he would be merely a tourist making a video recording.

For the past year, Zak had worked on his camera with not a word to anyone, and while it was still in the prototype stage, it could penetrate the curtain to a depth of about three hundred feet and to a time of about minus three hundred years. He had managed to integrate a digital calendar into the camera so that he could key in the local date and time for any specific location and click the record button, following which the laser would penetrate the curtain and the events at the time of the penetration would be recorded.

Now he checked his wallet, donned his sunglasses, slung a pack containing the camera and a small collapsible tripod over his shoulders, which he mentally squared, and then went outside to hail a cab to Whitechapel Road in the East End. He paid for the cab at the corner of Whitechapel Road and Commercial Street and strolled up Whitechapel Road in the direction of Royal London Hospital. It was 6:30 pm and still over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. He was heading for Durward Street, which in the l880s had been known as Buck’s Row. That name had been changed because of its notoriety. It was in Buck’s Row that Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim, Mary Ann Nichols.

Mary Ann Nichols Caption


Bucks Row Caption

From August through November 1888, in the vicinity of Buck’s Row, five prostitutes had been brutally murdered, mutilated, and eviscerated to varying degrees, all with great ferocity. Now Zak was going to see for himself. The thought of what he was about to witness made him dry retch with nervousness as he neared the corner of Brady Street to the left, which led into Durward Street, previously Buck’s Row.

Whitechapel 1888 inPixio


As to the five prostitutes that had been murdered―Mary Ann Nichols as depicted above on August 31; Annie Chapman on September 8; Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on September 30; and Mary Jane Kelly on November 9 in her bed; other than Mary Jane who lived in a room, the others were homeless and slept in lodging houses when they were able. Mary Jane was 25, while the others were in their forties.


Other 4

Zak had familiarized himself with the locations and details of the various atrocities and the names, details, and, most importantly, likenesses of the known suspects, of which there are more than a few.

As he neared the Brady Street turnoff, he recited the names of the various suspects to himself, andas he did, pictured their likenesses in his mind’s eye. They included Prince Edward Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, a grandson of Queen Victoria who was also called "Prince Eddy;" Sir William Gull, the royal physician at the time; James Kenneth Stephen, Prince Eddy’s tutor and supposed homosexual lover at Cambridge, who was committed to an asylum in 1890 and died in 1892; Severin Klosowski, a Polish immigrant; Thomas Neill Cream, an American doctor who was hanged in 1892 for other crimes; Montague John Druitt, a barrister who drowned himself in 1888; John Pizer, a shoemaker; Aaron Kosminski, a Pole who was committed to an asylum for the insane in 1890; Michael Ostrogg, a Russian doctor and confidence man; Alexander Pedachenko, another Russian doctor who eventually died in an asylum for the criminally insane in Russia; Walter Richard Sickert, an artist; James Maybrick, a cotton merchant who died from arsenic poisoning in 1889. He was later said to have left behind a Jack the Ripper diary; and Francis Tumblety, an American doctor.

Zak turned into Durward Street a little before seven. The narrow and relatively deserted street was flanked by old, weathered brick buildings and paved with what appeared to be the original cobblestones and flagstones on the adjacent sidewalk. The sun, which was setting above the buildings, glinted off the lens of his camera as he removed it from its case and set it up on the tripod, aiming it at the spot which, on a guided tour the previous month, had been identified to him as the spot where the body of Mary Anne Nichols, Jack’s first victim, had been discovered by a police constable, John Neil, at about 3:45 am on August 31, 1888. She had last been seen before that at about 2:30 the same morning, drunk and staggering about a quarter of a mile from where her mutilated body was found.

That was the spot at which Zak was now aiming his camera. The camera was positioned on the same side of the street as that on which Mary’s body had been found, about thirty feet from the spot, but on the opposite side from which the tour guide had told him that she had approached her grim meeting with the Ripper.

Death Mary Ann Nichols Caption

With sweat suddenly gripping his body and his throat constricting, Zak programmed the camera for 3:00 am, 31 August, 1888, checked that it was still aimed at the correct spot, then pressed the record button. As the laser gradually worked its way into the time curtain, a characteristic smell of ozone permeated the air, putting Zak in mind of a silent protest by nature as its order was unnaturally violated.

He stared at the screen on the camera. The present-day scene dissolved into a haze and gradually reshaped into another clearly defined image. He saw a darkened street lit only by a single gas light some 30 feet down the street. It was no longer Durward Street but Buck’s Row. He was staring at 1888, staring at a scene nearly 100 years before his birth. The point on which he focused the camera was a long wooden gate located between two terrace houses. The flagstone sidewalk and cobblestone roadway were much the same today. The scene was dark, but somewhat to his surprise; there was none of the rolling fog that one automatically associates with Victorian London. He watched and waited.

At 3:17 am, the form of a staggering woman loomed into the camera’s field of vision, about 30 feet east of the gate. She was wearing what appeared to be a black straw bonnet, which almost obscured her face, and a reddish brown overgarment, which Zak recognized as the ulster described in the police reports of the time. Her lips were moving. She appeared to be singing some drunken song, but the image was eerily silent, the only sound being the passage of a modern-day delivery van down Durward Street.

Suddenly, as if on cue, a shadow fell across the reeling form of the woman. A black carriage drawn by two black horses pulled up alongside her, the horses pawing at the cobblestones, which seemed to be covered with a slimy, brownish muck, and expelling steam from their nostrils into the early winter night air. The coachman looked straight ahead, holding the reins as if it was impossible for him to turn his head.

Royal Coach Caption

The rear door of the carriage opened. A hand reached out of the carriage to lower a step, which bisected the distance between the floor of the carriage and the roadway. A figure climbed down out of the silent coach. It was a heavyset man, about six feet in height and wrapped in a black cloak but not wearing a hat. As the man turned toward the woman, Zak’s camera picked up his face in the light of one of the lanterns attached to the front of the carriage. It was a handsome, clean-shaven face topped by a full head of black hair.

Zak caught his breath. Damn! It’s James Stephen, Prince Eddy’s tutor. Stephen walked up to Mary and asked her a question. Mary looked at Stephen briefly, then shrugged her shoulders and nodded. At that, Stephen took a single step forward, clapped his left hand over her mouth, picked her up bodily with his right arm, and bundled her into the carriage. He reached back, pulled the step up after him, and closed the door.

Zak stood transfixed, staring at the camera’s image of the silent and motionless black carriage. The horses now stood at ease with their heads lowered and the coachman sitting erect and staring ahead as if miming the sphinx. The only movement was the steam still coming from the horses’ nostrils. One of the horses raised its tail to defecate. Then the carriage started to rock on its leather springs.

Ten minutes passed. Zak could well imagine what unspeakable acts were taking place inside the carriage, but he had to keep reminding himself that what he was viewing was merely a shade of what had happened over 130 years before.

Then the carriage door opened. Stephen peered out and looked up and down Buck’s Row, then appeared to decide that the coast was clear. He let down the stair, stepped down to the cobblestones, and reached up. A pair of hands from inside the coach passed him a bundle, which was the supine form of Mary Anne Nichols. Stephen took the body and laid it on its back near the gate, which Zak knew from his guided tour was the gate of a stable. Then Prince Eddy’s tutor took the black bonnet from the hands inside the carriage and placed it on the flagstones near the prostitute’s body.

As Zak watched, he saw blood slowly seeping from the corpse’s neck into the muck in the gutter where the sidewalk adjoined the road. The coachman suddenly came to life. He silently cracked his whip, and the horses started off noiselessly. As the carriage passed close to the camera, Zak panned it to record what was inside it. He looked into eyes that were peering blankly out the window. He saw a face at close quarters. It was unmistakably the face of Sir William Gull, the royal physician. It was 3:31 am.

Queen Victoria Caption

William Gull Colour

Back at his hotel room, Zak repeatedly replayed the video display. He knew that he was gazing into the eyes of pure evil, but morbid fascination compelled him to watch what he had shot repeatedly.

Zak had done his homework. He was conversant with the many and varied theories as to the identity of the Ripper. The rumor was that Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence and third in line to the throne of England, who was to die of complications arising from pneumonia and gonorrhea in 1892, had secretly married a Catholic girl named Annie Crook, whom he had made pregnant. In those days, as today, no Catholic could succeed to the throne of England. But even more so in those days, no British monarch could be married to a Catholic.

The scandal, if it had come out, would have been huge, and so Annie had been committed to an asylum on the orders of Queen Victoria, Eddy’s grandmother, where she would spend the remaining 32 years of her life. However, Mary Jane Kelly, the young prostitute victim of the Ripper, had been employed by Prince Eddy and his wife before Annie was spirited away to an asylum. Mary had tried to blackmail the government for her silence. She had to be silenced, as did her close coterie of four other prostitutes who were also aware of the potential scandal.

Zak now knew that Prince Eddy’s tutor, supposed lover, James Kenneth Stephen, and the royal physician, Sir William Gull, had carried out the grim task. Sir William had been assigned the task of silencing all five prostitutes by the prime minister, the Marquess of Salisbury, who in turn had been given the task by Queen Victoria. Zak could only hypothesize that while it was Stephen who manhandled the victims into the carriage and probably held them down, Sir William, who had recently recovered from a stroke, nevertheless performed the atrocities with the knife, probably deliberately simulating the work of a madman to throw the authorities off thetrack. Fake letters were written to the police―one containing a piece of a human kidney, and other evidence was planted, to move suspicion to others.

Zak used his mathematical knowledge to calculate, based on the known facts, that the probability of anyone other than Sir William being the Ripper was less than one in 50,000. It suddenly dawned on Zak with sobering certainty that he could now view the peccadilloes and crimes of the living and the dead. If his secret were ever to come out, he would be the most wanted man in history.

Queen Victoria Caption


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