Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac killer: Discover some of history’s most notorious killers

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Unsolved murders from the 19th century onwards are still mysteries today

But in the research for my new book, Murder By Numbers, I have unearthed many other fascinating figures in the history of homicide.

And some of the spooky links between certain numbers and the world’s worst crimes will leave the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.

From Jack the Ripper to the Zodiac killer, here are just a few of the most intriguing tales.

3… When John Lee went to the gallows on the morning of February 23, 1885, convicted of murdering his employer Emma Keyse albeit on flimsy evidence, it seemed another routine execution. Hangman James Berry had checked all his equipment at Exeter Prison including the trapdoor through which Lee, 20, was set to plunge.

But when Berry pulled the lever to send Lee to his death nothing happened. Lee was removed and the equipment checked again.

It worked perfectly. But when Berry tried to carry out the execution once more mysteriously the same thing happened and it did not work.

When he failed to end the life of a distraught Lee for a third time the execution was called off.

Lee was eventually given a life sentence instead.

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Jack the Ripper was famous for the gruesome killings of prostitutes in the 19th century

13… Rooted in a Norse myth about a murder at a dinner the idea that the number 13 is unlucky goes back hundreds of years. Fear of the figure is known as triskaidekaphobia and it has links to the world’s most elusive killer, Jack the Ripper, who preyed on prostitutes in the 19th century.

The Ripper’s fifth victim Mary Jane Kelly, 25, was found dead in Room 13, Miller’s Court, Whitechapel on November 9, 1888.

Unlucky “Friday 13th” also saw the murder of another woman in the police’s Ripper files. Frances Coles’s throat was cut on February 13, 1891.

There are also 13 letters in the name of Jack the Ripper, used in a letter at the time by someone purporting to be the still unidentified culprit.

Interestingly a string of other multiple murderers also have 13 letters in their name including Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Charles Manson.

25… Many addresses are notorious in the history of murder but 25 Menlove Gardens East, Liverpool, is infamous because it never existed.

On January 19, 1931 someone phoned insurance agent William Wallace’s chess club with a message about a potential business opportunity if he would meet them at the address in Mossley Hill, the next day.

Wallace was seen duly going to the rendezvous, but found that while there was a North South and West Menlove Gardens there was no East.

When Wallace, 52, returned to his home in the city he apparently found his wife Julia, 69, beaten to death.

Police put Wallace on trial for murder but with questions about how he could have done it in the time-frame and the lack of blood on his clothes, his conviction was thrown out on appeal. The mystery of how Julia really died was branded “unbeatable” by crime writer Raymond Chandler.

27… Two British murders have alarming parallels despite being committed 157 years apart. In 1817 a 20-year-old woman called Mary Ashford went to a dance and the next day, May 27, she was found dead near Erdington in Birmingham.

She had been sexually assaulted. On the same date in 1974 Barbara Forrest, also aged just 20, was killed in an almost identical location after a night out.

She had been raped and strangled. Incredibly the suspects arrested in both these cases shared the same surname of Thornton. However, neither man was convicted of the murders and so the mystery lives on.

60… When crime writer Agatha Christie was at the height of her powers, the murder of glamorous Parisian Laetitia Toureaux in just 60 seconds provided a real-life murder mystery.

At 6.27pm on Sunday, May 16, 1937 the 29-year-old was seen getting into a carriage at the Porte de Charenton Metro station wearing some distinctive furs, a hat and parasol.

She was alone in the carriage and the doors to the adjoining ones were locked.

The train pulled out with Laetitia alive but when it arrived at the next station one minute later new passengers were horrified to open the doors to find her stabbed to death with a nine-inch stiletto blade. Puzzlingly there was no sign of an assailant. No one was ever convicted of her murder and just how the killer did it has never been explained.

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Laetitia Toureaux was mysteriously murdered in a Parisian subway

101… In George Orwell’s bestselling book, Nineteen Eighty Four, the dreaded Room 101 is a nightmarish torture chamber where people must face their worst fears, which makes the unsolved murder of John Welch in 1980 all the more disturbing.

The 45-year-old father of two was in Newcastle on business, staying in room 101 of the city’s Swallow Hotel.

On November 26 a hotel porter found his battered and lifeless body in the bathroom. Police were baffled by the apparently motiveless crime. Nothing had been stolen from his room and no one had seen anything despite the hotel being full. The case remains unsolved.

340… In the late 1960s someone began shooting people in Northern California seemingly at random. Before long cryptic letters apparently sent by the killer began being delivered to various newspapers.

The first missive made up a 408-character cryptogram.

When it was eventually deciphered, the line read: “I like killing people because it is so much fun.”

As the murders went on, more letters arrived with details that only the killer could know and were signed “The Zodiac”, along with a cross and circle symbol, identical to that left at some of the crime scenes.

The investigation stalled but it seemed likely that the key to the Zodiac’s real name lay in another, 340-character cryptogram he sent.

To date, however, no one has been able to crack its code or offer up a credible identity for the culprit. The Zodiac, who claimed 37 victims altogether, went on communicating until 1984 before mysteriously vanishing as suddenly as he had appeared.

666… Referred to as the “number of the beast” in the Bible many killers have been obsessed by 666.

Devil-worshipping serial killer Richard Ramirez, dubbed the “Night Stalker” who brutally murdered 13 people in the 1980s, drew the number in blood on the floor of his prison cell when he was finally captured.

Vampire-loving Daniel and Manuela Ruda married on the sixth day of the sixth month, deciding to kill their friend Frank Hackert, 33, on July 6, 2001, so that the dates fitted with their satanic beliefs.

They stabbed their victim at a flat in Witten, Germany, 66 times and drank his blood.

A tip-off led to their capture and eventual incarceration in psychiatric units.

26 million… One of history’s most daring heists, the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery at London’s Heathrow saw the gang get away with £26million, much of it in gold bullion.

Many of those involved evaded conviction and much of the loot has never been recovered.

But in the years that followed up to 20 of those believed to have been caught up in the crime have fallen victim to the so-called “Brink’s-Mat curse”.

These include jeweller Solly Nahome, gunned down in 1998, taxi firm boss Brian Perry and George Francis shot in 2001 and 2003 respectively, plus ex Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson who was murdered in Spain in 1990.

In 2015 John “Goldfinger” Palmer, who was sensationally acquitted of laundering some of the gold in 1987, was also shot dead at his home in Essex