In 1790, nearly a century before Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of London, another predator held sway: a bizarre serial attacker known as the London Monster assaulted more than 50 women in the capital. Since this kind of sadistic behaviour was quite unheard-of at the time, there was general outrage among the Londoners, and the capital’s female world was in a turmoil.
During his reign of terror, the Monster became a psychopathic celebrity, inspiring newspapers, caricatures and plays. After a reward of £100 had been posted for the capture and conviction of the Monster, a veritable mass hysteria reigned throughout London. Innocent men were beaten up by the mob after being pointed out as the Monster by mischievous people, and the fashionable ladies did not dare venture out into the streets without wearing copper petticoats or other forms of protective clothing.
The hunt for the Monster culminated in the arrest of a young Welshman named Rhynwick Williams. He was convicted in a trial that served as a process of exorcism: finally, London was free of its Monster. The story has remarkable parallels to our own time: a police force unable to find its man, a tabloid press frenzy that sold newspapers and created a climate of fear, and a need to convict someone at all costs, even if the evidence was questionable.
Based on the book, "The London Monster: Terror on the Streets in 1790" by Jan Bondeson