Screen: Smithsonian Channel

Should You Examine The Missing Evidence?

Smithsonian Channel tries to solve unsolved mysteries. Sarah D. Bunting takes the case.

What is this thing?

A six-part series investigating "tackles conspiracy theories and enduring mysteries," The Missing Evidence unearths new facts and insights with the help of journalists, lawyers, scientists, and other experts. Kicking off with Jack The Ripper, The Missing Evidence will also cover the death of Marilyn Monroe, the Loch Ness monster, and explosions in the towers on 9/11, among other things.

When is it on?

Sundays at 9 PM on Smithsonian Channel.

Why now?

Obviously the network got jealous of the attention I've been giving to In Search Of..., hello? ...Hee. The miniseries premieres around the time the Ripper murders occurred, but honestly, the viewing audience's seemingly tireless appetite for Bigfoot content and other conspirac-iana probably made yessing the pitch a no-brainer, despite a dog's breakfast of topics.

What's its pedigree?

Lots of cooks in this kitchen, including Blink Films (Shut-ins: Britain's Fattest People), Blue Ant Television, and ME1 Productions. Pretty much every English-speaking country is represented.

...And?

Everyone who doesn't care about the Ripper case, take a break. ...So, I'd never heard carman Charles Allen Lachmere mentioned as a suspect, and while he's a far more believable Ripper than, say, Dr. William Gull or Neill Cream, it's still an awfully circumstantial case. He happened to walk past the crime scenes on the way to his job; nobody at his workplace would have noticed if he appeared in a bloody apron; he had a bunch of stepfathers; he found Polly Nichols. Robert House mentions him only in that capacity in his excellent Jack The Ripper And The Case For Scotland Yard's Prime Suspect, and while House isn't necessarily the end-all of Ripperology, the foreword to his book by legendary profiler Roy Hazelwood suggests he's doing something right.

And here's where I finally have to balk at the Lechmere theory: the profile. Yes, he's the first to find Nichols, and tells a few lies around that, including what his real name is. Yes, he's maybe near all the crime scenes and has some of the childhood-background indicators shared by serial killers...but he doesn't have all of them; he's not specifically spotted at any other crime scenes; and after the final murder, a horrific overkill that suggests the perpetrator has lost it completely, Lechmere just goes...back to his life, becoming rather wealthy, enjoying his grandchildren. That doesn't track with anything any other profiler has said about the Ripper. It's not credible that he could just stop, and return to his middle-class existence, living unremarkably until the 1920s. Swedish journo Christer Holmgren et al. stack up an impressively tall heap of circumstantial evidence, but despite QC James Scobie's confidence that he could sell that case to a jury, I feel just as confident a first-day defense attorney could dismantle it as a series of coincidences and normal human fibbing.

...But?

I took my ass downstairs to pull House's book off the shelves; TME made me actually care to compare and confirm. I don't think I accept the episode's conclusions -- but I respect the work that went into drawing them on the experts' side, and I especially like that the show presumes a level of existing interest in and familiarity with the case. Most Ripper programs will spend a good third of the runtime reviewing the sad circumstances of the victims and dun-dun-DUN-ing on about the Dear Boss letter. The Missing Evidence thinks we know all that shit already and moves smartly along to said missing evidence, not bothering with irrelevant Wikipedia flotsam we already know or have dismissed.

It's a well-built 46 minutes, narrated smoothly and without melodrama. It shows its work the same way; not every graphic is state-of-the-art, but it's not easy to illustrate a geographic analysis of a crime series that happened in the 1880s, and the use of photo dissolves is deft and helpful.

...So?

This is a tough subject to make a major-case dorkus like me care about for another hour; it's thorough, savvy, and not choked with filler. I'm in.

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