Did The "London Monster" Ever Really Exist?

During the late 1700s, something was stalking women on the streets of London—years before the “Ripper,” there was the “London Monster.”

The first reports of the monster occurred in 1788 when women reported that a tall, bulky man followed them, screaming at them and slashing at them with a knife. Some said that he slashed their hips and bottoms—others said that he kicked at them with daggers strapped to his knees. A few reports stated that he would invite them to come closer to smell his nosegay, a flower, and then would stab them in the face with a spike hidden within the scented flowers.

Many of the reports stated that the “London Monster” would make its exit just as help arrived.

The lucky victims would just get their clothes cut, while some of its victims received dangerous wounds, and over the “Monster’s” two year period of activity there were over 50 victims. As the press started to sensationalize the story and fear started to spread across the city of London, there were copycats and false reports. It is said that some of the known reports of attacks may have been fabrications or from women panicking about men they saw on the street.

Fear started to spread and outrage ran riot as the London Police failed in their attempts to capture the man. John Julius Angerstein, a wealthy Londoner, announced that he would give a reward of £100 to the man who captured the “London Monster.” This caused vigilantes to patrol the city in the hope of finding the dreaded beast.

In June 1790, an earlier victim named Anne Porter spotted the “Monster” in St. James Park. She told her beau, John Coleman, that the man they saw in the park was the one who attacked her.

Coleman followed him and confronted the man Anne Porter said was the monster and then challenged him to a duel to defend Anne’s honor. He discovered that the “monster” was Rhynwick Williams, who was an unemployed 23-year-old. 

Williams claimed to be innocent, but with fear in the air, his protests went ignored. When he admitted that he had indeed approached Porter, magistrates charged him with “defacing the clothing of another,” which in the legal code of the time, carried a much harsher penalty than assault. Spectators cheered, and one “apparent” victim admitted that she had not even been attacked and had made her story up.

The first judge granted Williams a retrial. In the second trial, Williams's defense was Irish poet Theophilus Swift, who tried to change tactics and accused Anne Porter of a scheme to collect the £100 award. Williams lost the case and was sentenced to six years in prison.

There has been much speculation since the imprisonment of Williams about the validity and reality of the threat. There are those who believe the monster didn’t even exist. As in the case of many sensationalized cases, the truth may never be known. It may never be known if the “London Monster” ever really existed…

Vanessa A. Ryan is the author of:

Horror At The Lake, A Vampire Tale mystery trilogy:
Book 1, The Legacy Of Fear -- order now

Book 2, The Trail Of Terror -- order now
Book 3, The Blood Of Redemption -- coming in April

A Palette For Murder - pre-order now -- coming in April