Author Archives

Tori Telfer

Jill the Ripper

Illustration by Lily Padula

Tori Telfer | Longreads | March 2019 | 16 minutes (4,226 words)

Before the Zodiac Killer named himself, before someone strangled poor JonBenét, before the Black Dahlia was sliced open, and before Tupac and Biggie were shot six months apart under eerily similar circumstances, someone was slinking through the slums of London, killing women.

This someone — a shadowy aichmomaniac, possibly wearing a bloody apron — left the women of the Whitechapel district in shocking disarray. Their intestines were thrown over their shoulders; cultish markings were carved into their cheeks. One of them was found without her heart. To most people who saw the crime scenes or read the papers, everything about this appeared to be the work of a man — the brutality, the strength, the misogyny. And so in 1888, when people started looking for the Ripper, they were looking for…well, for a Jack. Was he a mad doctor? A butcher? Queen Victoria’s weak-minded son? Everyone in Whitechapel found themselves peering nervously into the fog, wondering which normal-looking male passerby was actually a maniac.

Everyone, that is, except for a few lone voices, suggesting something totally radical: what if they should actually be looking for a Jill? Read more…

‘I Had Nothing To Do With It But Have Been Punished’: Issac Bailey On His Brother Moochie, the Murderer

Getty, composite by Katie Kosma

Tori Telfer | Longreads | June 2018 | 14 minutes (3,622 words)

Issac Bailey was nine when he watched his hero get taken away in handcuffs. It felt like a bad dream: the police were closing those handcuffs around the wrists of his older brother Moochie, the charming, athletic, charismatic father-figure who’d protected their mother from their dad’s beatings, whose checks from a stint in the army kept their large family afloat, and who was “like a god” to his little brothers. All that changed in the blink of an eye when he murdered a white man and was fed into the maw of the criminal justice system.

Moochie was a murderer. But he was also a person, a big brother, a black man who’d absorbed a thousand and one shocks for his little siblings, a kid born into the sort of soul-crushing racial environment that made it a sin to wear dark skin, as Bailey notes below. Had his worst act put him beyond the possibility of redemption? This is the question Bailey sets out to ask in his latest book, My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South (Other Press, May 2018).

Through a childhood and young adulthood spent with his beloved older brother behind bars, Bailey experienced firsthand how callously the families of perpetrators are ignored by the criminal justice system, and how little nuance is afforded both black men who’ve offended and the families who love them. “The more hideous, the more one-dimensional black men who kill…are portrayed, the better,” he writes. “It’s easier to hate them that way…and if they are monsters, they likely come from monstrous stock, meaning the broken families from which they hail aren’t worthy of the resources needed to repair them.” After thirty-two years behind bars, Moochie was unexpectedly released. By then, Issac had grown into a successful journalist who’d grappled with his brother’s crime for his entire adult life—a crime that had left Bailey himself with a stutter, and a bad case of PTSD, both remnants of the trauma that had radiated throughout his family for decades. Read more…

The Dying Days of the New West

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Tori Telfer | Longreads | May 2018 | 15 minutes (3,912 words)

The American West brings out a hunger in people. I’ve felt it myself — an urge to disconnect from society, buy a horse, live next to a giant saguaro. My husband and I have talked for hours about moving to the town of Truth or Consequences in New Mexico, where we were invited to live by an elderly gay couple we met beside a Tucson, Arizona pool. They told us that houses were cheap and everyone was friends and they’d be our uncles; we took their business card home and spent nights looking at houses on Zillow, cooing over cacti. The destiny was almost made manifest, then real life intruded. Guess where we’re moving instead? New York City.

The urbane, European-inflected East Coast has looked at the West with a strange blend of envy and hope for most of United States history. While the United States was built partially on the idea that the West was our manifest destiny, an East/West rivalry has also been baked into our identity from the beginning; even the famous “Go west, young man!” dictum contained within it some eastward scorn. That cry came from an 1865 New York Times editorial, in which Horace Greeley, the newspaper’s editor, exclaimed that “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

In 1836, the writer Francis Grund speculated that westward expansion would only stop when some “physical barrier must finally obstruct its progress”; by the late 1800s, the ocean proved to be no such barrier, as America’s westward colonization encroached on the islands of the Pacific, reaching as far as the Philippines; in 2018, there is so little West left to discover that when we want to dream about the idea of the “frontier,” we look to Mars. Today’s West is a place of deep irony: lands that look wide-open to the naked eye but are actually choked by bureaucratic red tape. In fact, “the West” is more of a mirage than a reality, these days. But the hunger is still there. Read more…