Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
I moved to London in 2011.
The reason for my move to London is very simple, but holds a legend so shocking that I’m not even sure of its truth: only its impact.
Up until three years ago, I lived in the town of Wickford, Essex. For those of you who are not well-versed in the geography of south-east England, Wickford is, by definition, a shit hole. Made up of a high-street with nothing bigger than a small WH Smiths, a Co-operative, and a 99p Store. It is a boring and scuzzy place, an urban cesspit.
I didn’t leave because of these factors.
Running through Wickford is the River Crouch. Whilst parts of the Crouch in Wickford are slightly nice-looking, the town centre’s section of the Crouch is banked by concrete, a provision put into place following two floods back in the late 1950s. The result of this is a complex, and very ugly, tunnel system, interlocking with the sewers.
Now that I have provided sufficient context for the, perhaps true, myth, I will begin.
In 1979, a pupil at a local secondary school (the name of which I genuinely don’t know, adding to the idea that this legend is make belief) was feared. His name was Jack Kayden, and whilst a popular womanizer, his mean streak bordered on sadism. He relished in putting his other peers in pain, so much so that he made your average playground bully seem generous. Kayden’s good looks were unmatched, even though his grin was apparently wolf-like and deeply unsettling. On a fateful, stormy night in the middle of winter 1979, a group of the more commonly targeted of Kayden’s antics felt that they had finally taken enough grief from him. They attacked him as he strolled down London Road. The group of six boys and two girls bagged him. They lugged the powerless Kayden to underneath the London Road bridge, and to the partially-concealed concrete Crouch bank.
I’m not totally sure what those eight people precisely did to Kayden, but I do know that his face was mutilated to the point that he was unrecognizable. They then left him for dead. His body, however, was never found, and the police ceased their search for him three years later.
In 1986, one of the girls was found naked at the same place that Kayden had been mutilated. Her neck had been snapped, and her entrails were littered on the concrete of the bank. Pinned to her forehead was a note.
The police struggled to find a motive. The unmarried girl had just given birth to a daughter, but the confrontational father, who was not in a relationship with the girl any more, had an alibi. Unable to find a convincing perpetrator, the case went unsolved. Six months later, a young sewage maintenance officer was discovered by a co-worker. There were clear signs of a struggle: he had been grabbed from behind and drowned in the water. Again, he was one of those who had attacked Kayden.
For a time just prior to my move to London, I attempted to research these murders. Unfortunately, the records for Wickford’s local newspaper, the Weekly Echo, only exist from 1968-74, and then from 1995 onwards.
The atmosphere that the supposed murders left was toxic, and that was evidence enough for me to want to leave.
I did find one article that worked as a kind of evidence. From June 1999 was the report of a twelve year old girl’s disappearance near the River Crouch. The author mentioned in passing that the girl’s mother had died “in 1986, under similar circumstances to [the girl’s] disappearance”. I still wander today if this means that Kayden was also after the children of his original victims.
A further four of the boys that had played a part in the attack on Kayden were gruesomely murdered in the late 1980s. Because I am unsure of these four men’s names, I will refer to them as B1, B2, B3 and B4. B1’s decapitated body was left on the road, and his head just under a sewer grate. B2 was stabbed to death, with the word “cold” carved into his forehead. B3 and B4 were found sewn together, and had clearly starved to death, stuck in the middle of a sewage pipe, clogging the waste.
The girl that had not been killed back in ’86 was abducted in March 1991, aged around 27. She was childless, just as all of the other victims had been (bar the first girl). This girl was never murdered. Instead, she was sighted at the High Street three months after she was taken, with a blank expression. She jumped in front of a car.
There was now only one of Jack Kayden’s attackers left alive. This boy, now a man, became a father in April 1992. I am his son.
Allow me to clarify a few details here. I am now 22 years old. I was 19 when I left Wickford. The fact that the first girl’s daughter was killed by Kayden haunts me to the core. After all, my dad was himself killed and skinned by Jack Kayden in 1994. My mother hesitantly told me the story in 2008, after which I went on my researching spree. As I asked around and filled in holes in the story, I likewise talked to people who claimed that my father had died in a car accident, or drowned. I have absolutely no idea why these people would want to actively protect Kayden. Maybe they were in denial.
One night in 2010, I simply sat down and thought about incidents in my life that I had no explanation for. The more that I looked back through my memories, the more that I believed in the legend of Jack Kayden. I noted that when I started at the Bromfords senior school in the Grange area of Wickford, my mother had specifically ordered me to take a longer route than the more convenient London Road way. Obviously, she was worried for my safety that close to Kayden’s lair. I remembered an afternoon in the summer holidays, when I was around eight years old. An ugly, bald man that I had assumed to be wearing a very realistic Halloween mask walked up to me as I rode my bike up and down my street. He asked me if I wanted to meet my dad. I told the man that my father was dead, to which he pulled a very sinister expression – strangely visible through the mask, I had thought – and remarked,
I was totally creeped out, and biked home faster than ever before.
So why did I abruptly drop everything and make the move in 2011?
My mother died of cancer in late-2010. I inherited her house. This heightened my sense of fear day-to-day.
Every time I heard the wind, I jumped. Every time I saw my reflection, my heart skipped a beat.
In November 2011, more than three decades after Kayden’s mutilation, I failed to sleep on a stormy night. I kept hearing noises around the house, but whenever I went to investigate, I found no intruder. I was driven so sick by this, that I packed up a small bag, and caught the train to London Liverpool Street station, to stay with my mother’s family there (they had previously offered to host me routinely since my mother’s death).
I have never gone back to Wickford.
Instead, I asked my friends to collect my possessions into a moving van, and I instructed real estate agents to put my house on the market.
Like I said before, the reason for my move to London is simple, but holds a very shocking legend.
The reason that I moved to London is that the police called me on my first afternoon at my aunt and uncle’s house. They informed me that there had been a break-in at my Wickford residence, but that nothing had been taken. Instead, one word had been scrawled on walls all over the house.