For those fascinated by the dregs of humanity, London is filled to the brim. Armed with a day pass for the London Underground, a quick tour of the capital can turn up a bevy of spies, scoundrels and ne'er-do-wells.
A favourite destination is Whitechapel, the grounds of Jack the Ripper (Whitechapel station, District line). Starting in 1888, a series of brutal murders, mostly involving female prostitutes, was carried out in the impoverished district. The victims commonly had their throats cut and various internal organs eviscerated.
Newspapers whipped the public into hysteria, coining several names for the unknown assailant, but Jack the Ripper eventually stuck.
The first victim was Mary Ann Nichols; her mutilated body was discovered in Buck's Row, now Durward Street. Over the next three years, almost a dozen murders were attributed to the serial killer. The vicious attacks ended abruptly in 1891. Over the years, more than 100 suspects have been proposed, from butchers and surgeons to aristocracy.
No one was ever charged.
The Tower of London (Tower Hill station, District line) was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066. Since then, it has served as a royal palace, a mint, an armory and a notorious prison. Ghosts of victims killed in the Tower are said to haunt the site, including Queen Anne Boleyn (who carries her dismembered head under one arm) and the young Princes Edward and Richard, murdered by their protector, Richard III, in 1483.
Several notorious traitors have also called the Tower home. On Nov. 6, 1605, Guy Fawkes was imprisoned after the Gunpowder Plot was discovered. Under torture, Fawkes revealed he and conspirators had smuggled 36 kegs of gunpowder into the cellars of the House of Lords in Westminster in an attempt to blow King James I and his ministers into oblivion.
By the 19th century, the Tower had fallen out of favour as a prison, but it was revived during the First and Second World Wars. Rudolf Hess, the deputy leader of the Nazi party, was housed in the Tower, and Josef Jakobs, a Nazi spy, was executed on the grounds in 1941.
The Thames Embankment by Vauxhall Bridge (Vauxhall station, Victoria line) presents an excellent vantage point to take a snap of the MI6 building. The giant green and white office tower is headquarters to the British Secret Intelligence Service.
Also known as Babylon-on-Thames due to its architectural affinity with ancient Euphrates temples, the 12-storey edifice was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1994. It has been featured in several films, including Once is Not Enough, where James Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) bursts from the building in a boat and chases a villain down the River Thames.
Waterloo Bridge (Charing Cross station, Bakerloo line) offers excellent views of Westminster, the London Eye and Canary Wharf. It is also the site where Georgi Markov was murdered.
Markov was a Bulgarian dissident who had defected from his homeland in 1969. As a broadcaster and journalist, he was critical of the Communist regimes that ran the country, so much so that it is believed the Bulgarian government connived with the KGB to assassinate him. On Sept. 7, 1978, he crossed the bridge to the BBC. As he waited for a bus, he felt a sharp sting in his thigh, and he turned to see a man wielding an umbrella.
Markov soon fell ill and three days later, he died. Suspecting murder, Scotland Yard ordered an autopsy, and discovered a tiny metal pellet in his leg containing ricin. The police surmised the poison was administered to the victim using a pellet gun concealed in the umbrella. Bulgarian authorities refused to co-operate in the investigation, and no one has ever been charged in the murder. Post-Communist governments in Bulgaria have recently expressed interest in resolving the case.
Feeling a bit thirsty after all the mayhem? Stop by the Pine Bar at the Millenium Hotel in Grosvenor Square (Bond Street station, Central line). This is where the Metropolitan Police believe Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with Polonium-210 on Nov. 1, 2006.
Litvinenko was a former KGB agent turned defector who wrote several books implicating then president Vladimir Putin in a plot to terrorize Russian citizens.
On the day in question, Litvinenko met with two former KGB officers, Andrei Lugovi and Dmitri Kovtum, for a cup of tea. Litvinenko soon fell ill. Polonium-201, a rare radionuclide produced in nuclear reactors, is undetectable, but health-care workers familiar with radiation sickness diagnosed his condition and an investigation began. Police traced the polonium back to Lugovi and Kovtum, but the pair had decamped to Moscow.
Russian authorities declined British requests for extradition and the case remains in limbo. Enjoy your tea.
-- Postmedia News