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Over the years many efforts have been made to unmask the killer known only as Jack the Ripper who is considered responsible for the five canonical murders of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly which took place in the period from August to November 1888.

A: The Contemporary Suspects

1. Arrestees and Confessors

The police made a number of arrests during the course of their original investigations into the Whitechapel murders. As the Daily Telegraph reported on the 10th September 1888 in the aftermath of the murder of Annie Chapman; "More than one person was detained on suspicion; one at Limehouse, another at Bethnal-green, and a third at Deptford, but in each case no tangible result followed". Similar reports appear throughout the years 1888 to 1891, when various men were arrested on suspicion and later released. Nothing is known of the identity of these individuals whom we must know presume to have had no connection with the murders.

Then, as now, the publicity generated by the Whitechapel murders inspired a number of individuals to come forwards and claim responsibility for one or more of the crimes. There was an Alfred Napier Blanchard who, on the 5th October 1888, whilst drinking at The Fox and Goose tavern at Aston (now part of Greater Birmingham) confessed that he was none other than Jack the Ripper. Blanchard was arrested and remanded in custody until such time as the police managed to establish that he could not possibly be the killer, at which point he was dismissed by the local magistrate with the words "What a foolish man you have been. You are discharged." Oddly enough, on the very same day as Blanchard was staking his claim to notoriety, a medical student by the name of William Bull walked into Bishopgate police station and confessed to the murder of Catherine Eddowes. He too was released without charge, as indeed were other such individuals as John Avery, William Wallace Brodie and George Payne who also confessed at various times. Not everyone however found themselves set at liberty as a result of their admissions, as one Theophil Hanhart soon found out when he was deemed by the police to be of 'unsound mind' and packed off to the nearest lunatic asylum.

But perhaps the most famous confession of all was that allegedly made by Thomas Neill Cream, a Scottish doctor who spent much of his time in North America. Having returned to Britain in October 1891 he was later sentenced to hang for the murder of one Matilda Clover on the 15th November 1892. At his execution he is said to have uttered the words "I am Jack..." at the very moment that he departed this earth. Whatever the truth of this particular tale (and many doubt its veracity), we can however safely exclude Cream from consideration on the grounds that he was actually serving a prison sentence at the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois between the years 1881 and 1891.

2. Police Suspects

None of the above were ever seriously considered as suspects and of course the police never revealed any details of their ongoing investigation. In fact, comparatively little is now known about the conduct of the original police investigations into the series of crimes known as the Whitechapel Murders. All the original City of London Police files were destroyed during the Blitz, whilst the Metropolitan Police records have suffered from the ravages of time (old records were routinely destroyed) and the depredations of souvenir hunters. (There is a whole file of reports now within the official records which were anonymously returned to Scotland Yard in 1987.)

At one time there was a considerable excitement over the prospect of the opening of the surviving files held by Scotland Yard and the Home Office on the murders. When duly opened to the public in the years 1992 and 1993 they disappointingly named no one and provided few clues as to the identity of the killer. What information there now exists regarding those names that were seriously considered as suspects by the police comes from various statements made by serving officers some time afterwards.

The first source of information is a report dated 23rd February 1894, known as the Macnaghten Memorandum, which itself only became public in 1959. Melville Macnaghten was a police officer who joined Scotland Yard in June 1889 as the Assistant Chief Constable of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and was later promoted to Chief Constable. Macnaghten took no part in the original police investigation but was later motivated to write his confidential report by a story that appeared in The Sun of the 13th February 1894, in which that newspaper claimed to have identified the killer as one Thomas Cutbush, whom they held responsible for seven of the eleven Whitechapel murders. Macnaghten's Memorandum was probably (but not indisputedly) based on a review of the police files extant at that time, which may well have included information since lost.

According to Macnaghten "many homicidal maniacs were suspected, but no shadow of proof could be thrown on any one" but he did however draw attention to "the cases of 3 men", any one of whom he believed could have commited the murder. These three men were,

  • Montague John Druitt, who was "said to be a doctor" and "of good family" who later disappeared shortly after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly and "whose body was found in the Thames on 31st December". Macnaghten claimed that Druitt was "sexually insane" and that "from private information I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer".
  • Aaron Kosminski, a "Polish Jew" who was "resident in Whitechapel". According to Macnaghten, Kosminski became insane after "many years' indulgence in solitary vices" and that he had "a great hatred of women, specially of the prostitute class" and "strong homicidal tendencies". Kosminski was confined to a lunatic asylum about March 1889.
  • Michael Ostrog, a Russian doctor, whose "antecedents were of the worst possible type" and was "a homicidal maniac". He was also subsequently detained in a lunatic asylum.

Robert Anderson, the Assistant Commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard later wrote in his 1907 book Criminals and Crimes that he believed that Jack the Ripper was "safely caged in an asylum". He later made statements that identified the killer as a "low-class Polish Jew" and clearly indicated that he believed Aaron Kosminski to have been the perpetrator. His views were however dismissed by other police officers such as Henry Smith, whilst those who have since examined the evidence relating to Kosminiski have concluded that he was a harmless lunatic and he is no longer regarded as a particularly strong contender. Similarly, although Michael Ostrog was certainly a rather unstable individual, his criminal career shows him to have been a conman and a petty thief who once stole a silver cup and some books from Eton College; he showed little sign of being the homicidal maniac that Macnaghten believed him to be.

As regards Druitt, Macnaghten was wrong in suggesting that he was a doctor, he was actually a barrister who later became a teacher. Druitt's mother became insane (she died in an asylum in 1890) and Druitt appears to have become obsessed with the notion that such insanity was hereditary. A note found amongst his belongings after his death read, "Since Friday I felt I was going to be like mother, and the best thing for me was to die" and it is thus generally concluded that he committed suicide by weighing himself down with stones and jumping into the Thames on the 31st December 1888.

Although Druitt was Macnaghten's favourite suspect, as Abberline was later to note, there was nothing to incriminate Druitt beyond the fact that he conveniently disappeared and committed suicide in December 1888. It remains the case however, that of the three Macnaghten suspects, Druitt remains the only one that is seriously considered today.

In addition to the Macnaghten Memorandum a number of other police officers gave press interviews or wrote books that shed a light on those that were suspected of being the Ripper. Firstly there was Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline, who was effectively in charge of the murder investigation during 1888-1889 was later interviewed by the Pall Mall Gazette in 1903 and revealed that his prime suspect was one George Chapman, remarking that "I cannot help feeling that this was the man we struggled so hard to capture fifteen years ago."

George Chapman, who adopted that alias in preference to his given name of Severin Klosowski (and was thus no relation of the victim Annie Chapman), later became better known as the Borough Poisoner after being charged and convicted of murdering three women, for which crimes he was hanged at Wandsworth prison on the 7th April 1903. Chapman was certainly living in the immediate area at the time of the Whitechapel murders, but from the context of Abberline's remarks it appears that he was merely voicing his opinion and that he had only considered him as a suspect after he was unmasked as the Borough Poisoner. Nevertheless Chapman remains one of the favoured suspects, although once again there is no specific evidence tying him to the murders and many doubt whether Chapman, the wife-beater and poisoner, could possibly have been the same man as Jack, the night-stalker and mutilator.

Detective Chief Inspector John George Littlechild, who had been in charge of the Secret Department of Scotland Yard (The Victorian equivalent of the modern Special Branch) at the time of the murders, confided his thoughts in a letter dated 23rd September 1913 sent to the journalist and author George R Sims. Littlechild named a 'Doctor' Francis Tumblety, who had been arrested in November 1888 for offences of gross indecency but having obtained bail fled back to the United States. Littlechild wrote that Tumblety was "among the suspects, and to my mind a very likely one", although what is now known as the Littlechild letter did not come to light until 1993 when it inspired Stewart Evans and Paul Gainey to write The Lodger: The Arrest and Escape of Jack the Ripper (1995) which fleshed out their thesis that Tumblety was the Ripper.

Tumblety was an archetypal quack and hawker of dubious medicinal cures, and although he was certainly in London at the time of the Whitechapel Murders, it has been pointed out that his rampant homosexuality makes him an unlikely candidate. However, both Tumblety and Chapman are often favoured as suspects because it appears that they were in the United States at the time of the murder of Carrie Brown in New York City on the 24th April 1891, a crime which bore many of the hallmarks of the Whitechapel murders.

3. Press Suspects

The press were not shy about coming forward with claims that they had discovered the identity of the infamous Jack the Ripper. At the time of the Chapman murder in September 1888 the press favoured John Pizer, a Jewish shoemaker with a criminal record and an apparent hatred of prostitutes whom they judged to be the 'Leather Apron' of popular imagination. Pizer however had a rock-solid alibi for the Chapman murder (he was in conversation with a policeman at the time the murder occurred) and later won a libel action and damages against the newspapers that had named him.

During November and December 1888 there were also claims in the newspapers that the culprit was a "fanatical anarchist" by the name of Nikolay Vasiliev, also known as Nicolas Vassili or Wassily. It was said that Vasiliev had gone on a killing spree in Paris during 1872 and killed four prostitutes within the space of a fortnight before being apprehended and placed in a lunatic asylum. Having been declared cured on the 1st January 1888 he was released and promptly came to live in London. Whilst Vasiliev might seem a fairly strong suspect for any number of the Whitechapel murders, there is no evidence that any such individual ever existed, and appears to have simply been a media invention.

In 1889 the New York Times cited one William Henry Bury as the killer. Bury had walked into Dundee police station on the 10th February 1889 to report his wife's death. According to Bury's initial account of events he had awoken from a drunken slumber to find his wife dead beside him and had then been overtaken by a sudden impulse to plunge a knife repeatedly into her stomach. Fearful of being accused as Jack the Ripper he then hid her body in a chest. He claimed that she had committed suicide, the Dundee police begged to differ and charged him with murder. After being convicted of the crime, he admitted his guilt and was hanged for it in April 1889.

Although two messages referring to 'Jack the Ripper' were chalked on a door to Bury's house (presumed to have been put there by Bury himself), the Metropolitan Police did not see him as a serious suspect, and the British press appear to have taken little notice of the New York Times's opinion. Bury's candidature was later resurrected by Euan Macpherson, firstly in an article Jack the Ripper in Dundee which appeared in the Scots Magazine back in January 1988, and secondly in the book The Trial of Jack the Ripper - The Case of William Bury 1859-1889 (2005).

Bury was certainly living in the East End of London between the autumn of 1887 and January 1889 when he returned to Dundee and did away with his wife. On the whole it seems rather unlikely that the killer who had so confounded the Metropolitan Police in 1888 would have then committed such a ham fisted crime as the Dundee murder only a few short months later.

Another name that excited the press was that of Frederick Bailey Deeming, who was arrested in Australia on the 11th March 1892 on suspicion of the murder of his wife, whose body had recently been discovered beneath the hearthstone of their home in Melbourne. A subsequent search of his former home at Rainhill in Liverpool resulted in the discovery of the bodies of his previous wife and their four children buried under the floorboards, whom he appears to have slaughtered in the autumn of 1891 shortly before he left for Australia.

On his arrest the Australian press certainly convinced themselves that they had caught Jack the Ripper; as the Melbourne Evening Standard trumpted in its headline of the 8th April 1892, 'Jack The Ripper: Deeming At Aldgate On The Night Of The Whitechapel Murders'. Indeed for many years after he was hanged for his crimes on the 23 May 1892, his death mask was exhibited at the Metropolitan Police's Black Museum as being that of Jack the Ripper. It is known that he was in Australia in December 1887 facing bankruptcy charges and fled to South Africa in January 1888 and remained there until at least March of that year, but his precise whereabouts from that time until his reappearance at Hull in October 1889 are uncertain. Deeming was almost certainly insane, but not that mad that he didn't make an attempt to hide his crimes by burying the bodies of his victims, which seems rather contrary to the know habits of the Whitechapel murderer.

As noted above, in 1894 The Sun believed that they had identified one Thomas Cutbush as the Ripper. Cutbush had been arrested earlier in April 1891 for maliciously wounding one Florence Grace Johnson, and attempting to wound Isabella Fraser Anderson at Kennington. He was declared insane and confined at Lamberth Infirmary. Although McNaugten noted that it "was found impossible to ascertain his movements on the nights of the Whitechapel murders" he was fairly dismissive of the notion that Cutbush was the killer. Cutbush's nomination reflected the fairly widespread belief that the Ripper must perforce be an individual now safely incarcerated in a lunatic asylum.

The examination of the available evidence, all of which has now become publicly available, leads us to the conclusion that whilst individual police officers may have had suspicions, well founded or otherwise, regarding the identity of the killer, it is apparent that the police had no idea as to the actual identity of Jack the Ripper. Indeed Frederick Abberline, even whilst he was musing on the subject of George Chapman in 1903, admitted as much when he said that "Scotland Yard is really no wiser on the subject than it was fifteen years ago", whilst former Chief Commissioner Henry Smith wrote in his memoirs From Constable to Commissioner (1910) that "Jack the Ripper beat me and every other police officer in London" and admitted that "I have no more idea now where he lived than I had twenty years ago".

B: Modern Suspects

Due to the enduring fascination that the Whitechapel murders and the name of Jack of Ripper has exerted over the public consciousness down the years, many have sought to solve the mystery of his identity. Indeed, Christopher J. Morley in his Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide lists a total of 205 names who have been accused over the years of being Jack the Ripper. In the process a new field of study named 'Ripperology' has emerged which serves to evaluate the merits of the various suspects unearthed. If anything this process has accelerated in recent years and something of a minor industry has emerged in unearthing new suspects, with various authors coming forward to announce that they have 'discovered' the identity of Jack the Ripper.

1. The Demented Doctor

According to Leonard Matters, Jack the Ripper was a certain Doctor Stanley whose only son had caught syphilis from Mary Kelly. Doctor Stanley therefore set off to exact his revenge and killed four prostitutes before he finally found his objective and duly slaughtered Kelly. Stanley then left for Buenos Airies where he died in 1927 but not before confessing his crimes to Leonard Matters. The Stanley story was widely publicised by Matters in the American press in 1927 and later appeared in first full length book on the subject (in English at least),The Mystery of Jack the Ripper published in 1929.

Sadly 'Doctor Stanley' and his deathbed confession only ever existed in Matter's imagination, but his basic concept of the 'demented doctor' seeking revenge for some real of imagined injury has become one of the most influential of the suggested solutions to the mystery of the Ripper. This is particularly since many have suggested that the murderer must have had some anatomical knowledge and skill with a knife to have carried out the post-mortem mutilations of his victims.

Over the years various distinguished and undistinguished medical men have been suggested as fulfilling the conditions. Prominent amongst these has been William Gull, the Queen's personal physician, whose name also features as a prominent figure in the Royal Conspiracy Theory (see below). It however must be pointed out that Gull in his seventies at the time, was partially paralysed after suffering a stroke in 1887, followed by a number of other attacks before his death at the age of seventy-three on the 29th January 1890. On the whole it seems unlikely that he would have chosen to go galivanting about the streets of the East End of London chasing women with a sharp knife.

One of the most recent medical men to have been named as a candidate is a Carmarthenshire born doctor by the name of John Williams, suggested by a descendant of his named Tony Williams in his Uncle Jack (2005). Doctor Williams who is better known as one of the original benefactors of the National Library of Wales did indeed have royal connections and was practising in London at the right time, but other than that there appears to be no particular reason why he should be preferred as a candidate of the thousands of other medical and veterinary men who were resident in or near London during 1888 who might be, and presumably at some time will be, suspected.

2. The Duke of Clarence and the Royal Conspiracy

Perhaps the most surprising of all the names put forward was that of Albert, Duke of Clarence, known as Eddy to his friends and family. Albert was first named as a suspect by Thomas Stowell in his article A Solution published in The Criminologist in 1970. Stowell claimed to be in possession of the private papers of William Gull and that these papers referred to the killer as an individual identified only as 'S', whom Stowell argued was none other than Albert Victor himself. Stowell's contention was that the Duke of Clarence had contracted syphilis from a prostitute, gone mad, and in his insanity sought revenge on the class of women that he held responsible for his affliction. Unfortunately Stowell died soon after publication and his family burnt his papers thereby preventing anyone from confirming whether or not his claim to be in possession of Gull's private papers was true.

However it is worth noting that as a member of the British Royal Family, Albert Victor's whereabouts were pretty well documented on a daily basis and it has since been established that he had solid alibis for each and every one of the five canonical killings and can thus be eleminated as a suspect. This has not prevented some, notably Frank Spiering, author of Prince Jack: The True Story of Jack the Ripper (1978), from continuing to assert that he was the killer. (The public record having been of course doctored to cover up Albert's appalling crimes, etc.)

Variations of this theory have also emerged with other writers suggesting different identities for the mysterious 'S' supposedly named by the good Doctor Gull. One name mentioned has been that of James Kenneth Stephen a poet and former tutor to the aforementioned Albert Victor, suggested by Michael Harrison in his 1972 biography Clarence largely on the grounds that Stephen was something of a misogynist and mentally unstable.

Whereas we can safely eliminate Albert as a suspect this not the end of his involvement in the macabre tale of Jack the Ripper. In 1973 the BBC broadcast the drama-documentary Jack the Ripper that featured the two fictional detectives Barlow and Watt (from the Softly, Softly series) conducting their own entirely factual investigation into the killings. The denoument of the programme featured the testimony of one Joseph Sickert, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of the painter Walter Sickert, expounding what later became known as the 'Royal Conspiracy Theory'.

In essence the Royal Conspiracy Theory asserts that Albert secretly married one Annie Elizabeth Crook, a commoner and a Roman Catholic to boot whom he met at a tobacconist's shop in Cleveland Street. They later set up home together at a flat in Cleveland Street and she bore him a daughter named Alice Margaret. Fearing that public knowledge of such a relationship would undermine the monarchy, Queen Victoria urged the Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury to take action to bring the relationship to an end and prevent its existence becoming public. Thus the authorities seized Annie Crook and placed her in an asylum where she was driven insane. They however failed to obtain possession of the child Alice, who escaped with her nanny Mary Kelly, who placed her in the custody of nuns. Then together with her friends Nichols, Chapman, and Stride, Mary Kelly sought to blackmail the Royal family. At this point William Gull, Physician to the Queen, together with a coachman John Netley and Robert Anderson from Scotland Yard, entered into a conspiracy to murder all four women (the killing of Eddowes being a case of mistaken identity) in order to ensure their silence. Joseph Sickert claimed that he knew all this because he was the illegitimate son of Walter Sickert and the aforementioned Alice, and that the truth had been passed down the family, so to speak.

Five years later in 1978 the book Jack the Ripper the Final Solution written by Stephen Knight appeared. Knight essentially told the same story as the BBC, with the difference that Knight asserted that the third member of the death squad was not Robert Anderson, but rather Walter Sickert, and introduced the idea that the killings were inspired by Masonic ritual.

The Royal Conspiracy Theory has been particularly influential and has inspired a number of fictional retellings which have only served to enhance its popularity. It formed the basis of the plot of the 1979 film Murder by Decree (which featured Sherlock Holmes unearthing the conspiracy), and most recently inspired the graphic novel and film, From Hell.

However, the Royal Conspiracy Theory suffers from a number of problems, the most serious defect being that Joseph Sickert admitted, shortly after the publication of Knight's book, that he had made up the whole story. Notwithstanding the fact that the Royal Conspiracy has now been revealed to have been a hoax, this has not stopped people from looking for evidence to support its basic premise. But although it appears that there really was an Annie Elizabeth Crook, who did indeed have a daughter named Alice, there is no evidence that she had any contact with the Duke of Clarence, nor indeed is there any indication that she spent any time in an asylum. In any case, it is now widely believed that Albert Victor was homosexual, and thus unlikely to have consorted with any woman, commoner or not.

3. Joseph Barnett

Joseph Barnett was the lover of Mary Ann Kelly, the last of the five canonical victims to be murdered on the 9th November 1888. Barnett was in fact arrested by the police at the time of the murder, questioned for four hours, and then released, the police being apparently satisfied that he had no connection with her murder or indeed any of the previous crimes.

Since that time however both Bruce Paley in an article in True Crime in 1982 and his later book Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth in 1995 and Paul Harrison in his Jack the Ripper: The Mystery Solved in 1991 have argued that Barnett carried out the murders. This identification is based on the theory that Barnett was unhappy with the fact that his lover Kelly had turned to prostitution and so he killed Nichols, Chapman, Stride and Fellows in an attempt to frighten her into abandoning her chosen profession. When this did not work he turned on Kelly in a murderous rage and slaughtered her as well. All this is entirely possible, but no more so than any other similar theory that might be constructed about any other individual who was connected in any way with any of the five canonical victims.

3. James Maybrick and the Jack the Ripper Diary

The year 1993 saw the publication of the Jack the Ripper Diary, supposedly written by a Liverpool businessman named James Maybrick in which he confessed to being Jack the Ripper. Littered with errors and of dubious provenance, the diary is now regarded as a forgery, if only because the handwriting in the diary does not match that one known examplar of Maybrick's handwriting (his last will and testament). The discoverer of the diary, one Michael Barrett, later admitted on the 27th June 1994 that he had indeed forged the diary. He has since retracted that confession and subsequently re-confessed at regular intervals.

At the same time as the diary appeared a gold watch also conveniently surfaced that featured the engraving "I am Jack - J. Maybrick" together with the initials of the five canonical victims; although of course there is no way of knowing whether said watch was ever in the possession of Mr Maybrick.

Although Maybrick is known to have been in London at the time of the murders, as is the case with many other suspects, there is not the slightest evidence linking him to the murders. In fact, where it not for the emergence of the dodgy diary and the doubtful watch, it is unlikely that he would ever have emerged as a suspect. Oddly enough Maybrick himself died in suspicious circumstances in May 1889. His wife Florence was suspected of poisoning him with arsenic. She was later tried and convicted of his murder, although the evidence against her was somewhat flimsy and she was later released in 1904.

4. Lewis Carroll

Three years later in 1996 Richard Wallace's Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend advanced the notion that Jack the Ripper was none other than Charles Dodgson better known as Lewis Carrol, acting in concert with his old friend Thomas Vere Bayne. As it happens Wallace's entire argument was based on his ability to take certain passages from Carroll's work, and by re-arranging the letters, construct statements that incriminated the author; these being of course coded confessions deliberately inserted into his work for the edification of those sufficiently erudite to decipher them in the first place.

As was soon pointed out, this technique could be applied to any author one cared to name with similar results. As a theory it has not attracted much support.

5. James Kelly

James Kelly, who was no relation of the victim Mary Jane Kelly, was first named as the Ripper by author James Tully in The Secret Of Prisoner 1167 - Was This Man Jack The Ripper published in 1997.

Kelly's life story is not without interest; on the 21st June 1883 he stabbed his wife in the throat with a pocket knife during the course of a violent argument. She subsequently died on the 24th June and Kelly was charged, convicted and sentenced to hang for her murder. His execution date was set for the 20th August 1883, but he was granted a reprieve and sent to Broadmoor Hospital. On the 23rd January 1888 he escaped from Broadmoor having fashioned his own set of keys from a piece of old metal he'd come across whilst digging in the hospital's kitchen garden. Some thirty-nine years later on the 11th February 1927, and now aged sixty-seven James Kelly, arrived at the gates of Broadmoor Hospital and gave himself up. He appears to have been disappointed by his reception back at his old home and made a further escape attempt in 1929 before dying from double lobar pneumonia on the 17th September 1929 at the age of sixty-nine.

The case against Kelly is essentially the same as the one The Sun outlined against Thomas Cutbush back in 1894, which is to say; here is someone who attacked a woman with a knife, was in a lunatic asylum, and whose exact whereabouts in 1888 are unknown. No doubt a trawl through the records of Victorian asylums would reveal the names of hundreds of similar suspects.

6. Walter Sickert

As we have seen the name of Walter Sickert has cropped up in conjunction with the Royal Conspiracy Theory, whilst there is also a tale that has circulated claiming that Sickert knew the identity of the true Ripper (cf The Lodger). It is thus probably inevitable that at some point he would be named by someone or other as a candidate for the Ripper himself. Such was the case in 2002 with the emergence of what was to prove to be the most publicised of all the 'new theories' to emerge, developed largely by the author Patricia Cornwell and expounded in her Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper-Case Closed and publicised in a television documentary.

Having made a considerable fortune writing the Kate Scarpetta novels, Cornwell decided to apply herself to the task of establishing the indentity of Jack the Ripper. She appears to have decided very early on in her quest that Walter Sickert was clearly the cuplrit and then gone in search of evidence to support that contention. As it happens she was not the first to suggest that Sickert was the Ripper (that would be Jean Overton Fuller in Sickert and the Ripper Crimes in 2001), but Cornwell did have the advantage of the possession of a large personal fortune and was thus both willing and able to invest a sum in the region of $6m in an attempt to establish a link between Sickert and Jack the Ripper.

The sole tangible result that emerged from the battery of forensic tests deployed by Cornwell's millions was the identification of one single donor mtDNA profile from a Ripper letter sent to Doctor Thomas Horrocks Openshaw that was a match with two mixed donor mtDNA profiles from an example of Sickert's own correspondence. This led Cornwell to believe that she had 'clinched the case' against Sickert, that she was "one hundred per cent" certain that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper, and even went so far as to stake her reputation upon this claim.

However Cornwell had deliberately paid little regard to any previous research and was seemingly unaware of, or at least unconcerned, by the fact that the Openshaw letter was universally regarded as a hoax and had therefore no connection with the real killer. Without neccessarily going into the precise detail of the science involved with mtDNA profiling, in summary; at best she demonstrated that Sickert was the author of one of the many hoax Ripper letters; at worst it has been simply established that at some point in time both sets of evidence were handled by two people who were in some way distantly related. (And since Cornwell was unable to obtain a reference sample of Sickert's own DNA she had no idea whether any of the mtDNA samples were connected to the painter in the first place.)

Although Ms Cornwell appears to have convinced herself that she has found conclusive proof that Sickert was indeed Jack the Ripper, few others share her opinion, particularly since all the available evidence points to the fact that Walter Sickert was actually in France between August and October 1888. If nothing else Cornwell demonstrates the ability of the case of Jack the Ripper to inspire an obsession that defies reason even after all these years.

7. The Black Magic theory

From the beginning there has been the belief that there was something ritualistic about the Ripper killings and that they were linked to black magic.

In October 1888 the East London Advertiser suggested that the Ripper's mutilations were carried out in order to obtain the necessary body parts to manufacture what the paper referred to as Diebslichter or a thief's candle (presumably a similar object to the Hand of Glory), whilst in the following month the Pall Mall Gazette ran an article suggesting that the murders were conducting in accordance with a medieval spell what would permit the murderer to attain "the supreme black magical power".

Such ideas have now been resurrected in Jack the Ripper's Black Magic Rituals by Ivor Edwards which argued that each of the five murders were carried out at specific location in order to map out the shape of a sacred symbol known as the 'Vesica Piscis, as part of a black magic ritual. Edwards further went on to name the magician-killer in question as one Robert Donston Stephenson, a former military surgeon who had an interest in the occult and is suspected by some of having murdered his own wife in 1887 (she simply disappeared).

This was not the first time that Robert Donston Stephenson alias Roslyn D'Onston, had been named as the murderer. None other than Aleister Crowley had claimed that Stephenson was the killer based on information supposedly provided by his friend Baroness Vittoria Cremers. Crowley is hardly the most credible of witnesses to anything whilst Stephenson's interest in the occult was centred on his attempts to revive the worship of female deities, a point of view that seems rather at variance with the activities of Jack the Ripper.

8. Jill the Ripper

Arthur Conan Doyle once suggested that Jack the Ripper disguised himself as a woman in order to carry out his crimes, and some have taken the next obvious step and suggested that the Ripper was indeed a woman. Sometimes known as the 'Mad Midwife' theory ,this of course is simply the Demented Doctor theory in skirts, first popularised in Jack the Ripper - A New Theory by William Stewart which appeared in 1939. William Stewart went so far as to name one Mary Eleanor Wheeler as his prime suspect. Wheeler, also known as Mary Pearcey, was hanged on the 23rd December 1890 for the crime of murdering her lover's wife, one Phoebe Hogg. Her candidature appears to be based on the fact that she cut her rival's throat with a razor, together with the rather cryptic message she insisted be placed in the Madrid newspapers after her execution, which read; "MECP Last wish of MEW. Have not betrayed. MEW".

The idea receives some support from the fact that back in 1888, there were witnesses who claimed to have seen Mary Kelly some hours after she'd been killed, and Frederick Abberline came to believe they had in fact seen the murderer dressed in Kelly's clothes, and therefore conceded the possibility that the killer might possibly have been a woman.

The Independent on the 18th May 2006 ran a story under the headline 'Was Jack the Ripper a woman?', based on a statement by an Australian professor of molecular and forensic diagnostics named Ian Findlay that "it's possible the Ripper could be female". Findlay, who seems to have applying DNA low copy techniques to same Openshaw letter that so excited Ms Cornwell, was being a little disingenuous; the truth was that the DNA was so degraded that he was unable to establish the gender of the donor.

As far as the Whitechapel Murders were concerned the victims were prostitutes and prostitution is a profession in which women willingly agree to a certain amount of seclusion with men who happen to be complete strangers, which accounts for the frequency with which they generally appear as murder victims. Hence, contrary to what is sometimes suggested, a potential female Ripper would therefore be at something of a disadvantage to her male counterpart, and thus there seems no good reason for believing that Jack the Ripper as a woman.


Back in 1888 The Times proclaimed in its editorial of the 10th November on the Whitechapel Murders, "When evidence is not to be had, theories abound." Nothing much has changed in the intervening years; there is still no evidence to be had, and thus theories continue to abound.

The one thing that we have learnt regarding serial killers during the latter half of the twentieth century is that they tend to be individuals who lead otherwise undistinguished and unremarkable lives, apparently normal and unassuming people who differ from their neighbours only in the fact that their chosen leisure pursuit is random murder rather than say, gardening, wife-swapping or building model aircraft. Therefore the likelihood is that the real Jack the Ripper was a similarly unassuming and unremarkable individual, who had a steady job, kept himself to himself, went to church on Sundays, was kind to children and animals, and was well liked his neighbours, even if he did keep rather odd hours. Sadly these are the very people who make little or no impression on the historical record, and thus there is a very high probability that the real Jack the Ripper is someone completely unknown to us, and someone who is probably unknowable.

This plain simple fact is, of necessity, ignored by those seeking to make a living from Ripperology, but it explains why the role call of suspects includes such luminaries as Walter Sickert and Lewis Carroll, despite the fact that serial killers don't on the whole tend to be successful artists, authors or poets; its simply the case that these are the people who do appear in the historical record, and therefore the only people whose lives generate sufficient material to fill a book.

To date no one appears to have suggested that Jack the Ripper was Frederick Aberline himself, or that the murders were the result of a police conspiracy to embarrass and force the resignation of the unpopular Charles Warren as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Although one suspects that it is only a matter of time before some one does so.

The plain fact is that no one has the slightest idea as to the identity of Jack the Ripper, and it is most likely that no one ever will.


Sourced from the material at Casebook : Jack the Ripper, produced by Stephen P.Ryder and Johnno See http://www.casebook.org/ and Jack the Ripper by Marilyn Bardsley at http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/notorious/ripper/index_1.html

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