The Met vs "the Ripper"
The Victorian police were largely unfamiliar with serial killers. Their understanding of the psychological aspects of such murders, or indeed recognising patterns and killer profiles, was extremely limited.
Two major police figures are associated with the Ripper investigations, Sir Melville Macnaghten, Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police Service Criminal Investigation Dept and Inspector Frederick Abberline.
Macnaghten didn’t join the force until after the murders and his notes are now viewed as containing errors relating to the murders and investigations.
Abberline himself was not in charge of investigations, but he is the most prominent police figure strongly associated with the case and was even portrayed twice on film and TV by Johnny Depp and Michael Caine.
Following the murder of the first victim, Mary Ann Nicholls, Abberline was transferred to Whitechapel and placed in charge of several detectives investigating the case.
The police and press received countless letters during the investigation from a variety of different sources. Some pertaining to come from the killer himself were considered hoaxes, but a few were noted as genuine and even today have not been dismissed by experts. The killer referred to himself as ‘Saucy Jack’ in a postcard dated 1 October 1888, and the message contained details such as the ‘double killing’ even before the event had been reported in the press.
One letter in particular has passed into folklore due to its association with a ghoulish package. Posted on the 15 October 1888, the letter headed ‘From Hell’ was sent to George Lusk who was head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.
The letter arrived with a box that contained a lone kidney, assumed to have been taken from victim Catherine Eddowes. At first it was thought that the package may have been a hoax sent by medical students, but is now considered to be genuine:
I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk
Newspapers at the time did not hold back in criticising the authorities for not bringing the killer to book and in one particular sketch in ‘Punch’ magazine depicted a drawing of a blindfolded policeman being spun around by unsavoury characters with the heading ‘Blind-Man’s Buff'.
It is thought that it was the newspapers that actually coined the phrase Jack the Ripper, as a means of ‘branding’ the crime and upping circulation figures.
Who was the Ripper?
The longevity of the Jack The Ripper phenomenon has been maintained due to the fact that no killer was actually identified and the murders suddenly stopped after the butchering of Mary Kelly. Therefore, the gruesome saga has always been shrouded by mystery and prone to a multitude of theories and conspiracies.
During the time of the actual investigations by Inspector Abberline, suspicion fell on a group of men, some of whom have been totally discarded as ever having been the Ripper. Crime writer Patricia Cornwall has invested millions in her endeavours to name the faceless killer and settled on an old suspect, the Victorian painter Walter Richard Sickert.
Sir William Withey Gull (31 Dec 1816 – 29 January 1890)
Perhaps the most popular choice of suspect throughout the decades has been physician to Queen Victoria, William Withey Gull, who appears to have caught the imagination of countless authors and film producers. Withey Gull is fingered as the culprit or associate of the Ripper in several films, including the blockbuster ‘From Hell’ (starring Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline), played by a diabolical Sir Ian Holm.
Withey Gull is a favoured villain most likely because he fits the bill for conspiracy theories that revolve around Royal connections and associations with Freemasonry and illegitimate children. However, there is very little evidence supporting these views and many of the theories surrounding the involvement of Queen Victoria’s physician and grandson are simply seen as flights of fantasy rather than credible notions backed up with conclusive evidence.
According to the main theory surrounding Withey Gull, he was employed to dispatch the victims after they had become part of a plot to blackmail the Government about Prince Eddy’s indiscretions with a pregnant shop girl, whom he secretly married. Withey Gull, with the assistance of a royal coachman, was alleged to have butchered the prostitutes including Mary Kelly who was the real target due to her harbouring Prince Eddy’s illegitimate child.
Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (1864-1892)
The theory revolving around Prince ‘Eddy’ Albert, being either the Ripper himself or the main cause of the murders, is perhaps the most intriguing and fanciful of all stories. It is a tale that has been recounted in a plethora of books, movies and TV productions but actually was only a theory that came to light in the 1960s.
The rudiments of the tale are that Prince Eddy’s mother, Princess Alexandria introduced her son to the Danish painter Walter Richard Sickert in the hope that he would teach the young man about London life. During their escapades, the Prince met and had an affair with a shop girl, Annie Elizabeth Crook, who became pregnant by him. According to one angle, Prince Eddy sired a child with Irish prostitute Mary Kelly instead.
Prince Eddy is then alleged to have married Annie Crook in a secret ‘Catholic’ wedding and set up both her and his illegitimate daughter in an apartment in Cleveland Street. It was shortly afterwards when the Royal family discovered Eddy’s secret and fearing scandal that they employed Withey Gull to dispatch Mary Kelly and her prostitute friends, who were blackmailing the Government.
Annie herself was abducted and experimented on by Withey Gull, went insane and placed in an asylum where she lived until old age. The story makes compelling reading, but falls down on evidence relating to time and dates. Accusations that the Prince himself was the Ripper due to the fact he had contracted syphilis and had gone insane, are also discredited mainly because records show that he was out of London, often in Yorkshire, during the time of the murders.
Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942)
Sickert is the prime suspect in crime novelist Patricia Cornwall’s book ‘Portrait of a Killer’, which alleges the German-born painter is the Ripper due to elements of ‘misogyny’ in his art and a belief that he wrote the taunting letters to the police at the time of investigations. The choice is not original as Sickert has been associated with the murders as part of the many royal-conspiracy theories and also his relationship with Prince Eddy. Strong evidence points to Sickert having been in France during most of the killings and he is not considered by many investigators as being a serious contender.
John Maybrick (24 Oct 1838 – 11 May 1889)
Another contentious suspect, Maybrick was a well-travelled Liverpool cotton merchant who was murdered by his own wife, Florence, after she poisoned him. A diary, purportedly written by Maybrick, describes his activities as the Ripper responsible for the Whitechapel murders. The diary did not come to light until 1992 and the general consensus is that it is a fake.
‘Dr’ Francis Tumblety (1833-1903)
An American and charlatan, who posed as a doctor throughout North America and occasionally Europe, he was associated with the deaths of some of his patients who he may have actually killed through incompetence. Tumblety was in England in 1888, at the time of the Ripper murders and arrested for homosexual importuning. He was released on bail and fled the country to France on 24 November 1888, fifteen days after the death of last known Ripper victim, Mary Kelly. Contemporary investigators have dismissed him as being the Whitechapel murderer.
Montague John Druitt (15 Aug 1857 – 1 Dec 1888)
Druitt was a lawyer by trade, but also acted as a private school teacher. His last place of teaching was at a Blackheath school. Following his dismissal he was found floating in the Thames two days later. Police assumed Druitt had suffered a bout of depression and had also placed stones in his pocket to assist quick drowning. Because of his suicide so soon after the last of the Ripper murders, some investigators believed he may have been the killer. However, later evidence suggested that he was in a good state of mind after having performed well in a court case. Inspector Frederick Abberline himself was not convinced he was the Ripper.
Severin Antoniocich Klosowski (1865 Poland – executed 7 April 1903)
Klosowski was Inspector Abberline’s favoured suspect, having shown that the Polish born man was extremely violent and possessed a misogynistic streak. He was found guilty of poisoning his three mistresses and eventually hanged. Klosowski took up the alias George Chapman on his arrival in the UK. He was also known to have had some medical knowledge, but failed to become a doctor and instead set up a barber’s shop. It was thought unlikely that the Ripper, who dispatched his victims in such a bloody and messy manner with a knife, would then resort to poisoning his victims. Standard profiles of serial killers show that they rarely change their method of killing and chosen weapons. Chapman used a particularly cruel form of poison, similar to arsenic and after conviction for the murder of his last victim was hung at Wandsworth Prison on 7 April 1903.
Dr Thomas Neill Cream (May 1850- 15 November 1892)
Born in Scotland and educated in London, Thomas Cream specialised in secret abortions, which were illegal at the time. He was eventually found responsible of the deaths of several female and male patients by poisoning while working in America. Imprisoned at Illinois State Penitentiary he was released and relocated to London where he carried out similar activity. He was arrested and hanged. At the time of his execution on the gallows he is alleged to have said ‘I am Jack’.
Cream was more likely a fantasist and possibly suffered from the personality disorder Munchausen syndrome, a pathological form of behaviour that has been linked to several contemporary murder cases within the medical profession. Many believe the fact that the dates of his imprisonment clashed with the times of the Ripper murders rule Cream out as the Whitechapel killer.
Other suspects have included Frederick Bailey Deeming, a British man who murdered his family and a second wife in Australia ; Robert Donston Stephenson, an in-patient at Whitechapel Hospital who had a penchant for the occult and William Henry Bury, who murdered his wife, a former prostitute by cutting her with a knife. The murder took place a year after Mary Kelly’s death. Bury pleaded guilty to killing his wife and was hanged in Dundee, Scotland.