A Ripper of an Idea

Another day, another Jack the Ripper suspect, this time put forward by former solicitor John Morris. As ever, we’ve no more reason to believe this suggestion than any of the dozens of others that have been advanced, sometimes repeatedly, over the years. At least the name appears to be a new one, even if the idea of the Ripper being a woman certainly is not.

Be wary of definitive statements about 120-year-old cold cases;

‘There’s absolutely no doubt that the Ripper was a woman.’

It’s pretty clear that there is, I’m afraid. The list of proof reads like a textbook definition of ‘circumstantial evidence’, and are not necessarily even established facts. I’m no Ripperologist, but in 20 minutes of investigoogling found some problems with the claims made in the press piece. Firstly;

‘Three small buttons from a woman’s boot were found in blood near Catherine Eddowes’

…is true, but lacks some important context. The actual source reads;

‘Sergeant Jones picked up from the foot way by the left side of the deceased three small black buttons, such as are generally used for boots, a small metal button, a common metal thimble, and a small penny mustard tin containing two pawn-tickets.’

Note that the boot association comes from a policemans’ attempt to describe the objects in the absence of a photograph, and the fact that the buttons were found with various other objects you might expect to find in a woman’s handbag or pocket. It’s far more likely that the buttons were loose and in the victim’s possession than it is that they were somehow torn from the killer’s person.

That a Victorian journalist thought arranging items in some kind of order was a ‘feminine’ trait reveals far more about Victorian attitudes to gender (and possibly our own if we’re prepared to set store by them) than it does about our elusive killer.

Finally, I’m not sure how we can know that Mary Jane Kelly had ‘never been seen wearing’ the clothes found in her fireplace, as one witness does describe a hat and jacket, and another (contradictory) witness specifies a pelerine (cape) and skirt. Eyewitness testimony being notoriously unreliable, of course.

I should reserve judgement until someone (not sure I can face another Ripper book) has analysed the main thesis and evidence for it. But on past form, I can’t hold my breath. We will almost certainly never know who Jack the Ripper was, and it’s no coincidence that scholarly study in the area is more concerned with the social historical context of the killings than it is with the futile search for the actual killer. Personally, my money’s still on the Phantom Raspberry-Blower.

Ripping Yarns

Few are aware of Spike Milligan’s status as a serious Ripperologist

The notorious Whitechapel murders are a rich seam of BS history, simply because they were never solved – and almost certainly never will be. The human brain just can’t cope without answers, and there have been no shortage of loons offering to fill the void with half-baked theories and fiction masquerading as fact.

In one case, we are asked literally to believe that a hollywood film based upon a graphic novel with no claims to historical accuracy, closely resembles real events and reveals a Freemasonic and royal conspiracy. The basic idea is that the victims had banded together to blackmail the royal family, and so had to be taken out. You can read it for yourself here. Or just read/watch “From Hell” – either version is more entertaining than this nonsense.

This is rather like using Ridley Scott’s Gladiator to prove that a humble farmer killed a Roman emperor in the arena. Further, there’s not a shred of evidence in favour of this, a version of one of the more perennial Ripper “theories”.

As the website points out, the core conspiracy theory here comes from Stephen Knight’s “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution“. The writer of the article asserts several times that the Whitechapel murders followed  Masonic ritual practice, but offers no evidence. However, Knight’s book and an associated documentary go into detail. He attempts to equate the ritual murder of Hiram Abiff with the Ripper killings. Part of the ritual involves evisceration and the throwing of the “heart and vitals” over the left shoulder. Two of the Ripper victims had their viscera thrown over *their* shoulders. Coincidence? Well, yes, since the Masonic version specifies the RIGHT shoulder, and only one victim had her heart removed. If it was placed at the shoulder, this is not recorded anywhere; in fact it seems that the killer took it with him.

And what are we to make of those victims who didn’t have intestines/major organs on their shoulders?

The other main “similarity”, from the same ritual, is in the cutting of the throat from left to right. Unfortunately throat-cutting is a pretty effective way of killing someone regardless of one’s intentions or secret society sympathies – and if you do it from behind and are right-handed, you’re going to look a bit…Rippery. Some Ripper victims had TWO throat wounds, not the one stroke specified in the Masonic ritual. Some were genitally mutilated, some had organs removed, some were facially disfigured, and one victim (Eddowes) even had most of the flesh removed from one thigh. Yet there is no suggestion that any of these acts reflect Masonic ritual (and no, there are no cuts to any of the victim’s foreheads). You can’t just pick and choose which acts vaguely resemble others in the sphere you’ve decided the killer comes from. Not if you want to be taken seriously.

For me the biggest problem with this idea is that though there is somewhat of a them to the Ripper’s mutilations, if he were following any prescribed ritual, they ought surely to be near-identical. They aren’t. They much better resemble the pattern of an addled killer – repeating some acts, leaving out others.

Not only are Knight’s claims “debunkable”, but his primary source is highly dubious. Knight had spoken with the son of artist Walter Sickert, himself supposedly in on the conspiracy. Unfortunately, the story he told Knight was bollocks. Firstly, contrary to the article, the man in question called himself *Joseph* Sickert, not Walter. Secondly, his surname wasn’t “Sickert” but Gorman – he claimed to be Sickert’s *illegitimate* son, something that the article doesn’t mention. This is important because anyone can claim to be the illegitimate offspring of a famous person. Without a DNA test or at least some third-party corroboration, there is no reason to believe such claims. In fact we have good reason to believe the contrary, as Gorman’s ostensibly biological father is known. But if you want to believe a conspiracy, I suppose he would simply be a stepfather to “Sickert”.

However, even Gorman himself admitted in the Sunday Times in 1978 that his story had been “…a hoax … a whopping fib…” and that he had “…made it all up”.
Even if Knight’s retort – that “Sickert” recanted due his “father”’s complicity – were valid, the lynchpin of Knight’s claims is nonetheless yanked out.

Then we have the claims that appear later in the article and relate to the supposed “silencing” of critics or traitors.

Ernest Parke was indeed imprisoned for libel, but this was of his own doing. If he had been close to the “truth” of the Ripper murders, why would he have recklessly involved himself in a sex scandal as he did?

Mozart “allegedly poisoned for his ‘betrayal’.” Well, yes, but who’s alleging and what is their evidence? The only reason for believing this is that Mozart fell ill soon after “The Magic Flute” was staged, and died the same year. The play contained Masonic overtones, but little in the way of actual ritual, but I suppose that’s enough for the conspiratorial mind. But if Mozart was poisoned, why did the co-creator of the play, also a Mason, survive until 1812?

The William Morgan case is well disposed of as a Masonic conspiracy here. Anti-Masons, please note that the site in question is pro-Mason, but the information on that page comes from a wholly unbiased published account of the incident.

Next on the roster is Stanley Kubrick, whose death post-”Eyes Wide Shut” was hardly “mysterious”. He was seventy years old, for goodness’ sake. No history of heart trouble is necessary for one to khark it at that age, conspira-loons.

Finally, we are told that Stephen Knight himself “mysteriously died after his best-selling expose’ “The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Freemasons” was published in 1984.”

“After” being the operative word – Knight wasn’t “silenced” until 18 months after the book was published, by which time of course all of the supposedly revelatory material was out there in the public domain and had been promoted and rehashed all over the media. In fact Knight had been diagnosed with brain cancer some five years previously. Those fiendish Masons must have been playing the “long game”.

If you want to learn more about the Whitechapel murders, either the surprisingly few facts that we can be sure of, or the wealth of speculation that outweighs them, I recommend casebook.org. It’s my main source for any Ripper-related queries for a number of reasons, but especially the healthy dose of scepticism evident in its pages, and even on its forum. I have little doubt that I’ll be covering the Ripper again in future, but that should be your first stop for a reality-check when you hear of some “new” breakthrough in the case. There’s very little new under that blood-red sun.

[Edited to reflect new (to me) evidence re the case of William Morgan]