I need to say right from the start that I believe it is impossible to identify a particular individual as Jack the Ripper. Too much time has passed since 1888; the police scene of crime investigation was not as thorough as it would have been nowadays and most of the paperwork and original evidence is missing. However, I think we can determine enough about the killer from the remaining evidence and the circumstances of the killings to be able to eliminate the celebrity suspects and find something which is much closer to the real killer.
My own interest in the Whitechapel murders started when I was a boy, but I only became concerned about it in 1988 when the Michael Caine film was widely screened on TV, billed as a "drama documentary". The film was based on Stephen Knight's book "Jack the Ripper, The Final Solution" which was the first book to put forward the royal conspiracy theory. I got the book out of the library, read it, and found the whole theory preposterous. Even after all this time the general public who have no detailed knowledge of the case generally believe there was a royal conspiracy or some sort of royal family involvement in the case. Before I write anything else I need to thoroughly refute both of the royal theories in order to provide a clear desk on which to set out my ideas for discussion. This is where a blog has great advantage over a magazine article. You can comment on what I write and discuss my articles with myself and other readers through the comments facility (Google account required).
The Royal Conspiracy Theory
A detailed explanation of Stephen Knight's royal conspiracy theory and how it came to be written can be found in this Wikipedia article.
Prince Albert Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria, falls in love with and secretly marries Annie Elizabeth Crook. Annie is a working class, Roman Catholic woman and as such he is prohibited from marrying her. The marriage is held in secret with Mary Jane Kelly (the Ripper's last victim) as a witness. The prince and Annie had a daughter who was looked after by Kelly. Kelly and some of her friends decide to blackmail the prince and the royal family employ their doctor Sir William Gull to kill them. The prince's illegitimate daughter by Annie, Alice Crook, grows up and becomes the mistress of the artist Walter Sickert, eventually having a son with him called Joseph Gorman, or as he likes to be known Joseph Sickert.
Why the royal conspiracy theory does not work:
- If Albert Victor had married a Roman Catholic and had a child there was no risk to the monarchy as the marriage would have been void under the Royal Marriages Act. There might have been a scandal of some sort, but there was never any risk to the heredity of the monarchy and Albert Victor would not have even needed a divorce in order to marry someone more suitable.
- Sir William Gull had had a stroke a year before the murders and was incapable of doing them.
- There is no evidence that the coachman John Netley ever existed. Proponents of the royal theory say there is a census entry with a misspelling, but as an amateur genealogist myself I know that misspellings are not as common as they appear. They are usually transcription errors when the sheets were compiled or put on computer. The original sheets are nearly always correct. There was no John Netley.
- Mary Jane Kelly could not have acted as a nanny to the illegitimate child as she was apparently living in Wales at the time with a man called Davies.
- Joseph Gorman (Sickert) eventually admitted he had made the whole thing up.
The Prince Albert Victor Theory
The second royal theory is that Prince Albert Victor acted alone in killing the five women.
Prince Albert Victor, while travelling abroad, was infected with syphilis from a prostitute. Deranged by the developing Syphilis he sets about killing prostitutes in London as revenge. The royal family find out and place him secretly in an asylum where he eventually dies from syphilis.
Why the Prince Albert Victor theory does not work:
- He can be placed elsewhere at the times of three of the murders by multiple reliable witnesses.
- There is strong evidence that Albert Victor was a homosexual (see the Cleveland Street case) and homosexual serial killers normally kill men, not women.
- Three days after the final killing Albert Victor went on a state visit to Denmark and was not confined secretly to a mental hospital as proponents of this theory claim.
- He does not match the witness descriptions. The prince was too young compared to the average age of the killer given by witnesses.
- Even if he had died from Syphilis he woudl not necessarily have become deranged or psychotic. Advanced Syphilis only very rarely causes psychosis. The other symptoms including dementia are much more common and would have prevented Albert Victor undertaking the energetic life he clearly did (hunting, fishing etc).
Now that I have laid the royal conspiracies to rest I hope it will encourage casual readers to look beyond them to see what the evidence can tell us about the real killer.
If you would like to read a good book on the subject I would recommend The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden which is an unbiased account of the events of the Whitechapel murders. He is a proper historian and its an unbiased account based on the evidence as well as being one of the cheapest books on the subject.
A full list of my planned articles:
Jack the Ripper - An Introduction
Jack the Ripper - The Letters
Jack the Ripper - The Timings of the Murders
Jack the Ripper - Can psychological profiling help?
Jack the Ripper - What can the killing of Mary Jane Kelly tell us about the killer?
Jack the Ripper - My Suspect
Jack the Ripper - The Goulston Street Grafitto
Jack the Ripper - Suggested Books and some reviews