25 SIR MELVILLE MACNAGHTEN
Sir Melville Leslie Macnaghten acquired a reputation for being amiable and affable. Dressed for dinner he had style and swagger. He was the youngest of fifteen children. Perhaps his childhood in a large family taught him to expect attention and this gave him confidence with others. If that was not enough, Sir Melville Leslie Macnaghten was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge. His father Elliot Macnaghten was the last Chairman of the East India Company. Whatever the reasons and influences Melville Leslie always expected his opinions to prevail. In his retirement he translated Ars Poetica into English verse. The work by Horace from 15 BC had existed in English for almost 500 years, and there was even a translation by famous playwright Ben Johnson. None of this deterred a confident policeman who had artistic interests. Macnaghten was a capable actor who enjoyed the theatre and he was widely read. Those who liked him and appreciated his friendly company would have regarded the old Etonian as a well-rounded gentleman and a credit to his public school.
Before he was appointed to the post of Assistant Chief Constable CID, Macnaghten managed the estates of his father in India. He was employed as a senior policeman at Scotland Yard from 1889 until 1913. He would have been in post earlier if it had not been for the objections of Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner Metropolitan Police. The impact of Macnaghten on the Ripper investigations is negligible. If we accept what Macnaghten says about the Ripper victims, that there were just five and the last occurred in 1888, then the work of the East End murderer was finished when Macnaghten arrived at Scotland Yard in 1889. Macnaghten is important for two reasons. First, he was an important element in the conflict that existed between Sir Charles Warren and his Assistant Commissioner, James Monro, who was also head of CID. Second, Macnaghten in a confidential report expressed an opinion about the Ripper crimes. The report was discovered after his death and has shaped subsequent thinking.
James Monro and Macnaghten had both spent time in India and they were friends. In 1881 Macnaghten had been attacked by the Indian locals who were puzzled as to why just a few Englishmen owned most of the land in India. The locals were poor, which was another reason why they were being troublesome. Monro was Inspector-General of the Bengal Police when Macnaghten was attacked and, according to the victim, ‘left senseless on the plain’.
Sir Charles Warren clashed with Monro in Scotland Yard because, as head of CID, Monro reckoned his organisation was entitled to be independent. James Monro reported directly to the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews. Monro wanted an ally in Scotland Yard and he suggested that Macnaghten become an assistant chief constable. When Warren objected to the appointment, Monro resigned and friction continued in the Home Office until Warren also resigned. The resignation happened on the day that the dead body of Mary Jane Kelly was discovered. The exit of Warren from the Metropolitan Police permitted Monro to return to Scotland Yard just two months after he had resigned. Monro was free to recruit his old friend from Bengal. How much is coincidence and how much design is impossible to know but we are entitled to imagine Warren compromised by an indecisive and easily influenced Home Secretary. The pressure that Warren had to endure throughout his tenure as Commissioner was exacerbated by the resignation of Monro. Macnaghten became a senior policeman in a city that had an unequal and divided population and he forgot about being beaten up by puzzled and angry Indian natives,. Macnaghten had no previous experience as a policeman but then neither had anyone else at his level. The amiable, affable and well connected are always able to progress.
Managing those who have more experience and technical skills can be challenging. Macnaghten could be forgiven if he was haunted by the impact of his lack of skills. But he was as opinionated about police work, policemen and murders as he was about the meaning of classical Greek text. His report on the Ripper murders was written in 1894. There are two versions. One is held in Scotland Yard files, and the other is a copy made by the daughter of Macnaghten. The obsessive believe they have discovered inconsistencies but the two versions complement rather than contradict each other. The opinions expressed in the ‘Macnaghten Memoranda’ can be summarised and need to be. He insisted that there were just five victims and only three suspects of note. He also rejected the notion that Thomas Cutbush was Jack the Ripper. Thomas Cutbush had serious mental health issues and was suspected of stabbing some women in their bottoms. This led some to believe he might be the Ripper. Cutbush was committed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in 1891. Cutbush had odd behaviour, and a knife was found in his possession. Macnaghten believed that Cutbush had not owned the knife long enough to have stabbed the women. His family challenged both the allegations about the stabbings and the rumour that Cutbush was the Ripper. According to the mother of Cutbush the mental health problems of Thomas did not begin until November 1888 and after the Ripper murders had ended. Although not proven it is believed that Cutbush was the nephew of a Metropolitan Police Superintendent who killed himself because of headaches, insomnia and depression.
The three suspects that Macnagthen identified were Montague John Druitt, Aaron Kosminski and Michael Ostrog. Macnaghten claimed that they were more likely than Cutbush to have committed the Whitechapel murders. In the autobiography by Macnaghten, Days Of My Years, he writes ‘the Whitechapel murderer, in all probability, put an end to himself soon after the Dorset Street affair in November 1888.’ Druitt was found floating dead in the Thames the 31st of December that year but had not been seen after the 30th of November. The actual date is disputed but the difference is only three days. Druitt had been a lawyer but he left the law and became a schoolteacher. At the end of November he was dismissed from his teaching post. Druitt was both troubled and gay. The offence that led to his dismissal from his job may have involved advances to the pupils. There is no record though of the reason for dismissal. Druitt was an accomplished sportsman, which for many makes him an unlikely Jack the Ripper suspect. The day after Polly Nichols was murdered Druitt played cricket for Canford against Wimborne and is reported to have ‘bowled well’. More important than his sporting ability is the lack of evidence against Druitt. Managhten wrote that the family of Druitt believed him to be the Ripper. Macnaghten is not reliable but, assuming this is true, the reaction of the Druitt family may have been a consequence of them not understanding the difficulties of their suicidal son.
Aaron Kosminski was a paranoid schizophrenic, compulsive masturbator and misogynist. The prostitutes in Whitechapel hated him, and it boggles the mind to think the effect Kosminski would have on modern dating services. His paranoia prevented him from accepting food from anyone. He lived on the food that he found in gutters. He weighed less than seven stone. Kosminski may have been unpleasant company but he did not have the strength to kill anyone. His obsession with sex also weakens the possibility of him being a suspect. A man driven by sexual fantasies and a relentless need for physical satisfaction would have not sought relief by disembowelling women wrecked by deprivation. The Ripper did not have sex with his victims.
Michael Ostrog was a thief and confidence trickster. Ostrog was Russian and had a beard, which may be why Macnaghten described him as a madman. He did spend some time in a lunatic asylum but the period was short and it happened because Ostrog did not want to return to prison. The madness was feigned. Ostrog was eloquent in several languages. He was also tall. He was able to pose as an aristocrat. This makes him an unconvincing murderer of poor whores. His ambitious lifestyle and its consequences meant that he had an itinerary incompatible with the Whitechapel murders. Some occurred when he was in prison for petty theft.
Macnaghten not only lacked the experience for his role as a senior detective there is no evidence that he developed the skills of a policeman although he was a member of a committee that investigated the use of fingerprinting. Macnaghten should not be condemned for his misinformed beliefs. From his remote position it would have been difficult to distinguish between genuine empirical discovery and canteen rumour. More puzzling is how he has been regarded as the authoritative opinion regarding the number of murders committed by Jack the Ripper. It is Macnaghten that decided the number was five. Author and broadcaster Martin Fido provided the term ‘the canonical five’. And an assertion by a poorly qualified policeman easily led by the sound of his own voice and the flattery of others is now established as a basic tenet. Macnaghten had no idea who was Jack the Ripper and neither was he entitled to claim that the Ripper killed five women. Adding the term ‘canonical five’ constitutes irresponsible mischief. No one knows the identity of the Ripper or the precise number of his murders. It may have been as few as four and as many as fifteen. Macnaghten died in 1921. In his life he received various honours. He was knighted in 1907 and in 1912 made a Companion of the Order of Bath. A year later he was awarded the Kings Police Medal. Macnaghten was a Knight Commander of the White Military Order of Spain and a Commander of the Order of the Dannebrog. Macnaghten knew how to shake hands with people, grin and gossip. For some time now the powerful have regarded such men as chivalrous.
Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.