Bruce Robinson

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

41 THE MAYBRICKS OF LIVERPOOL

 

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There is a myth amongst some on Merseyside that Liverpool is unique in having two cathedrals. It is not. Manchester has three cathedrals, and Glasgow has four. Neither is Liverpool the only city in the UK that has supplied more than one Ripper suspect. It must be, though, the only place that has two Ripper suspects in the same family. When suspect James Maybrick died, his wife was convicted for causing his death through poisoning.   Today most people believe that the wife Florence Maybrick was innocent.   What happened between the members of the Maybrick family was complicated.

James Maybrick was born in 1838 and he died in 1889. He was a successful cotton merchant. Maybrick and Company was based in Liverpool but also had a branch office in Virginia. Florence was born in Mobile, Alabama. Florence and James met while travelling across the Atlantic.   At her trial Florence was convicted of adding arsenic to the diet of her husband James and sentenced to hang. There was widespread doubt about the conviction. James was addicted to arsenic and, after years of dependency, fast becoming a wreck before he died. It may have been the attempts of James to kick the arsenic habit that killed him.  Author Paul Begg suggests this in Jack the Ripper The Facts.   Only a small amount of arsenic was found in the corpse of James Maybrick but the judge had little interest in the anomaly.  Florence was sentenced to hang but, because of the doubts about the conviction and what happened in the trial, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.  She served fifteen years in an English prison before returning to south of the Mason Dixon line and home.

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Almost akin to the six stages of separation, Liverpool scrap dealer Mike Barrett claimed in 1992 that he had a connection to the Maybrick family.  Barrett had in his possession an elegant black and gilt calf bound Victorian book designed to record notes and to hold postcards and photographs. At this point Mike Barrett felt the need of an alter ego. Using the name Michael Williams, he contacted Doreen Montgomery a literary agent and revealed that inside his Victorian book there was a confession of 63 pages written by James Maybrick. The confession concluded with an extended signature. ‘I give my name that all know of me, so history do tell, what love can do to a gentle man born. Yours truly, Jack the Ripper. Dated this third day of May 1889.’

The first 64 pages of the book had been removed, and the final seventeen pages were blank. Barrett explained to Doreen Montgomery that he used to visit his 67 years old friend Tony Devereux in hospital.  During one of these visits Devereux handed Barrett a parcel wrapped in brown paper. Something similar happened to Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.  In 1991 Devereux died in Walton Hospital.  Down in London the confession, which was now being described as a diary, was referred for scientific tests by the people at the literary agency. The tests were inconclusive. The book itself was regarded as a genuine article. The concerns, though, were about the ink, the missing pages, some discrepancies in the account of the murders, and the handwriting of the author. Proving the age of ink is difficult. The difference in ink used by the Victorians and that used at the end of the last century is slight. It is also relatively simple to age ink prematurely.   Although probably sinister the missing pages may have been the result of nothing more than a change of ownership between members of the Maybrick family. The discrepancies that existed in the detail could be attributed to the normal limitations of human memory. The handwriting, though, was a poor match for what existed on the will and marriage certificate of James Maybrick.

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Meanwhile both Mike Barrett and his alter ego Michael Williams were having problems.   His marriage collapsed, and his heavy drinking increased.  Assuming that the diary was perhaps responsible for the change in his fortune, or so Barrett said, he decided to abandon his interest in the diary.  In 1994 Barrett contacted Liverpool journalist, Harold Brough, and confessed that he had written the diary.  Brough was unconvinced because Barrett was unable to explain how he bought the book and ink. Later, Barrett contacted Brough again.   He now remembered that he had bought the book in an auction held by Outhwaite and Litherland and the ink from an art dealer in the Bluecoat Chambers. A director of Outhwaite and Litherland stated that there was no record of the sale and neither would they sell such an item in the way Barrett described. Believing that ducking and diving were key components in survival,  Barrett retracted his confession. This process of confession and subsequent retraction was repeated in the years that followed.  Alternative storylines appeared. The identity of the forger alternated between being Barrett, his wife Ann, Barrett and others, and his wife and others.

The estranged wife of Barrett reverted to what her name had been before marriage, Ann Graham.  Determined to create a plot almost as complicated as that in The Maltese Falcon, Graham claimed that the diary had been left to her father by her grandfather. Graham said she had given the diary to her husband because he aspired to be a writer. She hoped it would help him to write and find an alternative to heavy drinking.   If only someone had told this Liverpool woman about the alcohol problems of Faulkner, Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. The father of Ann Graham insisted that she was telling the truth.  Not much, though, made sense. Interest in both the diary and Mike Barrett faded.

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But, instead of a line being drawn under the affair, something odd happened on the other side of the River Mersey.  Albert Johnson lived in Birkenhead. He decided to buy a gold antique watch as an investment. In 1993 he reported that the watch had markings on the inside case. These markings consisted of the initials of the canonical five Ripper victims, the signature of James Maybrick and the words, ‘I am Jack’.   The watch was referred for expert analysis of the etchings on the inside case. The experts were not in agreement but at least two credible analysts thought that the markings could have been made around 1889. There is agreement, though, about the integrity of owner Albert Johnson.  He paid for the watch to be tested and never sought to use the watch to make money.  The existence of the watch and admittedly dubious diary constitute a mystery.

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For most this would be mystery enough but in 1997 author Paul H Feldman in Jack The Ripper The Final Chapter affirmed the Ripper belonged to the Maybrick family but added that the assassin was not James but his brother Michael.  Since then Feldman has not been a lone voice. Two more books have identified Michael Maybrick as the Ripper.   These are The Diary Of Jack The Ripper Another Chapter by James Stettler and They All Love Jack by Bruce Robinson.   All three assume that the diary of James Maybrick has Victorian authenticity but the three authors argue that it was drafted by brother Michael. Yet the diary did not appear until well after both brothers had died and it achieved little for brother Michael. It is possible that Michael found recalling his crimes in print cathartic but thought it prudent to sign a name other than his own.   Few, though, will be convinced by this assumption, especially as doubts already exist about whether the diary is genuine.

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Like the plays of Shakespeare, letters are important to the Ripper plot described by Bruce Robinson in They All Love Jack.  Matthew Packer claimed that he sold grapes to a man and Liz Stride on the night that Stride was murdered by Jack the Ripper.   Robinson not only regards Packer as an honest witness he believes that Packer received a threatening letter from Jack the Ripper. Robinson notes the similarity of the handwriting in the letter sent to Packer to that in the ‘Dear Boss’ letter sent to the Central News Agency.  Once Robinson thinks he has a discernable letter writer he links some of the letters to the travels of Michael Maybrick, who was a popular singer and songwriter.   Two letters were sent from locations where Maybrick was appearing on the stage. These were Glasgow and Manchester. A small child in Bradford was murdered in a ritualistic fashion after Maybrick had arrived there to perform on stage.

210 letters were sent to the police and newspapers by people claiming to be Jack the Ripper. The theory of Robinson requires a belief in an ability to identify which of those letters were genuine and which shared the same hand.   Robinson also argues that the Ripper had the ability to disguise his handwriting. This means that the identification depends on recognising the disguises. A casual attitude to the possibility of coincidence in the timing of events is also beneficial.   They All Love Jack may be an entertaining and essential read but its achievement consists of an unforgiving exposure of Victorian hypocrisy and the ability of the author to raise doubts about what others regarded as fact. The identity of Jack the Ripper remains elusive, and needs something more than a scrapbook handed in by a Liverpool scrap dealer struggling with an alcohol problem.

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.

 

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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

34 TOO DARN HOT

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It depended on money and status. The very rich had kettles made of silver. The affluent settled for copper. The poor were obliged to use kettles made of cast iron. There are few households in Britain that do not have a kettle, and it is not much different elsewhere. Human beings like to boil water. Ripper victim Mary Kelly was poor. Her kettle would have been made of cast iron. She was murdered in her home in Millers Court.

Inspector Abberline said this, ‘… I have taken an inventory of what was in the room, there had been a large fire so large as to melt the spout off the kettle I have since gone through the ashes in the grate and found nothing of consequence except that articles of a woman’s clothing had been burnt which I presume was for the purpose of light as there was only one candle in the room.’

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Inspector Abberline was a successful policeman. Although the inventory he mentions was not subsequently located, there is nothing in the above statement that makes him sound stupid. Cloth burns at the same temperature as cast iron melts, around 1000° Centigrade.   A fire burning clothes could have melted the copper spout but, because the flames would have to travel further to reach the copper spout, only after the clothes had been burnt. And a fire is a source of light.   It is, though, an extravagant and uncomfortable way to light a room.   The reference to one candle by Abberline is ambiguous. It could mean that inside the room of Mary Kelly the supply of candles was limited to a single item or that only one candle could be burnt at a time because of where the candle was placed. A candle burns for five to seven hours. Most people, even the Victorian poor, had a spare ready to replace the one that was burning.   The rooms in Millers Court were small. If Mary Kelly had one candle, it was because she considered the light adequate to illuminate her room. The man who murdered her was invited into her room because she assumed he was a customer. Her commercial transaction would have required some light. Doctor Phillips stated that apart from the heart no organs were removed. The main purpose of the mutilations was to hack flesh from the bones. Subsequent surgeons have insisted that the injuries were inflicted by an axe. The Ripper did not need bright light.

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In They All Love Jack the author Bruce Robinson argues that the murder and mutilation of Mary Kelly conformed to a ritual of vengeance described by Prophet Ezekiel.   This may sound fanciful but both the New York Herald and English journalist George R Sims also made the connection. Sims described the Ripper as ‘the man who has taken the Book of Ezekiel too literally’. Robinson goes further and connects the ritual to freemason knowledge and symbolism. We can baulk at the idea of freemason conspiracy but we have to acknowledge the point Robinson makes about the kettle.   If the Ripper needed light from the fire to help him strip the body of Mary Kelly down to the bone, he would have moved the kettle out of the fireplace.   In They All Love Jack the quotes from Revelation are juggled together by Robinson and we read this ‘… these shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.’

Robinson argues that the fire had one essential purpose, which was to burn the flesh that had been hacked away from the body of Mary Kelly.  Apart from two contradictory references to a chemise the autopsy makes no reference to what clothes were left in the room, if any. Neither does the autopsy record that there was missing flesh. There was a reference to a missing heart. Flesh may have been burnt in the fire, as Robinson suggests.

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Bruce Robinson can be scathing about the conclusions of others. He is convinced that the silence from the Press and Police after the murder of Kelly was part of a conspiracy to shield the ritual of the murder and protect the reputation of Freemasonry.   Those tempted like me to wonder if it was a withdrawal from inconceivable horror are regarded as simple souls.   He may be right. We all have blind spots, and that includes Bruce Robinson.   Although he is responsible for the selection of clauses in the constructed but not inappropriate quote from Revelation, he appears to ignore his own reference to ‘and shall eat her flesh’. Later in They all Love Jack we read a quote from Ezekiel, Chapter 24 Number 5. ‘Boil water in a pot and boil bones in it. Consume the flesh.’ It is a shame that Ezekiel had such a judgemental nature. More tolerance and he could have been a rival for Delia Smith.

The fire in a Victorian home had other uses besides heating the room.   It would be used for drying clothes in damp weather. More important all the meals of the family would be cooked on the fire. Inspector Abberline said ‘the large fire was so large as to melt the spout of the kettle.’ He could have said the fire inside the cooker was so large that it melted the kettle on top of the grill.

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The notion of cannibalism feels like a wild idea but what happened inside the home of Mary Kelly on the final day of her life was both extreme and bizarre. The behaviour of the police outside was also a little odd. The police entered the room of Mary Kelly two and three quarter hours after her dead body was discovered by rent collector Thomas Bowyer.   The explanation is that they were waiting for the arrival of bloodhounds to follow a trail.   Supposedly it took nearly three hours for the idea to be dismissed as impractical.  The notion that street policemen, medical officials and Whitehall administrators could stand patiently outside a murder scene until someone mentioned that, as it happened, the police no longer owned the bloodhounds is absurd.   Terror and unease inside the hearts of policemen are more feasible explanations.   Something spooked the police and it was serious enough to silence the Press. Establishment conspiracies exist but if we ignore them then we are left with horror and that is enough to make policemen secretive.

Cannibalism was the ultimate horror. Medical opinion decided that the victims of the Ripper died before the mutilations began. Those on the street had more luck than Mary Kelly.  If the Ripper was a cannibal, all that he could eat of his victims in the street was the odd keepsake like a womb, heart or kidney.   Mary Kelly lost flesh where it was most abundant, her thighs and arms. These were also the limbs that were missing from the three female corpses that were discovered in London in 1888. It is clear from the murder of Mary Kelly that the Ripper behaved differently inside the home of a victim from when he was slaying women on the street. If he did have the opportunity to work in his own home, and it is a big if, he may have created at least one of those torsos. As with Mary Kelly, we have to wonder what happened to the missing flesh and limbs in the three Torso murders.

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Bruce Robinson not only ignores his reference to ‘and shall eat her flesh’ he is also casual about the statement from a witness that was reported in the Pall Mall Gazette.  Robinson quotes the Gazette. ‘A gentleman engaged in business, stated he was walking through Mitre Square at about ten minutes past ten on Friday morning, when a tall well dressed man carrying a parcel under his arm, and rushing along in a very excited manner, ran into him. The man’s face was covered with blood splashes, and his collar and shirt were also blood stained. The gentleman did not know at the time anything of the murder.’

This witness was not called to an inquest that should have been complicated and time consuming but was completed in a single day.  What is important in this statement is the location of the blood on the possible assassin.   The only areas stained by blood are the face of the man and the collar of his shirt.  If the gentleman in Mitre Square did see Jack the Ripper then his sighting suggests that whatever the way the Ripper murdered his victim he put his face close to where his victim was bleeding. The tall well dressed man that the gentleman saw had bloodstains on his face of the kind that we associate with a vampire. The tall well dressed man looked like someone who had been feeding but it may have been on more than blood.  The room, when the police finally entered in the afternoon, was still very warm, too darn hot for vampires and anything other than an explanation that frightened the authorities into being secretive.

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.