Bruce Robinson

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

30 THE FREEMASONS

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In a UK population of 60m people there are over 200,000 freemasons. Over 90% of these are men, and apart from the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women, the typical Masonic Lodges are not unisex. They are gender specific.   Women who become men are allowed to be freemasons. Men who become women are not. For a freemason a man becoming a woman is too horrible to contemplate. According to their banner headlines the freemasons in the UK each year collect £33m for charity. Although welcome this is not as impressive as it sounds. It amounts to £165 per year per member or a monthly donation of less than £14. Freemasonry is restricted to those whose income will permit them to pay their fees of £240 a year and make contributions to charity ‘without harming their family’. But freemasonry also includes many of the rich and powerful. With a few sticky envelopes and without getting off their backsides any charitable organisation that had 200,000 affluent registered supporters would soon raise £33m.

Those outside the organisation imagine a bunch of old white men who like to take themselves seriously and who need rituals to grant them superiority and self-importance. But the people who become freemasons will have their own reasons. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington were all freemasons. They belonged to the Thomas Waller Lodge No. 49 in California. The Lodge operated as a community and possibly a retreat for Afro-American musicians. More surprising is the membership of the scabrous and outspoken comedian Richard Pryor. Perhaps he was a member of the same lodge as the musicians and joined to attend the lively parties. The membership of Marx, Freud and Einstein, though, is bewildering.

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The alleged freemason conspiracy that prevented the arrest of Jack the Ripper is often conflated with the accusation that the assassin was a member of the Royal Family. The allegation first appeared in Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight. According to Knight, the murders were committed by Sir William Gull the doctor to the Royal Family. He did it to protect the secret that Prince Albert Victor had married Annie Crook, a poor Catholic girl.   The allegation, which inspired a couple of half decent movies, was soon dismissed as nonsense. Gull was too infirm to kill anyone, and the Prince was not even in the country when he was supposed to have married Crook.

In They All Love Jack the author Bruce Robinson argues that the conflated theory and its inevitable absurdities has deflected attention away from the role of freemasonry in the crimes of Jack the Ripper.   Robinson feels that Knight was conned into publishing a story that could be exposed as ridiculous and in so doing facilitate a pardon for the freemasons. Robinson states that ‘concealing the Ripper was not a masonic conspiracy but a conspiracy of Her Majesty’s Executive who almost without exception were freemasons’. Ernest Parke the Editor of The Star newspaper exposed the Cleveland Street scandal in 1889 but before that in 1888 he commented on the failure of the police to apprehend Jack the Ripper.  He stated ‘that they are interested in concealing his identity’.

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The authors Paul Begg and Philip Sugden are marketed by their publishers as serious authorities on the crimes of Jack the Ripper. In The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Sugden there are no references to freemasons in the final index. In Jack the Ripper: The Facts by Begg there is just one reference to the Brotherhood in the final index  In They All Love Jack there are 10 references but they refer to items on 150 different pages. In Jack the Ripper: The Facts, Paul Begg uses less than half a page to spuriously dismiss the notion that the writing on the wall in Goulston Street could have been a reference to freemasonry. We are all entitled to doubts about what the writing may or may not have meant but the argument by Begg does not convince and it reads like knee-jerk defensiveness.

Bruce Robinson argues in They All Love Jack that the Ripper was a freemason and the murders resembled the rituals of masonry. He adds that the police knew which freemason was the murderer and concealed it from the public.  Freemasons respond that despite its 800 pages and exhaustive research They All Love Jack is misguided. They claim that the similarity between the murders and freemason rituals is slight.  They also reject the Robinson candidate for Jack the Ripper. No doubt Robinson can overegg an argument. It is possible that he, like Stephen Knight, is also guilty of conflating two events. Robinson is perhaps too ready to unite the Jack the Ripper murders with the Maybrick mystery in Liverpool.

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Not everyone is convinced that the inverted triangles cut under the eyes of victim Catherine Eddowes were intended as serious Masonic symbols.  But the murders do not have to qualify as exact replicas of freemasonry ritual for us to suspect that Sir Charles Warren the freemason Metropolitan Police Commissioner would have worried that they might be. It is odd that it took 100 years for information about the marks on the face of Catherine Eddowes to enter the public domain.   And what happened during the murders is bizarre. Wombs were removed, rings taken from fingers, pockets were cut open and polished coins left at the side of bodies. The entrails could have been put to one side by a murderer in a hurry but they may have also been carefully arranged.  If that was not enough, there is the writing on the wall at Goulston Street that may or may not refer to the three men who killed the architect of King Solomon’s Temple. Take the coincidences too far and it sounds like tortuous conspiracy theory but the coincidences do exist and they invite curiosity.   Doubt about the coincidences is reinforced by the response of the authorities. Although it existed as vital evidence Sir Charles Warren ordered the writing on the wall at Goulston Street to be removed. The Telegraph referred to polished coins next to the body of Annie Chapman yet Dr Phillips did not mention them in his autopsy report or his testimony at the inquest. The coins became known as ‘the mysterious coins’. Freemason ritual includes the quote, ‘Whatever he or she has about him made of metal is taken away – money in pockets is taken away’.

The murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the ‘canonical five’ was the most horrific of all. Comparisons have been made with the biblical descriptions of the vengeance of King Solomon. The comparisons can be considered as the inevitable similarities that follow from the behaviour of a psychopath indulging his violent fantasies and maybe deserve to be.   No one, though, can conclude with certainty that the similarities are just coincidences. We are obliged to wonder and be uneasy. After the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the police, press and even the Vigilance Committee became silent. What should have produced outrage sparked nothing more than silence. The suspicious believe that at that point, when the role of freemasonry was obvious, the conspiracy became universal. George Lusk the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was a freemason and lost interest in the arrest of the Ripper after the murder of Kelly.   The extent of freemasonry amongst Victorian journalism is not documented. It may have been non-existent, and the subsequent silence of the Press was nothing more than stomachs being turned by the excesses of Jack the Ripper.   Curiosity and fascination were replaced by repulsion and withdrawal.

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Sir Charles Warren Commissioner Metropolitan Police was both a freemason and a Knights Templar and had earned fame excavating the cellars of King Solomon’s Temple. As Bruce Robinson stated, Warren was surrounded by other freemasons including the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury.  Wynne Baxter the Coroner who presided over six of the inquests of possible Ripper victims was a freemason and so were most of the doctors who performed the autopsies. Ritualised and inexplicable murders and an odd slogan on a wall would have made the authorities nervous about possible revelations and persuaded the police to keep the Press at a distance. This, though, is not the same as concealing the identity of a person responsible for savage murders. Victorian hypocrisy had a vested interest in apprehending Jack the Ripper and quelling the social unrest of an uneasy society.   Perhaps the Ripper was discovered and quietly thrown into the Thames or abandoned to an asylum for the rest of his life. But if that happened no one has discovered any evidence of concealment of such treachery.

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The middle ground is a dangerous place to occupy and is loaded with tempting deceits but based on what we know it is in this instance the safest place for retrospective analysis. Today all that can be concluded is that the authorities were high-handed. They preferred to work in secrecy, avoided accountability whenever they could, resisted and resented scrutiny, and, because most of them were freemasons, were disturbed by the possibility that Jack the Ripper might be a member of a Lodge. To assume the Metropolitan Police knew the identity of the Ripper is to credit them with a competence for which there is little evidence.  We only have to read about the suspects they identified as possibilities or alternatives. After retirement the highly rated and popular Inspector Abberline revealed the limitations of the Metropolitan Police when he nominated George Chapman as Jack the Ripper. He compared a calculating man who married women and poisoned them to a wild impulsive creature who randomly attacked prostitutes in the street. Sir Charles Warren and his people were not even close to discovering the truth.   Neither were they free of freemason paranoia.

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

29 THE TORSO MURDERS

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Most men make mistakes in their pursuit of love and female companionship. The majority survive but some need serious help. On the 2nd of October 1888 The Times contained a report about the female torso that was discovered in the foundations of Scotland Yard the day before. The body was decomposed, infested with maggots and missing a head, arms and legs. The Times correspondent admitted that it was a ‘horrible spectacle’ but he somehow decided that the victim was a ‘remarkably fine young woman’. We are obliged to wonder where that particular journalist found love and companionship.

In 1882, 554 corpses were recovered from the River Thames. 227 of these were given open verdicts by the coroners because no one was sure just what had happened. In 1887 there were 18,004 persons reported as missing. London had plenty of private detectives and they, the police and others located about half. Those located were returned to family and friends and/or the people the missing had walked away from.  Apart from the 85 suicides half of the 18,004 disappeared into the crowds of London.

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Thankfully the victims that were killed, decapitated or dismembered were fewer. Most of them were women but not all. In 1857 a carpetbag full of male body parts was found somewhere around where beautiful Vivian Leigh met handsome Robert Taylor in the classic weepie movie Waterloo Bridge.   The owners of the carpetbag and the male body parts were not identified.   Even more gruesome was the discovery of a headless woman in September 1873.   Parts of the body were scattered across Battersea, Nine Elms and Woolwich but an additional frisson of horror was provided by the face and scalp that were washed up on the shore at Limehouse.

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Almost twelve months later in June 1874 a headless body with no arms and just one leg was recovered from the riverbank at Putney. In 1879 a box washed up against the shore at Barnes. The box contained the torso and legs of Julia Martha Thomas. Her skull was subsequently discovered in Richmond in 2010.   Well before that in 1836 the head of Hannah Brown was found at the Regent’s Canal near Edgeware Road. In 1884 the unidentified head of a woman was found in a mews near Tottenham Court Road.

There are four more abandoned torsos and, because their discoveries occurred in a period that ranged from May 1887 to September 1889, they may or may not have connections with Jack the Ripper. Carpenter Frederick August Wildbore discovered the torso that was left in the foundations of Scotland Yard. The discovery happened the day after Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered. The victim had been murdered some time before the torso was found. The torso had decomposed and was wrapped in a newspaper dated the 24th of August although that does not necessarily date the death of the victim.   Maggots cannot talk and they are invariably reluctant to be witnesses but in this instance they existed as important evidence. Dr Bond examined what was left of the body and concluded that the torso belonged to a 20 years old Caucasian woman, which may or may not have been a relief to the correspondent from The Times.

Whoever left the torso at Scotland Yard it took effort and a physical struggle. The Metropolitan Police Headquarters at Scotland Yard was in the process of being built, and the site was surrounded by a wall eight feet high. The embarrassment to the police caused by an abandoned torso in their new, essential and modern headquarters would be described by modern day football fans as serious banter. They All Love Jack author Bruce Robinson insists that the corpse was left by Jack the Ripper. Four days after Frederick August Wildbore stumbled over what he thought might be a slab of bacon a letter was sent to the Central News Agency by someone who signed himself as Jack the Ripper. The letter writer insisted he was not responsible for the torso left at Scotland Yard. Robinson thinks the letter was a fake prepared by someone in the Metropolitan Police to prevent the Ripper scandal being given a fresh and embarrassing dimension by the Press.   The timing of the Ripper murders and the discovery of the torso feel like more than a coincidence but not everyone will be as convinced as Robinson that the letter was a fake.   But its delivery to the Central News Agency, rather than the police or a newspaper, and it being sent so soon after the discovery of the torso justifies Bruce Robinson at least having doubts about the claims of the police.

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Less controversial but still chronologically relevant was the torso that was witnessed floating in the Thames near Rainham. The head, arms, upper chest and legs were missing. The sighting happened on the 11th of May 1887. In the next two months, 11 separate body parts were found along the Thames around Temple and Battersea and also in the Regents Park Canal. The head was not recovered.   The victim was a Caucasian woman aged between 25 and 40 years old.

In June 1889, and ten months after Mary Jane Kelly the last of the ‘canonical five’ victims was murdered, a female torso was found at Horsleydown in Southwark.   The torso was wrapped in an apron.   Body parts were found along the river at Battersea, Nine Elms and Limehouse.  Again the head was not recovered but the victim was identified.   The name of the victim was Elizabeth Jackson. She was a prostitute who lived in Chelsea. Elizabeth was eight months pregnant when she was murdered. If the torso crimes had a common murderer then there were many missing heads or mementoes, something to kiss at night before a twisted killer went to bed.   As in the disposal of the body at Scotland Yard, there was a hint of sly macabre humour. The right thigh of Elizabeth Jackson was left in the garden of a house in Chelsea Square that had belonged to Percy Shelley.   The thigh may have been a reference or even a tribute to the novel ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. A thigh in the garden would have been one less limb for the famous crazed scientist to worry about.

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Before the summer of 1889 had disappeared there was another appearance by a torso. This time the discovery was made by a policeman.   On the 10th of September 1889, Police Constable Bennett was walking his beat in Pinchin Street. Under a railway arch the policeman found a female torso wrapped in a piece of old chemise. The head and legs were missing. As with the body found in the foundations at Scotland Yard, the body was decomposing. The smell of putrid flesh had made PC Bennett curious. He has to be given some credit for persisting. The hands of the victim did not indicate that they had been used for manual labour.   Although the identification was never confirmed a news agency speculated that the victim was Lydia Hart a local prostitute. Hart had disappeared a few days before the torso was discovered.   The abdomen was mutilated, and comparisons were made with the injuries suffered by the Ripper victims.   A journalist claimed that the womb of the victim was missing. James Monro was Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1889. In a police report he observed that the estimated date of the murder of Lydia Hart was the 8th of September, which coincided with the anniversary of the murder of Ripper victim Annie Chapman.

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Anyone who denies the possibility that the four torsos discovered between 1887 and 1889 belonged to victims of Jack the Ripper has to accept the premise that in those years there would have been two savage serial killers operating in London.  Nine female torsos were discovered in the years between 1873 and 1889, and four of them were decapitated and dismembered in the two years the Ripper was operating. The coincidence is sinister.   Afforded for his murder of Mary Jane Kelly the discrete comfort of a living room in Miller’s Court the Ripper was far from satisfied with mere disembowelling.   He was more than capable of altering his methods to suit circumstances.   The truth is that none of it adds up. Throwing bodies over walls eight feet high amounts to something more than a prank. The torsos may have been a consequence of ad hoc crimes by violent men and criminals, and the decapitations were nothing more than an overcomplicated attempt to destroy evidence. It is the admittedly small peak in numbers around the activities of the Ripper that should make anyone curious as to what happened. The possibilities are not exclusive. Not just the Ripper but also others may have left torsos behind. If only we knew what happened. There have been plenty of suggestions but the proposals defer rather than encourage decisions.   Some mysteries deserve to be accepted for what they are, events without explanation and as strange as the remark from the correspondent from The Times who imagined a ‘remarkably fine young woman’ amongst the maggots.

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 Jackso02n and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.