Dr Openshaw





Not all the letters now exist, and of the letters that have been preserved not all have envelopes that reveal intended addresses.   One letter was sent to the maid of a gentleman whose name was missing from the envelope.   The sender signed the letter Jack the Ripper and added that he craved blood. Not the type of thing to help a young woman sleep at night.   The Beatles and Elvis changed hairstyles. Like Batman, whose creation he may have inspired, Jack the Ripper also had fans and imitators. Some of the letters may have been from him but there are 210 in which the sender claimed to be either Jack the Ripper or the slayer of the victims. On the 10th of October 1888 seven letters arrived from locations that included London, Leicester and Edinburgh. As some letters have been mislaid, the likelihood is that in total around 300 letters were posted from people claiming to be the Ripper.   The letters were sent to the police, the press, those in authority and sometimes neighbours against whom there was a grievance.  2000 more letters arrived from people who thought they had something to contribute to the investigation.  Again not all these letters were posted to the police.  Some of the letters came from outside the country and not all were in the English language.  Of these mainly well-intentioned letters 700 were investigated by the police. The rest were ignored.


Analysts have suggested that some of the frequent grammatical imperfections in the letters from supposed murderers are deliberate.   Those who believe they have identified the select few that came from the actual Ripper have noted inconsistencies between simple words being misspelt and more complicated examples being perfect.  This may be true but it is also odd, considering the ego required for murder, that there are no examples of a writer using the medium to demonstrate superior intelligence through literary ability.  The only letters that are grammatically sound appear after the death of Mary Jane Kelly.   Only one letter insists upon accomplishment and this opus of 81 lines of rhyming verse was sent on the 8th of November 1889 and to ‘the Superintendent of Great Scotland Yard London’.   The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner it is not but for once the self-congratulation is not restricted to the ability to be violent.


Handwriting experts, psychologists and writers desperate to discover the identity of the Ripper have pored over the letters that remain. This is certain. One, there were too many letters from too many different destinations for it all to be the work of one person.  Two, some of the letter writers would have written more than once.   Three, Jack the Ripper may have been the author of one or more of those letters.   Four, the rest is imaginative theory.

Five letters have received more attention than the rest. This is because of when they appeared, who saw them, when they were seen and the stylistic flourishes that were either copied or repeated. These five letters can be separated into two groups.   In the first group are three that announced the arrival of Jack the Ripper.   These three refer to each other and have persuaded many that they were written by the killer. The other two, which came later, had the added bonus of referring to the kidney that was sent to George Lusk the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.


The first letter of the initial three was received on the 27th of September 1888 by the news agency Central News.   In this letter the writer attempts a jocular tone. He uses the phrase ‘ha ha’ three times, a phrase that occasionally appeared in subsequent letters. The letter was signed Jack the Ripper and asked that the reader, ‘Don’t mind me giving the trade name.’ There was an apology for not writing the letter in blood and for red ink being used as a substitute. Because the blood was thick like glue, the writer had kept the blood in a ginger beer bottle. For someone who disembowelled his victims the use of empty ginger beer bottles is almost endearing.   The promise that ‘I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police officers,’ indicated to some researchers that the letter was written by the Ripper.  Catherine Eddowes and Liz Stride were both murdered in the early hours of September 30 1888.  The lobe of the right ear of Catherine Eddowes was found in her clothing when the body was examined. The lobe, though, was not sent to the police. There was also a continuous cut across the neck that finished at the ear. The lobe was a casualty not an objective.

On the 1st of October 1888 a postcard was received by Central News.   The writer mentioned the previous ‘tip’ and claimed that he had no time to get ears for the police but he did promise a ‘double event’ the next day.   The murders of Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes had occurred not much more than 24 hours earlier. If the writer had been using the postal service that exists today, the reference to the double event would have been evidence of a prediction. But in 1888 there were twelve deliveries a day.   There was time to read about the murders before sending the postcard.   Some experts believe that the letter and postcard were written by the same person although to this untrained eye they do not appear to be similar.  But 19th Century pens had a lethal edge to them and they could distort handwriting.


The third communication to Central News arrived on the 5th of October 1888.   Attempts have been made to link all three letters but the tone in the third was very different. It contained biblical references and described the killings as work on behalf of God. The writer promised three murders the following day.  This did not happen.   Mary Jane Kelly was murdered a month later on the 9th of November. If the three murders did not occur a day later because the Ripper had a migraine, the headache lasted for some time.   There was a heartfelt plea in the letter that suggests the expectation of sympathy. The writer swore that he did not kill ‘the female whose body was found at Whitehall’. He adds that ‘if she was an honest woman I will hunt down and destroy her murderer’. This offer of help was not accepted by the police.

More than one policeman was convinced that the three letters were the work of a journalist who wanted a good story that sold newspapers.   There are even options for the possible authors including a visiting American.   The notion is that only a journalist would send a letter to a news agency but this can be challenged. Sending the letters to the agency ensured they became public knowledge. It also suited the police to say that the letters were not from the Ripper because they had no idea what to do about them.   Some policemen can be at their most confident when they are bereft of ideas. There was also the small matter of the writing on the wall in Goulston Street, which, because of the action by Sir Charles Warren, could not be compared to the handwriting in the letters.


Before George Lusk received the infamous human kidney he had already had a letter and a postcard from someone who claimed to be Jack the Ripper.   Neither correspondence is memorable. In the letter another double event was promised.  On the postcard was the redundant message that the writer did not have time to play ‘copper games’.   As chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and a builder, Lusk would have been a busy man. He can be excused for not finding the letter and card interesting.   Over a hundred years later, though, his attitude towards the parcel that followed feels flippant. The letter was addressed as being ‘From hell’. Lusk may have been able to keep hell at a distance but history beckoned.   Inside the parcel were a letter and half of a human kidney.   According to the letter, the writer had eaten the other half and ‘it was very nise’.   Lusk kept the letter and kidney in his desk but mentioned it at the next meeting of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.   Someone with sense suggested that perhaps members of the Committee should look at what was inside the desk of George Lusk.  This happened the next day.  The kidney was taken to a local doctor, and he referred it to Dr Openshaw at London Hospital. Dr Openshaw decided it was a human kidney, and members of the Committee assumed it must have belonged to Catherine Eddowes.  Dr Openshaw had to qualify his previous statements. He could not say if the kidney had belonged to a woman or whether it had been affected by heavy use of alcohol.



A report by Chief Inspector Swanson mangled the English language and without ever being convincing concluded that the kidney was taken from a body during a post mortem.   The medics contradicted each other. Dr Gordon Brown, the Divisional Surgeon, managed to even disagree with himself.  The vague Dr Openshaw may not have had the last word but he was honoured with a letter signed by Jack the Ripper that approved of the opinion of the Doctor, ‘You was rite it was the lift kidney … ’ This letter promised more ‘innerds’. None arrived.  With twelve postal deliveries a day there was no excuse for failing to follow through but no one complained.   The letter to Dr Openshaw had enough grammatical errors for them to feel more forced than normal.  An additional reference to the devil and his microscope teased Dr Openshaw. The writer asked if he had seen the devil with his microscope and scalpel looking at a kidney.   Patricia Cornwell compared this reference to a Cornish rhyme. The teasing continues.

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.







Doctors are like the rest of us. They make decisions based on what they regard as important and ignore the rest.   Without being definite about the number of women Jack the Ripper killed it is impossible to know just how many doctors were drawn into the saga of his crimes. A record has to begin and end somewhere, and if we start with Emma Smith and finish with Mary Jane Kelly there are seven victims. The consensus is that the Ripper killed no more than five and possibly four. A record of the medics that attended the seven plus a reference to a famous kidney should be adequate.

Emma Smith alleged she was attacked by three men but she may not have wanted to reveal that her injuries were caused by a potential customer, which is why she is mentioned in books about the Ripper.  She died in hospital on April 5th after being assaulted on April 3rd.  In London Hospital she was treated by the house surgeon Dr George Ernest Haslip.   He was thirty-four years old when he encountered the wounded Emma Smith. Dr Haslip died in 1924.  In the final years of his life he was Treasurer of the British Medical Association.



Martha Tabram was stabbed 39 times but there was no mutilation or disembowelment. Mere stabbing and suspicions about an unidentified soldier exclude her from the canonical five.   Various factors affected the choice of doctor to attend the scene of a crime. Policeman on the beat would rush to the nearest available doctor in the vicinity, and senior policemen had the authority to summon the police surgeon. Dr Timothy Killeen had a surgery at nearby 68 Buck Lane.   The body of Martha Tabram was discovered in George Yard Building.   At 5.30 am Dr Killeen arrived and concluded Tabram had died two hours before. Dr Killen believed that the assailant was right handed and that all the wounds bar one could have been caused by a penknife. Dr Timothy Killeen followed the body of Tabram to the mortuary, performed the autopsy and appeared as a witness at the inquest. The Irish doctor returned to Ireland and spent his final years in County Clare.

Dr Rees Ralph Llewellyn had a surgery at 152 Whitechapel Road. At 4am on August 31st 1888 he was summoned to the body of Mary Ann Nichols. After a cursory examination he pronounced Nichols dead. Dr Llewellyn subsequently examined the corpse of Mary Jane Nichols at the Old Montague Street Workhouse Infirmary.   Before the post mortem the body was stripped and washed down by three pauper assistants from the Workhouse.   This happened despite orders from the police to not touch the body. Names are available for two of the pauper assistants. The two named assistants were Robert Mann and James Hatfield.   In 2009 Barnsley author M J Trow claimed that Robert Mann was the Ripper.   The opinion has few devotees. In his post mortem report Dr Llewellyn said the cuts had been caused by a long blade knife and that the killing might have been done by a right-handed person.   Dr Llewellyn died in 1921. He was 70 years old.

L0004377 Cartoon: 'Our pretty doctor' by Geral du Maurier, 1870

When Annie Chapman was murdered, the local police constable was on fixed point duty and refused to move. A disgruntled witness informed Inspector Chandler who was working at H Division police station. Inspector Chandler went to the scene of the crime and sent for the Divisional Surgeon, Dr George Bagster Phillips, who pronounced the body dead. The body was again taken to the Old Montague Street mortuary. Two nurses, Mary Elizabeth Simmonds and Frances Wright, undressed the body of Annie Chapman.   This time the assistants were obeying orders of the Clerk to the Parish Guardians and not the police. Dr George Bagster Phillips performed the autopsy. He was police surgeon to H Division from 1865.  Dr Phillips attended four autopsies of Jack the Ripper victims and was summoned to three murder sites.  According to his post mortem report, Dr Phillips thought Annie Chapman had fine teeth. He said that the knife used by the murderer was six to eight inches long. He also ascribed medical skill to the assailant.


P C Watkins must have lacked the clout of Inspector Chandler because he could only summon Dr Frederick Blackwell to the body of Liz Stride, the first victim in the famous double event of September 30th 1888. Dr Blackwell shared his practice at 100 Commercial Street with Dr Kay.  Edward Johnson, an assistant at the practice, roused Dr Blackwell. The report from Dr Blackwell is important because it denied the existence of grape stalks in the hand of the victim Liz Stride. This contradicted the witness statement from Matthew Packer who alleged that he had sold grapes to Stride and a man before her death. Bruce Robinson in They All Love Jack has challenged the words of Dr Blackwell. Robinson quotes two other witnesses who claimed to have seen the grape stalks in the hand of Liz Stride. Dr Blackwell died in 1900 when he was forty-eight years old. In 1896 Dr Blackwell vaccinated a child who died. The inquest decided that the death was not caused by the vaccination.


The post-mortem for Liz Stride was completed by Dr George Bagster Phillips. He described the murder of Liz Stride as very different from that of Annie Chapman. Liz Stride was lying on the ground when the wound was inflicted. Other victims had their throats cut while they were standing. The solitary wound and the method of killing has persuaded some authors to doubt Liz Stride as a victim of Jack the Ripper. The alternative view is that there had been an argument between Stride and the Ripper, and during the argument, Stride was thrown to the ground; only one wound was inflicted because the Ripper was interrupted during the crime.

Not one but two doctors were summoned to Mitre Square where Catherine Eddowes was slain. P C Holland fetched Dr George William Sequiera, and Inspector Edward Calland from Bishopsgate police station sent a constable to bring the City Police surgeon, Dr Frederick Gordon Brown.   Four doctors were present at the post mortem of Catherine Eddowes. These were Dr Sequiera, Dr Brown, Dr William Sedgewick Saunders, the City Public Analyst, and Dr George Bagster Phillips. Dr Brown wrote the post mortem report for Catherine Eddowes, and as additional witnesses the other three doctors attended the inquest of Catherine Eddowes. The evidence from the four doctors has caused confusion. Dr Saunders stated that he agreed with the belief of Dr Sequiera and Dr Brown that the murderer had no anatomical skill. Dr Brown, though, had insisted that the murderer had anatomical knowledge. Dr Saunders lived until 1901. He was 76 years old when he died and was the author of numerous papers.   They may or may not have been controversial.   His gift for having alternative opinions whilst being in agreement with others would have helped him avoid too much criticism. Dr Sequiera had a surgery at 34 Jewry Street. He died in 1924 when he was 74 years old. Dr Gordon Brown was blessed with the longest life. He lived until he was 84 years old.



Dr Bagster Phillips died in 1897 but before that he had to visit the home of victim Mary Jane Kelly in Millers Court.  Dr Phillips was invited by Inspector Beck who was on duty at Commercial Road Station when Mary Jane Kelly was killed. Dr Gordon Brown, Dr Thomas Bond and Dr John Rees Gabe appeared at Millers Court later. The post mortem report, though, was completed by Dr Thomas Bond. In his report Dr Bond claimed that the murderer did not require anatomical knowledge. The opinion is not significant. The word ‘require’ is important.   The little that was left of Mary Jane Kelly revealed a fiendish and unrestrained attack but little else. The heart, though, was removed.   The presence of gynaecologist and paediatrician Dr John Rees Gabe is odd but we know he saw the body because he gave reports to the press. Dr Gabe subsequently became a divisional surgeon. At the risk of being flippant you have to start somewhere.

Dr Roderick McDonald who had a practice in the East End from 1868 attended the inquest but not to give medical evidence. He was the coroner. The inquest of Mary Jane Kelly was the only inquest of a Ripper victim that ended in a single day.   Perhaps the presence of a coroner with medical qualifications meant that there was no need to repeat medical evidence.   The jurors visited the mortuary and viewed the definitely dead body of Mary Jane Kelly. Dr Bagster Phillips told the jurors that the cause of death was the severance of the right carotid artery.   The jury gave a verdict of murder, and everybody went home, job done.   Dr Roderick MacDonald was born in the Isle of Skye and was the son of a crofter. He was prominent in the Highland Law Reform Association and campaigned on behalf of crofters.   In the election to be a coroner he had the support of East End radicals.


On October 16th 1888 George Lusk, the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, received a letter that was addressed as being ‘from hell’ and signed ‘catch me when you can’. The letter writer claimed he had eaten half of the kidney that had been taken from victim Catherine Eddowes.  Attached to the letter was half a kidney.   Members of the Vigilance Committee took the kidney to the surgery of Dr Frederick Wiles at 56 Mile End Road.   Dr Wiles was absent but his assistant F. S. Reed pronounced the kidney human and preserved it in spirits of wine. Reed took the preserved kidney to London Hospital where Dr Thomas Horrocks Openshaw confirmed that the kidney was human. The Press reported Dr Openshaw as saying that the kidney belonged to a woman that drank alcohol. Later, Dr Openshaw wrote to The Times and stated that he was able to confirm the kidney was human but nothing more. Dr Openshaw was a prominent freemason and at some point Master of the Lancastrian Lodge. He was born in Bury, the home of the best black pudding in Europe. Dr Thomas Horrocks Openshaw was known to his friends as Tommy.  Considering his middle name, it could have been worse.

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.