Sir William Gull





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.


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’.


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.


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.


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.


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.







Like rock and roll and hamburgers, the British imported spiritualism from the Americans. In 1848 the Fox sisters set the ball rolling except the ball was an apple. They tied one to a piece of string and faked knockings on walls. The Fox sisters called the knockings on the wall rapping. The three sisters were white Americans from New York but rapping had to start somewhere. In 1888, Jack the Ripper committed what is believed to be his final murder.  In the same year and after a decent career as mediums the Fox sisters admitted that the calls from the spirits were phoney. British mediums also endured accusations of fraud. It did not help that the more successful practitioners were those that were more likely to be exposed. Evidence against spiritualism accumulated, and communicating with the dead became less fashionable amongst the educated.   It may be just a coincidence but at the end of the 19th Century and, as interest waned in spiritualism, beards on Victorian men became shorter.

Robert James Lees remains known because of an exaggerated connection to Jack the Ripper. He has been recreated as a character in at least three Jack the Ripper movies. Actors play him as a bohemian non-conformist outsider but Lees worked for four years as a journalist. He spent two years on the Manchester Guardian before moving to London where he met W T Stead the hard headed campaigning editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. The two men had an interest in social reform and spiritualism.  They became friends.  The desire to communicate with the dead has attracted sincere enthusiasts, cynical charlatans, the misguided, the deluded and those who have a gift for clairvoyance that is beyond explanation.  In the Victorian age spiritualism became an industry. It could only be sustained through fakery.


There were more women spiritualists than men but the blokes earned more money and were able to cultivate celebrity.  Audiences were likely to regard women as more sincere and spiritual but both genders felt the need to add show business tricks. Victorian spiritualism allowed the convincing female mediums to establish independent and well-remunerated careers.  The popular mediums would hold séances and charge a guinea a person.  Discount rates were available for block bookings of ten or more. In response to the Jack the Ripper murders some mediums held séances to seek advice from the spirits. Nothing of worth came from the séances but it filled a couple of theatres.

Not all the objections to spiritualism were scientific. Powerful men objected to women becoming economically independent and famous. Insecure and indulged Victorian males were not ready for women with psychological powers that gave them influence and confidence. There also existed rivalries, which meant that mediums were content for their rivals to be exposed or rubbished. The market provided affluent customers. Money being spent meant that there was always competition for business. Confessions and retractions like the one made by the Fox sisters in 1888 weakened the industry and confirmed the doubts of not just the critics but also disillusioned many of the devotees.


If spiritualism today is obliged to convince and suggest the authentic, in the Victorian age customers wanted the spectacular. Listening to knocking on the table somehow lacked long lasting appeal. Mediums forgot about the apples of the Fox sisters and added other effects to their armoury. They became possessed by spirits and spoke in voices that sounded different from their own. Levitation, movement of furniture, chemical explosions and the appearance of supposed spirits were popular tricks. The performances were enhanced by the skills of conjurers and magicians.   How and why fairground deceits invaded respectable and affluent homes is not so mysterious.

Today young people take drugs. Some stay the course but most relent. Others are changed by the discovery of something hidden and let it change their lives. The drugs change but the belief amongst many that they should be tried persists through generations. Cocaine replaced LSD after the sixties, and the Ouija board progressed from a pen and paper to a designer object. The Ouija board has had as many versions as the Apple smart phone. Since their introduction in the 15th Century the design of Tarot cards has been consistent but it was in the Victorian age that they became popular. The Victorians enjoyed the benefits of technology, and imperial conquest gave them Captain Kirk confidence to seek other frontiers.  Aldous Huxley would have approved.


The doubters wanted the spectacular tricks to be performed in controlled conditions. The mediums were affronted and claimed they needed a sympathetic environment. Purists assumed that this meant a dark sitting room but the real entertainers took their shows on the road. Sympathetic environments apparently included a theatre and paying audience, and that weakened both the argument and the product. The same thing happened later in rock and roll. Audiences like big spectacular shows but the critics and the sniffy want small-scale authenticity.

Even before she became controversial, Florence Cooke had a gift for entertainment. In her séances she would disappear into a cabinet and reappear as the ghost Katie King. Sometimes she would use an accomplice. Katie was a lively spirit. In one séance she levitated above her guests, and her clothes fell to the floor. In others she would flirt with the male guests and let them kiss and fondle her. Séances could be sexy. For the pious a dark room, teasing behaviour and a women in charge meant immorality. Florence Cook agreed to perform séances in the home of eminent physicist and chemist Sir William Crookes. The spiritualist convinced Crookes that Katie King was a genuine spirit but later other mediums revealed how she had tricked Crookes. It did not help that Crookes was short sighted and reluctant to wear glasses. The defenders of Cook insisted that they had seen two women in séances but her reputation suffered. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle felt the exposure of Florence Cook caused irreparable damage to the practice of spiritualism.   His arguments in favour of the mediums became less passionate. Charles Dickens also attended séances but he was not as persuaded as Conan Doyle, and his interest in spiritualism waned. He tried it because that was what people who had money and curiosity did in the Victorian age. Spiritualists were invited to both Buckingham Palace and the White House.   In Russia the mystic and holy man Rasputin thumbed a lift on a cart and took his spiritual powers to St Petersburg. What happened next is well known. Interestingly, he had a really long beard.



Robert James Lees was born in 1849 and in the small Leicestershire town of Hinckley. The locals are unpretentious, friendly, support the Leicester football team and voted in large numbers for Brexit. Not a lot happens in small town Hinckley. This may be why a blue plaque has been attached to the home where Robert James Lees was born. Historical plaques are normally restricted to eminent Victorians or dead rock stars from the sixties. In 1888, Lees was living in London. His diaries record that he contacted policemen in both the City Police and Scotland Yard and suggested that his skills as a clairvoyant might be useful in locating and identifying Jack the Ripper.   The offer did not attract interest from within the two police forces.   And that is the extent of the involvement of Robert James Lees into the investigation of Jack the Ripper.


The rest is made up nonsense. Again, like rock and roll and hamburgers, it was imported from the USA. A reporter for the Sunday Times Herald in Chicago claimed that Lees had seen a man board an omnibus in Notting Hill and disembark at Marble Arch. Lees had a vision that the man was Jack the Ripper. At some point Lees managed to convince the police that his vision had merit. Lees led the police to the fashionable home of the man from the omnibus. The police discovered Sir William Gull the physician to the Royal Family and, presumably after a confession, put him inside a lunatic asylum.  This invention has supported other conspiracy theories. It has provided added detail for allegations against the freemasons and allowed some to claim that Jack the Ripper was the Duke of Clarence. Even by Ripper standards the inventions are thin. Gull was infirm and too weak to kill anyone. The Duke of Clarence liked to spend his wealth abroad and is disappointingly absent around important events like murders and a marriage he was supposedly anxious to conceal. The report from American journalists that Lees left London because he was unable to endure terrible visions of the Ripper victims being slaughtered is also an invention.


Robert James Lees died in Leicester. He was 81 years old. It is tempting to imagine an old radical with clairvoyant gifts dying peacefully in his sleep.   His name rather than his spirit lives on in Ripper novels and movies. This may be fitting for a man who was able to see into the future or, because his character was reinvented, nothing more than an irony.

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.