The Maltese Falcon – movie

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

32 AARON MORDKE KOSMINSKI

 

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This is how Aaron Mordke Kosminski became a known suspect to Ripperologists.   In a police report dated February 1894, Sir Melville Macnaghten, who subsequently retired as Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, identified three suspects that included Kosminski. Criminals And Crime was published by Sir Robert Anderson in 1907. He had retired as Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner in 1901. In Criminals And Crime, Anderson claimed that the Ripper ‘had been safely caged in an asylum home’. Criminals And Crime had a sequel by Anderson called The Lighter Side Of My Official Life. This was published in 1910. This time Anderson revealed that ‘the suspect had been identified at the Seaside Home’.   There is a sentence in the memoir that deserves to be reproduced in full. ‘I will merely add that the only person who ever had a good view of the murderer unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him; but he refused to give evidence against him.’

There is more. In 1959 TV presenter and journalist Dan Farson discovered an alternative copy of the 1894 report by Macnaghten. This second copy was the property of Lady Aberconway and differed slightly from the copy held in Scotland Yard. In the first copy Macnaghten describes Kominsky as a ‘strong suspect’. In the Aberconway version Macnaghten states, ‘This man in appearance strongly resembled the individual seen by the City PC near Mitre Square’.  In both versions Macnaghten provides information about Kosminski.   He lived in Whitechapel, had a ‘great hatred of women’ and ‘strong homicidal tendencies’. Because of ‘many years indulgence in solitary vices’ Kosminski had become insane.

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There is still more.   In 1980 the daughter of Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson died and amongst what she left to her nephew and grandson was a copy of The Lighter Side Of My Official Life by Anderson. Swanson had made notes in the margins. At the bottom of page 138 he wrote that as well as the witness who saw the Ripper ‘the suspect was also a Jew and also because his evidence would convict the suspect, and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged which he did not wish to be left in his mind.’  Swanson added in the margin, ‘And after this identification which suspect knew, no other murder took place’. At the back of the book Swanson, like Anderson, referred to the suspect being identified at the Seaside Home. According to Swanson, the suspect Kosminski was watched by the police at the home of his brother-in-law before ‘in a very short time’ he was referred to Stepney Workhouse and then Colney Hatch asylum ‘where he died shortly afterwards’.

All this deserves a summary. A retired senior policeman states that the Ripper was Jewish and known to the police. One of his colleagues writes that the suspect was identified by another Jew who was reluctant to give evidence, and another confirms the name of the suspect as Kosminski and explains what happened to the suspect.   It is not, though, that simple.   The loose ends and blind alleys contained within the three records have led Ripperologists around in circles for the last twenty years.

Kosminski did not die shortly after he was identified as Jack the Ripper.  Swanson made an error. Kosminski was committed to Colney Hatch in 1891 and lived there for another 28 years. His keepers described him as excitable but not violent. The symptoms of his insanity included a refusal to work, wash and accept prepared food.  He preferred to eat what he found in gutters.  His weight in 1919, the last time Kosminski was weighed, was recorded as six stone twelve pounds.   It is possible that his symptoms and emaciation appeared after he stopped or was prevented from killing women. This explanation, though, feels convenient and glib. In 1891, Jacob Cohen certified the committal of his brother-in-law Kosminski to an asylum. Cohen stated that his brother-in-law had not done any work for years. It is difficult to imagine an unemployed and already strange Kosminski persuading prostitutes that he could pay for sex.

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There is doubt about whether Kosminski is the correct insane Jewish suspect. The unrelated David Cohen was also committed to an asylum for being generally unpleasant and excitable. Cohen died soon after his committal. There is not other evidence, though, against Cohen. He was identified as a possible suspect before the name Kosminski was located in asylum records.

Somewhat baffling, there has been debate about when the identification took place. The ‘Seaside Home’ phrase by Anderson is recognised as police vernacular for the Convalescent Police Seaside Home, 51 Clarendon Villas, Hove.   The Home opened in March 1890, and Kominski was committed to a workhouse on the 4th February 1891. Before the end of the month he was committed to Colney Hatch Asylum.  If he was observed for a few days after the identification, Kosminski was not interviewed before January 1891.

Two names have been nominated as the witness who identified Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. They are the two witnesses known to be Jewish. Joseph Lawende saw a man in Mitre Square talking to Catherine Eddowes shortly before she was murdered. Israel Schwarz witnessed a man throwing Liz Stride to the ground the night she was killed. The favourite is Joseph Lawende because Swanson referred to Kosminski being observed day and night by City Police before he was committed to a workhouse. The murder of Eddowes occurred in the area covered by the City Police. Liz Stride was murdered in Whitechapel, which made it a matter for the Metropolitan Police. This reference to the City Police observing the house of the brother-in-law implies that the witness is Lawende. He was in the City area when he saw Catherine Eddowes talking to a man before her death. But the notes of Swanson are unreliable. Swanson alleged incorrectly that Kosminski died shortly after arriving in the asylum.

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Macnaghten mentions that a City PC saw the Ripper at Mitre Square. The PC who reported seeing a victim with a man was PC Smith. He, though, was not at Mitre Square. He was the witness at Berner Street where Liz Stride was murdered.  He was also a member of the Metropolitan Police.

So far we have unreliable and inconsistent accounts from three senior policemen that probably spent most of their careers avoiding confrontations with criminals. Constructing theories around assertions that may or may not be true is difficult. In The Complete History of Jack the Ripper author Philip Sugden makes a honourable and impressive attempt to piece the contradictory evidence together. But he is obliged to accept some of what Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson alleged and then use it to dismiss their other inconsistent assertions.   The main suspects the police identified are Montague Druitt, Aaron Kosminski, Michael Ostrog, George Chapman and Francis Tumblety.   Apart from Kosminski the list includes a calculating poisoner, a harmless depressive suicide, an American so old and large he defied any witness descriptions of the Ripper, and a con man and trickster.   There is nothing wrong in being curious about the possible clues left by Anderson, Swanson and Macnaghten but neither is there an obligation to have serious regard to the ramblings of retired administrators whose value consisted of their bureaucratic skills. None of the detectives who were closer to what was happening on the streets of Whitechapel confirmed the choice of Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. Inspector Abberline said this after he retired, ‘I know that it has been stated in several quarters that Jack the Ripper was a man who died in a lunatic asylum a few years ago, but there is nothing at all of a tangible nature to support such a theory.’ Or in other words all the analysis by Ripperologists of the thoughts left behind by Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson is supposition, as are indeed the remarks themselves.

What we have is that three senior policeman suspected a Polish Jew called Kosminski. The same policemen believe he was identified by a witness who refused to testify.   This is what may have happened. Both Anderson and Swanson mention the Seaside Home,  This means the identification took place around the end of 1890. Kosminski was not a physically powerful suspect that developed odd behaviour. He became a target for the police when he was a nuisance, very odd but vulnerable. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper author Philip Sugden asks why it took two years to arrange this identification.   It needed Kosminski to become a nuisance on the streets of Whitechapel, which happened around the time that Anderson was perhaps putting on pressure to have an arrest so that he could retire in glory. The word suspect is inaccurate. A better word was used by Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Because the police are a threat to the protagonists, Spade argues ‘what we need is a patsy, a fall guy’. The man he chose was the popular choice, which is what Kosminski was in 1890. He stank, uttered vile threats and oaths to women, masturbated in public and was not even English.

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Philip Sugden writes ‘it is difficult to know why it was considered necessary to take Kosminski to the Seaside Home…’ The answer could be simple. The police were being secretive because they wanted to frame Kosminski and they wanted safe ground where they could transgress the law. The police collected their man and headed to the seaside for a discrete frame up.   Macnaghten refers to Kosminski being taken to the Seaside Home in secrecy and with difficulty. No other witnesses were called to identify Kosminski, perhaps because the police did not want anyone who could testify that Kosminski was not the Ripper.  The popular choice as witness, Joseph Lawende, did not even have a good view of the Ripper.  He saw him from behind.  Equally unforgiveable, Kosminski was identified without other participants in a line up. I suspect that Lawende refused to cooperate in what was corrupt police behaviour.  Desperate to justify himself, Anderson claimed, and possibly believed, that Lawende refused to testify because he would not betray another Jew. The evidence suggesting malpractice may be thin but if senior policemen write careless nonsense, they deserve what is thrown their way.

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.