Victorian horror

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

39 GEORGE HUTCHINSON

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George Hutchinson was born in 1859 but because of the complicated way human beings respond to each other he has acquired millennial status. In the Ripper world George Hutchinson is fashionable. In 1999 author Bob Hinton published From Hell. Hinton produced points that added to the existing and widespread doubt that existed about the witness statement that Hutchinson had given to Inspector Abberline. Hinton also claimed that George Hutchinson was Jack the Ripper. Hutchinson is not the favourite suspect but he is millennial and fashionable.

Hutchinson saw the last of the canonical victims Mary Jane Kelly talking to a well-dressed man. Kelly took the man to her home in Miller’s Court. So far three men have been identified as the person who might be the George Hutchinson that on the 9th of November 1888 stood in Commercial Street near Miller’s Court.  Bob Hinton traced a George Hutchinson that in 1859 was born in Shadwell. This George worked as a barman and had three wives. In his book The Ripper And The Royals the author Melvyn Fairclough revealed that someone called Reginald Hutchinson believed that his father was the witness in the Ripper crime. According to Reginald, his father had claimed that he knew one of the Ripper victims.   Reginald also challenged the traditional view that George Hutchinson was an unskilled man who endured long periods of unemployment. Reginald stated that his father became a plumber and was also an accomplished violinist and ice-skater. Well, someone in all this is skating on thin ice.

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Like Hinton, Australian author and journalist Stephen Senise believes that George Hutchinson is Jack the Ripper.   Senise has examined boat arrivals, looked at photographs and various documents and signatures. He reckons that in 1888 George Hutchinson travelled to Australia on the Ormuz. In 1896 two young boys were assaulted by George Hutchinson. The crime resulted in him being sentenced to two years in prison. Senise argues that Hutchinson number three killed the women of Whitechapel to provoke anti-Semitism within England. This argument is undermined by the descriptions of the murderer included in the witness statements Hutchinson signed before Inspector Abberline.  Hutchinson first described the man he saw as pale.  Later he made a statement to the newspapers and described a man ‘with dark complexion and dark moustache’. Anti-Semitism strong enough to inspire a murderous crime wave should inspire consistent accusations.

The two witness statements from Hutchinson are extensive and detailed. Most Ripper books produce them in full.  It is the detail in the statements that has persuaded most writers to assume Hutchinson was lying.   In his statement Hutchinson recalled talking to Mary Jane Kelly and hearing a conversation between Kelly and a well-dressed man. He also remembered a red handkerchief that the man gave the victim. The description of the man offered by Hutchinson includes references to eye lashes, a trimmed astrakhan collar and cuffs, a waistcoat, a thick gold chain, a horse shoe pin in a black tie and so on.   Hutchinson also mentioned how he had been alerted by the man being so well dressed. Because Hutchinson had known Mary Jane Kelly for some years and was in the habit of lending her ‘a few shillings’, he waited outside Miller’s Court for three quarters of an hour.  Or so he said.

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Witnesses are vague regarding details.  They are most reliable in identifying gender and height. After that the results are inconsistent. Philip Sugden in The Complete Jack the Ripper allows Hutchinson more leeway than most. Sugden concedes that there are two discrepancies between the statements Hutchinson gave to the Police and the Press but he is impressed by how the second statement to the Press corroborates everything else that is in the first statement. Sugden claims that there are over forty points of corroboration between the two statements. The items that do not match, though, are important or should be to a master of detail. The well-dressed man is either dark or pale or has a slight or heavy moustache.   Sugden is impressed by the conviction of Inspector Abberline and what the Inspector writes in his police report. ‘An important statement has been made by a man named George Hutchinson which I forward herewith. I have interrogated him this evening, and I am of opinion his statement is true.’

There is nothing in either witness statement to explain why Hutchinson waited three days until the evening after the inquest was concluded to visit the police station. Bob Hinton and those who believe that Hutchinson was the Ripper argue that Hutchinson reacted to the appearance of Sarah Lewis at the inquest. Lewis told the Coroner that she had seen a man waiting outside. The accusers of Hutchinson believe he visited the police with the intention of creating the existence of an alternative man and to deflect attention from himself.   Perhaps but most of us would have responded by going into hiding and relying on the anonymity provided by a densely populated metropolis.  Inspector Abberline assigned two detectives to Hutchinson, and the three men wandered around Whitechapel and searched for the man Hutchinson claimed to have seen.   The search ended in failure. Those who believe Hutchinson was the Ripper assert that Hutchinson taking part in the investigation is consistent with the behaviour of other serial killers, a desire to become part of the investigation.

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There is more. Until the millennial accusers arrived Ripperologists assumed that the detectives and Hutchinson were roaming the streets of Whitechapel in order to find the man who was seen talking to Kelly.   Despite the endorsement of Hutchinson added by Inspector Abberline to a confidential police report it is now argued by some that Abberline realised that the witness was Jack the Ripper. If that is the case, Inspector Abberline had an odd attitude towards public funds. Hutchinson was paid for the days he walked with the two detectives around Whitechapel. The payment amounted to what would have been a month’s wages for Hutchinson. Neither did Inspector Abberline prevent the Press making substantial payments to Hutchinson.

The witness statement by Hutchinson was detailed and dubious but the claim that witnesses are unreliable does not automatically strengthen the case against Hutchinson. All we can conclude is that Hutchinson belongs in the company of unreliable witnesses except in this instance he has more imagination than most. Bob Hinton makes decent points about what could have been seen on a murky Victorian Street. This scepticism was anticipated by the contemporary reaction in The Graphic newspaper. ‘Yet at two o’clock in the morning in a badly lighted thoroughfare, he observed more than most of us would observe in broad daylight.’ This makes sense but it leaves the problem of why and how a highly regarded policeman was seduced by what most would define as obvious nonsense.

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Abberline uses the word ‘interrogate’ to describe what happened between Hutchinson and the Inspector. He does not say interview. The reference to an interrogation implies an encounter that lasted for some time. The details that were provided by Hutchinson were a response to persistent prodding by Abberline.  And it is a thin line between probing the memory of someone and delving into the imagination of the sub-conscious.   Acting with the best of intentions, Inspector Abberline may have been as culpable in whatever invention emerged from the interrogation.

The case against Hutchinson relies too heavily on two issues.   These are him delaying for three days before telling the police what he had seen in Commercial Street and Hutchinson waiting outside Miller’s court for three quarters of an hour after seeing Mary Jane Kelly. Whatever the reason for the delay by Hutchinson it did not alarm the police. Neither did the story about waiting outside for forty-five minutes. The waiting outside may have been sinister or nothing more than an example of a hopeless unemployed man with nothing left but curiosity.  The police arrested around 40 people on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper.  None of them were taken around Whitechapel by two detectives. The norm was to take Ripper suspects down to the cells, interrogate and add the odd thump. This did not happen to George Hutchinson.

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I am as big a fan of Alfred Hitchcock as anyone but comparing what happened to the wives of a man who we are not even certain is George Hutchinson to the plot of Vertigo is conspiratorial fancy. The George Hutchinson that was born in Shadwell took his third wife to live in Carmarthenshire in Wales. Victim Mary Jane Kelly may or may not have lived in Carmarthenshire. The second wife of this particular Hutchinson changed her name to Mary Jane. That is a possible explanation as to why Hutchinson waited outside Miller’s Court. We should not, though, become excited. This George Hutchinson spent most of his life as a barman and, thanks to his close connections to his family, avoided unemployment. Hutchinson is an affectation rooted in too smart millennial revisionism. The actual Ripper remains unknown.

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.