Categories for History

March 17, 2017

Jack the Ripper, Patricia Cornwell, and Walter Sickert  

A fascinating interview in The Spectator (here) reveals more about Patricia Cornwell’s obsession with the identity of Jack The Ripper – including some interesting new evidence.

So here’s the smoking gun, here’s the forensic detail that would nail the killer were this actually a Scarpetta book: it’s the writing paper. Not only did Sickert use the same brand as Jack, it turns out, but an expert has now demonstrated that their paper came from the very same pad.

The Tate gallery suggested I use this paper expert, Peter Bower,’ Cornwell says. ‘I think they thought Peter would come in and show what nonsense this all was and they didn’t realise it was going to do the opposite. The paper stuff is just incredible. Peter examined three Sickert letters and two of the watermarked Ripper letters, and those five sheets of paper came from a batch run of only 24 that could have ever been made. And the thing that’s really creepy about it is the three Sickert letters were written on his mother’s stationery. So he was writing Ripper letters on his mother’s stationery. Now that’s a bit Freudian, isn’t it?’

Cornwell’s eyes are fired with conviction. I have a stab of doubt. What if Sickert wrote the Ripper letters but didn’t do the murders?

‘It’s a good question. I personally don’t think so,’ she says calmly. ‘But that’s where I have my 5 per cent rule. I think you have to hold out the 5 per cent doubt though I’m 95 per cent sure he did it. I mean Sickert never stopped talking about this his entire life.’

I think I agree with her about the 5% rule – only I’d say 5% that Sickert was the Ripper, and 95% chance that he was simply the author of the Ripper letters. We know, for example, that many people obsess over these cases, and that does not make them the guilty party. Cornwell’s obsession doesn’t make her the Ripper reborn, or any kind of serial killer, except in fiction. The writer of the Yorkshire Ripper letters was not the Yorkshire Ripper. Wearside Jack, as John Samuel Humble was nicknamed, sent three letters and left an audio message which derailed the investigation. False confessions to horrific crimes are not rare.

Why do we have so many theories about Jack the Ripper? It’s a question which still intrigues me, much more than question of his actual identity.

In any case, it looks like Cornwell’s new evidence about the letters derails the idea that journalist Francis Craig was the writer of the letters, and the killer – which I wrote about in my first post about Jack, here. It seems unlikely that Craig had access to Sickert’s mother’s stationery – although that would be twisty enough to find its way into a Scarpetta story.

It must surely be all bound up with why we love mystery stories so much. We (not just crime fiction readers and writers, but especially us, perhaps) don’t like not knowing not only who done it, but why.  That second part, the why of it all, is why we love the detail that Sickert was using his mother’s stationery. Not just a Freudian aha! moment – but who didn’t immediately think of Psycho? Perhaps it was just me whose mind immediately served up the rocking chair scene. Who and why are the questions that drive so many of the psychological thrillers we love.

As I put it in my second Ripper post,

So crime fiction – and true crime like Truman Capote, Janet Malcolm, Ann Rule and the Ripper books, even the addictive podcast Serial – are all ways of trying to get to the truth of human behaviour. It’s a survival mechanism. If our trust in other people is undermined in early life, understanding people becomes a driving necessity. From the earliest myths, through folk and fairy tales, epic poetry and gothic novels, revenge tragedies and morality plays, penny dreadfuls and religious tracts – perhaps that’s what all storytelling is about.

Of course, there aren’t many serial killers out there – the danger is really far closer to home. Every week two women in the UK are killed by partners and ex partners. Children are at more risk from their own families than from anyone else. These truths are hard to face.

No wonder Cornwell can’t stop hunting the Ripper.

I certainly think it’s one of the reasons I’m addicted to crime fiction.

What do you think?



Spectator interview

Wikipedia on Wearside Jack

My earliest post here on The Ripper

My second post on The Ripper

(No, really, I’m not obsessed).

October 18, 2016

Andrew Marr on Sleuths  

It’s not often we get to see an hour of TV discussing genre fiction, so this is well worth watching – even if mostly to argue with the narrative and conclusion.

(For now at least, available on the iPlayer)

But really, did so much of it have to be devoted to the Golden Age and those well worn rules of detective fiction? Not to mention the locked room mystery… Even Agatha Christie didn’t set much store by the rules, after all – famously not playing fair with the reader in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

There were some real gems in there however – mostly the segments where Marr talked to crime writers.

It was delightful to see Agatha Christie’s research folder – how I’d love to have a proper rummage around in that little lot! My own version is less tactile these days, mostly being clippings and scribblings saved to Evernote. But it did illustrate one of his stronger points in the first half of the programme – that the best detective fiction is rooted in reality – that the crime had to be convincing.

The brilliant Sophie Hannah, who has now written her own Poirot novel, shared an intriguing theory about Agatha Christie’s two dimensional characters. She suggested that they weren’t actually carboard cutouts at all – that what is mistaken for two dimensionality are the social masks which cover each character’s deep and dark hidden secrets, which lie at the heart of crime fiction. It’s an interesting idea – but is altogether too mechanical a device for my liking – although it fits very well with Marr’s thesis that the detective story is a machine…

Marr’s focus is very much on the whodunnit throughout – which is the least interesting branch of crime fiction for me – precisely because too often it is a puzzle, it is a machine, a formula.  In the crime fiction I enjoy the most, that puzzle is often there as an element of the story and I enjoy being outwitted by the novelist – but it usually isn’t in the foreground.

Marr reached the usual conclusion after his survey of the Golden Age – that detective fiction is comforting because it shows the established order being thrown into chaos and then the detective arrives and restores order.

We were briefly led down the mean streets of Chandler and Hammet – the main purpose of which seemed to be to explain the transition from the Golden Age to modern crime fiction where order is not so easily restored.

Sadly, he missed out one of my favourites – Dorothy Sayers – which would have illustrated the transition very well and shown that it didn’t just arise because of American fiction. The Peter Wimsey stories start off with all the trappings of the Golden age rules of detection, but they grow in complexity, especially after the introduction of Harriet Vane in Strong Poison.  Lord Peter – for all his aristocratic foppishness – does grapple with some of the difficulties inherent in detetcive fiction. He is tormented at times by the impact of the crimes he investigates on the victims, but also, at that time, the effect on the criminal. If he uncovers a murderer, he knows he will send him to the hangman. There’s plenty of psychological depth in Sayer’s novels.

And then there’s the quirkier Glady Mitchell, whose character Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley is a consulting psychologist to the Home Office. She must also be considered as one of the forerunners of modern crime fiction, exploring the murkier depths of the psyche.

But Marr skips to Ruth Rendell, who he rightly points out uses detective fiction to hold up a mirror to society.

But doesn’t all fiction do that?

Maybe I’m carping, but Marr then marshalls Mike Phillips and his creation, black journalist Sam Dean, and Val McDermid’s creation of Savile clone (apart from being handsome) Jacko Vance, and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus to show how detective fiction has changed, and is no longer about a comforting restoral of the community to order.

I’m not altogether convinced that previous generations were quite so easily comforted, personally.

One of the most compelling parts is the interview with Val McDermid and how she talks about being inspired to write about the Savile story, and how she  disguised him as the attractive TV presenter Jacko Vance.

“I have spent most of my adult life in a state of rage,” she said, about her motivation to write.

That is something that Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus could understand. Marr suggests he is the ultimate flawed detective, who is all to aware that his job is never done, crime will never go away, and order can never be restored.

Even at this stage, Marr goes back to the “rule” theory of detective fiction – emphasising that the flawed detective is one of the many elements of the story machine.

He wraps up with a montage of scenes from what has been called the nordic noir TV series – The Killing, The Bridge and of course, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – these selections intended to prove that the “rules” are universal.

The only problem is, I don’t think they are universal – like most rules they are honoured in the breach as much as the observance. I would hardly describe Rendell’s Inspector Wexford as flawed, for instance. As already stated, Agatha Christie didn’t always play fair with the reader.  And those examples come from the programme’s cherry picked examples.

I did enjoy watching, but I felt the whole programme was unbalanced. The focus on the Golden Age deprived us of opportunities to think about more recent detective fiction.

It would have been interesting to discuss Ruth Rendell’s dark psychological crime novels and the Barbara Vine books as well as the Inspector Wexford series.

I would have liked to see Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe novels mentioned – and we could have had a glimpse of the late, great Warren Clarke in action as the brilliantly flawed Dalziel. What I love about the books, though, is how Hill developed as a novelist – from the earlier novels such as A Clubbable Woman, which are excellent stories, but without much depth, to the later ones such as The Wood Beyond, which deals with the issue of soldiers in the first world war who were executed for desertion. If I didn’t hate the phrase, I would say some of the later novels transcend the genre.

As as aside, one of my favourite Hill novels also features Dalziel and Pascoe, and rather delightfully subverts the run-of-the-mill mystery novel, and pokes fun at the trope of the idyllic village which turns out to have a depraved underbelly. It also has some amusing echoes of Jane Austen, indicated from the very first sentence – “It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that all men are born equal, but the family Guillemard, pointing to the contra-evidence of their own absence from the Baronetage, have long been settled in Yorkshire without allowing such pholosophical quibbles to distress or vex them.” The twist at the end of the novel surely breaks all the rules of detective fiction.

It was great to be reminded of Mike Phillips novels (and the TV series) which used crime fiction to explore racial tension in Britain – but why no mention of the fantastic explosion of feminist crime fiction in the 1980s? It was after all, where Val McDermid started out, with her novels about journalist/sleuth Lindsay Gordon, published by The Women’s Press. PD James published the Cordelia Gray series, and Antonia Fraser created Jemima Shore – while in the US Sara Paretsky created a series of novels deeply concerned with issues of social justice featuring the private detective VI Warshawski.

Instead of a segment on the locked room mystery – why not a discussion of the brilliant Sophie Hannah’s own crime fiction. She was mentioned as someone who had written a Poirot novel, and interviewed about Christie. But her own crime novels are fascinating and structurally innovative – combining as they do two sub-genres of crime fiction. In each novel, one narrative strand is written from the first person point of  view of a character at the heart of the crime – and the other narrative strand is a more conventional third person detective story, following the police characters who are investigating the crime.

Finally, I would have included Tana French’s series featuring the Dublin Murder Squad, where each novel follows an investigation by a different detective. Again, these are not detective novels which follow the “rules” blindly – they are as much concerned with the psychological effect of the crimes on the characters, including the investigating detectives, and where all the loose ends aren’t tidied up at the end of the novel.

Clearly I’ve singled out some of my favourite novelists here – but I contend they are my favourites for very good reasons – not least because they break the rules.

Still, I did very much enjoy the programme, even if mostly by arguing with the thesis and quibbling about the focus on particular eras and writers. I daresay the ones I’ve picked out will not completely satisfy any other individual reader of crime fiction, either. Please add your own favourites in the comments here, or on my Facebook page.


PS How could I have forgotten David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet – and the TV adaptations? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why 😉

October 4, 2015

More on the Ripper…  

So there’s another theory about the identity of Jack the Ripper. Another book.

Not that I’m obsessed, or anything. I’m not even especially a fan of serial killers in fiction – although of course I enjoyed Silence of the Lambs, and I love the Val McDermid series. Even Sue Grafton’s private detective  Kinsey Milhone seems to be going there now – at least I expect that’s where Y and Z might finish up, given the state of play at the end of X.

Okay, maybe I am fan of serial killers in fiction… Perhaps one day I’ll write one.

The Ripper Museum is back in the news again – apparently Class War, who caused a ruckus outside the Cereal Killer Cafe recently have the Ripper Museum in their sights too, and are planning to protest today.Are they developing some kind of theme? (Edited – apparently they have now cancelled today’s planned protest). And the museum’s PR man got off to a good start in a Twitter spat when he claimed that there’s no reason to think Jack the Ripper was misogynist. Perhaps he hasn’t been to the museum or read anything about the crimes?

So let this be an excuse to go look at some of the Ripper museum merchandise –  here’s a link to a wine glass.   Apparently they are being phased out – I can’t imagine why. So if you have an uncontrollable urge to drink from a glass illustrated with the blood of dead women, now’s your big chance.

But what grabbed my attention was the news there’s yet another book due out – They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper, by Bruce Robinson.

Robinson identifies a new suspect – and more interesting than that – a theory about why the police investigation went nowhere. A conspiracy theory involving no less than the Freemasons. In any case, it all makes far more sense to me than the previous theories.  I won’t attempt to summarise – anyone who is interested will find the article here. 

It’s long but well worth a read, and not only for the Ripper theory.  Robinson is the writer and director of Withnail and I,  he wrote the screenplay for The Killing Fields, and he wrote a novel called The Peculiar Memories of Thoman Penman – which I couldn’t resist ordering even though my pile of books waiting to be read has reached a dangerous height.  Robinson had a difficult childhood filled with secrets and lies and violence. The novel is described as a kind of fictionalised autobiography, and apparently his mother’s response to the publication was to express a wish to buy up all copies and burn them.

Sometimes fiction can get closer to the truth – and the truth is often painful.

He says he fell into researching the Ripper story – a task which has taken him fifteen years – purely by accident – but I’m not convinced.  It’s also a story full of  secrets and lies and violence after all. Isn’t that what most crime fiction is about? What goes on underneath the surface.

My current theory is that those of us who love to read and write about these things are the kinds of people who are never satisfied until we’ve turned over every stone and carefully inspected the underside. Just like Jane Marple in that cosy English village of St Mary Mead we are alert to the subtext of human behaviour. We know that what people say and how they present themselves isn’t the whole story. We know there’s a whole subterranean world of hidden motivations. People aren’t always who and what they say they are. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves, about ourselves. How then can we begin to trust other people?

So crime fiction – and true crime like Truman Capote, Janet Malcolm, Ann Rule and the Ripper books, even the addictive podcast Serial – are all ways of trying to get to the truth of human behaviour. It’s a survival mechanism. If our trust in other people is undermined in early life, understanding people becomes a driving necessity. From the earliest myths, through folk and fairy tales, epic poetry and gothic novels, revenge tragedies and morality plays, penny dreadfuls and religious tracts – perhaps that’s what all storytelling is about.

Of course, there aren’t many serial killers out there – the danger is really far closer to home. Every week two women in the UK are killed by partners and ex partners. Children are at more risk from their own families than from anyone else. These truths are hard to face.

No wonder we are mesmerised by the Jack the Ripper story.


Sources and Links

The Ripper Museum

Cereal Killer Cafe Damaged – BBC News

Vice article about the Ripper Museum, the PR man and the counter protest

Telegraph article about new Ripper book
Ripper Museum Protest Cancelled

August 29, 2015

First Love, Last Rites – the summer of ’76  

Reading Ian McEwan’s account of the writing of the short stories in First Love, Last Rites in the Guardian this morning, I was reminded of my first love, who gave me a copy as a gift. He was a sweet and charming young man, and it wasn’t his choice – he’d asked me what I wanted. I can remember he was somewhat bemused by the stories, and asked if I was sure. Looking back, I wonder if perhaps I might have intended to shock him.

I met Jonathan on the dig at Crickley Hill Iron Age hill fort. I spent a month there in that hot summer, with my friend Terry who had arranged it.  We were seventeen and we both fantasised about becoming archaeologists. We’d had a fortnight’s experience the previous summer digging up Roman remains in Peterborough, and we spent alternate weekends digging at Radcliffe Tower, and mostly finding Victorian pottery. We’d been treated like the schoolgirls we were on both those digs – but Crickley Hill was a real chance to grow up. And we took it.

Volunteers lived out at Ullenwood Camp, which had been used as an army hospital in the second world war. The accommodation was basic – we slept on the floor in sleeping bags, and the facilities were primitive. There were only showers in one half – so they alternated by gender and we could only shower every second day. Considering how dirty and smelly we all were after working outdoors in the heatwave, this was not ideal. We got used to it, just as we got used to the callusses developing on our hands.

Digging started at nine. I often walked from the camp to the dig site after breakfast, and then spent all day digging, apart from a couple of breaks. In the early days it was hard physical labour – removing turf, using pick axes. Later it was more delicate – sitting or lying down and scraping away with trowels. My best find was a flint axe head. Later terry and I were taken under the wing of our area supervisor who decided we needed to learn som extra skills. So for an hour or two in the afternoon we were set to recording finds, and to washing and labelling them. He also taught us how to use a theodolite to do site surveys.

We had to take our turn in the kitchen – helping the cooks prepare the food and serving and washing up afterwards. That got us into a trouble a couple of times. The very first time I encountered spaghetti I had to serve it to a long queue of volunteers. And the very first portion went straight onto the shoes of the visiting Professor.  Cleaning the kitchen up was a really unpleasant experiences. I found a tray of sausages in the bottom of the oven that had turned to charcoal – they must have been left there for days. And it was filthy. We muttered and complained and found ourselves in serious trouble as the cooks were universally loved regulars, and we were young upstarts. We were ostracised for a while by the popular students – to the point where we walked to the nearest phone box and almost, almost phoned Terry’s father to come and get us and take us home. But we found our courage at the last moment, and instead carried on and faced the music. And days later we were justified when the whole camp came down with a terrible tummy bug and the doctor who visited took one look at the kitchen and insisted it was properly cleaned.

On our day off, Terry and I would go shopping in Cheltenham. Our first port of call was always the public baths, where for a small fee we were allotted a bathroom and lots of hot water where we could soak off the week’s grime. The woman who ran the place used to look at us with disapproval as we were so clearly dirty girls. I think we rather enjoyed not explaining to her just why we were so dirty… Then we would go buy cream cakes and lemonade and eat in a park until it would be time to scour the second hand bookshops. I bought my Greek New Testament, also the Illiad and Beowulf in the original. In those days I was a purist, and Homer was a blind Greek epic poet, not a three fingered, yellow cartoon character.

Jonathan was a local volunteer. So we met during the day, working side by side, grubbing in the dirt. He was standing by laughing at me as I pulled up an old pair of socks that came apart in my hands and said, “These are on their last legs”. He was also laughing as I swung the pick axe and time after time broke the string which marked out our trench, instead of breaking the ground in a neat line. He was there as we had races up spoil heaps with full wheelbarrows. And as we kept each other cool by spraying each other with the water that was supposed to help us distingush between layers in the dried out earth.  We were pals.

Then he asked me out. To go see Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And because it would be impossible to get back to Ullenwood Camp, to stay overnight at his home.

Of course I said yes, although I had no idea how much teasing I would be letting myself in for…

We had a lovely evening. The queues for the film were too long and so we went back early to his home. His mother rushed me into the bathroom making me believe it was a treat, not just because I was stinky. I luxuriated in a hot bubble bath while she cooked us all a meal. Then we sat and watched Spartacus on the TV. Jonathan was turfed out of his room and slept on a camp bed in with his brother – and I had a real bed and an excellent night’s sleep.

Then came the bus ride of shame as we travelled back to the dig with the other local volunteers, all of whom spent the journey, and the rest of the time on the dig, teasing me about where I’d spent the night. I probably didn’t help matters by saying in Jonathan’s bed…and he blushed more than I did.

At the end of the dig we exchanged addresses and agreed to write to each other, and I really never thought I’d ever see him again.

We did write. Long letters every week. I was starting in my final year at school, and he was in his first year studying archaeology at Birmingham University. Come half term, he turned up on my doorstep, with his rucksack and sleeping bag – on his way back from walking Hadrian’s Wall.

I was thrilled and embarrassed at the same time. My Gran saw him walking past the window with his beautiful long dark hair, and decided he looked like an old sunday school friend. Janet Hall. She insisted on telling him how much he looked like her, and how much more he’d look like a boy if he had his hair cut. My stepmother rushed him to the bathroom every bit as quickly as his mother had me – and another camp bed was deployed and I was sent to sleep on my Gran’s sitting room.

My dad and stepmother took us out out for a pub meal, and they all ganged up on me, insisting that I should stay in the Oxbridge prep class at school, which I was considering quitting. Of course I did quit… I had plenty of surface reasons to justify a whole heap of fear and inadequacy. But he coped with my family! He was such a lovely boy he even joked along with my Gran, charmed my stepmother, and even my Dad liked him.

The letters continued, and then in the spring he surprised me again. I was at the British Museum on a school trip, and in a long queue to get into the exhibition I heard my name. And there was Jonathan and one of his friends from Uni, who just happened to visit the museum on the same day.

Now that was embarrassing. Miss Morris, our deputy headmistress, who had been heard to say several times “I hate men!” was watching with severe disapproval as I chatted to him. At school, one lunchtime she gave me detention for speaking to my brother, who attended the school across the road. I confess I was worried about the consequences of me speaking to two University students in public – but she didn’t say  word. Perhaps she thought my evident embarrassment was punishment enough.

In the end the letters trailed off and we lost touch. It was a very gentle first love for me – we held hands a couple of times, there was just one kiss. But I do have very fond memories of him, and especially how bemused he was, and yet accepting, of my desire for this very strange collection of short stories.

I loaned that copy to a dental student at Liverpool, and it was never returned.  I suppose if it had been it would only have been in a box under the house along with lots of my other books. Still, that’s no reason to forgive him, is it?

I still wish I’d had the courage to pursue that interest in archaeology. I really did enjoy revisiting Crickley Hill last year, and following up with the Coursera  MOOC Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets, and some of that found its way into the novel I’ve been working on over the past year or so.




Ian McEwan in the Guardian, the 40th anniversary of First Love, Last Rites

Crickley Hill neolothic and iron age hill fort

August 1, 2015

Jack the Ripper  

Jack the ripper

There’s seemingly never much of a gap between Ripper stories hitting the newspapers, but this week I’ve seen two – both interesting for very different reasons.

The first one is the new museum – you can take a look at the website here.   Of course the story of the Ripper holds a fascination for many of us who are interested in crime, and the museum itself is designed to appeal to that curiosity, as a journey through a series of themed rooms. There’s an imagined sitting room for the Ripper. How? Since we have no idea who he was, how on earth can we imagine his sitting room? As the website says, you decide – An artist, a doctor, an aristocrat? No mention of the possibility he was a journalist, which we will consider later…  The other rooms cover the second murder, a police station, a victim’s bedroom – and an adults only mortuary with shocking autopsy photographs.

What is fascinating about this is how much it is a constructed fiction – but no doubt it will attract many ghouls, including crime writers with an interest in the darker side of human nature. Ahem.

What is really troubling though, is that this was supposed to be a museum devoted to the women of the East End and the suffragettes. This is how it was described on the planning application that was approved last year.  Instead of that, it’s been transformed into a museum which focuses on someone who killed women of the East End.

The justification for this change? “It is absolutely not celebrating the crimes of Jack the Ripper but looking at why and how the women got in that situation in the first place.”  Victim blaming words calculated to irritate even the least radical feminist. He probably meant only that it was intended as a social history exhibit. Just as he probably meant to say he was planning to open a Jack the Ripper museum when he accidentally described it as a women’s history resource.

So who is the man behind the ultimate bait and switch?

Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe. Former diversity chief of Google.

(I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.)

The other story is from the Telegraph, and claims that the mystery of who Jack the Ripper is has finally been solved. There is, of course, a book associated with this theory, although it comes too late for the opening of the Ripper museum, and potentially makes it obsolete already.

How many theories are there already? Too many to mention, although Wikipedia makes a valiant effort.

The Duke of Clarence is frequently mentioned as a suspect – the first one I read about in one of Colin Wilson’s books. It’s always fascinating to look back and see where one has picked up some very dodgy ideas…

One of my favourites is that expounded by Patricia Cornell, the writer of many crime novels featuring Kay Scarpetta, a forensic scientist who has many run ins with fictional serial killers.  Her case against Walter Sickert, the artist.  She wrote a book – perhaps erroneously described by Wikipedia as non-fiction – Portrait of a Killer, which has since been rather thoroughly debunked.

Another recent suspect fingered by the Telegraph, if I recall correctly, was Aaron Kosminski – a Polish Jew who had spent time in a lunatic asylum and may – or may not – have been suspected at the time. The dodgy evidence in that case was DNA on a shawl that was supposed to belong to one of the victims – but there were very many reasons why the evidence was not reliable.

So there are a couple of interesting features about this new suspect, although as far as I can tell, nothing that can possibly provide anything like proof.

The first is that apparently the Ministry of Justice is considering granting an exhumation order for Mary Jean Kelly – who was the last known victim of the Ripper.  The writer, Dr Wynne Weston-Davies, believes that she is his great aunt, and was killed by her ex husband, as revenge for her leaving him to return to her life of prostitution. The other victims were killed as cover, because Francis Craig was a reporter with detailed knowledge of police methods. He was also a plagiarist – which might be evidence of a sort. I was reminded of the Thomas De Quincy quotation – “If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.”

(Yes, I guess writing a post about Jack the Ripper IS procrastination. No, I haven’t killed anyone recently. Honest.)

The Telegraph story adds this to the small pile of clues –

“Followers of the case have long puzzled over why a series of infamous letters which originated the “Jack the Ripper” nickname were sent to the Central News press agency at the Old Bailey rather than a national newspaper, which would have been the most obvious destination to an ordinary member of the public.

Dr Weston-Davies suggests Craig was indeed the author of these “Dear Boss” letters and sending them to a news agency would have been a straightforward choice for him.

As a journalist who sometimes syndicated his own work, Craig knew it was the best way to have their contents sent to every newspaper in the land, further deepening his camouflage as the killer.”

That certainly reads like a clue that might belong
in an episode of Ripper Street.  Still, I have my reservations. I’m not sure how proving her identity would be sufficent to show her ex husband was the killer, even with the addition of a good story stringing together a few pieces of circumstantial evidence.

Still, it could add some substance to the theme of Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe’s museum. How do women get into that situation in the first place?  Work as a prostitute, marry a man, leave a man…

If only that story really did belong in a museum.


Sources –

Guardian article – Museum billed as celebration of London women opens as Jack the Ripper exhibit

Museum website – About page

Telegraph article – Jack the Ripper identity : mystery ‘solved’ in new book