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.
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