Victoria's Dark Secrets

Curious Chapbooks & Hysterical Histories

Chapter 8

JACK the RIPPER

According to Stephen Knight in his book  Jack the Ripper, the Final Solution:

    When Eddy returned to Cleveland Street in 1889 and became involved in the male brothel scandal there, an elaborate cover-up was mounted by the most powerful men in England. This was to hide not his bisexual nature (which was well known by then anyway), but his connection with that particular street (107).

Walter Sickert's studio was on Cleveland Street, and on Cleveland Street was the tobacconist shop where worked as an assistant Mary Kelly, the last known victim of Jack the Ripper. The Great Beast himself, Alistair Crowley, once hinted that he held compromising letters from Eddy that Crowley obtained on Cleveland Street. Knight believes such letters concern the Ripper (103).

Jack the Ripper is the most popular name given to the perpetrator of the Whitechapel killings that occurred in the autumn of 1888. Though the nicknames Red Jack and Leather Apron were also attached to the unknown assailant, Jack the Ripper was the name adopted by the press and Scotland Yard, notably because of the lurid series of letters concerning the murders signed with that name. Despite some disagreement about the actual number of Ripper victims, five women indisputably claim the celebrity of comprising the canon. All five women were down on their luck, living as prostitutes in the very worst part of London. Polly Nichols of Bucks Row was the first to die, her throat cut and her abdomen slashed on August 31. Eight days later Annie Chapman was found nearby on Dorset Street with her throat cut and her womb, her ovaries and one kidney removed. Close to her was a leather apron like that worn by butchers; hence, the early name of Leather Apron. Then in late September began the letters, written in red and signed Jack the Ripper.

Arriving at the Central News Agency was this announcement: "I am down on whores, and I shan't quit ripping them until I do get buckled.---Jack the Ripper (Stewart-Gordon, 121)." True to his word, on September 30 he struck twice in one night. Long Liz Stride was found mutilated at 1 in the morning behind the International Worker's Educational Club in Berner Street. Then across town, only 30 minutes later, Catherine Eddowes was found dead in Mitre Square. Her face had been slashed, her throat cut, her left kidney and most of her entrails removed. Mysteriously, Jack had committed two crimes nearly simultaneously at different parts of London and in plain sight. Immediately afterwards came a postcard to the Central News Agency explaining that being interrupted during the first "event" had sent him on in search of another, in order to "clip the lady's ears off and send them to police officers" as promised (Stewart-Gordon, 122). Finally, on November 9, the last, most gruesome murder took place at No. 12 Miller's Court. A creditor banging at the door demanding late rent found the pitiful remains of Mary Jeanette Kelly. The sight sent him screaming, for on the bed lay the victim, her head nearly severed from the body, her heart placed on the pillow, and her intestines draped around a picture frame (122).

This latest atrocity sent all of England into a frenzy. It was a frenzy from which the country never fully recovered. Colin Wilson explains:

    All London was panicked. There were meetings in the streets; bands of citizens formed themselves into vigilante groups to patrol Whitechapel at night; thousands of men were questioned, and released; men carrying black bags were attacked by mobs; the Commissioner of Police resigned. And finally, after a lull of more than a month, the Ripper committed yet another crime, this time indoors. The pieces of the victim--a girl in her early twenties--were left spread around the room like bits of a jigsaw puzzle. The panic reached new proportions; there were so many blue uniforms in Whitechapel that the place resembled a police barracks. And then nothing more happened. The murders stopped (14).

True, other murders by unknown killers occurred, but none with the savagery that marked the deaths of these five in the autumn of '88.

Queen Victoria herself became involved in the mysterious Whitechapel murders by sending memoranda to her ministers with her own opinions and suggestions. The day after Mary Kelly's death on November 10, she advised:

    This new most ghastly murder shows the absolute necessity for some very decided action. All these courts must be lit, and our detectives improved. They are not what they should be. You promised, when the first murder took place, to consult with your colleagues about it (Hibbert, 314).

The Queen, showing interest in the matter, has been described as "aware of the fall of the smallest sparrow in her Empire (Stewart-Gordon, 121)." However, Stephen Knight sees in the memorandum a sinister motive. He writes:

    As this indignant memorandum indicates, unless the Queen instructed her Prime Minister to take personal action over every murder that occurred in England--which she did not-- then Victoria knew Nichols's killing was the first of a series the moment it happened. Had she urged action after Chapman's death her concern would have been understandable, for by then it was obvious that a pattern of murder was developing. But murder was so common in Whitechapel in 1888 that her specific concern with Nichols indicates a deeper knowledge (142).

Knight believes that Queen Victoria's specific concern was Prince Albert Victor. Although Knight pins the actual crimes upon the Masons, Eddy has been a popular suspect for years. The Ripper himself hints as much in a little poem with no return address:

    I've no time to tell you how
    I came to be a killer.
    But you should know, as time will show,
    That I'm society's pillar (Harrison, 189).

The son of the Prince of Wales would most certainly qualify as a pillar of society; however, other sons could qualify as pillars, too. Among other representatives of good society suspected are a mad Harley Street doctor, an insane young lawyer, and a cousin of novelist Virginia Woolf (Stewart-Gordon, 123). Certainly, toward the end of the five murders, the Ripper was widely believed to be a gentleman. Mary Kelly was actually observed walking off with a customer the night she died, whom a man named Hutchinson described as a "toff." The gentleman friend that Hutchinson saw was "a short, thickset man with a curling mustache, and carrying a parcel of some sort (Wilson, 28)." The parcel was a good clue, for the Ripper was often thought to be carrying a little black bag in which he kept his arsenal of weapons--everything from scalpels and cleavers to poisoned black grapes.

Though the description Hutchinson gave to the police could literally apply to countless prominent Victorians, the specific details most definitely describe the Duke of Clarence--Eddy. Under six feet tall, pigeon-breasted, and adorned with waxed handlebar mustaches, Prince Albert Victor was also notoriously known for his obsession with "toff" clothes, perhaps because of his father. The Prince of Wales was a martinet on the subject of dress, as were his parents before him. So concerned was poor Eddy about wearing only the most proper clothing that he acquired the nickname "Collars and Cuff" in allusion to the enormous show of material he displayed in both extremities of his person. Harrison measures the size of his stiff, starched collar to be 4 1/2 inches, while the amount of the shirt cuff was 2 inches at each wrist (Harrison, 148-149)."

If this inordinate attention to attire indicates a manic-compulsive tendency, then this trait Eddy also shares with the Ripper. Even after committing a dreadful murder in the open, Jack the Ripper was known for delaying his escape in order to attend to small, insignificant details. For instance, after severing Annie Chapman's windpipe, he "searched the pockets of the dead woman's jacket, and removed two brass rings, a few pennies and some farthings, then arranged these carefully by her feet (Wilson, 22)."

Frank Spierling in Prince Jack directly blames the Duke of Clarence for the murders. Eddy's motive was retaliation for his father's neglect (27). The murders were an elaborate response to the Prince of Wales' two favorite pursuits, hunting animals and seducing women. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the last Ripper victim, Mary Kelly, died on the Prince of Wales' birthday.

Spierling is not the first to accuse Victoria's grandson of being Jack the Ripper. Supposedly, rumors of this sort have circulated underground in England for decades. However, not until 1970 did the theory find worldwide prominence. An article appeared in The Criminologist by Dr. T.E.A., C.B.E., M.D. in which a mysterious "S" is described as the Whitechapel killer. Although all the information is carefully coded and the clues very circumspect, it was apparent to historians that "S" was meant to be the Duke of Clarence. Once this news scoop hit the wires, the author was also identified as one Dr. Thomas Stowell. On November 9, 1970, the anniversary of Mary Kelly's death, a letter appeared in The Criminologist signed by Stowell, reputing claims that Clarence was the Ripper. Then the very next day, The Times reported Stowell's death. At the time the article appeared, his papers had already been destroyed unread (Harrison, 144).

The gist of Stowell's theory was that Jack the Ripper was obviously Sir William Gull's patient, whom the good doctor treated for syphilis of the brain (156). Unfortunately, the disease was in its final stages, causing madness and acts of random violence. Since the patient was an illustrious one, his every movement was watched and protected. After the first murder, the heads of government were notified, and the decision was made to institutionalize the sufferer for the protection of all concerned. However, he was not that easy to control. "The police managed to bag him after his fourth murder and hauled him off to a 'private mental hospital' in the Houm Counties (O'Neill, 87)." However, "Jack escaped, got back to London, and disemboweled his last victim, Mary Kelly, only five weeks later (88)." After this murder, the killer was sent off on a long ocean voyage to visit the more far-flung reaches of the Empire, safely out of the way.

The name of Gull, as the attendant physician, is a significant one, for Dr. William Gull, named in Stowell's article, is the same Dr. Gull who was appointed Royal Physician after rescuing the Prince of Wales from his bout of typhoid in 1872. Oddly enough, it was Gull who saved the Prince, even though typhoid was the specialty of the other attending physicians. Gull's own specialty was treating abscesses of the brain and similar disorders. It is intriguing to wonder if both father and son suffered from this affliction while typhoid was given as the official cause of death.

Likewise, Dr. Gull is implicated in the Ripper case by another unrelated source. Victoria's psychic, Robert Lees, "is said to have recognized the Ripper on a bus at Notting Hill, thus enabling the police to trace him to a mad Harley Street doctor with aristocratic connections (Longford, 337)." This mad Harley Street doctor was none other than Dr. William Gull (Knight, 193).

Certainly for a series of grisly murders to have happened in the worst slums of London, it is remarkable how many members of Victoria's court seem directly connected either by rumor, coincidence, or eyewitness reports.

To give Eddy his due, the Prince has an impeachable alibi for the day of the Stride and Eddowes murders: the Court Circular reports Prince Albert Victor was shooting black game (grouse) in Scotland with Prince Henry of Battenberg (O'Neill, 88). Of course, court circulars were intended as no more than publicity machines in the first place, so one might rightly doubt their disinterested reporting. Concerning court bulletins, Michael Harrison notes, "It is impossible to one who has observed the mechanism of opinion-moulding at work not to recognize the well-proven gambits and ploys: the sine-wave pattern of the bulletin (28)." Furthermore, Henry of Battenberg was not some visiting dignitary to be entertained. On the contrary, he was married to Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Beatrice, and very much beholden to royal largesse for rank and position.

As for the incredible flair of vivisection practiced in the Ripper murders, some have argued that only a skilled professional, whether surgeon or butcher, could have removed kidneys and ovaries with such speed and competence. However, Harrison also points out that the young royal deerstalker could possibly hold his own with such seasoned professionals: "The fact that the evisceration of a woman differs only in the most minute detail from the galloching of a stag has, of course, been noticed (39)." Harrison goes on to defend Eddy by remarking that on such evidence alone almost any land owner or his guests could be accused as well.

Harrison's own pet suspect is not Eddy, but Eddy's tutor, James Stephens. In his book Clarence, Harrison makes a strong case for Stephens to be the author of the ripper letters. Likewise, a fairly easy case can be made for Stephens as a misogynist. Recently, news reports of the Ripper's diary have come to light. According to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Friday, March 26, 1993), "After a year of examination, authentication and certification by experts from Scotland yard, the British publisher Smith Gyphon and Warner Books in the U.S. will publish simultaneous editions of a recently discovered journal written by Jack the Ripper (A-14)." The diary could very well be Stephens', if Stephens was the author of the Jack the Ripper letters; however, the author of the letters need not necessarily be the author of the crimes. Others have claimed to be Jack the Ripper, including the painter Walter Sickert and the poisoner Neal Cream. It will be interesting to see which of these men's diaries has been authenticated as the Ripper's. Then again, the diary may belong to someone completely unknown, like poor Kosminski, the Polish Jew accused of the crimes owing to insanity after "many years indulgence in solitary vices (Knight, 124)."

The difficulty in determining the Ripper's identity based on circumstantial evidence is the inability to place a suspect at the scene of the crime. One detail of the Ripper murders that has baffled criminologists for years is the murderer's feat in killing two women almost simultaneously in two separate parts of town. Liz Stride and Catherine Eddowes were both fatally assaulted on the same night within minutes of each other, despite the distance of several city blocks. The police were all on guard after the first two murders only days before, yet no one was seen fleeing from one crime to the next. Likewise puzzling was the uncanny absence of blood in the corpses of the first two victims, Nichols and Chapman. Of Polly Nichols Spierling writes, "Her throat had been cut from ear to ear, severing the carotid arteries, but there was little blood, 'not more than would fill two wineglasses or half a pint at the outside,' Dr. Llewellyn noted (36)." Likewise with Annie Chapman, "Her coat and skirt were pushed up over her bloodstained stockings. She had been disemboweled . . . [Inspector] Chandler discovered blood stains on the fence about 14 inches above the ground. The only other blood stains were on the back wall of the house near the head of the body (Spierling, 41-42)." With such mysterious comings and goings, such monstrous brutality, and such a disappearance of blood, no wonder Londoners became superstitious. The East London Advertiser, a journal at the time of the killings, wrote that with "the revolting acts of blood . . . the mind turns as it were instinctively to some theory of occult force, and the myths of the Dark Ages arise before the imagination. Ghouls, vampires, bloodsuckers . . . (Spierling, 49-50)."

Certainly Jack the Ripper attacked only by night, and although the darkness provided both opportunity and safety, there seemed something in the atmosphere that suited the killer and contributed to his extraordinary success. Colin Wilson alludes to it in his description of the Ripper's first kill: "But the luck was with Jack the Ripper, he murdered Polly Nichols without being heard, and walked off into the dawn (20)."

With their legendary reputation for cruelty, insatiable appetite for blood, and their supernatural means of travel, vampires would provide an elegant solution to the mystery--if only vampires existed. Or do they?

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