James Maybrick: Jack the Ripper!
“My dear God my mind is in a fog. The whore is now with her maker and he is welcome to her. There was no pleasure as I squeezed […] what a joke it would be if I could gorge an eye out and leave it by the whores body for all to see. To see. Ha ha” (Maybrick 289).
Naming a suspect for the Jack the Ripper murders is a dicey task at best because of the mass of contradictory, unverified, and cursory information on the subject. One hundred ten years of studying and debating have raised and dismissed suspects from the most likely men of the time to the most absurd theory of a writer who jumbled a confession into a nonsensical poem. However, due to the volume of incriminating information about him, circumstantial evidence, peer-reviewed theories, and the discovery of an incriminating diary and engraved pocket watch, the most plausible suspect is James Maybrick.
James Maybrick has several notable incidents from his background that would lead to suspicion. First, from a young age, he experienced death. Though he had six brothers, two did not live to adulthood: one who he was named for died at the age of four months, and his brother Alfred died at the age of four. Next, James’s marriage to Florence, who was later charged with poisoning him, is well established; however there are several documents which indicate a previous marriage to a Sarah Ann. “She lived for a while on Bromley Street, near Whitechapel, and on Mark Lane, across the road from Whitechapel. In all probability, James Maybrick’s association with Sarah Ann led to familiarity with the area where the Ripper murders occurred” (Background of the Maybrick Family). Additionally, “due to his numerous holding within the cotton industry, […], James Maybrick did have an intimate knowledge of the East End of London and a readily available place to stay there in the apartment of his brother” (Russo).
He married Florence in 1881 in London. While married to her, they traveled multiple times between England and the United States for his cotton business, but eventually he retired and settled in Liverpool. While married to Florence, they had two children and both of them had affairs with other people. James’s health declined leading up to 1889, and he died in May of that year. Despite lack of evidence to support the claim, Florence was charged with poisoning him. “By any standard, [the trial against Florence] was a horrible travesty of justice” (Background of the Maybrick Family). She was sentenced to hang, but after fifteen years of appeals, hard labor, confinement, and illness, she was released. Despite all these coincidences and reasonable suspicions, Maybrick’s story was not tied to the Ripper case until the discovery of his diary in 1992. This is likely because he spent very little time residing in London around the time of the murders.
In 1992, a Mr. Mike Barrett brought forth a diary. “The writing, which is signed ‘Jack the Ripper,’ purports to be the Ripper’s record of his murderous plans and activities from c. April 1888 until he senses his approaching death in May of 1889” (Begg, Fido and Skinner 300). Unfortunately, the diary’s journeys to Mr. Barrett are very convoluted and have lead to many scholars doubting the diary’s authenticity. Mr. Barrett received the book “from a drinking-companion, a print-worker called Anthony Devereux,” who told him nothing but that the diary was authentic and died shortly after (Begg, Fido and Skinner 300). The diary represented the most important piece of evidence ever found relating to the Ripper case, so investigations immediately commenced to validate or cry foul on the diary.
Many studies have been conducted on the diary to validate it. Two such studies are based on technicalities like ink and paper. The first was performed at the Staffordshire University in 2004 to validate the authenticity of the ink used in the book. “In this report, [they concentrated on] the examination of inks from dated documents [of the time]” (Platt). The uneven distribution of the ink suggests that the writer used a pot and nib, rather than a fountain pen, which was not patented until the 1880’s, so it is unlikely that a fountain pen would be common. When the inks of the dated documents and the diary were bombarded with light of specific wavelengths, the different inks fluoresced similarly. In conclusion of the report, the “properties of the ink on the diary [yielded] no significant data on the ink itself and are consistent with it having been written either at the purported date or at a more recent date” (Platt). Essentially, the diary was not written before the murders, but there was no evidence in the ink that tells us the diary must have been created more recently. Despite this somewhat discouraging conclusion, it must be noted that significant care would have to be taken to use a period-appropriate pen, ink, and paper to make the diary if it were forged. Another study was conducted by Jennifer Pegg concerning the paper of the diary, “the paper contained no optical brighteners and is made of a majority of cotton fibers, this is in keeping with the ‘Diary’s’ alleged age” (Pegg). These two studies do not offer a strong voice in either direction, but neither of them were able to invalidate the possibility that the diary was real, so further research continued.
Of course, it is important to look at the contents of the diary and link it to other writings we have. Graphology is the study of one’s character based on his or her handwriting: not what words are written, but how they are written. Anna Koren, the graphologist to the Israeli Minister of Justice stated gave the following characteristics for the author of the diary: “unstable, inner-conflicts, inferiority, hypochondriac, brutal, a distorted image of his masculinity, deep-rooted loneliness, exhibitionism, a tendency for his behavior to be repeated in cycles,’ [and when asked if such writing could be contrived, she “forcefully” responded]: ‘Impossible’” (Jakubowski and Braund 214). This is a rather exciting result because these characteristics are in line with modern-day profiles of a serial killer and many are consistent with what we know of James Maybrick. However, as promising as the diary looks, other pieces of evidence would prove very useful.
While researcher and investigative writer Shirley Harrison was following the history of the diary, she met a man who purchased a watch at an English jeweler. After examining it closely, he noted that it bore the signature “J. Maybrick.” Shirley Harrison noted that, “the letters ‘K’ and ‘M’ were identical with the letters in the known signature on Maybrick’s wedding certificate. Across the centre, even less distinct were the words: ‘I am Jack.’ Around the edge were five sets of initials—those of the five women murdered in Whitechapel” (Harrison 256). Obviously, this artifact would have to be tested as well. “Dr. S. Turgoose, of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology’s Corrosion and Protection Centre examined the scratchings with a scanning electron microscope, and gave his opinion that they are compatible with being made in 1888-9” (Begg, Fido and Skinner). The watch, combined with the diary, start to build a stronger case against Maybrick. The evidence was finally beginning to fall together.
Many scholars still do not believe that the diary and the pocket watch are authentic, but there are other supporting coincidences that must be considered as well. A photograph of Mary Kelly’s murder scene and body was given to a researcher for a computer enhancement of what appeared to be writing on the wall above Mary Kelly’s bed. “Enlarged, this writing becomes more clearly identifiable as an F and an M – the initials of Maybrick’s wife” (Jakubowski and Braund 217). Mary Kelly was similar in age and appearance to Florence Maybrick, which, combined with the initials on the wall, has lead to the hypothesis that “Maybrick was envisioning the murder of his wife while horribly mutilating Kelly” (Russo). Additionally, a previously unpublished “Dear Boss” letter was uncovered, which is signed “The Ripper,” and refers to the writer being on his way to the Innerliethen tweed factories, an area where Liverpool cotton merchants went frequently. The handwriting of this letter is “curiously similar to that of a letter written by Maybrick aboard the SS Baltic in 1881” (Jakubowski and Braund 214). Also, researchers discovered “from private, unpublished papers, that James Maybrick’s favourite pet name for himself was ‘Sir Jim’. There was no way that a forger could, at any time, have known this, yet whoever wrote the Diary is acutely aware of the inner conflict” (Jakubowski and Braund) and used the nickname many times throughout the diary to refer to himself in the third person. Finally, the Diary mentions an empty tin box that Catherine Eddowes was carrying. “It appears as ‘one Tin Match Box, empty’ in the police list [which was never published in full] until Donald Rumbelow and Martin Fido mentioned it in their respective books published in 1987” (Jakubowski and Braund). For this detail to be included in the diary, either the murderer had to write it, or someone after 1987 did so.
However, with all these coincidences and substantial evidence stacked against him, it appears as if James Maybrick truly was Jack the Ripper.
“Background of the Maybrick Family.” Casebook.org. 19 Apr 2008 <http://casebook.org/suspects/james_maybrick/maybrick.html>.
Begg, Paul, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner. Jack the Ripper: A to Z. London, England: Headline Book Publishing, 1994.
Harrison, Shirley. The Diary of Jack the Ripper. New York, NY: Smith Gryphon Ltd., 1994.
Jakubowski, Maxim and Nathan Braund. The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper. London, England: Robinson Publishing Ltd., 1999.
Maybrick, James. “Transcript of the Diary.” Ripper, The Diary of Jack the. Shirley Harrison. New York, NY: Smith Gryphon Ltd., 1993. Photo Insert and 287-318.
Pegg, Jennifer. “The Maybrick Diary Paper.” 1993. Casebook.org Disserations. 21 April 2008 <http://casebook.org/dissertations/maybrick_diary/maybrick-diary-analysis.paper.html>.
Platt, Andrew. “Platt Diary Report.” March 2005. Casebook.org Dissertations. 21 April 2008 <http://casebook.org/dissertations/maybrick_diary/platt.html>.
Russo, Stan. The Jack the Ripper Suspects. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. , 2004.