Murderous Mastermind or Peaceful Physician?: A Careful Inquiry of Why Sir William Gull Could Not Have Been the Rampaging Ripper
Sir William Gull was born to John and Elizabeth Gull aboard a barge on December 31st, 1816, in Colchester and was the youngest of a family of eight children (Russo). Possibly it was this unusual start that became the root of Gull’s problems later in life. A product of a large family, Gull may have had a low status within his family due to his birth order, causing him to reach out to other means of gaining authority and power (Weiss). Gull also had an absent father, as John Gull died of Cholera when he was only ten years old (Russo), and the absence of a strong, father figure has been suggested as one of the traits of serial killers (Weiss). However many could question what relevance even this excerpt of Gull’s early life poses to him being a viable suspect in the Whitechapel Murders, and the most logical answer to this question would be that Gull has no place among the Ripper suspects. Sir William Gull is merely a product of assumptions, conveniences and generalizations that have caused him to be an ideal, yet fictional, character for movies, books and conspiracy theories. Although there are many theories as to why Gull could have possibly been Jack the Ripper, it is nonetheless easy for researchers, as with so many other Ripper suspects, to poke holes into his credibility.
By taking another glimpse at the FBI’s criminal profiling, it is obvious that although Gull does match several traits of a serial killer, such as “low birth order status”, “average to above intelligence”, “skilled work preferred”, and “situational stress” (Weiss). It is difficult to say that these classify Gull as the Ripper. If this were the case many people would be in for a rude awakening, as the profile describes common traits of any hard-working individual. Still, criminal profiling is not enough to describe any of the Ripper suspects, or group them into organized or disorganized killers. This conflict causes us to conclude that at least in the case of Sir William Gull as Jack the Ripper criminal profiles are ineffective.
After clearing up the inaccuracy in the “typical” serial killer’s profile in reference to Gull, there is not much evidence to reasonably name him as the Ripper. Gull began his physician education in Guy’s Hospital, after his mother moved the family to Thrope-le-Soken, where Gull earned his M.D. in 1846 (Russo). Gull eventually became the “Physician Extraordinary” and then “Physician in Ordinary to the Queen”, and of course to Edward, after curing both the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra’s husband. If Gull’s low status in his family was the beginning to his problems, his proximity to Prince Edward was the end all.
During this time Gull suffered a stroke that partially paralyzed him, Gull was seventy-one at the time and almost had to discontinue his practice. During the course of his life Gull would endure three more strokes and epilepsy, which in my opinion causes him to be a less then probable suspect. Not only does his age detract from the testimonies given by eyewitnesses, but also the partial paralyzed man would have been unable to make such clean incisions into the necks and bodies of his victims. This is relevant to the case, because according to a medical report, Gull’s first stroke in 1887 was said to be “slight paralysis on the right side and aphasia” (Russo) and it has been assumed that the Ripper must have used his right hand during the attacks. Also the aphasia would have interfered with Gull’s ability to speak, write, comprehend and read, as it is “a disruption of the Cerebral Cortex” (Russo). Although Gull’s aphasia must have not been so severe for his to discontinuing his daily life, it is impossible to believe that with a paralyzed arm, difficulty in mental processes, and his noticeable age qualities, Gull could have completed these tasks with the abilities necessary to go undetected by investigators. Nevertheless, Gull became the center of a conspiracy theory, which sparked interest in the Ripper murders and caused many to believe that the search for Jack the Ripper was finally finished.
The Royal Conspiracy emerged after Stephen Knight’s 1978 book, Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution presented a “fascinating tapestry of conspiracy involving virtually every person who has ever been a Ripper suspect plus a few new ones” (Casebook). It quickly became the most popular conclusion to the Whitechapel murders, despite both protests and cautions from prominent Ripperologists and even after Knight’s key informant retracted his testimony. The theory came about after a 1973 BBC television show was designed to give more attention to the recent rise in interest in the Ripper murders. What resulted was a new show that “combined their theatrical and documentary departments to produce a strange hybrid of a show…[to] solve the mystery once and for all” (Casebook). However, it seemed as though the show was more for entertainment rather than actual inquiry, as they used fictional detectives armed with already acquired evidence. Nevertheless, the producers must have decided in order to boost ratings and ensure the shows success, further research should be preformed. This brought about several individuals who “assigned to obtain all possible information on the murders” spoke to a detective in Scotland Yard who then referred them to a man named Sickert. It was said that Joseph Sickert learned from his father Walter Sickert, a famous painted who had lived in the East End during the Ripper murders, the true purpose behind the killings. According to Sickert, Prince Eddy had secretly married a lower class, Catholic named Annie Elizabeth Crook, which was the beginning of both this conspiracy theory as well as to the mayhem that ensued.
As indicated by Joseph Sickert, Prince Edward, “Eddy”, was emulating the life of a commoner when he met and fell in love with Annie Crook in a shop on Cleveland Street. After meeting and realizing their love for one another, the two lived a quiet, happy life together where eventually Annie became pregnant with Eddy’s child. Upon learning this information, the Queen became quite outraged with her grandson’s illicit and shameful actions, not only did he marry a commoner but Annie was also a Catholic. Sickert went on to explain to the researchers that the idea of a Catholic marriage during this time would have been troublesome, as the government was particularly weak and a situation like this could promote a revolution against the crown. This in mind, Queen Victoria passed along the task of managing the matter to Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister at the time. Salisbury, in order to quell the couple, ambushed the two in their apartment and they were taken away in separate cabs, and yet their daughter, Alice Margaret escaped unharmed. Her mother Annie was supposedly stashed in an asylum where Sir William Gull, the Queen’s personal physician at the time, was then called upon by Salisbury to perform experiments designed to erase Annie’s memory. After enduring the loss of her husband, child and these experiments, Annie became epileptic and slowly went insane. Annie Crook died in that same asylum soon after her incarceration.
Mary Jane Kelly soon became immersed into the plot when Walter Sickert, no doubt now feeling the weight of being the one who introduced Eddy to Annie, found her in a poor house and hired her to help Annie with her daughter Alice. It is believed that Alice escaped Salisbury’s raid because she was with Mary Jane Kelly at the time. Despite this, after Eddy and Annie’s disappearance, Kelly hid Alice with nuns and then returned to the East End to become the prostitute and drunk investigators know her as. Not doubt due to this life of intoxication and easy morals, and perhaps feeling the guilt of knowing the reality of Prince Edward’s affair, Mary Kelly began to spread the story around Whitechapel. Catching wind of this story, a few of Kelly’s friends tired to persuade and pressure her into blackmailing the government. These women included Polly Ann Nichols, Elizabeth Stride, and Annie Chapman, the assumed Ripper victims.
It was the physician William Gull who devised a plot that would both save the royal family’s name and also dispose of the four women he believed wished to revolt against the government. With the aid of his accomplices John Netley, Eddy’s coachmen during his stints in the East End, and Sir Robert Anderson, who he called upon to help cover up the murders and be a lookout, Gull is said to have created Jack the Ripper as a “symbol of Freemasonry” (Casebook). And thus Sir William Gull began his rampage to save the royals killing first Nichols, Chapman, and then in a double event Stride and a woman named Catherine Eddowes. Sickert told researcher that Eddowes had been a mistake on the part of Gull, who believed her true name was Mary Kelly, as it was a name she often went by. Learning of this blunder, Gull quickly found the real Mary Jane Kelly and mutilated her into silence.
After the completion of this horrendous task, Gull and conspirators chose Montague Druitt as their “scapegoat”, a man who would take the blame and who was as Sickert said, murdered for it. One of Gull’s accomplices, John Netley attempted to finish the entire job by trying to run over Alice in his carriage, however he was chased away by mob of people and it was rumored was drowned in the Thames. According to Sickert, Gull died shortly after the murders, however it is alleged that he was committed to an insane asylum. Many may wonder how Sickert came into such fascinating knowledge regarding the Whitechapel murders, he was not only the man who introduced Prince Edward to Annie Crook, but also ended up marrying their daughter, and the heir to the throne, Alice Margaret. His son Joseph said that his father told him about the conspiracy to answer his questions about his mother’s depression, and also that his father Walter painted clues about the truth behind the Ripper murders into his paintings to “alleviate his guilt” (Casebook).
After hearing Joseph Sickert’s story, the researchers delved into its core, and did find a woman named Annie Crook who lived on Cleveland Street with a daughter and no recorded husband. It seemed to match up with the already placed timeline and evidence associated with the case. Later on when Steven Knight began to interview Sickert for his new book however, he attempted to not only validate the conspiracy theory but also prove that the lookout in the crimes was not Anderson, but Walter Sickert. The book and the television series did much to produce interest in the case, and were an excellent source of entertainment, however neither presented any solid evidence to confirm this theory in any extraordinarily different way then those theories proceeding it.
Although this conspiracy theory is again, an excellent source of entertainment, it is by no means the conclusion to the Jack the Ripper case. There are several discrepancies involved with naming Sir William Gull as the real Ripper, from his age to his association with the Masons. The strokes that Knight believes Gull recovered quickly from and as a result he must have possessed the strength to commit these crimes is outrageous. It is medically inaccurate to believe that one can recover “quickly” from paralysis, perhaps with rehabilitation exercises Gull might have been able to gain some of his sharp abilities back, but the cuts on the victims took strength and precision the old surgeon did not have available any longer. His age is another problem when looking at the statements given to police, that depict a man somewhere in his early thirties. It is doubtful that a seventy-year-old could be confused with a young man in the prime of life, and many Ripper suspects have been discredited for this alteration of the eyewitness testimony.
If Gull’s age and health concerns are not enough to deter from his validity of being an actual Ripper suspect, his association with the crown and Masons may be. There was enough scandals surrounding the royal family to keep them occupied, and it does not seem likely that this incident would have been of any concern to the Queen. Even the idea of the royals paying attention to, what they must have seen as a lower class urchin, like Mary Jane Kelly is absurd. Kelly would neither have been able to blackmail the Queen with this information, nor would she have know the correct course to take in doing so as she surely would not have been allowed anywhere near the royal family or Queen Victoria. Yes, the idea of the Prince marrying a commoner despite her religious orientation is an appealing conclusion, and during this time deadly and catastrophic to the credibility of the crown, yet it does not offer enough substantial evidence to enforce its authority and place in the Whitechapel murders.
This is also the case with Gull’s involvement with the Free Masons during this time. Conceivably, the Freemasonry that Gull supposedly became a symbol for is mere fiction at best, and the symbolism and rituals that seem to appear throughout the murder victims is just individuals such as Knight perceiving relationships where they wish to see them. The Freemasons give theorists an excuse to assume scandals and conspiracies resulting from a secret organization, and is extremely convenient in the connections between several poses and phrases found during the case. Still it is hard to contrive that what is known about the secrets inside the Freemasons explains all the associations to their full extent. The truth is that those outside of the Freemasons will never know whether the links to the Ripper murders with their rituals are fact or only mistaken hypothesizes.
One postulation that is somewhat agreeable is the idea that the Ripper had an accomplice with him during the attacks. However in the case of William Gull, John Netley’s involvement and also what role he exactly played in the murders is debatable. Knight presented the theory that Gull would kill and perform the rituals on the women from inside the carriage, and then Netley would place them in the final spot that they were discovered at. However according to medical evidence the victims were all killed at the spot where they were discovered. This as Russo would say, “destroys the Royal Conspiracy Theory” and in agreement it tears down Gull as a credible witness as well.
The fact that a majority of this theory is at the best hearsay does little to promote its authenticity to those investigating the Ripper murders. It appears to be a carefully contrived conspiracy theory where no plausible theory had been presented. Perhaps dreamed up, again as a matter of connivance and a desire to explain strange occurrences and relationships. It is difficult to believe that a seventy-year-old physician faked a stroke to avoid suspicion, protect the royal family’s name and the stability of the government. Sir William Gull could fit portions of the description if Jack the Ripper was indeed an upper class man who subsequently would have been quite noticeable wandering around the East End with prostitutes. However based on criminal profiling and the evidence collected by police investigators, it is my opinion that the true Jack the Ripper was no one special or unique. Just an average appearing, white male fixated on irresistible urges, possibly killing even more women such as the five canonical victims presumed to be Jack the Ripper’s handiwork, and killing possibly until he was either captured unintentionally, committed to an asylum like so many others, or even until he died a quick, but normal death.
Rumbelow, Donald. “GOOD KNIGHT: An Examination of THE FINAL SOLUTION (The Royal Conspiracy).” Casebook: Jack the Ripper. 1996-2009. 24 Apr. 2009 .
Russo, Stan. “Dr. William Gull.” The Jack the Ripper Suspects Persons Cited by Investigators and Theorists. Boston: McFarland & Company Inc., 2004. 80-83.
Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll & Graf, Inc., 2002.
Weiss, Caren. “Taken From: The “Art” of Criminal Profiling.” LiveSource.org. Ed. Clint Van
Zandt. 23 Apr. 2009.