Jack the Ripper’s London
April 22, 2008
John Druitt, Come on Down!
Montague John Druitt was an Oxford-educated schoolmaster and barrister from Dorset, England. He was first accused of the Ripper crimes by Sir Melville Macnaughten in his memorandum, in which he states “‘the truth, however, will never be known, and did indeed, at one time lie at the bottom of the Thames, if my conjections be correct.’” (Sugden 379) This statement refers to the fact that Druitt committed suicide by weighing himself down with stones and then wading into the Thames, drowning himself. Another statement concerning Druitt’s implication in the murders was made by author George R. Sims, who said he had it on good authority that the Ripper had been found floating in the Thames within months of Mary Kelly’s death. (Sugden 375) Druitt’s body was recovered on December 31, 1888, which was just over a month after Kelly’s body was discovered in her room. (Sugden 376)
Druitt had a family history plagued by mental illness; indeed, his mother was admitted to an insane asylum just months before his death in December of 1888, his grandmother and sister both successfully committed suicide, and his mother and aunt had both attempted suicide. (Sugden 384) It seems the whole family had a predisposition for mental instability. In addition to a possibly unstable mental state and the recent incarceration of his mother, Druitt had been dismissed from his position as a schoolmaster on November 30, and his father had passed away just a few years before. (Sugden 381) It seems likely that the external pressures of his life pushed him over the edge, allowing him to take his own life. In his apparent suicide letter, he states that “‘since Friday I felt that I was going to be like mother, and the best thing was for me to die.’” (Sugden 383) This suggests that Druitt believed himself to be rapidly slipping into an insanity from which he desperately wanted to be saved.
John Druitt seems to have been in the right frame of mind to go insane and start killing prostitutes; however, there are certainly several problems with the evidence against him that must be addressed. The most obvious of these problems is the lack actual physical evidence against Druitt. He cannot be placed at the scene of any of the murders, and it seems that the whole case against him is based upon his possible mental state and the tragic events surrounding his final years on Earth. This is certainly a troublesome dilemma for anyone trying to prove Druitt’s involvement in the Ripper murders; however, it is important to remember that this is a case without much physical evidence at all and that the evidence that exists does not clearly point at anyone. Because of this, all anyone can really say about the case is to speak about whom they feel is more or less likely to have killed the five women rather than about whom they can prove committed the crimes. Another problem with Druitt’s implication is our lack of real knowledge of Druitt’s mental state in 1888. We know he killed himself in early December, but it is impossible to prove whether he was insane or merely depressed by the events that were occurring in his life at that particular time. Also, Druitt was not dismissed from his post as a schoolmaster until late November, after the final Ripper murder, so it seems unlikely that that fact played a part in his actions in the previous months (though it is possible that whatever scandal led to his dismissal, and not the dismissal himself, sent him over the edge). Many members of his immediate family committed or attempted to commit suicide; several of them were previously diagnosed as insane. (Sugden 384) However, there seems to be no record of John Druitt being diagnosed with any specific mental illness, so it is dangerous for investigators living one hundred and twenty years after his death to say definitively that he was mentally unstable at any given time: we simply do not know any circumstances of Druitt’s mental condition beyond the fact that something drove him to suicide less than a month after the final murder in Whitechapel. This is a difficult problem to overcome; however, we must remember that these crimes took place in England during a time where the field of psychology was really in its infancy and even the best doctors in the field were quacks by today’s standards. Therefore, we don’t really the specifics concerning any of the suspects’ mental condition, but given Druitt’s family history and suicide, there is a solid basis (if no concrete proof) for an argument favoring the opinion that he was insane. Druitt’s suicide note, in which he seems to think that he is drifting toward insanity as his mother had before him, further supports this opinion. The exact nature of his possible insanity, however, cannot possibly be determined. A third problem with implicating Druitt in these crimes is a question of his medical knowledge. He was a schoolteacher and a barrister, not a medical expert with intimate knowledge of human (or, indeed, animal) anatomy. This, however, is not very difficult to address. In The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, Philip Sugden addresses this problem, saying:
“he is by no means as ill a fit in this respect as many of the other suspects on offer. Although the Ripper probably did possess some degree of medical knowledge it is impossible to say how much. After studying the medical sketches of Kate Eddowes’ injuries, Professor Camps was convinced that the killer had been no surgeon. He continued: ‘One should then consider other people who might have surgical knowledge but be, as it were, in the early stages of medical knowledge, and might have…the opportunity of access to books.’ This could well be a perfect description of Druitt.” (391)
The evidence that has been produced against Druitt in this case is circumstantial at best (and, really, quite shaky at that). However, none of the suspects who have been implicated in the Jack the Ripper murders can really be spoken about any differently. It is impossible to place Druitt in the area of any of the murders on the day and time that any of the women were killed. There is no “bloody knife” linking him to the crime, and he didn’t seem to have a motive that can be easily deciphered, other than the fact that he might have been insane. Indeed, that is really what it comes down to, in the end: the possibility that John Druitt was crazy. Looking back on the Whitechapel crimes, it seems as though modern (and, indeed, contemporary) investigators want to be able to point at a case of mental insanity and say “there, that’s what has caused these crimes.” It’s nice to think that the atrocities of Jack the Ripper must have been committed by someone with an identifiable mental disorder and to assume that such brutality does not exist in the nature of normal people. With so little hard evidence and so many muddled facts at our disposal, it is very unlikely that the killer’s identity will ever be proven or that any single suspect will have enough solid evidence against him to warrant real suspicion. Jack the Ripper will, I think, remain a dark specter in our imaginations for as long as we remember the crimes he committed. So, really, we have no real method of identifying the killer than assigning the blame to whomever we can establish happened to be the craziest guy around at the time. When thinking about the crimes in this manner, Montague John Druitt certainly has potential as a suspect. And establishing real potential in a suspect is about the best we can do.
Sugden, Phillip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New ed. New York: Carroll & Graff Publishers (2002).