Jack the Ripper: The Celebrity Suspects

Jack the Ripper: The Celebrity Suspects

by Mike Holgate

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Rippermania has driven a 120-year-old investigation to identify the depraved perpetrator of the savage murder of five prostitutes in the East End of London. Royal figures Queen Victoria, Edward, Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor, King Leopold II of the Belgians; prominent politicians Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, Randolph Churchill; police officials Sir


Rippermania has driven a 120-year-old investigation to identify the depraved perpetrator of the savage murder of five prostitutes in the East End of London. Royal figures Queen Victoria, Edward, Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor, King Leopold II of the Belgians; prominent politicians Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, Randolph Churchill; police officials Sir Charles Warren, Sir Robert Anderson; artists and writers Oscar Wilde, Frank Miles, Algernon Swinburne, Francis Thompson, Lewis Carroll, George Gissing, and Walter Sickert are among those who have been implicated in the hunt for the world’s first serial sex killer, Jack the Ripper. 

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The History Press
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Jack the Ripper: The Celebrity Suspects

By Mike Holgate

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 Mike Holgate
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-5383-2


Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

A Reign Of Terror

And are Queen Victoria's lieges to be scared almost to fits,
And helpless women murdered and cut up in little bits,
Because the eyes of Justice, which proverbial are blind,
Won't open just a little way and help us for to find
The livin', breathin', vampire which on blood enjoys its feast,
As now pervades and poisons the regions of the East?


Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887, marking fifty glorious years when the nation's naval supremacy and military might established the British Empire as the world's leading power. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution the country had also enjoyed unparalleled economic prosperity, which brought about vast social changes to towns and cities. Nowhere was this more evident than in London, which, during the sovereign's long reign, experienced a population explosion, quadrupling in size and creating a squalid, poverty-stricken lower class, living in areas of poor housing where unemployment, crime, drunkenness and prostitution were rife. Charles Booth would publish the findings of his sociological survey Life and Labours of London in 1889, by which time, the Establishment had already received a violent indicator about the worst extremes of social evil from someone whose name would become as memorable as the monarch's – the world's first serial sex killer – Jack the Ripper.

Murder in the heart of the city's East End was commonplace, yet, the ferocity of the 'Whitechapel Murders' and the savagery inflicted on the victims immediately attracted lurid headlines in the press and raised awareness of the appalling social conditions. Estimates of how many women were targeted by the killer vary from three to thirty between 1887 and 1891, although the consensus of opinion is that the same hand slaughtered five prostitutes over an eight-week period in Autumn 1888. The first of these 'canonical' victims was struck down on 31 August, when the mutilated body of Mary 'Polly' Nichols was found. Unable to afford a bed in a lodging house, she had been wandering the streets trying to raise money by prostitution when her throat was viciously cut right through to the spinal column before her skirts were raised and her abdomen ripped open exposing her intestines. A week later Annie Chapman met a similar fate, when her intestines were removed and laid neatly on the ground, while her womb was removed and taken away by her killer. On the last day of September, an infamous 'double event' occurred when two women were slain in a single night. Elizabeth Stride was last seen talking to a man 'respectable' in appearance – less than thirty minutes before her body was discovered. This time there was no mutilation and blood was still seeping from the dead woman's throat, indicating that the Ripper had narrowly escaped detection. Forty minutes later, the psychopath struck again when he slashed the throat and stomach of Katherine Eddowes. With maniacal zeal, her throat, face and abdomen were slashed and a kidney and womb removed. The worst atrocity was saved for the final victim Mary Jane Kelly who was attacked in her lodging house on 9 November 1888. When a rent collector called on the streetwalker, he peeped through the window and spotted her naked, bloodied corpse lying on the bed. Her face had been brutalised almost beyond recognition; flesh removed from her abdomen and thighs was found on a bedside table, while the breasts had been sliced off and her heart extracted and removed from the scene of the crime.

Queen Victoria took a special interest in the murder investigation by forwarding her own opinions and suggestions to her ministers. The day after the final murder 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.

The fact that this innocuous memorandum proposing improved street lighting also refers to the Queen having taken action 'when the first murder took place' has been interpreted as proof that she had some inside knowledge of it being the first of a sequence. In this respect, it has been argued that she had some sinister motive to apprehend the villain whom she knew to be a close member of her own family. Suspicion has fallen on her notorious womanising son the Prince of Wales, or allegedly syphilitic grandson the Duke of Clarence who have both been accused of being Jack the Ripper. Alternatively, it has been suggested that there was a 'cover up' of the amorous activities of either prince. In the case of the Prince of Wales, he is said to have had a relationship with the aforementioned Mary Kelly, who became pregnant with his child and a scandal was averted when she and her friends were silenced by two young lawyers, Montague Druitt and James Kenneth Stephens. The royal conspiracy theory surrounding the Duke of Clarence was supposedly organised by the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury with the cooperation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren. In this scenario, Queen Victoria's physician-in-ordinary Sir William Gull was recruited by the Freemasons to eliminate women attempting to blackmail the government with embarrassing knowledge that the Duke had entered into a secret marriage and fathered the child of a commoner. Aiding and abetting Gull in his grim task was either artist Walter Sickert, or head of Scotland Yard CID Sir Robert Anderson. Orchestrated by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Randolph Churchill, their mission was to eliminate all witnesses and save the monarchy, which was increasingly coming under attack. In 1890, the American Daily Northwestern referred to the unsavoury lifestyles of the Prince of Wales and his son the Duke of Clarence and cited them as the worst examples of the 'debauchery which too conspicuously punctures European royalty'. The newspaper blamed their sordid behaviour and the growing threat of revolution on Queen Victoria's family relationship to virtually every head of state on the Continent and her marriage to her Bavarian cousin Prince Albert, a union which had produced nine children: 'The inbred crowd of royal stock of all Europe is becoming sadly deteriorated both bodily and mentally, and cannot long, in any event, survive the strength of a higher order of governmental civilization which the common people are attaining'.


The Prince of Wales (1841-1910)

The Playboy Prince

God will never allow such a wicked man to come to the throne.


Queen Victoria's eldest son and daughter-in-law, the Prince and Princess of Wales, celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary in 1888. Throughout the relationship, the promiscuous prince – christened Albert Edward, though known as 'Bertie' to his friends and 'Dirty Bertie' to his detractors – had enjoyed numerous salacious affairs. The first scandal broke in December 1861 as preparations were being made for his forthcoming engagement to the daughter of the heir to the Danish throne, Princess Alexandra. Rumours of the prince's lustful pursuits at Cambridge University persuaded his parents to send him on a military exercise in a remote part of Ireland. However, the plan backfired disastrously when actress Nellie Clifden boasted of how the prince's friends had smuggled her into the royal army tent and the amorous liaison was soon the talk of London. Upon his return to Cambridge, his furious father Prince Albert, who fell ill during the journey back to Buckingham Palace and succumbed to typhoid fever, berated Bertie about his irresponsible behaviour. As Queen Victoria withdrew from the public eye and went into decades of prolonged mourning, she blamed her son for the loss of her husband and told one of her daughters, 'Much as I pity I never can or shall look at him without a shudder'.

The incidental death of his father seemingly did not trouble the incorrigible prince whose sexual conquests, including famed actresses Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt and a string of society beauties Daisy Brook, Alice Keppell and Jennie Churchill, continued unabated following his marriage in March 1863. The largely pro-monarchy press, who delighted in pillorying politician Charles Parnell and author Oscar Wilde for their extra-marital activities, patriotically avoided criticising the heir to the throne who feared no embarrassing revelations even when openly accompanied by his mistresses in public. Whiffs of scandal only circulated when members of his own elite royal social circle broke ranks. In 1869, Bertie was compelled to appear as a witness in the divorce court after being named as one of the many lovers of Lady Mordant. He was able to deny the affair without contradiction when her ladyship was declared unfit to give evidence – suspiciously certified insane and institutionalised at the behest of her husband's family. The philandering prince was at the centre of another marriage scandal in 1876, when Lord Aylesford threatened to divorce his wife for her affair with Lord Blandford, the elder brother of politician Lord Randolph Churchill. The latter intervened to protect the family honour by threatening to reveal the details of compromising letters written to Lady Aylseford by Bertie unless the prince persuaded his compliant friend Lord Aylesford to drop the legal action. This ugly blackmail attempt so incensed the prince that he sought to resolve the matter by means of a pistol duel with Churchill who laughed off the challenge.

The Prince of Wales could not avoid another court appearance when he forced Sir William Gordon-Cumming to sign an undertaking that he would never gamble again after being caught cheating at baccarat in 1891. The culprit agreed to the ultimatum on condition that the matter was kept quiet, but when the secret was leaked and openly discussed in social circles, he sued five people for slander and called the heir to the throne as a witness. Gordon-Cumming lost the case, was dismissed from the army and expelled from his clubs, while the prince's public image was severely damaged for encouraging illegal gambling.

The researches of Andy and Sue Parlour as told to author Kevin O'Donnell in The Jack the Ripper Whitechapel Murders (1997) develop an earlier contention by John Wilding in Jack the Ripper Revealed (1993) that Bertie and some of his friends kept a room above a butcher's shop in Watling Street, City of London, where they regularly changed clothes to go fire-watching. It is proposed that the property was also used for wild orgies with prostitutes and, following a dinner celebrating his Silver Wedding Anniversary in March 1888, while Princess Alex and Queen Victoria went for a coach ride around the city, the prince was given a surprise treat by his rakish chums who took him to the secret address for a romp with Mary Kelly, who subsequently claimed to be carrying his child. To suppress the impending royal scandal and save the monarchy, a high-ranking cabal involving Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, chief of police Sir Charles Warren, and the prince's recently reconciled friend Lord Randolph Churchill, resulted in the killing of Kelly's known associates carried out by trusted aides, Montague Druitt and James Kenneth Stephen. The Parlours believe that the body whose face was badly disfigured at Mary Kelly's lodging house was some other unfortunate soul and that the woman carrying the royal baby was possibly saved by her lover who heard of the plot and spirited her out of the country to Canada.

This highly speculative scenario is underpinned by the baffling contention that the bodies of the women were placed in a position pointing towards the Houses of Parliament and some coins found by one the corpses were facing upwards showing the face of Queen Victoria, which, with the ritualistic mutilations of the victims, suggest a link with the Freemasons whose Grand Master was the Prince of Wales. Bertie never acknowledged the existence of any illegitimate children, although it was widely rumoured that he had sired a child by Lady Susan Pelham-Clinton therefore, why would he suddenly have a twinge of conscience for a common whore like Mary Kelly, when her story of impropriety could have been dismissed as the rantings of a madwoman and dealt with as easily as the earlier allegations made by the conveniently certified Lady Mordant?


Joseph Merrick (1862-1890)

The Elephant Man

The Deadly Fruit of Original Sin.


Early in December 1886, The Times published a letter from the Chairman of London Hospital, Frederick Carr Gomm, making a heartfelt plea on behalf of 'an exceptional case' – a man whose disfigurement was so 'dreadful a sight' that the writer declined to shock readers with a detailed description of his infirmities, other than to say that he was referred to as 'the elephant man', adding:

Terrible though his appearance is, so terrible indeed that women and nervous persons fly in terror from the sight of him, and that he is debarred from seeking to earn a livelihood in any ordinary way, yet he is superior in intelligence, can read and write, is quiet, gentle, not to say even refined in his mind.

The patient, Joseph Merrick, was born in Leicester and, during infancy, developed a rare condition, believed to be Proteus syndrome, which twisted his body and caused the skull tissue to swell enormously with the skin resembling a huge brown cauliflower. Following the death of his mother when he was nine, his father remarried and the boy was treated so badly by his stepmother that he left home to be cared for by an uncle until forced to enter the workhouse for a period of four years.

By 1884, Merrick, now aged twenty-two, realised his only hope of escape from the horrors of the poor law, lay in becoming a novelty in a 'freak show' and wrote to a local music hall owner, Sam Torr, who agreed to promote his appearances. After touring the Midlands, the show transferred to the capital where Merrick was being exhibited in a vacant shop opposite London Hospital in Whitechapel, when the 'Elephant Man, half-a-man, half-an-elephant' came to the attention of one of the medical establishment's most eminent surgeons Dr Frederick Treves, who took a personal interest in the hideously deformed young man and presented him for examination to members of the Pathological Society.

Moved on from London by the authorities who denounced the freak show as an outrage against public decency, Merrick took up an offer to appear in Belgium where he was robbed and abandoned by his newly acquired Austrian manager. Pawning any items of value he possessed, he raised enough money to pay his passage back to England and sought sanctuary with the only person he felt he could trust, Dr Treves. Hospitals for 'incurables' refused to accommodate Merrick, even when the management of London Hospital offered to pay for his care, however, thanks to the generosity of The Times readers, sufficient funds were raised to enable him to remain in specially converted rooms at London Hospital. Here he became something of a cause celebre receiving visits from several charitable aristocratic ladies. His most distinguished guest was Princess Alexandra, whose husband the Prince of Wales knighted Dr Treves for services rendered shortly after succeeding to the throne as King Edward VII upon the death of Queen Victoria. The king urgently required surgery for appendicitis in June 1902, but strongly opposed going into hospital. 'I have a coronation on hand', he protested. But Treves was adamant: 'It will be a funeral, if you don't have the operation'. The king heeded Treves's persuasive argument and the ceremony was temporarily postponed while the troublesome abscess on his appendix was successfully drained. Ironically, the surgeon honoured for saving the monarch, subsequently suffered a burst appendix while living in retirement at Lausanne, Switzerland, dying from peritonitis in December 1923, having recently completed a book The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences.

Dr Treves and Joseph Merrick, a classic personification of the fictional Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde portrayed in the contemporary stage production by actor Richard Mansfield, have both been implausibly denounced as suspects in the hunt for Jack the Ripper. With not a shred of tangible evidence against either man, the only reason for them being recently named on a true crime website appears to emanate from the fact that they were conveniently based in Whitechapel. The requisite attributes of a murderer from a respectable background with anatomical knowledge were possessed by Treves, who once famously denounced the presence of 'a plague of women' attending the wounded while serving as consulting surgeon to the British Army during the Boer War. His celebrated patient, the 'Elephant Man' always carried a picture of his mother as a reminder of the only female who had shown him any love, therefore, his experience with other women who found him repulsive supposedly developed into a bitter hatred and, with surgical knives readily available in the hospital, provided the means and an adequate motive to carry out the gruesome attacks.


Excerpted from Jack the Ripper: The Celebrity Suspects by Mike Holgate. Copyright © 2013 Mike Holgate. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Mike Holgate has been a regular feature writer for Devon Life since 1998 and has written a plethora of local history and crime books, including Crime & Murder. He is a part-time librarian and will use the library's archive to source high quality portraits of famous personalities and sketches of social conditions in East End London.

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