The Ripper Code

The Ripper Code

by Thomas Toughill


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752452760
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 05/28/2010
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 4.96(w) x 7.86(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

Thomas Toughill has labored in a whisky distillery, been an intelligence officer in Hong Kong, and been a bodyguard for Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. He is the author of Oscar Slater: The Immortal Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Read an Excerpt

The Ripper Code

By Thomas Toughill

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 Thomas Toughill
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-8717-5


The Setting

* * *

... No one who was living in London that autumn will forget the terror created by these murders. Even now I can recall the foggy evenings, and hear again the raucous cries of the newspaper boys: 'Another horrible murder, murder, mutilation, Whitechapel!' Such was the burden of their ghastly song; and, when the double murder of 30th September took place the exasperation of the public at the non-discovery of the perpetrator knew no bounds, and no servant-maid deemed her life safe if she ventured out to post a letter after ten o'clock at night. And yet this panic was quite unreasonable. The victims, without exception, belonged to the lowest dregs of female humanity, who avoid the police and exercise every ingenuity in order to remain in the darkest corners of the most deserted alleys.

This is how Melville Leslie Macnaghten recalled the autumn of 1888 when Jack the Ripper, the most infamous and mysterious murderer in British history, carried out his brief but terrible vendetta against the female sex. Near panic there certainly was. 'Horror ran through the land', proclaimed one contemporary account. Yet in that year, Macnaghten, who as a senior Metropolitan Police officer was destined to play a major role in the Ripper case, lived in Chelsea in the West End of London, some six safe miles from Whitechapel, the squalid slum-ridden area the murderer chose as his hunting ground.

Whitechapel, named after the parish church of St Mary Matfellon which was painted white in the Middle Ages, stands to the east of the ancient City of London. Traditionally a home for hard working emigrants, the district prospered for many years under foreign influence and industry. When the Jews were allowed to re-enter England by Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s, after a ban of several centuries, many of them settled there, as did later the exiled Huguenots, the skilled and well-educated French Protestants. Over the years many of the people who came to Britain to enjoy its religious and political tolerance took up residence in Whitechapel, thus giving the area a strong cosmopolitan appearance. However, the industrial revolution and the immense growth in the population of London in the early nineteenth century had a profound and lasting effect on the district. By the 1880s, the once proud name of Whitechapel had long become a byword for poverty, disease, prostitution, and crime. It was, according to local clergyman, Samuel Barnett, 'the evil square mile', inhabited by, in the words of writer Jack London, 'the people of the abyss.'

When Mrs Barnett moved with her husband to St Jude's, Whitechapel in 1873, she had difficulty in believing what she found there; a dark crowded maze of filthy evil-smelling alleys and courts; an environment so unhealthy that more than half the local children died before their fifth birthday; a district so deprived that over a third of the population was classed as living in poverty or want and where great numbers of women were forced to sell themselves openly for a few pence or a loaf of bread; an atmosphere so denuded of hope that drink represented for many the only escape from an unbearable reality, and senseless violence accepted as a part of daily life; and an area so dangerous and crime-ridden that the police routinely patrolled it in pairs.

At the bottom of the heap were 'the dossers', the homeless who were forced to sleep rough in the streets, churchyards, or parks, unless they had the 4 d it cost to hire a bed for the night in one of the 233 common lodging houses in the area. Jack London observed a group of these down and outs in Christchurch Garden, otherwise known as 'Itchy Park':

A chill raw wind was blowing, and these creatures huddled there in their rags, sleeping for the most part, or trying to sleep. Here were a dozen women, ranging in age from twenty years to seventy. Next a babe, possibly of nine months, lying asleep, flat on the hard bench, with neither pillow nor covering, nor with anyone looking after it. Next half-a-dozen men, sleeping bolt upright or leaning against one another in their sleep. In one place a family group, a child asleep in its sleeping mother's arms, and the husband (or male mate) clumsily mending a dilapidated shoe. On another bench a woman trimming the frayed strips of her rags with a knife, and another woman, with thread and needle sewing up rents. Adjoining, a man holding a sleeping woman in his arms. Farther on, a man, his clothing caked with gutter mud, asleep, with head in the lap of a woman, not more than twenty five years old, and also asleep.

It was from women of this class that the Ripper selected his victims. Why he restricted himself to Whitechapel is not known. In 1888 there were several other parts of London where low class prostitutes were to be had, but the Ripper chose not to operate there, perhaps because, as one newspaper said, Whitechapel provided favourable opportunities for 'both perpetration and escape'.

If the murders were restricted to the East End, the fear they engendered was not, as Melville Macnaghten makes clear. In fact, the Ripper scare extended well beyond the West End of London and indeed the shores of the United Kingdom. Stories spread that the Ripper had moved to America or the Continent. The reason for all of this was the unprecedented nature of the case itself. The murder of five East End whores was in itself a matter of little public concern; after all violent death in that area was almost commonplace. The Ripper killings however represented a new and, to contemporary minds, a deeply disturbing form of murder. Killing for revenge or gain was one thing, but that a man should kill prostitutes for the opportunity to cut open their bodies, tear out their innards and run off with 'certain parts of their anatomy' was something which the Victorian mind could not easily grasp.

In short, the Ripper murders constituted an open, and almost certainly deliberate, challenge to the solidity and hypocrisy of Victorian society. The Ripper did not try to conceal his victims; on the contrary he left them butchered in a public place for all the world to see. True, he killed his last victim in a room, but only because the streets had become too dangerous for him to work in. And by way of compensation, he used the privacy to indulge his satanic urges to the full and leave the woman barely recognisable as a human being.

In a sense, the Ripper is reminiscent of Sawney Bean, the fifteenth century Scottish cannibal who lived with his incestuous family in a cave from which they emerged to rob, kill, and eventually eat anyone unfortunate enough to pass by. When these crimes were uncovered (because one would-be victim escaped) the whole of Scotland was so shocked that the King himself led the hunt which culminated in Bean's arrest and execution. Closer to the Ripper in time and character is Jean Lacenaire, the early nineteenth-century French murderer. He was not a serial killer; in fact he was a rather unsuccessful petty criminal. But, as he made clear in his Memoirs which he wrote while awaiting execution, he was a loner and a rebel who regarded his activities as a calculated assault on the society which produced him and which he had grown to hate. There is of course one important difference between Lacenaire and the Ripper; the Frenchman was caught, whereas the Ripper was not. His name remains a mystery, hence the need for this book.

Over the years a great deal has been written about the identity of Jack the Ripper. However, as shall be seen, practically all of it can be safely dismissed. Moreover, many, if not most, students of the case seem to believe that the Ripper was a deranged East Ender, a man who lived his life in obscurity, save for his brief notoriety in the autumn of 1888.

The fact remains though that the prime suspect in the Ripper files is a Montague John Druitt, an Oxford educated barrister, who had attended Winchester, one of the most exclusive Public schools in England. What makes this particularly meaningful, given the rigid class structure of Victorian England, is that the police officer who accused Druitt was Melville Macnaghten, himself an Old Etonion.

At first glance, it appears that Macnaghten snatched Druitt's name out of the ether. There is no known police file on Druitt, who committed suicide in early December 1888, and no other police officer refers to him. However, it is clear that Macnaghten must have had a very good reason for listing Druitt as his prime suspect and in particular for including the following sentence in an official document which was meant for the eyes of his political masters:

(Druitt) was sexually insane and from private information I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer.

If Macnaghten's report, which has become known as the 'Macnaghten Memorandum', is the most important document in the Ripper files, then that sentence is the most important in the memorandum itself. What exactly did Macnaghten mean by 'sexually insane' and who was the source of his 'private information'? The way forward in this case is to answer these questions, for therein lies the path to the Ripper's identity, be that Druitt or someone else.

That Macnaghten should accuse another Public schoolboy is not as surprising as it at first seems. If the Ripper was a 'new' type of murderer, one who had the imagination and the sheer gall to use murder as a means of avenging himself on society, then it is indeed likely that he was an educated man from a privileged background who knew the East End well from his frequent visits there (probably in disguise) in pursuit of sex and drugs.

The logic here is the Ripper murders stemmed from the corrupting power of vice, the unrestrained pursuit of physical pleasure and carnal gratification by someone from an Establishment background who, as a result of the gross inequalities in Victorian society, was able to find what he craved easily, cheaply, and anonymously in the brothels, opium dens and slums of the East End. The Ripper then, far from being a deranged local, is more likely to have been a 'toff' from outside, a man who regarded Whitechapel as his hunting ground, for that, in another form, is what the district had been to him before his addiction pushed him into madness.

The Ripper killings must be seen in their proper historical context if they are to be understood. Here, it is necessary to mention the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889, the year after the Ripper struck. In that year, the police learned that certain upper class gentlemen, aristocrats, politicians and the like, were frequenting a house in London's Cleveland Street for the purpose of having sex with low class rent boys. The police though were apparently prevented by the government from arresting the guilty parties, the most prominent of whom were allowed to leave the country. Indeed the only person to receive a lengthy prison sentence was a journalist who tried to bring out the truth about the case only to be punished for his efforts with 12 months' imprisonment for criminal libel. Recently released government files indicate that the reason for the cover up in this scandal was the involvement of Queen Victoria's grandson, the Duke of Clarence, who was apparently named as a frequenter of the male brothel. Here was a raw display of what power and justice meant in late Victorian Britain. (Clarence has been named as a Ripper suspect himself. The charge is absurd, but, given the argument presented here, it is important to note that the accusation was made.)

When Oscar Wilde published the first edition of his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890, he was savaged in the press for producing a book which was suitable for 'none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys', a clear reference to the Cleveland Street Scandal, in which many believed Wilde had been involved, although no evidence to that effect has ever been found.

The press though did have a point. Dorian Gray's relationship with his friends and the general atmosphere of decadence which pervades the novel are strongly redolent of the Cleveland Street Scandal. It is surprising therefore that, until now, no one has studied The Picture of Dorian Gray more deeply and seen the similarities therein with another case which had shocked Victorian Britain much more profoundly, the Ripper murders.

Central to the theory put forward here is the claim that the Ripper murders inspired Wilde's novel which is essentially the story of a wealthy man whose life of vice in the stews of the East End turns him into a murderer. Naturally, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Wilde had anything to do with the murders themselves, merely that he came to learn that the killer was a former lover of his and that he dropped clear hints about this in his novel. In addition, this author suggests that, as appears to have happened in the Cleveland Street Scandal, the truth about Jack the Ripper was suppressed in order to protect a member of the Royal family.

As for Montague John Druitt, this author has carried out original research which enables him to provide convincing answers to the vital questions cited above. Simply put, these are that Oscar Wilde, who spent two years at Oxford with Druitt, was one source of Macnaghten's 'private information' and that by 'sexually insane', a phrase Wilde used to describe the urges which led to his own imprisonment in 1895 for gross indecency with young men, Macnaghten, quoting medical opinion, meant that Druitt was a vice-driven 'boy-worshipper.' Druitt, it is now clear, was the sort of man who would have been involved in the Cleveland Street Scandal, had he still been alive, which would explain why he worked not just as a barrister, but as a teacher in a boarding school for boys, and why one of his legal colleagues, a solicitor called Edward Henslow Bedford, played a leading role in securing the prosecution of the journalist who tried to reveal the truth about the case.

However, Druitt was not, it seems, the Ripper. As will be argued in due course, that mantle belongs to another vice-driven 'friend' of Oscar Wilde, which returns us full circle to Melville Macnaghten for, if the following theory is correct, he and Jack the Ripper lived in the same street.


The Murders

* * *


'Now the Whitechapel murderer had five victims and five victims only.' So wrote Sir Melville Macnaghten, who joined the Metropolitan Police as an Assistant Chief Constable in 1889, several months after the last of those murders, that of Mary Jane Kelly, which took place on 9 November 1888. Not all students of the Ripper case agree with this figure. Some, like Dr Forbes Winslow, an amateur detective who played an active role in the hunt for the killer, have suggested that the first murder took place not in the second half of 1888 but on 26 December 1887.

This victim is unidentified other than by the fanciful name 'Fairy Fay'. In listing the Ripper killings, The Scotsman said on 10 November 1888, 'Last Christmas week, an unknown woman found murdered near Osborne and Wentworth Street, Whitechapel.' According to Tom Cullen in his The Crimes and Times of Jack the Ripper, '"Fairy Fay" lost her life as a result of a wrong decision; she decided to take a short cut home when the pub in Mitre Square where she had been drinking all evening closed after midnight, and in the dim warrens behind Commercial Road she was struck down and carved up by an unknown assassin.'

A contemporary broadsheet entitled An Account of the Fearful Atrocities contains some details on this killing:

The first of this series of horrible murders which are believed to be the work of the same man, was committed so far back as last Christmas, when the body of a woman was found with a stick or iron instrument thrust into her body. In this case the woman was never identified and no particular sensation was caused, the death being generally assumed to be the result of a drunken freak on the part of the nameless ruffians who swarm about Whitechapel.

The killing of Emma Smith, a common prostitute, on 3 April 1888 must be dismissed as a Ripper murder. Smith was taken alive to the London Hospital where she stated before expiring that she had been attacked by four men. Moreover no attempt had been made to cut her throat, the Ripper's hallmark. She died in fact from peritonitis which developed as a result of having a foreign object, not a knife, rammed into her vagina.

Martha Turner (or Tabrams), a married prostitute, is unlikely to have been a victim of the Ripper. Turner's body, which was found on a staircase in George Yard Buildings at 3 a.m. on Tuesday 7 August, had not been mutilated, another of the Ripper's hallmarks, and, as in the Smith case, her throat had not been cut. Her body had been pierced thirty-nine times, probably by a bayonet, and possibly, according to the examining doctor, by two weapons, a theory which is the foundation of the belief that the Ripper was ambidextrous. Turner had been seen earlier that night in the company of two weapons, a theory which is the foundation of the belief that the Ripper was ambidextrous. Turner had been seen earlier that night in the company of two soldiers and another prostitute. Macnaghten was emphatic about what ensued. 'These men were arrested, but the second prostitute failed, or refused, to identify, and the soldiers were accordingly discharged.' The inquest into Turner's death, which opened on 10 August, returned a verdict of murder against a person or persons unknown.


Excerpted from The Ripper Code by Thomas Toughill. Copyright © 2012 Thomas Toughill. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents


Foreword by Robin Odell,
Select Bibliography,

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The Ripper Code 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Disco_grinch on LibraryThing 25 days ago
I have done A LOT of reading about Jack the Ripper and "who" he/she might be. This book takes an interesting view on the topic and I find it to be one of the more plausible explanations/deductions of the Ripper's identity. Can I say for sure? NO...I don't think we every will, but there are SO many "coincidences" here that it is hard to say "definitely no".My suggestion: read this book, read The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde) and read The Lodger (Marie Belloc Lowndes)...and then decide for yourself. Not matter what you decide, I hope you will find it to be an interesting read.