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Unmasking Jack the Ripper
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Did Jack the Ripper Commit Suicide?
Roger Barber

A continuing question haunting Ripperologists for the past 100 years is why did Jack the Ripper end his catalogue of carnage?

Some researchers have suggested that he was incarcerated in an asylum, while others claim that he committed suicide. One this is certain - he did not lose interest.

In his excellently researched book, The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper, author Martin Fido quotes Professor Luidi Cancrini of Bologna University, who lectured last year at the Misfest on the psychology of the Whitechapel Murderer. He reported that Cancrini concluded that the Ripper murders "evinced an explosive crescendo of increasing theatrical violence which would culminate in a complete breakdown." Fido openly admits in the same article that Professor Cancrini would have expected death by suicide rather than exhaustion.

the way in which the murderer cut up his victims is another clue to his state of mind. Ripper expert Colin Wilson says in his A Casebook of Murder - "I would draw only one inference: that this destruction of the womb indicated a suicidal tendency in the Ripper."

F. Kraupl Taylor states in his book Psychopathology, its Causes and Symptoms that in cases of mental delirium, the person "may cause injury and even death to others, self-mutilation and suicide are possible."

Also when coupled with severe epilepsy he says "particular ideas or delusions may come to obsess his mind. There may be feelings of depression, which can reach suicidal intensity, and feelings of rage or hatred, which unleash murderous attacks."

Only one suspect has been put forward who committed suicide within four weeks of the murders - Montague John Druitt. Enough has been written both for and against Druitt already without adding to it, but it is important to put the facts about him into context.

He was born in 1857 in Wimborne, Dorset, and was therefore 31 when he died. Apart from being the right kind of age and committing suicide within a few weeks of the Miller's Court carnage, there is no evidence to link him to the murders. Martin Howells and Keith Skinner in their book The Ripper Legacy cling desperately to Druitt's mother Ann's insanity as the vital clue to both his mental state and his contact with Whitechapel. Ann was incarcerated in Brooke Asylum in Stoke Newington.

Their argument is that he would have had to walk through Whitechapel to get there. The fact is that a season ticket found in his clothing when his body was recovered from the Thames was for 1st Class travel between Blackheath and London via the South Western Railway. The terminal would therefore have been Blackfriars. However, the distance involved was quite substantial, and he is far more likely to have continued by cab. After all, he was hardly destitute. He had nearly three pounds in cash on him as well as cheques totaling sixty-six pounds when he died.

The real reason for Druitt's suicide is that he was under notice of dismissal from school and that he thought he would go insane like his mother. Druitt only commanded attention because his name is one of three mentioned in the Macnaghten Papers. Sir Melville Macnaghten did not even join the department until after the murders and there is no evidence where these names came from. There was certainly massive public and media pressure on the Metropolitan Police to at least come up with suspects after months of intense activity. Sir Robert Anderson claimed that the Ripper was a Polish Jew while Inspector Abberline dismissed Druitt out of hand some fifteen years later.

So accepting that suicide is the most likely cause of the end to the murders, we should be looking for another suicide, preferably within these four weeks after 9th November.

The following report appears in the East London Advertisers dated Saturday 24th November 1888:

"SUICIDE BY A SHOEMAKER AT POPLAR"

"A shoemaker named Robert Buchan, aged 40, of Robin Hood Lane, Poplar committed suicide on Monday morning by cutting his throat. The act was seen by a neighbour, who was unable to prevent the deceased from carrying out his purpose. The reason for the suicide is unknown."

If this is not interesting enough in itself, the report in the East End News on 23rd November is chilling in its detail:

"SUICIDE BY POPLAR TRADESMAN"

"A determined case of suicide occurred in Poplar on Monday morning. A Marine stores dealer, named Edward Buchan, aged 29 years, carrying on business at 42 Robin Hood Lane, cut his own throat with a knife."

"It appears that shortly after ten o'clock a sister of the man heard a strange noise, and on entering the back shop saw Buchan in the act of cutting his throat. She raised an alarm and the father came to her assistance and attempted to take the knife from the man's hand, but failed, and cut his own hand badly in the attempt. Dr. Skelly was at once summoned, but Buchan died shortly after. He had nearly severed his head from his body. He had been strange in his manner for some time past. The body was subsequently removed to the mortuary, to await a coroner's inquest."

Unfortunately, the coroners' reports for this period have not survived, but the death certificate of course has.

So what do we know about Edward Buchan and what clues can be found to make him a viable candidate?

Well, firstly he was the precise age that more than one reasonably reliable eye-witness gave for the Ripper.

Israel Schwartz, who admittedly claimed to have seen two men, described one of them who assaulted Liz Stride as about 5'5" tall, with a fair complexion, dark hair, small brown moustache, full face and broad shoulders. He was wearing a dark jacket and trousers, and a black cap with a peak.

Joseph Lawende, probably the most reliable witness according to many researchers, described a man with Catherine Eddowes as of shabby appearance, 5'9" in height, of fair complexion, having a small fair moustache and a cap with a peak. In the Home Office files the description claims he was 5'7" or 5'8", wearing a grey cloth cap with a peak of the same colour, and a reddish handkerchief tied in a knot round the neck. he had the appearance of a sailor.

Thomas Bowyer (or "Indian Harry" has he was known) stated that the man he saw speaking with Mary Kelly was 27 or 28 with a dark moustache and very peculiar eyes.

Of course, there are differing descriptions of men seen with the victims on the day of their particular murders. After all, the gas lighting was sparse at this time and this made identification almost impossible.

Secondly though, "he had been strange in his manner for some time past." This could also mean that he had been absent for periods of time with no explanation, perhaps in the early hours.

Certainly if he was the Ripper, a comparison with someone like Dennis Nilsson would show that he would have seemed quite normal as far as his everyday work was concerned, as a schizophrenic would.

Thirdly, he was probably a shoemaker. Although he was a sorter in his father's marine stores shop, he very likely carried out his other trade in the back shop mentioned in the East End News report. Although the family would not have been below the bread line, they would nevertheless have had to supplement their income. Horace Buchan was one of more than a dozen marine stores dealers in the Poplar area and although Robin Hood Lane was very close to the East India Dock, competition would have been fierce. Dock labourers would increase their meagre pay by pilfering items from the ships' cargoes they helped to discharge and selling them to shops such as these. Mudlarks, usually the children of dock labourers, would search for pieces of iron and rope to sell them for the best price they could get.

In the Census of 1851, a shoemaker called George Warren worked next door at No. 35. The Police also believed that "Leather Apron" was Jack the Ripper and that he was a shoemaker.

Going back to Colin Wilson, he says:

"It was the womb that fascinated him. Freudians would draw a great many inferences from this - about hatred of the mother, perhaps of younger brothers and sisters stealing their parents' affection, etc."

Edward Buchan at 29 years of age was still living at home with his father and mother plus his older sister Maria Ann. he had four brothers and they had all left home. His eldest brother Horace David and his youngest brother Charles had started their own chandler's chops, and so resentment would be understandable. Perhaps Horace Sr. had helped them get started.

Jack the Ripper killed two of his victims by cutting their throats with such severity that he cut right through the windpipe and back to the bone. The result was that their heads were nearly severed from their necks. When this is compared with the description of Buchan's suicide in the East End News, the similarity is remarkable. As far as the mutilations are concerned, with four of the victims, the Ripper appears to have tried to remove the reproductive organs. The fact that he made such a mess of it can be gauged by the way that parts of other organs were removed.

The number of lacerations and the manner in which the cutting was carried out suggests he had no medical knowledge and was simply trying to destroy the place he came from.

The only victim not to have been mutilated in this way was Liz Stride. It has always been taken for granted that the murderer was disturbed and did not have the time to continue his fiendish work. There could be another reason - he knew his victim.

Paul Begg has probably come up with more information about Elizabeth Stride than any other researcher. In his Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts he says that Stride regularly claimed to have kept a coffee shop in Chrisp Street, Poplar with her husband John Thomas Stride. Kelly's Trade Directory for 1870 shows a John Thomas Stride keeping a coffee room in Upper North Street, Poplar. He moved the business to 178 Poplar High Street in 1872 and remained there until 1875. John Thomas died in 1884 and his death certificate gives his address as the Poplar Union Workhouse.

Edward Buchan was born in 1859 and so would have been 11-16 years of age when the Strides had their coffee shop. 178 Poplar High Street is barely 5 minutes from Robin Hood Lane, and so it is highly likely he would know Liz by sight.

Again is has been accepted that the Ripper was left handed as he cut his victims' throats from left to right. It is more feasible that as they bent over to have sex, as most prostitutes did, he put his hand over their mouth and cut their throat with his right hand from left to right. The strength needed to cut through to the spine would surely have been easier to discharge in this way. As he turned Liz Stride over to mutilate her, the face was familiar and he panicked. His lust unsatisfied, he went in search of another victim and found her.

His home in Poplar does at first sight seem to put Buchan too far away from Whitechapel. The distance is some three miles, which at a brisk walk would have taken an hour to two hours to negotiate. A man exhilarated by his murderous actions may have done better, or he may simply have wandered for hours afterwards having escaped quickly from the scene of the crime.

To quote F. Kraupl Taylor again:

"There can be emotional explosions, when the patient is seized by panic, rage or lust, and commits crimes for which he has no subsequent reminiscence. They may walk or travel long distances, but their obfuscation is apparent in their slow fumbling behaviour and they are sometimes wrongly accused of being drunk."

There is one final fact which I believe makes Edward Buchan the most likely suspect and that is the date of his suicide. Monday 19th November 1888 was the day of Mary Jane Kelly's funeral. The East End was aflame with talk about the Ripper and sentiment was running high. At all of the victims' funerals, thousands lined the streets. Kelly's was no exception. The word would have gone out and the people off Poplar would be planning to pick a spot on the funeral route from Shoreditch to Leytonstone to pay their last respects. Such attention would have enraged the Ripper, who by the very nature of his murders was crying out to be noticed. The 19th November had another significance - it was Edward Buchan's birthday!

Edward Buchan was born on 19th November 1859 at 37 Robin Hood Lane. He died on 19th November 1888 at 43 Robin Hood Lane. The house numbers had been changed in that time but the building had not. In 29 years he had achieved nothing and was still tied to his mother. He killed himself on his birthday as the final attempt to break the link - to somehow obliterate his very existence. It was all that was left to him.

So was he Jack the Ripper? He could well have been. The lack of factual evidence suggests that we shall never definitely know who the psychopath was. Psychological evidence alone, however, shows that Edward Buchan is the likeliest candidate to appear.


Related pages:
  Edward Buchan
       Message Boards: Edward Buchan 
       Press Reports: East End News - 23 November 1888 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 24 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 22 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 6 October 1874 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands - Edward Buchan 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Edward Buchan