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Unmasking Jack the Ripper
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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 24, August 1999. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
LETTER FROM THE SICKBED: D'ONSTON WRITES TO THE POLICE
by Christopher T. George

was Jack the Ripper a patient in the London Hospital, Whitechapel? Roslyn D'Onston Stephenson, a man who spent 134 days in 1888 in the London, has been advanced by Melvin Harris as a likely candidate as the Whitechapel murderer. The hospital is only 100 yards south of Buck's Row, scene of the 31 August murder of the first canonical victim, Polly Nichols.

Yet, as a chronic alcoholic in poor health, one might wonder if D'Onston had the strength or stamina to carry out the murders. D'Onston booked into the London on 26 July, complaining of neurasthenia. He was given a private room. His admission was thus over a month before the Nichols murder and 12 days before the murder of Martha Tabram in George Yard, off Whitechapel High Street, also within easy walking distance of the hospital. D'Onston remained in the institution until 7 December, nearly a month after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. There can be no doubt that D'Onston was in the neighborhood at the time of the murders. However, was he well enough to carry them out?

The Barnes & Noble Concise Medical Dictionary gives the following definition of neurasthenia: "an uncommon nervous condition consisting of lassitude, inertia, fatigue and loss of initiative. Restless fidgeting, over-sensitivity, undue irritability and often an asthenic physique are also present." The dictionary further defines "asthenia" as "lack of strength; weakness, debility."

Harris maintains that D'Onston's "illness" was faked and points out that the suspect had left the presumably healthier environs of the seaside resort of Brighton with a perfectly good hospital for the London Hospital located in less than healthy Whitechapel. Yet, isn't it possible that D'Onston could have returned to the city for business reasons rather than for a campaign of ripping, as Harris would have us believe? It is also noteworthy that while Harris contends that D'Onston's 1888 illness was faked, another hospitalization in May 1889 was all too real and that at that time the suspect was "seriously ill." Harris states that D'Onston was admitted to the London on 13 May 1889 suffering from an acute bout of chloralism, a paralysed state of the system brought on by prolonged use of chloral hydrate. This drug is defined in the medical dictionary as a "rapid-acting sedative and hypnotic of value in nervous insomnia." Since D'Onston likely used the same drug in 1888, isn't it probable that his hospitalization then was from similar causes, i.e., chronic alcoholism and excessive use of chloral hydrate?

On 16 October, two weeks after the "Double Event," D'Onston wrote to the City of London Police from "50, Currie Wards, The London Hospital E." He gave it as his opinion that the writer of the Goulston Street graffito was a Frenchman and that the word "Juwes" was actually "Juives"--French for "Jews"--and that the police missed the dot over the "P" while shining their lamps on the wording. (In admitting in a later article that "Juives" was actually the feminine form of the term, D'Onston stood by a statement he made in the letter that the French were "notoriously the worst linguists in the world.") In a postscript, he added, "I can tell you, from a French book, a use made of the organ in question--'d'une femme prostituée,' which has not yet been suggested, if you think it worth while." Thus, D'Onston was alluding to the press reports of Eddowes's missing uterus and hinting at a theory that he would shortly develop in The Pall Mall Gazette.

D'Onston ended the body of the letter by saying, "May I request an acknowledgement that this letter has safely reached you, & that it be preserved until I am well enough to do myself the honour to call upon you personally." As if to give himself extra credibility with the quasi-military police, he added "Please address Major Stephenson" at the London Hospital. In actual fact, research by Andy Aliffe has revealed that D'Onston achieved the rank of lieutenant while serving with Garibaldi's army in Italy in 1860. The rank of "major" appears to have been self-bestowed. Although research is slowly confirming some of the facts of D'Onston's colourful biography, it may be that he exaggerated his exploits. (Aliffe remarked to this author in a recent e-mail that D'Onston was a "Walter Mitty-like character.") Such probable self-aggrandisement is also consistent with the fact that he later apparently led Baroness Vittoria Cremers and Mabel Collins to believe that he was the Whitechapel murderer.

It might be noted that if D'Onston was the Ripper and did write the graffito, Goulston Street was on an eastward route from Mitre Square to the London Hospital.

If D'Onston was the author of the graffito, it was certainly audacious to write out the terms "Jewel" and "Juives" in script in the letter and so give the police samples of his writing, even if (as unfortunately was the case!) the graffito had been erased and had not been photographed.

We should note here that D'Onston's letter is transcribed with capitalized "T's" in the middle of sentences in Harris's The True Face of Jack the Ripper(pp. 111-12) and in The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper (pp. 447-48). In The Mammoth Book, moreover, it is asserted that this is proof that D'Onston could be the author of the Goulston Street graffito which has similar unorthodox capitalization. However, recent examination of the manuscript of the letter by this author has revealed that the interpretation that D'Onston capitalized letters in an unorthodox manner is faulty. These are lower case 'Ts," as shown by reference to D'Onston's "t's" elsewhere where they occur in the middle of the word: he forms a lower case "t" so that the horizontal line sits on top of the upstroke rather than making a cross. Where D'Onston has written a capitalized "T," it is formed in quite a different manner. The capitalized "T" as written in the opening "The" at the beginning of the sentences "The murderer unconsciously reverted... to his native language" and "The man was a Frenchman," and in the address, "The London Hospital," is a far grander, curvier, and spikier affair. Neither do the Mammoth authors appear to be correct in asserting that the letter "w" is capitalized in the phrase "the worst linguists in the world."

As a follow-up to his letter to the police, D'Onston published an unsigned article in the 1 December issue of the Pall Mall Gazette in which he developed a theory that the murderer was a French black magician who wanted the uteruses of prostitutes for his occult rituals.

It is also notable that in his Pall Mall Gazette article, although not in the letter, D'Onston stated that the graffito was written in Mitre Square above the body of Catherine Eddowes. This mistake might indicate he ether was not Jack or did not write the graffito.

As I discussed in a recent issue of Ripper Notes, the opinions that the alcoholic journalist offered about the Whitechapel murders were bizarrely divergent. In the 1 December article, D'Onston presented a diagram of a cross onto which he said the murders could be plotted, but he said that Mary Jane Kelly was not a victim of the occult killer because the murder site of Miller's Court did not fit on the cross. Furthermore, he said, the killer of Kelly manifested no anatomical skill whereas the other murders did. However, on Boxing Day, 1888, he went to Scotland Yard and made a statement to Inspector J. Roots accusing Dr. Morgan Davies, a former house physician at the London, of being the Whitechapel murderer. He claimed that he had learned that the medical report on Kelly showed evidence of anal intercourse--a claim not substantiated by any official report known to exist today. He said he had witnessed a demonstration by the ex-house physician of how the murderer killed the victims by cutting their throats from behind while in the act of anal intercourse. Thus, just over three weeks after the appearance of his article discounting the murder of Kelly as part of the Ripper series, D'Onston said that Davies was the Whitechapel murderer and Kelly was in the series. Also remarkable is the fact that his black magic theory about which he had hinted in his letter and discussed at length in the article does not figure at all in this accusation against Davies.

More than likely, Roslyn D'Onston Stephenson was an interested party with genuine ideas on the murders but a man whose thoughts were muddled due to alcoholism. We can imagine that in the wards of the London the Ripper murders caused a sensation in the autumn of 1888. In memoirs written years later, D. G. Halsted, a medical student at the London at the time of the crimes, wrote, "I formed my own theories about the murders, as we all did in the fevered discussions that took place in Whitechapel." As a man of sensibilities, D'Onston, the journalist and sometime military doctor, also came up with theories to solve the murders. Whether he was Jack as Harris contends and was attempting to "lay a false trail" with these pronouncements on the crimes may be doubted because of the confused nature of his thinking. An intent to mislead might be construed if his ideas on the crimes remained consistent, which they did not. A certain clarity of mind, indeed, would probably have been necessary to carry out the crimes. As stated earlier, D'Onston's physical condition might have precluded his ability to accomplish the murders. The crimes would have necessitated a fit individual who could successfully murder and mutilate and escape from the scene without arousing suspicion. Although Mitre Square, the furthest murder site from the London Hospital, is less than a mile away from the hospital complex, D'Onston presumably would have had to use side streets to make the journey without raising suspicion. Moreover, unless he stayed to the axial roads to the north of the district, he would have been moving east toward the vicinity of Berner Street, scene of the murder of Elizabeth Stride earlier on the morning of 30 September, where the hue and cry could have increased his chance of capture.

The author thanks Stewart P. Evans and Andy Aliffe for help in this research.

Sources:

"The Whitechapel Demon's Nationality: And Why He Committed the Murders. (By One Who Thinks He Knows),"

Anonymous (though attributed to Stephenson), Pall Mall Gazette, 1 December 1888.

Christopher T. George, "A Very Strange Suspect: Was Roslyn D'Onston Stephenson Jack the Ripper?" Ripper Notes 1(1), May 1999,12-14.

Christopher T. George, "D. G. Halsted and the London Hospital during the Autumn of Terror," Ripperologist #22, April 1999, 23-26.

Barnes & Noble Concise Medical Dictionary. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1995, 39, 84, 286.

Melvin Harris, The True Face of Jack the Ripper. London: Michael O'Mara Books, 1995.

The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper. "Robert D'Onston Stephenson" pg. 445-50 Maxim Jakubowski and Nathan Braund eds. London: Robinson Publishing Ltd., 1999.

Roslyn D'Onston Stephenson, letter to City of London Police, 16 October 1888. (Corporation of London Records Office (CRO) Police Box 3.23, no. 390).


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