|A Ripper Notes Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.|
Interview by Christopher-Michael DiGrazia
Neal Shelden is a genealogist and Ripper researcher who has quietly spent the past two decades collecting information on the canonical victims of Jack the Ripper and their families, making his work available to Ripperologists and also presenting it in booklets of his own – ‘Jack the Ripper and His Victims’ (1999), Jack the Ripper Victim Annie Chapman – A Short Biography (2002) and the latest, ‘Catherine Eddowes – Jack the Ripper Victim.’ His ‘name’ in Ripperology was secured in 2001 when he was able to find the first know photograph of a Ripper victim – Annie Chapman – taken during life. Those writers and docents interested in the Whitechapel Murders are in Mr Shelden’s debt, and we at RN are grateful to him for taking time to sit with us for a chat – Ed.
CMD: Let’s start at the top – what sparked your interest in the Ripper case?
NS: It started by accident. My eldest brother Mark, who worked at the Old Bailey, had a birthday coming up in August 1986. I saw the Stephen Knight book available in a local shop and bought it for him knowing that, like myself, he liked unsolved mysteries. And I remembered my family talking about the ‘royal ripper’ theories when I was a child. Later that evening I sat at home reading the book and became hooked. I gave my brother that copy, then bought one for myself. After that, I spent may days in Tower Hamlets Library looking at all the previous books on the subject such as ones by Cullen, Odell, McCormick, Rumbelow, &c. The one thing that struck me was that there was little background information known about the victims. I decided to see what I could find out about them via research into registration certificates, census and other records. My first find was Elizabeth Stride’s marriage certificate. But most of the research that I’ve compiled on Nichols, Chapman, Stride and Eddowes I did when I was only 18 and 19, in 1986 and ’87.
CMD: I expect that like most of us, the Ripper isn’t your only interest?
NS: I have an interest in current affairs, television, film, the internet, sport – especially horse racing on the flat – photography and art. And I would be a lair not to include drinking in pubs, and shop and market browsing! And a general interest in virtually anything.
CMD: So you’d done your research; what prompted you to go on and write a book?
NS: About four or five years previous to 1999 when I published ‘Jack the Ripper and His Victims,’ I compiled a folder with all the information and sent it to certain authors expecting that the research would probably be used in future books. But in 1999 I decided that it would be good to publish the research myself. I thought the story of the five victims could be told without including too much about the murders; that it would be more of a genealogy book. I also wanted to correct some of the embarrassing errors that appeared in my article for ‘True Detective’ magazine in January 1989. I think back now and realise that I should have made the book more interesting, but at the time I concentrated on the research.
It would be good if most people knew the names of the Ripper victims as well as they do the nickname of the psycho that killed them, but in the real world it’s not very likely. None of us in Ripper research can alter what happened to them, but we can at least tell their story.
CMD: When it was announced that you’d found a photograph of John and Annie Chapman I, like all serious Ripperologists, was astounded and intrigued. Tell us a bit about your search for that portrait.
NS: In August 2001, I decided to follow up information that I had on the descendants of Annie Chapman via her daughter Annie Georgina. I already knew where to look, and after some initial enquiries I had a stroke of luck; a grandson of Annie Georgina’s had his number on an internet genealogy site. He was able to put me in touch with a lady cousin that I knew was the one I needed to find.
At first, she was suspicious to know why I was researching her family, but curious enough to meet me in a South London library on 3rd September 2001. I had not told her about the Jack the Ripper connection, and she’d only informed me that she had photographs of her mother Annie Georgina and her sister when they were children. When we finally met, I thought there was a slight Annie Chapman look about her, and she was only 4ft 11ins. In the library I told her that she could walk away any time during our conversation if she felt she didn’t want to know anymore because the details could be unpleasant, but thankfully she never took that option. I spent the first thirty minutes telling her about the research on Chapman. She had nothing to add herself. I provided her with certificates and census material that I had on Chapman’s life and my photographs of significant places.
She then proceeded to bring out copies of the photographs of the children, and while I was looking at them I noticed out of the corner of my eye a photograph in her other hand of a couple that were clearly dressed in clothes from the 1860’s era. The lady explained that these were the parents of Annie Georgina. At first, I just sat there looking at the picture. . .knowing that it was of Annie Chapman, the Jack the Ripper victim! I told her that it would have been taken at the time of her marriage in 1869.
I then had to tell the lady the truth as to what happened to Annie Chapman. I first told her that Annie had gone from Windsor to the East End of London in the 1880’s, and again gave her the option of walking away from what I was about to reveal. She chose not to. I told her that Annie was not a murderer, but was the victim of a murder. That she was one of at least five.
Still, she hadn’t realised what I was talking about. So I asked her, could she think of any famous murderers in the East End of London in the late Victorian period? Nothing. The I tried, ‘who is the most famous murderer you can think of?’ Her response finally came as ‘Jack the Ripper!’
I nodded my head, and her reaction was only one of mild surprise. She wasn’t bothered by her great grandmother being a Jack the Ripper victim because, she said she had never known the woman, but she was pleased to know the truth. She did mention about Annie and her prostitution, but I tried to play that down by saying she only resorted to it out of necessity. After I revealed the information, I brought out the ‘Illustrated Police News’ woodcuts of Annie, which were received with a laugh. The lady informed me that the illustration of Annie looked like her mother when she was younger. We then went downstairs to look at the mortuary photograph of Annie in one of Stewart Evans’ books. Next day, the lady sent me an e-mail giving me permission to use the photographs for my booklet. And I still continue to communicate with her by e-mail and letter.
CMD: When you decide to search for people, how do you go about it?
NS: I’ve always believed that if you’re trying to search for someone that lived through the census years 1841-1881, as with the Ripper victims, then the census is the backbone of the research. I tried to find as many of the census years and build the story around that with the registration certificates and other research. Once you start to come forward into the 1900’s. it becomes easier to track down birth and marriage entries, and I try to cut my costs by searching out the original entries in places like the Greater London Archives. People may be surprised to know how much information can be found out about the poorest of families, such as Kate Eddowes and her descendants.
CMD: Fortunately for us, your search for Chapman’s descendants ended well and with a completely unexpected bonus. How do you approach people who are descendants of Ripper victims? And how do they respond to your quest?
NS: Annie Chapman’s great granddaughter, as I mentioned, took it very well.
It was a different matter with the woman I was communicating with in regards to Eddowes’ family because after the initial approach I made via a letter, her daughter – who is very clever with computers – found my name on an internet search engine and, with the names I mentioned in my letter, they put two and two together. The lady told me at first she was very upset to learn that her great-great grandmother was a Jack the Ripper victim, but strangely enough, she had said only a few days earlier to her husband that she couldn’t understand why she knew nothing about her mother’s ancestors.
Her mother, Catherine Sarah Hall, died in 1984 and had an interest in crime subjects. She would talk to her son-in-law, who was a police officer involved in the Christie case of 10 Rillington Place, but did not mention anything about Jack the Ripper and definitely didn’t know about the Eddowes connection.
I have recently spent five hours speaking to the lady and her husband at their home, and they are very likeable. She is happy to know the truth of what happened to her family. Her uncle, now deceased, used to work at Somerset House, and decades ago he made a search and could not understand why he was unable to come up with information about their family. The lady herself remembers being taken to her great grandmother’s (Annie Phillips’) house in 1943 after she had died, and her mother (Catherine Sarah) and the cousin that lived with Annie talked privately together.
Unfortunately, she cannot remember Annie herself, but thought that most of the property was sold off because they were all quite poor. It would be sad if, at that moment, a photograph of Catherine Eddowes and all the property of Annie Phillips ended up on a rubbish tip somewhere. But it could be the case. The cousin that lived with Annie is till alive, but that side of the family – despite a telephone conversation – do not wish to communicate at all. Another cousin has got back to me, but he knows little about the family.
CMD: In your booklet, you have pictures of Catherine Hall, who is said to bear an uncanny resemblance to her great grandmother. Do you think an Eddowes photograph might yet be found?
NS: I think it’s not unlikely that Annie Phillips destroyed her own property before she died, as there had been so much tragedy in her life. With what happened to her mother, and following the premature deaths of a brother and all of her children, it’s amazing that she made it to the age of 80. The daughter of Catherine Hall has had her own share of tragedy, as well; her son died of a heart problem, and her daughter has not had children, so that line of descent will sadly come to an end. She informed me that heart trouble and kidney trouble is in her family on her mother’s side.
CMD: Kidney trouble? Interesting, in light of the Lusk Kidney and Eddowes’ presumed Bright’s Disease.
NS: A couple of points that I thought were interesting: the lady, when she worked, used to get out at Aldgate Station to go on to her workplace. And something that I only found when I arrived home after visiting the lady is on the back of a photograph of Catherine Sarah Hall that will appear in the new Eddowes booklet: the photograph was taken in the 1920’s at a London photographic studio. The address on the reverse was given as ’39 Duke Street, London, EC3.’ That street was only a short walk from Mitre Square!
CMD: What future projects do you have in the works?
NS: There is a possibility that there could be a booklet about Mary Ann Nichols – or, by some miracle, the elusive Mary Jane Kelly – but I’ll have to find something really worth publishing. The Chapman book was about the photographs, and the Kate Eddowes booklet has a lot of new research. With Nichols, it would probably have to be photographs again.
Just like everyone else, I would like to find at least one scrap of info on Kelly, but it’s in the knowing where to look. I took a look for her brother in the pay lists and musters for the 2nd Scots Guards for 1885 through mid 1888 at the PRO recently, and there was no John or Henry Kelly. It would take a considerable amount of time to search all of the Kelly discharge certificates, and there are other options, such as ‘Keily,’ or even ‘McCarthy!’ One interesting candidate was ‘John Robert Keilly’ from the Isle of Man, whose father John and family were mentioned on the certificate, but he seems unlikely to be our man.
The search goes on for Kelly and her associates, and when she is found. . . maybe the solution to the murders will be found too?
Neal Shelden’s book ‘Catherine Eddowes – Jack the Ripper Victim’ is available through Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Loretta Lay Books (www.laybooks.com) or from the author at 5 Scotney Walk, Hornchurch, Essex RM12 6TL, England. The price is $15.00 (£8.00) with postage and packing.