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With Stewart P. Evans
Stewart Evans has long been a good friend and helpmeet both to RN and myself, and I am very pleased to present the first in a regular series of columns by this legendary Ripperologist. ‘Walking the Beat’ will answer questions from readers about any general interest in Ripperology, from suspects to etymology. And, in fact, ‘Ripperology’ itself is the topic of this first column! Send your questions either to ‘Walking the Beat,’ c/o "Ripper Notes," 132 Colby Street, Bradford, Massachusetts 01835, USA, or to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject heading ‘Walking the Beat.’ - Ed.
Since I first began reading about Jack the Ripper, I’ve seen the terms ‘Ripperology’ and ‘Ripperologist’ used when describing people who study the subject. Did these terms just happen to pop out of thin air, or did somebody invent them? – M.C., Massachusetts, USA
There is an entry in the ‘Jack the Ripper A-Z’ as follows:
‘Ripperology and Ripperologists – Terms coined by Colin Wilson for expertise on Jack the Ripper. . .’
I have never located an earlier use of this term than Wilson’s use of it in April 1972. This is to be found in the last paragraph of introduction that he contributed to ‘Jack the Ripper: A Bibliography and Review of the Literature’ by Alexander Kelly (London, Association of Assistant Librarians, S.E.D., 1972): ‘If investigation of Michael Harrison’s [author of ‘Clarence,’ a biography of the eldest son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII)] theory proved that J.K. Stephen was Jack the Ripper, then the present bibliography of works on the Ripper would be, I assume, complete and the Ripper file would finally be closed. A sad but exciting day for Ripperologists, and a personal triumph for the compiler of the volume you are now holding in your hand.’
It may seem easy to add ‘-ology’ to any word to denote the study of a subject, and it is. However, Wilson has fair claim to be the first to use this one, and the word has become widely accepted. It is probably only a matter of time before it finds its way into a dictionary.
In the Ripper world, many attempt to establish themselves with some sort of claim to fame with a ‘new’ suspect or unique idea. These claims usually involve primacy by being the first into print with them. With the example of proposing a ‘new’ suspect, the writer who first publishes the idea, rather than the one who has merely talked about it for many years, gains the recognition.
The late Stephen Wright typifies this strange phenomenon. He had a great interest in the Whitechapel Murders and Jack the Ripper, and first came to the notice of Ripper enthusiasts with the publication of ‘The Whitechapel Journal,’ which first saw the light of day in the autumn of 1996. His interest, however, dated back to around 1986, a year or two before the Ripper centenary madness. In issue two of his publication (Spring 1997), Wright wrote an interesting piece on how he first became interested in ‘Jack the Ripper and his doings.’ The second paragraph ran thus: ‘Two books, "Jack the Ripper: Summing Up and Verdict" by Colin Wilson and Robin Odell; and "Jack the Ripper: The Complete Casebook" by Donald Rumbelow made me what I am today 9and I hope these authors are satisfied): a true Ripperphile (yes, it is a new word and I have just coined it).’
It seems pretty obvious that Stephen Wright was modeling this claim on the entry in the ‘A-Z’ about Colin Wilson and ‘Ripperology / Ripperologists.’ It seemed, to me, an odd thing to do. The word ‘Ripperphile’ rang a bell with me; I had read it somewhere before, and some time ago at that. Wright was staking a claim to fame, and I was not sure that he was right. And it was not long before I located a published use of the word as far back as 1987.
I had been in correspondence with Stephen Wright on an amiable basis since January 1994, and each of us always took an interest in what the other was doing. As with most students of the case, we did not always agree with each other, but this did not spoil what I considered to be a nice friendship. Stephen was well read and very keen, and I did not consider it necessary to correct him on his claim regarding the term ‘Ripperphile’ as it seemed a pretty innocent and minor thing.
However, a few years later, Stephen published his own book on the Ripper case, ‘Jack the Ripper : An American View’ (New York, Mystery Notebook Editions, 1999) in a limited 150 copy edition. It gave him a higher profile and received mixed reviews and some criticism. He proposed George Hutchinson as his suspect for the Ripper; unfortunately for Stephen, he was pipped to the post in bringing out the first book on Hutchinson as a suspect, as Bob Hinton published a similar conclusion in his own ‘From Hell. . .The Jack the Ripper Mystery’ (Abertillery, Old Bakehouse Publications) in June 1998.
I know that Stephen was very disappointed by this, as he had been playing his cards close to his chest for several years in order to keep his suspect’s identity a secret prior to publication. His had achieved the accolade of being the first Ripper book of 1999, but not the first about Hutchinson as a suspect. It was a well-written and generally accurate overview of the case, although it did digress rather too much at times from its central theme. Unfortunately, Stephen had made the claim to have written the first book to introduce George Hutchinson as a viable Ripper suspect. It should be noted that in 1996, Brian Marriner had also introduced Hutchinson as a suspect in a piece in ‘Murder Most Foul.’
On page 34 of Wright’s book is the following paragraph: ‘Maybrick – or whoever posed as Maybrick in putting together the diary – knew only what he had read in the press about Jack the Ripper and the murders – information available to anyone – and indeed rehashed the occurrences to some extent in telling about them. Yet most of what he set down is so boring that it is an effort for this writer, and also as a Ripperphile (n. 5) to get through these unliterary and hateful ramblings.’
On page 146 of his book, ‘Notes and References,’ Wright included the reference number 5 above referred to: ‘5 - Ripperphile: An expression coined by Stephen Wright.’
Having read Stephen’s book, I listed various errors and sent him a copy of my critique, which I felt might prove useful to him in any reprint he might consider in the future. I am not too sure how well this went down with Stephen, but I did point out the following to him: ‘Page 146 (Notes and References), note 5 – "Ripperphile: An expression coined by Stephen Wright." (Refers to the use of the word on page 34 of the book). Sorrym but this word has already been coined. See "Jack the Ripper: The Bloody Truth" by Melvin Harris (Columbus Books, London, 1987) – "This strange frolicsome club [the Whitechapel Club in Chicago] was not only the foca point for knowledgeable Ripperphiles, but it was also a tall story workshop. . ."’
Stephen wrote back to me: ‘I have read your critique of my work with much interest. I must say it is thorough, well worded, and at times scholarly. As you know, I won’t discuss it in any way, but thank you for the time and effort spent in writing your paper.’
A gentlemanly response, and one which indicated, I believe, that Stephen did not entirely disagree with me. Early in the year 2000, I sent Stephen some reference material that he had asked for; many months later, my package was returned unopened. Stephen had died in New York on 18 April 2000. He had written his last letter to me just over six weeks earlier. His contributions to the world of ‘Ripperology’ will not be forgotten; both the ‘Whitechapel Journal’ and his book remain to remind us of a keen and scholarly friend.
The issue of published primacy may seem a trifling point to write an essay about, but I would demur. For Stephen’s actions in attempting to establish these claims to fame seem to exemplify a particular quirk of Ripper enthusiasts that is often to be encountered. But there is very little new in Ripper lore, and anyone wishing to establish a published first should scour the historical record thoroughly beforehand.
So there you have it. But may I finish by asking you a couple of questions? Just who first called the East End ‘the abyss’ and the Ripper murders ‘the great Victorian mystery?’ A little puzzle game for readers!