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Unmasking Jack the Ripper
"Perhaps the best Jack the Ripper documentary produced in recent years." North American and European DVD formats both available.
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United Kingdom
16 February 1894




It has already been stated more then once that the principal features in the career of the infamous criminal, Jack the Ripper, have been known to The Sun for many weeks, and that they were previously withheld from publication to permit of the most searching and patient inquiry in every direction. When the net of evidence began to close round one man - when it had been established beyond all reasonable doubt that the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders was under the lock and key of the law - two representatives of The Sun went to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in order to come face to face with that inscrutable criminal. The asylum is situated on the crest of some well wooded rising ground about five miles distant from Bracknell station on the South Western railway. The only way to reach the place is to walk or drive, and the muddy roads on a mid January day did not tempt towards the former alternative. There is an inn near the station, which apparently does a thriving posting business, and an inquiry directed to the landlord as to the possibility of obtaining a conveyance at once elicited the suspicious query, "Do you want an open or a closed carriage, sir?" which plainly showed that in the opinion of the local Boniface anyone requiring vehicular assistance towards Broadmoor might, or might not, be a very dangerous customer. After a pleasant drive through the crisp wintry air, the journey being beguiled by the store of local information possessed by the driver, the four wheeled dogcart containing the little party bent on such curious business commenced to ascend the tortuous road which leads to the asylum out of the main road to Farnborough.


The well known establishment for the safe custody of the criminal lunatics of the kingdom is externally a handsome, almost an imposing, building. Constructed of red brick faced with stone, in a light and effective architectural style, with its high outer walls shrouded by trees, and its approaches decorated with evergreens and flower beds, the first appearance of Broadmoor is distinctly favourable. There is nothing of the gaol about it except the great iron-studded door and the barred windows of the porter's lodge - indeed the whole place might easily be the country mansion of some noble duke or earl. Yet within those walls there were immured over 600 human beings of whom more than 100 had taken the lives of fellow creatures under the most ghastly and terrible circumstances. To the representatives of The Sun the structure had an added interest from the fact which they alone knew at that moment - that it contained the most noted, mysterious, and world famous criminal of modern days.

Inquiry at the central entrance showed that Dr. Nicholson, the Medical Superintendent, was awaiting his expected visitors at his house, a charming little villa situated under the lee of the vast asylum, and overlooking from its drawing room windows the beautiful valley which stretches away towards Aldershot. Dr. Nicholson is a Scotchman whose geniality has survived many years of close acquaintance with the worst ruffians in Great Britain. He filled several medical appointments in penitentiaries and convict prisons before he was selected for the responsible post which he now holds and which he has held uninterruptedly for seventeen years. But if his kindly temperament has outlived the contact, he has not been so fortunate in other respects. Twice he has been assaulted with murderous intent either by a sullen convict or a lunatic, and he bears marks on his person which are eloquent testimonies to the unsavoury characters of the men whom he has had in charge. But for all that, Dr. Nicholson speaks kindly and indulgently of the afflicted beings for whose comfort and safety he is responsible, and it was easy to see during a subsequent progress through the different wards of the asylum that the Medical Superintendent is on the best of terms with all those who are sane enough to be able to appreciate the care and unremittent attention bestowed upon them.


Dr. Nicholson, after a cordial greeting, invited the representatives of The Sun to accompany him to his office, where he was soon busily engaged in transacting some necessary business which could not be left unattended. In the first place, he had to receive the reports from the doctors in charge of the various sections of the establishment, and some of these sounded very strange to unaccustomed ears. A stalwart warder stated that one man had developed dangerous symptoms during the night, and now required the constant supervision of three attendants, as he had threatened to "do for" a number of individuals, including himself. From the female ward came the report that "Tottie Fay," once well known to the frequenters of the London police courts, was very violent - "maniacal" was the word used in the official document - and had to be removed from her room to a cell where there was no furniture to break nor glass to smash.

At last Dr. Nicholson had transacted the most pressing portion of his morning's work, and was able to tell his visitors that he could place the next couple of hours at their disposal. At this time he was unaware of the exact motive which occasioned their presence in the asylum, and they guardedly broached the matter, mot knowing exactly what view the Medical Superintendent might take of it. The position taken up by Dr. Nicholson was, however, a very simple one. He was always glad to show visitors over the asylum who came armed with the official permit, and would, of course, give all the information that lay in his power as to any particular inmate whom he was questioned about. The mention of the name of the one man above all others in whom the representatives of The Sun were interested caused the production of a large brown envelope, which contained the whole of the documents relative to the case for which he was incarcerated in Broadmoor. In these there was naturally no mention of his supposed connection with the Whitechapel crimes, and Dr. Nicholson was absolutely astonished, not to say incredulous, when informed as to the identity of the wretched lunatic in whom he had previously taken no more than an official interest. However, it was but natural to expect that Dr. Nicholson would not commit himself to any opinion or give any help towards elucidating the mystery other than so far as lay in his power by showing the representatives of The Sun every hole and corner of the asylum.


After a stroll along the spacious terrace which fronts the asylum whence a lovely view is obtained of a panorama of pastoral country, Dr. Nicholson led his guests into the kitchen of the wing which is tenanted by some 200 female patients. Of these about 80% have committed crimes, yet, with very few exceptions, it was impossible to associate with these women the frightful deeds to which they owed a lifelong detention at Broadmoor. Several lunatics were assisting in the kitchen, which was spotlessly clean, and a very excellent dinner was at the moment being served up. Roast pork, pease pudding, potatoes, vegetables, and tapioca pudding constituted the menu for the day, and each of the poor creatures was allowed half a pint of mild beer with the meal if she desired it, though the attendants endeavour to encourage them towards total abstinence. The weather chanced to be particularly bright and sunshiny, and it is difficult to convey an adequate impression of the pleasant and cheery nature of the interiors of the various wards. The plan of the buildings - consisting, simply speaking, in each block, of a wide longitudinal corridor, with bedrooms or general apartments running out of it, gave ample facilities for the diffusion of light and heat, and the otherwise unfortunate inmates were certainly made quite as comfortable as circumstances permitted. They were allowed what appeared to unskilled observation to be a remarkable degree of liberty of movement, passing unhindered, if not unheeded, from recreation room to library, from library to corridor, from corridor to their private apartments, and going up or down stairs to the different storeys apparently at their own will. Indeed, the whole system of the asylum is based upon due encouragement of good qualities, and restriction is only practised in instances where the individual is given to dangerous excess. Some of the poor demented beings were shrilly demonstrative as the Medical Superintendent passed; others looked up from book or knitting to answer with a smile a kindly inquiry as to their health, whilst a few were sitting alone and motionless, gazing blankly into space, the soul dead and the body waiting for death.


Sex has it distinctiveness even in a criminal lunatic asylum. Passing from the female wing to that portion of the building inhabited by the more numerous males, it was at once clear that the tidiness and generally homelike air of the place had disappeared. Everything was, of course, spotlessly clean, but nevertheless there were lacking that semblance of comfort and general aspect of pleasant surroundings which brightened the interior of the female ward, and rendered it almost attractive. The dingy clothing of the men and the sombre uniforms of the warders were also somewhat depressing after the neat garments of patients and nurses in the section just quitted. Dr. Nicholson was evidently on the best of terms with the large majority of the inmates. Many of them had a pleasant word for him as he passed, and one man laughed heartily as he showed him some statements made in a popular weekly paper about the asylum. There were not wanting several strong hints that if the doctor's friends had well filled tobacco pouches the contents would be highly appreciated in the smoking room. These were at once met, as the Medical Superintendent gave his consent, and it was pitiful to note the eagerness of the man to obtain a share of the coveted weed. They were allowed a small quantity of tobacco each week out of the funds of the asylum.

It would not be seemly to single out individuals for comment, as the record of their eccentricities, however interesting to the general public, might cause pain to their friends. By far the larger number of the inmates are quite harmless, and some of them are to all out ward aspect perfectly sane. But the Medical Superintendent explained that when once the trait of homicidal insanity has exhibited itself it is impossible to know the moment when it may recur in violent and unexpected form. The most dangerous lunatics are those who believe that some person or persons - vaguely alluded to as "they" - are seeking to do them harm. All at once this hostile element will to their distorted senses settle on an individual or an object, and then it is bad for the man or article, as damage will be done of the lunatic be not restrained. Some of the cases are very pitiful, where men of once high intelligence have degenerated into miserable and degraded beings, but the career of one inmate of Broadmoor is decidedly humorous. He was imprisoned for some slight offence, and let out several years later on the representation of his friends that he would be taken care of. He got married, and after two years of wedded bliss resolved to return to the asylum, which he did, and he is there yet.

But the human tragedy wrapped up in this visit to Broadmoor was now drawing to its climax. Strong iron gates were opened, an extra force of warders came in attendance upon the party, an order was given by the Medical Superintendent, and in a few minutes the visitors were passing through the "dangerous" ward in order to be brought face to face with the man whom they knew to be


Perhaps we were depressed - writes one of the representatives of The Sun - by the morbid surroundings, added to a hypersensitive appreciation of the strange, wild, devilish personality of the man we were about to see. Whatever the feeling, there can be no doubt that some of the brightness had gone from the sunlight, some of the purity from the air, as we looked out through a grated window into a spacious courtyard of asphalt; bounded on two sides by a high wall, and on the others by the tall buildings which shut out the now declining rays of the January sun. In this chill and dreary enclosed space some 50 men were taking moody exercise, or loitering aimlessly in small groups. The chief warder in our company looked keenly for the man whose name we had given, and at last he exclaimed, "There he is!"

He pointed to a solitary figure sauntering in the shade of the farthest wall, removed to the utmost possible extent from his fellows, with cap pulled closely down. The sight of this listless, dejected figure, skulking there in the distance - restive and apart from all human companionship - was a thing never to be forgotten. The dread and demoniacal associations connected with his name, the brutal and bestial crimes committed by the man in the silent watches of the night, the mystery and terror and horror which for years surrounded his unknown personality - all these considerations held me spellbound, silent, oppressed, and saddened in spirit. We gazed through the iron bars at the slowly moving figure beneath the opposite wall. The ghosts of the victims of this wretched man seemed to troop by his side in the gloom and solitude. We pictured to ourselves the ghostly procession, and the appalling image possessed me to the exclusion of words. It was therefore a great relief when Dr. Nicholson said, addressing one of the warders, "Bring him here."

We passed into a little office close at hand, and, a minute later, Jack the Ripper entered with his guard. Two warders guided his uncertain steps towards a corner which was flooded with light from a large window and Dr. Nicholson, stepping forward, said in cheery tones, "Well, my man, how are you?"

No verbal response came from this strange being, but, as if seized with some sudden conception of what was required of him, he took of his loosely knotted necktie, opened his shirt collar, bared his breast, and expanded his chest in a manner suggestive of one undergoing a medical examination. But never a word did he utter.

The Medical Superintendent humoured the man; and tapped the region of his lungs, saying, "Yes, yes, that's all right. You are in fine form. You are quite comfortable here, are you not?"

No answer.

"Would you tell these gentlemen how you are getting on? They would be very glad to hear that you were well."

It was useless. The voice of the Whitechapel fiend, whose tones are stored up in the preternaturally acute sound memories of a blind boy, will never again be heard on earth by other than a warder at Broadmoor Asylum. He took not the slightest notice of the doctor, nor did he evince the least interest in his surroundings or in the strangers who were looking at him. His face was absolutely animal and unintelligent. If there was aught of good in that poor tenement of clay it was shrouded in murky night which blotted out recollection and dulled perception. The man's eyes had a morbid fascination for me, and as I afterwards found, for my companion. They looked out into vacuity - dull, vacant, unconscious of life, or care, or hope. They were not ferocious but simply stolid, like the glass eyes of a wax figure. They implied to me that in such a man all actions were possible, that to their owner it was as simple a thing to put a knife upon a human throat as upon a upon a piece of thick twist tobacco. As we gazed at him we wondered whether awful visions of the past did not at times flit across his brain and twinge with horror that impassive face - visions of squalid, ill lighted streets and alleys, with draggle haired women, of whispered consultations, of sudden stabbing and hacking at palpitating bodies, of hair breadth escapes from capture, and mad races for life through the darkness and gloom of London.

But if such dreams came to Jack the Ripper, waking or asleep, there were no signs of them in his livid face on this occasion. When, in dull and stupid manner, he perceived that apparently no further examination was required of him, he fastened his shirt, but slightly resisted one of the warders who attempted to arrange his scarf for him. The coarse mouth and fishlike eyes were still expressionless, and the motion of resistance was only visible by a momentary use of his hands.

Then he did a strange thing. He grasped his throat with his left hand, threw back his head, and placed his right hand at the base of the skull. What he meant by this action neither Dr. Nicholson nor the attendant warders knew. "He never speaks now, " the Medical Superintendent said, "and he is in the final and most troublesome stage of lunacy, having lost his self respect." The chief warder told us of some the disgusting and degrading habits practised by this miserable wretch - habits the mere recital of which made one loathe to be in his presence, and which were yet strangely in accord with our preconceived notions of that which the man must be in order to be capable of the acts which are laid to his store.

One more question was necessary before the warder who had Jack the Ripper in charge took him out of our presence. "How does he eat his food?" one of us asked.

"With either right or left hand; he doesn't seem to care which, sir," came the answer - another link in our chain of evidence, and all the more valuable because it was unconscious, as the official had not the least knowledge of the real identity of the man whom he had watched during the past three years.

At last the unkempt, haggard, soulless man was led out into the open air again, and he promptly walked across the courtyard to his haunt by the side of the deserted wall. Here he resumed his aimless stroll backwards and forwards, with bent head and rounded shoulders - screened from curious eyes by slouched cap and capelike coat. And here we left him, to turn with a great gladness to the outer light, to the beauty of the trees and the sky, to the environment of refreshing nature, as a relief from the morbid nightmare of seeing and almost conversing with one who looked like a deathly and pallid figure risen from the marble slabs of the Morgue.

Related pages:
  Thomas Cutbush
       Message Boards: Thomas Cutbush 
       Official Documents: The Macnaghten Memoranda 
       Press Reports: Sun - 13 February 1894 
       Press Reports: Sun - 14 February 1894 
       Press Reports: Sun - 15 February 1894 
       Press Reports: Sun - 17 February 1894 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 15 April 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 15 June 1892 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 17 August 1910 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 24 March 1891 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Myth 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands - Thomas and Charles... 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Thomas Haynes Cutbush 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: Through the Mists of Time