A CAST OF THOUSANDS
BY CHRISTOPHER SCOTT
Annie and Alice Crook
The history of the Crook story is an incredible one in the study of the Whitechapel murders. It is amazing that a story that was such a latecomer and which has no corroborative documentary evidence to support it, has become so deeply ingrained and accepted among the public at large. The alleged story is a complex, not to say a tortuous one. It is not my intention to retell it here in detail as this has been done more than adequately elsewhere.
Briefly put, the story alleges that Annie Crook became first the lover and then the wife of Prince Albert Victor, eldest son of the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. The result of this union was a daughter, Alice Margaret, who was born in 1885. The authorities found out about this illicit marriage and child - Annie Crook was subjected to some kind of barbarous treatment to affect her reason and memory, the child was smuggled away and the five inconvenient and potentially blackmailing witnesses (the "canonical" Whitechapel victims) were disposed of by ritual Masonic slaughter.
The murders were committed by a gang whose members varied depending on which incarnation of the theory you read but included John Netley, Sir William Gull, Walter Sickert, Robert Anderson and Randolph Churchill.
The source of this story was Joseph Gorman/Sickert who claimed that the daughter of this love match, Alice Margaret Crook, was cared for by Walter Sickert, later became his lover and the two of them, Alice and Walter, were Joseph's parents. This version of events first came to public attention in the BBC series, "Jack the Ripper," in 1975 and was given its first full length treatment the following year by Stephen Knight in "Jack the Ripper - The Final Solution." The scenario as outlined in this story has formed the central plot line of at least two major films - "Murder by Decree" and "From Hell" - and the Netley/Gull pairing provided the protagonists in the centenary TV production of 1988 starring Michael Caine.
The main question is why has a story that has no evidence whatever to corroborate it and which, among the major theories on the subject, is one of the least likely to be true, been taken up with such enthusiasm? I think the answer lies in the simple fact that, whether true or not; it is a rattling good story. It has many of the elements of fairytale and myth - a wayward, handsome Royal, a poor young girl who becomes a de facto princess, a child who has to be hidden away to secrete her heritage from the evil men who would kill her, a dispossessed Royal (a latter day Bonnie Prince Charlie).
We have everyone here from the Demon King to Cinderella. There is the allure of people in high places plotting in secret the dastardly downfall of the poor young heroine. It is basically a cross between a pantomime and a Victorian melodrama. And if we have any doubt about how little the truth is allowed to interfere with a good storyline, we have only to reflect on how the character of Frederick Abberline was treated in the 1988 version (Michael Caine) and in "From Hell" (Johnny Depp).
In the former poor maligned Fred was an irascible alcoholic with an artistic ex-mistress in tow, in the latter he was a widowed drug fiend who had psychic visions, fell in love with Mary Kelly (who survived and adopted Alice Crook!) and died just after the murders virtually in the arms of Sergeant Godley! In fact he died in Bournemouth more than 40 years after the murders at the ripe old age of 86.
So what can we learn of the real Annie and Alice Crook. When we cut through all the melodrama and cinematic hype, we see that they did really exist. They were two perfectly ordinary women who would probably be astounded if they could see the versions of their lives, which are offered to us today in the name of entertainment. In 1871 the Crook family is listed living in Upper Rathbone Place, London. No number is given on the census sheet. The household is listed as follows:
William Crook aged 40 born Eton - Pianoforte Finisher
Annie Crook aged 32 born Berwick on Tweed
Annie E aged 8 born London
Alice aged 7 months born St Pancras
By 1881 the family had moved to No 2 Rose Street, London and their details are given as follows:
William Crook aged 50 born Eton - Pianoforte Finisher
Sarah A Crook aged 42 born Scotland
Annie J Crook aged 18 born London - Gen domestic servant
Alice Crook aged 12 born London
This version of Annie's name (Annie J.) is most likely a transcription error, as she is recorded as Annie E. in both 1871 and 1891. The discrepancy in the name of William's wife ( Annie in 1871, Sarah A. in 1881) must be noted. But the ages (32 in 1871, 42 in 1881) and the places of birth (both in Scotland) mean we are talking about the same person. Her full name must have Sarah Annie Crook but for some reason in 1871 she chose to go by her middle name. By 1891 the family had moved back to Upper Rathbone Place, but this time we have a number, No 16.
William Crook aged 60 born Windsor
Sarah A Crook aged 50 born Berwick, Scotland - Charwoman
Annie E Crook aged 27 born St Pancras, London
Alice M Crook aged 5 born Marylebone
The birth of Alice Margaret Crook was recorded in the 2nd quarter of 1885 in Marylebone.
And that is it from the census and BMD data. We know from other sources that Annie stayed at various workhouses later in her life, dying eventually in Fulham Workhouse in 1920. Alice Margaret lived on until 1950, bearing five children to William Gorman, including Joseph who was born in 1925. The story of Annie and Alice is of interest not for any factual bearing it has on the Whitechapel murders, but rather as demonstrating the hold that a powerful, emotive story can have on the public mind and how hard it can be to shift from the collective imagination once it has taken hold.