Netley's name first came to public attention as a character in the complex Royal conspiracy theory which originated from the story of Joseph Sickert (c.f. Annie and Alice Crook). Netley was never named as the murderer himself, but was cast in the role of the coachman who drove the carriage in which Gull and whichever others of the gang were involved, depending on which version you read, picked up the victims, killed them and then dumped the bodies.
After the killings had been accomplished, Netley, in this version of events, was implicated in attempts on the life of the young Alice Crook, trying to run her down with his carriage. It remains an unanswered question as to why a group of ruthless men in high positions of authority, who managed in this story to kill and dispose of five grown women without betraying their involvement, would have left the disposal of one young girl who allegedly posed such a threat to the Monarchy and the establishment, to the bungling attempts of a lowly coachman.
John Netley most certainly did exist and he was described as a "carman" (i.e. a cab or carriage driver) in the available information. He was the son of John Netley Snr. (who was described as a master cabman and groom) and Mary Netley, and he was born in 1860 and would have been 42 at the time of his death in 1903. Netley died in that year as the result of a bizarre accident in which he was run over by his own cab!
In 1871 the 10-year-old John is listed with his family as follows:
99 Westbourne Park Road, Paddington, London
John Netley aged 39 born Pulborough, Sussex - Hackney carriage driver
Mary A Netley aged 38 born Paddington
George A aged 13 - Errand boy
John C aged 10
Albert J aged 8
Francis L aged 6
Margaret E aged 1
By 1881 the family had moved and John was described as "railway carman":
3 Amberley Road, London
John Netley aged 49 born Pulborough, Sussex - Master Cabman Domestic
Mary A Netley aged 48 born Paddington
John C aged 20 - Railway Carman
Albert J aged 18 - Grocer's porter
Francis L aged 16 - Greengrocer's porter
Margaret L aged 11
Alfred E aged 9
Agnes L aged 7
All children listed as born in Paddington
In 1891, two and a half years after the Whitechapel murders, the family information tells us that Netley's mother had died and John was still living at home with his widowed father. In fact, his mother had died only just before the census. Her death was registered at Marylebone in March 1901 (Volume 1a Page 396) and her age was given as 53 (according to the census data she would have been 58). The family was still resident at the same address as in 1881:
3 Amberley Road, Paddington
John Netley aged 59 born Pulborough, Sussex - Cab Driver/ Groom
John C aged 30 born Paddington - Contractor's Carman
Margaret aged 21 born Paddington - Domestic cook
Alfred E aged 19 born Paddington - Cab driver/Groom
Agnes L aged 17 born Paddington - Housemaid
The final entry for Netley, two years before he died, was the 1901 census. The address remains the same but the household is listed only as Netley and his father:
3 Amberley Road, Paddington, London
John Netley aged 69 born Sussex - Hackney Carriage driver
John Netley aged 40 born Paddington - Carman
There is not the slightest credible evidence to links Netley in any way with the Whitechapel murders. How this obscure character entered into the Joseph Sickert story is unknown but I feel if he would have been amazed how tenacious his involvement has become. He featured as a major character in both the 1988 Michael Caine version of the story and also the file "From Hell."
In the former outing, he is depicted as a pretentious thug who fancies himself as a medical man. In "From Hell" he has become Gull's tortured, cringing acolyte. Mind you, under the mad glare of Ian Holm as Gull with his nice line in contact lenses when the insanity is upon him, I think most people would cringe! I would guess that John Netley was possibly a more or less close relative of Joseph Sickert and thereby came to be included in the story and a photograph of him produced, but any such thoughts are purely in the realms of speculation and are not currently capable of proof.