by Peter Underwood FRSA
It must have been sometime in the 1950s, when I was working full-time as Production Manager at Dents the publishers, that I was browsing in one of my favorite bookshops, then located in Kensington Church Walk, that the proprietor, knowing of my long interest in books on true crime, said he had come across something that might interest me and he handed he a wrapped copy of 'The Mystery of Jack the Ripper' (1929) by Leonard Matters.
I read it and was fascinated: a real life mystery that must have an explanation.
It was the first volume in my Ripper Collection which my book-seller friend soon added to with a wrapped copy of 'Jack the Ripper - A new Theory' (1939) by William Stewart. The collection now runs to many volumes, a good number of them presented to me by the authors and personally inscribed such as Jack the Ripper (1972) by my longtime associate in research on vampires and other esoteric subjects Dan Farson, great-nephew of Bram Stoker: 'with respect for the maestro of the occult and with pleasure for a much valued friendship'.
'The Identity of Jack the Ripper' (1959) by my old friend and prolific author Donald McCormick is inscribed 'with all best wishes'. I first met McCormick when he visited me at my then home at Strawberry Hill for a profile interview I wrote for British Books. He was then planning his book on Jack the Ripper and told me all about some highly original material he had obtained and I asked him whether I might see it and he said as soon as he had completed. the book I could have it but although I reminded him of his promise several times in the years that followed, I never saw the material. Then there is 'Jack the Ripper' (1987) by my good friend Colin Wilson, 'with warm regards and admiration'; and 'The Lodger' (1995) and 'Jack the Ripper - Letters from Hell' (2001) by my enduring friend Steward Evans 'fellow Ripper author, ghost hunter extraordinaire and true friend'. There is also Jim Tully's 'Secret of Prisoner 1167'. When I managed to persuade him in 1986 to contribute to my book on the Ripper I said something like "You never know where it may lead" a comment he was kind enough to allude to in his unique volume published in 1997.
Colin Wilson was the joint author of 'Encyclopaedia of Murder' (1961) with Pat Pitman who lived near us on Twickenham Green when we lived at Twickenham and when I was invited to attend the launch of that book at the Crown and Dolphin off Cable Street E 1 (John Williams the Ratcliffe Highway mass murderer who committed suicide in 1811 lies buried with a stake through his heart some fifteen yards away from the pub) I took the opportunity to visit each of the Ripper murder sites which at that time were virtually unchanged, except for Miller's Court, since the days of the Ripper. The excellent entry in the 'Encyclopaedia' on Jack the Ripper (written by Colin Wilson) further fueled my interest as did discussing the murders with Nigel Morland and Edgar Lustgarten at that memorable book launch.
Nigel Morland, who died in 1986, possessed an enormous library of books on criminology at his home at Felpham and his wide circle of friends shared his considerable knowledge of the subject, especially the mystery of Jack the Ripper. I later saw Morland in the company of Edgar Wallace's daughter Penelope at the launch of the ill-fated Tallis Books when Morland said Edgar Wallace had told him he knew the Royal identity of Jack the Ripper and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told him the same thing but it was not until he met Dr Thomas Stowell, an elderly physician who had been on the staff of St Thomas's Hospital and had known a number of people intimately concerned with the Jack the Ripper case, that he became convinced of the truth of the story. Stowell was introduced to Morland by Colin Wilson (who has had a life long interest in the Ripper) and Morland eventually persuaded Stowell to write an article for the serious and scientific periodical he founded and edited, 'The Criminologist'. With the publication of Stowell's article in the November 1970 issue the 'secret' was out and the 'revelation' was followed by a huge flood of controversial Ripper books, films and television programs that has continued to the present day. The well known broadcaster Kenneth Alsop interviewed Stowell on BBC television the day after the article appeared and I talked with Alsop some years later; he said he had never been so convinced in the whole of his life of the integrity of anyone as he was of Dr Thomas Stowell.
Edgar Lustgartan (1907-1978) was widely known as 'Mr Murder' during the 1950s and 1960s when his radio series of reconstructed courtroom dramas were enormously successful. A practicing barrister in the 1930s he always discouraged research into his private life so hardly anyone really knew him. He married Joyce Goldstone in 1932 and her money enabled them to live in palatial chambers in the Albany, Piccadilly and to drive an enormous Rolls Royce. His life was shattered when she died of cancer in 1971 and soon he was seen in the company of young women at nightclubs and before long a young actress moved in with him. One day he said he came home and found her dead in the bath. It was all something of a mystery but after her death Lustgarten was never the same and he rarely spoke of her or what had happened. Soon he came down in the world and his flat became dark and murky; his mind was elsewhere. The day after a party in December 1978 he went to Marylebone Public Library and collapsed and died there. His interest in Jack the Ripper easily surpassed his interest in other murderers and he told me he was completely convinced that the culprit was Edward, Duke of Clarence.
Meanwhile I had obtained, direct from the hospital, a copy of the 'London Hospital Gazette' dated April 1966 with an article by Professor Francis E. Camps which produced, for the first time, a description of the Ripper that had been produced but withheld at the inquest on Catherine Eddowes (on 30 September 1888) since the murderer was still at large and unknown - as he was to remain.
In my volume 'Jack the Ripper - One Hundred Years of Mystery' (1987) I carefully explore each of the victims and the sites of their murders and I also obtained the conclusions of the leading writers on the subject at that time. During research for this volume I discovered, photographed and described Chief Inspector Abberline's presentation walking stick still preserved at Bramshill Police Staff College where the inscription reveals that the stick was presented to Abberline by his team of detectives at the 'conclusion of the inquiry'. Abberline believed beyond any doubt that the Ripper was Dr Alexander Pedachenko and the head depicted on the stick was based on his features.
Over the years I have been fortunate enough to discuss Jack the Ripper and my choice of suspect, Joe Barnett, on numerous radio and television programs including Wire Cable Network, H.T.V., BBC London, Southern, Pebble Mill, Woman's Hour, Start the Week, Mid-week, Jimmy Young, Nicky Campbell, Michael Aspel, Bob Symes and Radio London, Radio Hereford 6 Worcester, Radio Oxford, Radio GMR (Manchester), Radio Somerset Sound, Radio Leeds, Radio Devon, Radio Scotland, Pete Kurrey, Late Night Line-Up, Strange But True, Big Breakfast, Anglia TV 'Look East' and many more including radio stations throughout the Unites States and on the continent. In fact I have broadcast on several hundred occasions, often triggered by the publication of one of my forty odd books.
I have very thoroughly and carefully examined all the serious Ripper contestants including Jim Tully's minutely examined candidate James Kelly, originally suggested by John Morrison with whom I have had copious correspondence and he has sent me copies of his various findings and each of his publications. Then there was Montagu John Druitt, W.E. Gladstone, Sir William Gull, Walter Sickert, Dr Roslyn D'Oston, Francis Timblety, James Maybrick, Pedachenko and all the rest and while it must seem increasingly unlikely that we are ever going to definitely establish the identity of Jack the Ripper, for years now I have come down firmly in support of Bruce Paley's choice: Joseph Barnett. As I stated in my contribution to the Limited Edition of 'Who Was Jack the Ripper' (1995) he alone invariably had no satisfactory alibi, he "answered the description of the prime suspect, he had the motive, the means, the opportunity and he was known to he violent" - I rest my case.
Peter Underwood FRSA.