January 14, 1997
Just a few paragraphs about yourself; your career, family, history, etc.
The dull bit first, eh? Okay, let's be brief. I've worked in newspapers, advertising, television and publishing, and became a freelance writer in 1979 following the publication of my first book, *Into Thin Air*, which was an investigation of mysterious (and mostly historical) disappearances. Since then I have authored and co-authored six books, written numerous articles and features for magazines in the UK and US, and for the last few years have concentrated on writing about and reviewing computer software.
I wrote *Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts* (1988) and conceived the idea for and sold *The Jack the Ripper A to Z*, which I researched and wrote with Martin Fido and Keith Skinner. I have also contributed to many TV programmes on the Ripper: *Secret Identity of Jack the Ripper* (1988, historical advisor), *Sightings* (appeared on and advisor), *The Diary of Jack the Ripper* (appeared on and advisor), *Crime Monthly: Jack the Ripper Special* (appeared on and advisor), among others.
I'm married, have one daughter and as a result of work I have lived in various parts of the country. I currently live in Kent, where I think I'd like to stay. And that is probably enough about me.
1. How did you first become involved/interested in the Whitechapel Murders?
I was never *involved* in the Whitechapel murders because I wasn't born when they took place - but I'm being facetious. I have long been interested in historical mysteries and Jack the Ripper is an historical mystery.
Serious interest was sparked in 1979 after reading *The Identity of Jack the Ripper* by Donald McCormick. I remember buying that book in Lears Bookshop in Cardiff and I still have it on the shelf in front of me as I write this. It is now one of well over thirty books - more if you count the various editions - on that shelf. Ripper novels are stacked underneath, along with videos and audio tapes. Then there are copies of the Police and Home Office files, newspaper reports, assorted other documents, boxes of papers, and a filing.... well, the material has expanded considerably since I picked McCormick's book from the shelf in Lears.
I then read other books as and when they appeared, notably Dan Farson's *Jack the Ripper*, Robin Odell's *Jack the Ripper in Fact and Fiction* and, of course, Don Rumbelow's *The Complete Jack the Ripper*. However, over the years I realised that accounts contained errors. Not only did the authors of Ripper books take their information from each other and in this way perpetuated errors, but even contemporary sources got things wrong. In *The Uncensored Facts* I give the example of a witness called Charles Cross. Some sources get his name right, others call him George Cross (as did *The Times* newspaper in 1888 and it has most recently been repeated by Richard Wallace in *Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend*) and William Cross. There was clearly a need to return to contemporary sources and establish the facts.
It was also clear that as the number of theories about the Ripper's identity proliferated, so did the discussion about them. This meant that accounts of the crimes themselves decreased. For example, only one-fifth of Don Rumbelow's book actually discussed the crimes! I felt there was therefore also a need for a book which concerned itself less with the theories than with the crimes, the police investigation and contemporary reports.
I set out to write such a book and *Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts* came into being. The word *Uncensored* was added by the publisher. I thought and still think my working title *Jack the Ripper: The Facts* was better, but I wasn't going to argue. Getting a book published about the Ripper is tough enough without quibbling about a word and I was happy to be among the band of published Ripper authors.
2. What types of research have you done into the case, and what would you say were some of your most impressive or surprising findings?
That's a tough question because it is difficult to divorce my work from that of my colleagues on the *Jack the Ripper A to Z*, particularly Keith Skinner, who made a lot of his original research available to me when I was writing *The Uncensored Facts*. Also, as Keith is the first to admit, actually finding the information is only one half of the battle. The other half is interpreting and using it. Whether the material is old or new, you gain insights when discussing and debating it with others, so again a lot of 'my' work owes much to other people with whom I have listened and chatted with.
I think the discovery I'm most pleased about was finding the medical records of Ann Druitt (Montague John Druitt's mother). The reason is that I regard Keith Skinner as an excellent researcher and he had gone looking for the papers and inexplicably failed to find them. I'm therefore quite proud of having found something he missed. Also, those papers introduced us to one another, resulted in Keith making some of his unpublished research available to me, and in the long run led us to collaborate with Martin Fido on the *A to Z*. And I am proud of that book.
Between the three of us we have identified two of the three Macnaghten suspects, namely Kosminski (found by Martin Fido) and Ostrog (identified by Keith and myself). We have located documents such as James Monro's unpublished memoirs (found by Keith) and some of Abberline's memoirs (me), plus loads of newspaper and magazine articles shedding light on the crimes; and we've found and were the first to publish a number of photographs, such as Dr. Bond, George Lusk (I am very pleased with that), Wynne Baxter, and so on.
I think the thing I am most proud of, however, it that *The Uncensored Facts* and subsequently the *A to Z* built upon Don Rumbelow's book and paved the way for the kind of serious Ripper research which is reflected in books like Phil Sugden's *Complete History...* and Evans and Gainey's *The Lodger*. I think this *serious* approach helped create the climate for *Ripperana*, *Ripperologist*, the Cloak and Daggar Club... and maybe even the Casebook.
And, of course, *Ripperana* and more recently *Ripperologist* have provided a much needed outlet in which people can publish tit-bits of information, new thoughts and ideas, and the odd theory or two. Thus, in recent years we have seen the emergence of some great researchers like Andy Aliffe, Simon Wood, Paul Daniel, Nick Connell, Mark King, Ray Luff, Neal Shelden... so many that it seems unfair to single some out for mention. Also, some lesser known people who have maybe done no more than make an eye-opening observation here and there. In the last few years these people have done excellent work, made valuable contributions to our store of knowledge and increased the demand for historical accuracy.
3. Two of the most instrumental works on the subject were penned (either in full or in part) by you -- *Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts* and *The Jack the Ripper A to Z*. In your opinion, what sets these two works apart from the myriad of others on the market?
That's a question readers should perhaps ask themselves, but both books deal with facts, neither pushes any personal theories and as far as possible both are unbiased. The latter is obviously a reference book, but from the reader feedback I have received it would seem that although people enjoy the former as a clear narrative of the crimes, it is also extensively used as a quick source of reference by people wanting to know what was happening at such and such a time or how an incident fitted into the broader investigation. This, I think, distinguishes it from similar books like Philip Sugden's monumental and excellent *The Complete History of Jack the Ripper*. This is unquestionably a 'must have' for any library of Ripper books and if you haven't got it, go out and buy it right now!, but it differs from *The Uncensored Facts* in that Phil Sugden indulges in a lot of theorising, argument and speculation. This means that *The Complete History...* explores alleys and byways ignored by *The Uncensored Facts*, but it also makes the book more of a reflection of Mr. Sugden's interpretations and much less useful as a quick and handy reference.
4. Which suspect(s), if any, do you believe are most likely to have been the murderer, and why?
Robert Anderson, the Assistant Commissioner C.I.D. at the time of the murders, three times stated that the identity of Jack the Ripper was known - it was 'a definitely ascertained fact' - and that the murderer was a Polish Jew who escaped being brought to justice because he was committed to a mental institution. Chief Inspector Swanson, who had overall responsibility for the Ripper investigation, gives tacit support to Anderson and identified Anderson's suspect as a man called "Kosminski". I am convinced that "Kosminski" was Aaron Kosminski - in my opinion a decisive pointer to that identification is Anderson's statement that the suspect indulged in 'utterly unmentionable vices', which corresponds with the 'self-abuse' referred to in Kosminski's medical notes (and, incidentally, to the 'solitary vices' attributed to 'Kosminski' in the Macnaghten Memorandum).
There are problems in accepting that Aaron Kosminski was the Ripper, notably the fact that he appears not to have been identified until 1891 and also his non-violent behaviour in the asylum. Neither really gives me a problem. As discussed in an IRC session in December 1996, is there any reason for supposing that a serial killer has to be violent when in prison or in an asylum? And, while the date may devalue the worth of an eye-witness identification, I'm sure that point would have been fully appreciated by Anderson and Swanson at the time. Also, we don't know what other 'evidence' the police had against the suspect - and they obviously had 'evidence', because they wouldn't have taken him for identification without a reason for doing so.
So, here we have the head of the CID and the senior investigating officer both saying that the Ripper's identity was known - was 'a definitely ascertained fact'. I think their suspect has to be top of the suspect list, *has* to be the prime candidate for further research. I don't know whether he was Jack the Ripper, but Anderson clearly thought so. We may never know why he was so certain, but Anderson probably knew more about this case than I or anyone else does, so I think we should listen to him with care and consideration rather than flippantly dismiss him as a liar or wishful thinker.
What is very important for me is the consideration that Anderson and Swanson would have known the evidence against *all* the most serious Police suspects. They'd have known the evidence against Ostrog, Tumblety, and even George Chapman (assuming he was ever a real Police suspect). Now, both men thought that Kosminski was the most likely candidate. If you think about it, even if they were wrong, even if their conclusion was based on flimsy evidence, what does their conclusion say about the evidence against other suspects? I mean, if Anderson knew all about the evidence against, say, Tumblety, he still thought Kosminski was more likely to have been the Ripper. This inevitably devalues Tumblety as a suspect. Anderson may have been wrong about the Polish Jew, his evidence may have been no good, but he nevertheless thought it better than the evidence against other suspects.
5. How do you view some of the most recent entries into the Ripper scene: specifically the Maybrick, Barnett and Tumblety theories?
I am interested in each of these theories. I really liked *Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth* by Bruce Paley, but I am not persuaded by the argument against Joseph Barnett. The police back in 1888 were not stupid and suspicion then, as now, inevitably falls on the person closest to the victim, so I'm sure Barnett was suspected and was interrogated very closely. He evidently satisfied the authorities. I also have difficulty accepting that Barnett would have done what the Ripper did just to keep Kelly off the streets.
I have outlined my thoughts about Tumblety in the previous question. He is an interesting character and advanced as a suspect by a very solid source, Littlechild, and there certainly seems to have been a serious UK Police surveillance in the US which isn't altogether satisfactorily explained by Tumblety having skipped bail when charged with indecent assault. Nevertheless, as said above, Anderson would almost certainly have known all about Tumblety, yet he rejected him in favour of the evidence against Kosminski. Until Kosminski is dismissed as a suspect - and I have yet to read a reasonable and realistic case against Kosminski - I don't think the case against Tumblety can be made. Yes, he was a suspect, but so were dozens of other people and we know the police entertained very serious suspicions against several of them.
As for Maybrick, I was one of the first people to see the Maybrick Journal and, unlike most of the people who comment on it, I have met and talked at length with most of the participants - from the owner Mike Barrett and his ex-wife Ann through to the authors Shirley Harrison and Paul Feldman. I am and always have been of the opinion that the Journal is a forgery, although I eagerly await Paul Feldman's forthcoming book to see if his arguments will modify my thinking. However, at the outset I asked three questions: who composed it, when did they compose it and why did they compose it? Those questions have *not* been answered.
There are people who will say these are questions which don't need answering. They have made up their minds that the Journal is a forgery and as far as they are concerned it can be thrown out with the potato peelings and forgotten about. I do not agree. In fact, one of the strongest reasons for continuing research into the Journal was given in *The True Face of Jack the Ripper* by Melvin Harris, the most outspoken and vitriolic critic of the document. He wrote: "But unfortunately every hoax contaminates the fields of honest research, even if it is exposed. Like the Clarence hoax this one will not die overnight. Its time-wasting stupidities will linger on to dog historians for years to come." He's right. We have to clear away the dead wood in order to see the living trees, which is exactly why we have to show who composed the Journal, when they composed it and why they composed it.
Frankly, I am also intrigued by the possibility that, if a forgery, the Journal isn't a modern forgery. And if it isn't a modern forgery, I wonder if it just might reflect a genuine tradition which linked Maybrick with the Ripper crimes. Maybe a local journalist heard the rumours and wrote the Journal as the foundation for a few newspaper articles (much as Melvin Harris has suggested or shown was the case with the psychic Lees). Or perhaps someone heard the rumour and planned to blackmail Michael Maybrick?
6. In recent years it has become popular to reconsider the victim status of both the canonical five and lesser-known "victims." While both Stride and Kelly have been discounted by some to varying degrees, others such as Tabram, Coles, and McKenzie have been "upgraded" by others as definite victims. Which, in your opinion, were bona fide victims of Jack the Ripper, and why?
Walter Dew thought Emma Smith was the first Ripper victim. Anderson seems to have included Tabram. McKenzie might have been a Ripper victim too. Coles almost certainly wasn't. Neither was Pinchin Street. I have my doubts about Stride, but it depends on a lot of considerations. I'm not sure about Kelly. But who knows!
7. How do you respond to complaints that "Ripperology" as a field has become sullied by greed and infighting, especially since the controversy over the Maybrick diary?
For decades it has been commonly stated that "Ripperologists" go for each other's jugulars at the drop of a hat. In my experience this simply isn't true. Indeed, it is about as far from the truth as one can get. *The Jack the Ripper A to Z* is compiled by three people, each of whom had written their own books about the Ripper and reached different conclusions. We couldn't work together if we kept on going for each others throat. Donald Rumbelow wrote the introduction to the *A to Z* and during our research very generously made his files available to us. We have also had the support and assistance of other Ripper writers, among them Colin Wilson and Richard Whittington-Egan. Others, like Stewart Evans, Shirley Harrison, Paul Feldman, John WIlding and Melvyn Fairclough trusted us enough to make their work-in-progress known to us. So, as I think all this demonstrates, there really isn't any in-fighting and the generosity shown to me by other writers on the subject shows there isn't any greed.
It is true, however, that considerable unpleasantness has been generated by the so-called Maybrick Diary. In my opinion the unpleasantness is largely the responsibility of one author whose sincere belief that the Diary is a modern forgery has led him to wage a campaign against those who think differently. Unfortunately, he has adopted an arrogant, aggressive, rude and downright offensive manner in his correspondence and in some published writing and this has alienated quite a few people.
It has also been claimed that efforts have been made to prevent books from being published, films being made and so on. I simply cannot condone this sort of censorship. And worst of all, various allegations seems to have been made which have struck me as outrageous, some even bizarre! Overall, though, most Ripper people are friendly and helpful, and a visit to a Cloak and Dagger Club quickly demonstrates that there is a lot of good, basic common sense about.
8. Is "Ripperology," in your opinion, a field which is slowly drying up as far as the possibilities for new leads goes, or do you think there is still a wealth of information to be discovered?
There is a lot of material 'out there' just waiting to be discovered. The Holy Grail of Ripperology at the moment, I suppose, is a photograph of Abberline - and America might be the place to find one because Abberline worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency when he retired from Scotland Yard. Could the Pinkerton's files have a 'photo?
Other things waiting to be discovered include the item in a South American journal or newspaper on which Leonard Matters claimed to have based his Dr. Stanley story. And we could do with knowing more about Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes of the New York Police who is mentioned in the New York World (4 December 1888) as having deployed two men to keep an eye on Tumblety's lodgings. Did Byrnes publish any memoirs? Did Byrnes keep any documents and were they passed down to his living descendants? Were there any notable crime reporters who may have kept a record of the stories they covered? Are there any Federal records concerning the Ripper or Tumblety or Florence Maybrick?
And what about the Jewish emigrants from Britain to America. I noted in the *Uncensored Facts* that Philip Kranz - who was working on his newspaper at the back of the Berner Street Club when Stride was murdered - emigrated to the United States and became editor of *Arbeter Zeitung* in New York. Wouldn't it be wonderful if he took with him photographs of the Berner Street Club? Maybe even a shot of the Club's members - could we actually get a photo of Louis Deimshutz? But what about a photo of Kranz himself? Did he ever write about his life in Whitechapel? Leave descriptions of the Club, of maybe the night when Stride was murdered? All this information awaits discovery and to the best of my knowledge hasn't even been looked for.
So, yes, there is a lot of stuff 'out there' just waiting for somebody to find. It might not be material leading us to identify the Ripper, but it nonetheless very valuable material - and the worst of it is that a lot of it could be destroyed forever if we don't find it soon.
9. Where do you see Ripper-research five years from now? Ten, twenty, fifty? What would you say is the single most important aspect of this entire field which should be focused upon and scrutinised in coming years?
Ripperology has matured from a pick-a-suspect-and-make-the-facts-fit game into an area demanding serious historical research. While this has made the subject perilous for the unwary and has maybe taken the fun out of it for those who enjoy the theorising and speculation, the focus on hard factual research should and probably will continue.
I hope *Ripperana* and *Ripperologist* will expand and perhaps even become professional (in the sense of news-stand) publications. They really do provide a very valuable service as a vehicles in which people can make their discoveries public and where assorted other information can be published. Moreover, in providing this outlet, both have helped foster the serious Ripper historian.
To be specific about areas which I think we should concentrate research effort, this rather depends on where the potential researcher is located. Overall, though, I think the focus of attention has to be on Aaron Kosminski. In 1996 I bored the Cloak and Dagger Club to the point of rigor mortise with a dull and over-long examination of the arguments against Kosminski (those put by Martin Fido, Melvin Harris and Philip Sugden) and the reasons why I advocate him as the primary candidate for investigation, and I have probably made Kosminski an unwelcome guest in this interview too, so I will say no more.
10. Can this case eventually be solved? Furthermore, do you think the majority of people involved in the study truly desire it to be?
I doubt that the case will ever be solved to everybody's satisfaction, but it is quite possible that information will come to light which will convince the majority. As to whether people actually desire it, I really don't know. I don't think they do.