by Matthew Fletcher
For those interested in theories about the Ripper's identity I have written a summary of the case against Druitt. This is certainly not an unbiased, purely objective account, but I have not tinkered with any facts or evidence. My sources are listed below. Many items appear in more than one book, so I have only referenced the source where it is unique, or especially detailed.
[Wilson] Colin Wilson & Robin Odell, 'Jack the Ripper: Summing Up and Verdict', 1987.
[Begg] Paul Begg, 'Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts', 1988
[Rumbelow] Donald Rumbelow, 'The Complete Jack the Ripper' 1988
[Sugden] Philip Sugden, 'The Complete History of Jack the Ripper', 1995.
One of the more plausible Ripper suspects is Montague John Druitt. A schoolmaster and barrister, he was found drowned in the Thames on 31 December 1888. An inquest established that he had committed suicide some weeks earlier, after having been dismissed from his teaching position. Before exploring why MJD has become one of the leading suspects, let us review what is known about his life.
He was born in Wimborne, Dorset on 15 August 1857 into a medical family. His father William was the town's leading surgeon and his uncle Robert and cousin Lionel were also doctors. In 1870 he won a scholarship to Winchester College which was, and is, one of England's leading public (i.e. fee-paying) schools. This was a notable academic achievement and he followed it up in 1876 by gaining a scholarship at New College, Oxford to read Classics.
Do not be misled by the different usages of the word scholarship above. The Winchester scholarship meant a major reduction in the fees paid by his father; essentially he would only have been charged boarding expenses, not tuition fees. The Oxford scholarship meant a modest annual award of money, the right to wear a longer undergraduate gown and a certain measure of intellectual respect. It would not have materially affected the cost of his university education, which was presumably met by his father.
The Oxford scholarship would have been awarded around Christmas, for the academic year starting the following October. It was normal for public school Oxbridge candidates to stay on in the Sixth Form for a third year. If successful in the difficult examinations and interviews, they would spend the remainder of the academic year taking life easy, basking in the glory they had brought to the school. This explains MJD's relatively advanced age. He was 19 in 1876 when gaining his Oxford place and would have been 20 when he matriculated (enrolled) the following Autumn. This chronology is confirmed by his sitting his first year examinations (Moderations) in 1878 in which he gained a Second, and his final degree examinations in 1880 when he only gained a Third Class degree. This was a poor result and particularly disappointing for a one-time Scholar. However we also know that he was elected Steward of the Junior Common Room (or College Student President) and was a keen sportsman. Perhaps his results reflect nothing more serious than a loss of interest in academic work.
After graduating in the summer of 1880, Druitt's activities remain a mystery until 1881, when [Begg] shows that he took a teaching job at a small privately owned school at 9, Eliot Place, Blackheath. [Wilson] says that the school consisted of 42 pupils, all boarders, and three members of staff. [Begg] cites the Blackheath Hockey Club records revealing that MJD was proposed for membership by George Valentine (the Headmaster) and seconded by George Lacey (an Assistant Master). Annoyingly, he does not mention the date, but places it after MJD's membership of Morden Cricket Club also in 1881. Since cricket is a summer game I am assuming that he joined the Hockey club in the Autumn term. This would also indicate that he had not joined the school before the summer of 1881, or he would have joined the club earlier. This leaves a gap of just under a year unaccounted for.
[Rumbelow] tantalisingly suggests that MJD may have studied medicine for a year. If this conjecture were verified, it would be a highly suggestive piece of evidence against MJD. There was a clear consensus at the time that the Ripper displayed some anatomical knowledge. The first year of a medical degree is spent on Anatomy, with dissection playing a large part. The following May (1882) MJD enrolled at the Inner Temple to study for the Bar exams. This further indicates that the teaching job was a stop-gap measure while he decided on his future.
It is highly probable that MJD was engaged in some work or study from Autumn 1880 until Summer 1881. Accepting the relatively lowly teaching job suggests that he abandoned it. Qualifying for the Bar in three years while holding down a full-time teaching post is no mean feat, so we might also infer that this mystery activity was difficult or distasteful in some way. When we also consider MJD's family medical background, a year spent as a medical student is not unlikely. This is all plausible conjecture, and I am not pretending otherwise, but it may yet be proven. It is possible that MJD could have gained medical experience from accompanying his father, and there would have been plenty of medical books at home. However, the speed and partial skill which the Ripper displayed definitely suggests practical experience.
A barrister in English law has the right to address a judge and jury in court cases. All student barristers must enrol at one of the four Inns of Court (of which the Inner Temple is one) and undergo fairly rigorous examinations. On passing they are 'called to the Bar' and allowed to practise. In April 1885, after three years, MJD was called to the Bar. Nowadays this ensures a lucrative career but things were not so in the 1880s. Several authors recount the contemporary estimate that only one in eight fledgling barristers were successful in establishing a career.
Many earlier authors have also asserted that MJD's legal career was a failure, not resulting in a single case but again [Begg] sets the record straight. [Begg] details that MJD was registered as a 'special pleader'. These were typically lawyers who did not have the right to address a judge and jury, but could handle civil disputes, act as arbitrators and perform various administrative legal duties. For a barrister to continue with such activities was slightly unusual, but the work was reasonably well paid and a perfectly respectable career move, given the shortage of court work.
Later in 1885, MJD's father died of a heart attack aged 65. He left a substantial estate of 16,579 pounds. The bulk went to his three daughters with bequests of 6,000 pounds each, provided they did not marry before the age of 21. The youngest was only 14 so there was no lack of monies implied. MJD's elder brother (William) inherited a farm with responsibility to care for his mother. MJD and his two other brothers received a modest legacy of 500 pounds each. In fact MJD had already borrowed against this legacy in 1882 when studying for the Bar. The formality of the arrangement suggests that Druitt senior was not a man to indulge his children financially, but, at the same time, not averse to funding their education or professional training. It has been suggested that MJD and his younger brothers were dealt with unfairly by the will, but I would argue against this. It was entirely normal for daughters to receive a generous dowry on marriage. Indeed it was essential to ensure a 'good match'. It was also traditional for the eldest son to inherit any family property, and William junior had the additional responsibility of providing for their mother. Clearly Druitt senior felt his younger sons had to make their own way in the world and was concerned with providing for his wife and daughters.
MJD remained at the Blackheath school and simultaneously pursued his legal career for the next three years. He had a busy social life centred around sport and he was the Secretary and Treasurer of the local Blackheath Cricket Club as well as regularly turning out regularly for various teams. His mother's health sadly deteriorated and in July 1888, after a suicide attempt, she was permanently hospitalised in a number of private asylums and clinics until her death. The date is significant since the Ripper murders began in August 1888, and her mental state may have acted as a catalyst for MJD's descent into murder. Mental illness certainly ran in the family - MJD's maternal grandmother and aunt had committed suicide and own sister was to do so, although many years later.
Whatever the reason, during the Autumn term of 1888 something went seriously wrong. On the 11 December, MJD's brother William heard that MJD had not been seen in his chambers for over a week. He immediately travelled to Blackheath and learned that MJD had got into serious trouble at the school and been dismissed. Some papers were discovered referring to his depressed state and apparently a letter to Valentine hinted at suicide. On the 31 December, his body was found floating in the Thames near Chiswick. An inquest was convened and established a verdict of suicide while of unsound mind.
The principal witness was William himself who stated that he had found a letter addressed to himself among MJD's papers. This letter was produced in court and the gist of the message was 'Since Friday I felt I was going to be like mother and the best thing was for me to die.' Stephen Knight correctly pointed out that it would be bizarre for MJD to have been worried about his mental state since Friday, when he had savagely killed several women in the preceding weeks. He uses this to discredit the Druitt theory. It is far more likely that William wrote the note himself to speedily bring a conclusion to the proceedings. What is the evidence for this claim? Initially there was confusion over the date of MJD's suicide. His tombstone has 4 December and many authors sloppily propagate 3 December (although [Begg] at least modifies this in a note) but [Sugden] convincingly shows it was almost certainly Saturday 1 December. This means that the letter must have been written on Saturday at the latest. To write 'Since Friday' on a Saturday is highly unusual, and suggests that the letter was, in fact, written by someone assuming that MJD killed himself on the Monday or Tuesday.
The reason for his dismissal remains a mystery and subject of much speculation. Here are some obvious possibilities: (i) Erratic behaviour caused by mental illness, (ii) Discovery of some illicit materials such as pornography or drugs, (iii) Some homosexual impropriety involving a pupil, (iv) Financial dishonesty or (v) Discoveries suggesting he was the Ripper. We can probably rule out (iii), (iv) and, sadly, (v). My reasoning is that two cheques were found on his body, one for 50 pounds, the other for 16 pounds. [Begg] indicates that average teaching wage was about 120 pounds a year, although Druitt would almost certainly have been earning more, perhaps 200 pounds. Many writers have suggested that the 50 pound cheque was from Valentine and corresponded to a term's wages This fails to explain the 16 pound cheque, which was drawn on the same bank. A far more likely explanation is that the 16 pound cheque was an official month's salary, and the 50 pound cheque was a personal donation from Valentine. This would indicate that he regretted having to dismiss MJD, and wished to thank him for his years of service at the school. He certainly would not have paid this if MJD's dismissal was due to (iii), (iv) or (v). Some writers have been excited by the large amounts of the cheques and speculated that MJD was a blackmailer, or being blackmailed, but there is no evidence for this - and blackmailers generally prefer cash.
[Begg] suggests that MJD's serious offence may not have been as serious as all that, and that he may have been serving out a notice period before leaving at the end of term. The evidence suggests otherwise. On 19 November 1888, he played an active role in the monthly board meeting of the Blackheath Cricket, Football and Lawn Tennis Co. However, on 21 December, after MJD had vanished, but before he had surfaced at Chiswick, the meeting's minutes record: 'The Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, Mr M J Druitt, having gone abroad, it was resolved that he be and he is hereby removed from the post of Honorary Secretary and Treasurer'. MJD's colleague Lacey was present and he undoubtedly informed the committee that MJD had been sacked in disgrace. If MJD had been serving a notice period he would have resigned on 19 November, offering some plausible excuse. The abruptness of his departure speaks of a more serious offence.
This concludes our review of Druitt's life. The obvious question must now be asked: Why has Druitt come to be regarded as one of the leading contenders in quest for the Ripper's identity? The first public claims that the Ripper had drowned himself were made by journalist George R. Sims. Writing in 1902, he stated that the police had narrowed a shortlist of seven suspects down to just three. While these three were being investigated, one was found drowned in the Thames. In 1903 he returned to the same theme: '... A little more than a month later the body of the man suspected by the chiefs at the Yard, and by his own friends, who were in communication with the Yard, was found in the Thames.' He also cited a report by Major Arthur Griffiths as corroborating his story. Writing in Mysteries of Police and Crime (1898), Griffiths had indeed said that the police strongly suspected three people. He characterised them as: an insane Polish Jew, an insane Russian doctor and another doctor, who was found floating in the Thames on the last day of the year.
There the matter rested until 1959 when journalist Dan Farson accidentally discovered a copy of Sir Melville MacNaghten's notes on the case. These notes had been copied by Lady Christabel Aberconway (a relation) from the original. The original version is now lost, although it was apparently seen as late as 1950. MacNaghten had been appointed as the Metropolitan Police's Assistant Chief Constable in June 1889, and was promoted to Chief Constable the following year. In his memoirs he only admitted to two great disappointments in his life: Becoming a detective six months after the Ripper committed suicide, and not playing for Eton in the annual cricket match against Harrow.
In 1966, Scotland Yard released the final version of MacNaghten's report. It had been lying, undisturbed, among the closed case papers for over seventy years. Apart from fully authenticating the Aberconway draft, it also revealed some interesting differences. It was also now clear that Griffiths had seen the draft report. From the Aberconway draft:
'... Personally, after much careful & deliberate consideration, I am inclined to exonerate the last 2, but I have always held strong opinions regarding no. 1, and the more I think the matter over, the stronger do these opinions become.' The truth, however, will never be known, and did indeed at one time lie at the bottom of the Thames, if my conjections be correct. No.1. Mr M. J. Druitt a doctor of about 41 years of age & of fairly good family, who disappeared at the time of the Miller's Court murder, and whose body was found floating in the Thames [...]. From private information I have little doubt that his own family suspected this man of being the Whitechapel murderer; it was alleged that he was sexually insane.'
The Scotland Yard report reads:
'No. 1. A Mr. M. J. Druitt, said to be a doctor & of good family, who disappeared at the time of the Miller's Court murder, & whose body [...] was found in the Thames on 31st December. He was sexually insane and from private information I have little doubt that his own family believed him to have been the murderer.'
The observant reader will have noticed that MJD was 31, not 41, and not a doctor. MacNaghten was writing some seven years after the case, which he had not personally worked on. He was also proud of the fact that he relied on memory rather than documents. These careless errors have understandably cast doubt on MacNaghten's naming of suspects. [Begg] even takes these errors as proof that MacNaghten got the suspect's name wrong and was confusing him with a medical student. It is hard to believe that MacNaghten would write that a student was 41, and he did get the date of the discovery of the body correct.
An intriguing aspect of the Druitt theory is the possible independent confirmation of the suicide theory being current at the time of the murders. Donald McCormick (The Identity of Jack the Ripper) relates the following incident. In March 1889 a member of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, Albert Backert, complained to the police about the reduction in the number of patrols and general complacency. He was sworn to secrecy and told that the Ripper had been fished out of the Thames two months earlier. Regrettably, the original notes have disappeared and, as the story cannot be verified, both [Begg] and [Sugden] do not mention it. We must certainly handle the story with the utmost caution as both [Begg] and [Rumbelow] point out several 'facts' in McCormick's book which are not supported by any evidence. Albert Backert does turn up, in a document cited by [Sugden], making a report about a suspicious man in a pub, so it is certainly possible that he was a member of the Vigilance Committee.
MacNaghten refers to having private information, and that MJD's own family suspected him. After Farson had unearthed the Aberconway notes, he advertised for any information on Jack the Ripper, as he was researching a television programme about the case. The most astounding letter came from Australia. Mr. A. Knowles wrote that he had seen a document or pamphlet entitled 'The East End Murderer - I knew him' by a Lionel Druitt, Drewett or Drewery. Farson is adamant that this letter was received before he had revealed the identity of MacNaghten's chief suspect. As Farson also knew that MJD's cousin had been called Lionel, and that he had emigrated to Australia this was an electrifying moment. Unfortunately, Knowles' letter was removed from Farson's desk in Television House (with other material) and has not been seen since.
How can we assess the likelihood of a hoax? A hoax by Knowles seems improbable. Farson had not yet revealed MJD's name (in fact he only revealed the initials during the show) and the Lionel Druitt connection would only be known to someone who had done detailed research on MJD. I think we can rule out a deliberate hoax by Knowles. A hoax by Farson is, of course, possible. If so, then he has certainly sustained it well. Today, Farson is one of the most respected Ripperologists and has devoted a major part of his life trying to prove that MJD was the Ripper. It is hard to explain such devotion if he invented he letter as a hoax. Can the original Knowles be traced? He was in his eighties in 1959 so is long deceased. Numerous efforts have been made to track down the missing document in Australia. [Sugden] provides a full account of the various dead ends and red herrings that have dogged the quest.
In 1973, the Druitt theory was given additional fresh information by the researches of Irving Rosenwater. Writing in The Cricketer he had reconstructed MJD's known cricketing engagements during the crucial months of 1888. His findings are shown below, together with the murder dates:
Date Venue Saturday 21 July Blackheath Friday 3 August & Saturday 4 Bournemouth Tuesday 7 August Martha Tabram murdered early morning Friday 10 August & Saturday 11 Bournemouth Friday 31 August Polly Nichols murdered early morning Saturday 1 September Canford, Dorset Saturday 8 September Annie Chapman murdered around 5.30 am Saturday 8 September Blackheath, starting at 11.30 am Sunday 30 September Stride/Eddowes murdered early hours Friday 9 November Mary Kelly murdered early hours
Note: If anyone is surprised by the inclusion of Martha Tabram as the first victim, then read [Sugden] for a long overdue reappraisal.
It is staggering that an individual's movements can be traced almost a century after their death. The dates certainly do not conflict with the theory that MJD was the Ripper. The most important find is obviously that of Saturday 8 September. This is a mixed blessing. Many authors have found it unlikely that MJD could have murdered Chapman at around 5.30 a.m., then travelled home to Blackheath, cleaned up, and be ready to take to the field a few hours later. On the other hand, we have definitely placed MJD within a few miles of a murder site within a few hours of the event. [Sugden] suggests that, as MJD's brother William lived in Bournemouth, he would have stayed with him during the week and therefore would not have been in London for the Tabram killing. This overlooks that MJD pursued two careers simultaneously. He could not practise law during term time so it seems far more likely that he would have returned to London during the summer vacation to catch up with his legal work.
The murder dates themselves are clearly not random. There is a strong correlation between holidays and weekends as Monday 6 August was a bank (public) holiday and 9 November was the day of the Lord Mayor's Show (London holiday). This was, of course, noted at the time and the police concluded that they were looking for someone in regular employment. The first two murder dates (Tabram and Nichols) are interesting in that they suggest the murderer did not have to be up early for work the following day. During August, MJD would have been free from his teaching duties, so this would certainly not conflict with MJD being responsible.
How well does MJD fit with what else is known about the killer? There are several witness statements describing men seen with the victims shortly before their demise. These descriptions are somewhat self-contradictory, but the consensus picture is of a white male, of average height, in his twenties or thirties, with a possibly Jewish appearance. This fits MJD reasonably well. He was not Jewish but the photograph on the cover of [Rumbelow] shows he could certainly have been taken for a Jew, particularly if prowling around Whitechapel dressed in a 'shabby genteel' manner.
[Sugden] makes clear the Ripper's modus operandi was to first choke his victims into unconsciousness with his bare hands, and only then to cut their throats. This certainly indicates a bold, aggressive personality coupled with considerable strength. MJD was school and university champion at Fives (a ball game played with the hand). He was also an excellent club cricket player. As [Sugden] summarises: The sporting evidence suggests a man with considerable strength in his arms and wrists.
At school he was a prominent member of the debating society and his later JCR stewardship and participation in sports club organisation point to a self-confident, dominant personality. I would also point out that MJD's schooldays, university degree, school teaching and legal career all took place in exclusively male environments. Such a man could easily form some strange attitudes and opinions concerning women. The ease with which he fitted into all-male society is no proof that he was too normal and well adjusted to have been the Ripper.
An additional clue is provided by the Goulston Street chalk message: 'The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing'. It is probable that this was written by the murderer, and its possible meaning has been vigorously debated ever since. However, a couple of suggestive points seem to have escaped the investigators. First, it was certainly written impulsively, as it refers to an unforeseen interruption, so we are looking for a man who happened to have a piece of chalk in his pocket. Secondly, he could still write with 'a good schoolboy hand' [Rumbelow] on a wall, despite being in an extremely agitated state. Who else but a schoolmaster could qualify on both counts?
Many researchers have gone to great lengths to explain MJD's presence in the East End. Farson showed that his cousin Lionel was registered at a surgery in the Minories in 1879, and suggested that MJD may have visited him there. The indefatigable Druittists, Martin Howells & Keith Skinner, have suggested that MJD walked through Whitechapel when visiting his mother, after her committal to the Brooke Asylum in July 1888. Maybe he just liked slumming, but my own suggestion is that Whitechapel might have been a source of pornography.
Recall that two of the most reliable witnesses to the killings saw a man carrying some sort of parcel. In the Stride murder, PC Smith saw a man carrying a 'newspaper parcel about eighteen inches in length and six or eight inches in width'. In the Mary Kelly case, George Hutchinson told the police 'He had a kind of a small parcel in his left hand with a kind of a strap around it'. Later he told the press: 'He carried a small parcel in his hand about eight inches long, and it had a strap around it. He had it tightly grasped in his left hand. It looked as though it was covered in dark American cloth'.
The descriptions tally in other respects and all authors agree that there is a strong probability that the suspect was a the Ripper, so what was in the parcel? The murder weapon easily slipped into a pocket, as would any trophies extracted from the victims, so it seems to have played no part in the murders - yet it was important and valuable enough to be worth carrying around. It also suggests that the parcel had been recently acquired or the murderer would have stashed it somewhere safe. Its presence may even have been instrumental in triggering the murders. When all these factors are considered, I conclude that it might well have contained drugs or pornography, either of which could have sufficiently excited the killer to carry out his frenzied attacks. Drugs would need to be consumed but the mere thought of the pornography, or a few glimpses, could have been sufficient. The dimensions given by PC Smith also suggest books, or photographic plates, rather than narcotics. The discovery of a cache of pornography would also neatly explain MJD's summary dismissal.
The case against MJD is certainly not proven, but it is not as ethereal as some commentators have claimed. If MacNaghten, and other policemen at the time, wanted to choose a scapegoat suicide to hang the murders on, then they certainly made an odd choice. Confronted with the myriad lunatics and criminals stalking the East End they chose a highly respectable schoolmaster and barrister. They then did not tell anyone (defeating the object of picking him) and buried his identity in their files. The most obvious reason for their suspicions was some information from Druitt's family or friends. MacNaghten explicitly states this was the case. Without this information coming to light, we can only speculate but MJD's family, in turn, must have had some strong reasons for suspecting him. The Australian pamphlet 'The East End Murderer' may yet provide that vital data. Proof of MJD's having studied medicine would be a lesser but significant find. There are always those who would prefer the Ripper to have been a Member of the Royal Family, a deranged Freemason or to have left a confessional diary behind. MJD has a pedigree of suspicion over a hundred years long and the case against him certainly deserves a fair hearing and reasoned consideration.