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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 34, April 2001. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article. Subscribe to Ripperologist.
Thomas Bulling and the Myth of the London Journalist
Thomas C Westcott

In his memoirs The Lighter Side of My Official Life, published in 1910, Sir Robert Anderson, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and head of the Criminal Investigation Department at the time of the Ripper murders, wrote: "I will only add here that the 'Jack-the-Ripper' letter which is preserved in the Police Museum at Scotland Yard is the creation of an enterprising London journalist".

He goes on to state that he was "almost tempted to disclose the identity of the murderer and of the pressman who wrote the letter above referred to. But no public benefit would result from such a course and the traditions of my old department would suffer."

Another senior policeman of the time, Sir Melville Macnaghten wrote in his autobiography, Days of My Years, published in 1914, wrote of the letter sent to Scotland Yard: "I have always thought I could discern the stained forefinger of the journalist - indeed, a year later, I had shrewd suspicions as to the actual author!"

Neither writer identified the journalist, but their statements have been accepted as fact and popular opinion today is that the letter and subsequent postcard were journalistic hoaxes.

The Letters

It isn't clear when the police began to suspect that the letters were the work of a journalist. Macnaghten suggests a year after the cessation of the crimes, but he didn't join the Metropolitan Police until 1889, so did he really mean a year after November 1888? Or did he mean a year after he joined (1890) or a year after the Coles murder (1893)? What is clear is that the police believed the letters genuine and continued to do so until well into the 1890s.

The Dear Boss letter was dated 25th September and was posted on the 27th September, but treated as a joke by Central News. The murder of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on the night of 28th/29th September obviously caused the Agency to reconsider and it was forwarded to Frederick 'Dolly' Williamson at Scotland Yard during the morning of Saturday 29th September.

It was made known to journalists the following day, Sunday 30th September, and appeared in some newspapers, such as the morning edition of the Daily News on 1st October.

The postcard was posted on 1st October and made reference to details possibly thought by some not to have been available to anyone but the murderer, although some details of the murders were published in the Sunday newspapers on 30th September.

Both of the communications were reproduced on handbills and distributed in hope that someone might identify the handwriting.

It is clear that the authorities - or somebody in authority - felt that the correspondence was genuine (and we should respect the opinion of those who lived at the time and based their judgement on first-hand knowledge and experience).

Moreover, they continued to believe the Dear Boss letter was genuine. Indeed, it remained the hallmark by which all other correspondences claiming to be from the Ripper was judged, comparisons of handwriting being compared to that of the Dear Boss letter. This was happening as late as 1896 when a letter signed 'Jack the Ripper' was compared to the Dear Boss letter and dismissed as a hoax on the grounds that the handwriting differed (which makes one question Macnaghten's claim that he suspected the identity of the journalist 'a year later'. Why, if a journalist was suspected in 1889, would handwriting comparisons still be made seven years later!).

Poor old Bulling

To fully understand the reasoning behind the 'enterprising London journalist' theory we must take a look at the man about whom Anderson and Macnaghten may have entertained suspicion.

In 1993 Stewart Evans, with Paul Gainey author of The Lodger, purchased from an antiquarian book dealer named Eric Barton some letters written to the author and journalist George R. Sims. One of the letters was written by John George Littlechild, Head of the Secret Department at Scotland Yard at the time of the Ripper murders.

It was penned 24 years after the crimes and was significant in that it named Francis Tumblety, a suspect not widely known, as the man he believed to have been Jack the Ripper. Also, it finally put a name to the anonymous pressman suspected of having written the Dear Boss letter. Littlechild referred to him as 'Bullen', although this was obviously a phonetic misspelling of 'Bulling'.

Thomas J. Bulling worked for the Central News Agency under its manager, Charles Moore, also mentioned in the Littlechild letter. Littlechild says of Moore and Bulling, "With regard to the term 'Jack the Ripper' it was generally believed at the Yard that Tom Bullen (sic) of the Central News was the originator but it is probable Moore, who was his chief, was the inventor."

This is highly unlikely as Charles Moore was of a sound reputation and was considered fit company for the likes of Sir Melville Macnaghten himself, who according to George Sims considered Moore an 'old friend' and had him over for dinner on many occasions.

What do we know of Bulling?

Littlechild tells us that "No journalist of my time got such privileges from Scotland Yard as Bullen. Mr James Munro (sic), when Assistant Commissioner, and afterwards Commissioner, relied on his integrity. Poor Bullen occasionally took too much to drink, and I fail to see how he could help it knocking about so many hours and seeking favours from so many people to procure copy. One night when Bullen had taken a 'few too many' he got early information of the death of Prince Bismarck and instead of going to the office to report it sent a laconic telegram 'Bloody Bismarck is dead'. On this I believe Mr Charles Moore fired him out."

From what Littlechild tells us we have a man with a drinking problem, albeit one that apparently did not interfere with his job or professional relations prior to the late 1890s. He was a man trusted by James Monro and apparently by many others - for so many favours wouldn't have been possible if Bulling had been untrustworthy or disliked.

There is no more information to be found of Bulling in any of the other police memoirs published by those close to the case, so we have to settle for third-hand information.

R. Thurston Hopkins

R. Thurston Hopkins, also an acquaintance of Macnaghten, published a book in 1935 titled Life and Death at The Old Bailey. In the chapter Shadowing the Shadow of a Murderer Hopkins has this to say about the origin of the Whitechapel murderer's nom de plume: "But, first of all, who christened the phantom killer with the terrible soubriquet of Jack the Ripper? That is a small mystery in itself. Possibly Scotland Yard gave the name to the press and public. At that time the police post-bag bulged with hundreds of anonymous letters from all kinds of cranks and half-witted persons, who sought to criticise or hoax the officers engaged in following up the murders... it was in a letter, received by a well-known News Agency and forwarded to the Yard, that the name first appeared. The Criminal Investigation Department looked upon this letter as a 'clue' and possibly a message from the actual murderer... It was perhaps a fortunate thing that the handwriting of this famous letter was perhaps not identified, for it would have led to the arrest of a harmless Fleet Street journalist.

This poor fellow had a breakdown and became a whimsical figure in Fleet Street, only befriended by the staff of newspapers and printing works. He would creep about the dark courts waving his hands furiously in the air, would utter stentorian 'Ha, ha, ha's,' and then, meeting some pal, would button-hole him and pour into his ear all the 'inner-story' of the East End murders. Many old Fleet Streeters had very shrewd suspicions that this irresponsible fellow wrote the famous Jack the Ripper letter, and even Sir Melville L. Macnaghten, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, had his eye on him."

Was this man Bulling? While Littlechild's description of Bulling is that of a hard working and hard drinking man of integrity with many friends, Hopkins describes a 'post-breakdown' figure, whimsical, lonely, and talkative. Without knowing anything of Thomas Bulling's fate, it is difficult to know whether he fits Hopkins' description of the unnamed journalist or not.

But it is interesting that Hopkins was a friend of Sir Melville Macnaghten and that his account shares common phrases with Macnaghten like 'well-known News Agency' and 'shrewd suspicions'. Is it possible that Macnaghten told Hopkins' the name of the journalist? Or is it possible that Hopkins was Macnaghten's source?

If Hopkins was indeed Macnaghten's source, is it therefore possible that the whole police belief that the letter was a hoax was based on the 'shrewd suspicions' of a few people working on Fleet Street?

But was Bulling really the journalist at all? Surely Bulling's handwriting would have been instantly recognisable to the police?

If the authorities didn't recognise Bulling's handwriting, was Bulling really the author of Dear Boss?

Central News Clue

One of the more popular arguments favouring a journalist as the writer of the Dear Boss letter is that the letter was sent to the Central News Agency rather than a particular newspaper.

The argument goes that the existence of the Central News Agency would not have been widely known or immediately thought of by a member of the public, but would have been known by a journalist as a way of getting his hoax maximum publicity.

However, there are numerous problems with this theory, the most obvious being that a journalist would only concoct such a letter to out-scoop the competition and create an 'exclusive' to boost the sales of the paper for which he worked. As Tom Bulling and Charles Moore worked not for any one paper but for the agency responsible for distributing newsworthy items to all of the major journals, their motive for creating such a hoax is even less apparent as they could not have benefited from it in any way.

Another objection is that no address was given on the envelope. A journalist would surely have known the address of one of the country's best known press agencies. A member of the public, seeing no more than the agency cited as the source of a story, wouldn't, and would have addressed the envelope as it was.

The timing is also a little worrying. The author of the Dear Boss letter asked that it be held back until he got to work again. Two days later there occurred the 'Double Event'. Was this just lucky timing for the hoaxer? If it wasn't, the hoaxer must have been no hoaxer but the killer.

Still a Journalist?

After reviewing the evidence it seems at least questionable that the 'enterprising London journalist' theory is correct.

If Thomas Bulling was the suspected journalist, then the evidence against him may amount to nothing more than the suspicions of some fellow Fleet Streeters who came across him following his breakdown.

On the other hand, if Bulling wasn't the man suspected by Thurston Hopkins and, according to Hopkins, by Macnaghten, then who was it that came to Macnaghten's attention one year after… 'something' - but a something that doesn't seem to fit post-Bulling's dismissal.

From what I understand, Stewart P. Evans and Keith Skinner are putting their immense skills to work in researching Tom Bulling. If they turn up any evidence to suggest that Tom Bulling was responsible, I will gladly concede. Otherwise, I think Bulling's guilt is seriously open to question and the journalist theory is due for reassessment.

The Central News Agency

The Central News Agency was created by William Saunders, M.P. (1823-1895) in 1879. He started the Plymouth Western Morning News in 1860 and several other newspapers, including the Eastern Morning News, which he began in 1864. In an effort to overcome the difficulty of obtaining news for his provincial newspapers he started the Central Press in 1863, the first news-distributing agency. It became the Central News Agency in 1870 and its journalists were the first in Fleet Street to use a typewriter, a testimonial tribute from Saunders being used by Remington in their advertising in 1875. He was elected Liberal member for East Hull in 1885.

In 1894 Alfred Kinnear (1912) became chairman of the agency, which had by now grown considerably in size and importance. - Ed.