|A Ripper Notes Article|
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It is a well-known fact that serious Ripper research has been contaminated by much fantasy, unfounded theorizing and blatant invention. For the serious historian this may be problematical. For others their enjoyment of the subject lies in reading all the fantastic stories and inventions that accompany the many bizarre suspects to be found in the world of 'Jack the Ripper'. Such is Ripper lore and its appeal. And one of the most enduring and alluring has been the Royal conspiracy theory involving Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, 'Prince Eddy', and it has been the basis for many books and film treatments. Although dismissed many times in the past by serious scholars the story continues to return to haunt us.
It is generally accepted that the origin of this fantasy lies with Dr. Thomas Eldon Alexander Stowell, C.B.E., M.D., F.R.C.S., who had held appointments at St. Thomas's Hospital and the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool, and others. Stowell held many other distinguished appointments and authored several medical publications. Stowell made public his now famous theory for the first time in The Criminologist, Vol. 5 No. 18, November 1970, as "'Jack the Ripper' -A Solution?", pages 40-51. Unfortunately Stowell died the same month, on 8 November 1970, aged 85 years, but not before he had written a letter to The Times denying that his suspect, referred to merely as 'S', was Prince Eddy. He did not live to see the building of the great fantasy that he had brought into the world.
The story is familiar to all students of the case and involves a demented and syphilitic suspect 'S' (patently Prince Eddy) murdering and mutilating the unfortunate East End prostitutes and, Stowell suggests, with a pursuing Royal Physician, Sir William Withey Gull, attempting to certify his errant patient. Stowell claimed that his main source was Gull's daughter, Caroline, wife of Theodore Dyke [Acland] M.D., "one time my beloved Chief". Stowell listed his references at the end of the piece and they included the recent (1965) Ripper books by Cullen and Odell, two articles that had appeared in The Criminologist in 1968, 'More on Jack the Ripper' by Professor Francis Camps and 'Ripper Handwriting Analysis' by C. M. MacLeod, and the book Ghost Detectives by Fred Archer. Needless to say Stowell's article was far from error-free and included some already established tales, such as that of the clairvoyant R. J. Lees. The damage was done; the Royal Conspiracy theory had been launched into legend. But could the story be traced back earlier than Stowell's claims?
The origins of many apocryphal stories are difficult to trace and often have multiple, diverse sources. It is appealing for those who wish to propagate or preserve some sort of credibility for these tales, to suggest that there may be some unknown basis in fact for them. In my recent book, with Keith Skinner, Jack the Ripper: Letters From Hell, I pointed out the fact that as early as 1935 Prince Eddy, the Duke of Clarence, had been mentioned in a newspaper article as a friend of Dr. Thomas Dutton, another doctor familiar to all Ripper aficionados. Dutton had died at that time and several newspaper stories had resulted. Other papers, at the same time, claimed that Dutton knew the identity of Jack the Ripper. So, although Prince Eddy was not mentioned as a Ripper suspect, we have a very early linking of the two names.
However, to categorically suggest that Prince Eddy was actually a Ripper suspect is another thing altogether and it would appear that Stowell was the first to do so. Undoubtedly there was a combination of factors that led him to develop his fantasy, not least of all the Lees' legend. However, the influential Jack the Ripper A-Z by Messrs. Begg, Fido and Skinner informs us: -
The A-Z authors state that "no historical evidence in support of this theory has ever been adduced…" and point out the impossibility of Prince Eddy actually being the killer. But they indicate that it was Philippe Jullian, and not Stowell, who first ventured into print with the allegation. That leaves us with a question, who was Jullian's source for this information? Could it have been Stowell himself? Or was the story established elsewhere prior to Stowell?
First we must examine exactly what Jullian actually stated. Jullian, a French historian, art critic, author and illustrator, died over 20 years ago and cannot be quizzed as to his sources. So we have to rely on the published evidence that remains. Originally published in French, his book was translated into English by Peter Dawnay and published in 1967 as Edward and the Edwardians, New York, the Viking Press and London, Sidgwick & Jackson. The relevant section, pages 143-144 in the English edition, reads: -
I decided that a little research in published sources might provide the answer to the mystery of where Jullian had obtained this information. For if Stowell was his source then his publication of it holds no real significance. Was there a common link and was it traceable? My old friend, the veteran Ripper seeker Colin Wilson was very much part of the story. I knew that Colin had been contacted by Stowell in 1960 after he wrote a series of articles, 'My Search for Jack the Ripper', for the Evening Standard in August 1960. Stowell subsequently met Colin for lunch and related his theory that Edward, the Duke of Clarence, was Jack the Ripper. This was two years before the publication of the first edition of Jullian's book. There was no indication that the theory was subject to any sort of secrecy and Colin immediately told others of the story, including Daniel Farson, Donald McCormick and Nigel Morland, editor of The Criminologist. So, as we can see, the story was gaining verbal currency as early as 1960. Although Colin did not publish the theory, or details of Stowell's suspect, at this time he was working on his Encyclopaedia of Murder, with Patricia Pitman, (London, Arthur Barker Limited, 1961). In this book there is a lengthy entry on 'Jack the Ripper' and it includes the Lees' story and the following: -
So, without naming names, we have Colin Wilson indicating two 'new' Ripper suspects 'the Queen's physician' [i.e. Gull] or 'some relative of the Royal Family' [i.e. Prince Eddy]. And this published as early as 1961, thus pre-dating Jullian. Informed readers will have already detected that nearly all the basic ingredients for the familiar 'Royal conspiracy' theory of the 1970's are beginning to appear. So all the indicators are that Jullian's source must have been Stowell and, if not Stowell himself, then a provenance via Colin Wilson. The clues were there, so what was in the public domain that would provide the answer?
In 1973 Colin Wilson contributed an 'introduction to the murders and the theories' to the authoritative Jack the Ripper A Bibliography and Review of the Literature by 'Alexander Kelly', London, Association of Assistant Librarians, S.E.D. On pages 12-14 of this book Colin explained the Stowell story and made the following comment: -
Sir Harold Nicolson, (1886-1968) was the son of a diplomat who himself became a diplomat and a politician. He published critical and biographical works, including one on King George V in 1952. He also wrote travel books, books on diplomacy, essays and some fiction. His diaries were edited in three volumes, 1966-8, by his son Nigel Nicolson. Philippe Jullian, in the acknowledgements to his book (page v), states the following: -
So here, at last, we have the route for Stowell's Prince Eddy story reaching Philippe Jullian: - from Stowell to Colin Wilson, from Colin Wilson to Sir Harold Nicolson and from Sir Harold Nicolson to Philippe Jullian. Another minor, tangential, Ripper mystery is thus solved, the mystery of how Philippe Jullian came to mention the Duke of Clarence as a Ripper suspect in 1962. This shows how the minor mysteries to be found in Ripper lore may sometimes be cleared up merely by reference to published sources. It is also a good example of how such gossip can be disseminated and find its way into print, ostensibly as fact. Another warning for the unwary researcher and would-be Ripper hunter.