Stewart P. Evans
Major Arthur Griffiths, 1838 - 1908, was Inspector of Prisons from 1878 to 1896, and began his prison service at Chatham Convict Prison as assistant deputy governor in 1870 [Fifty Years of Public Service, by Major Arthur Griffiths, Cassell, 1904]. He went to Milibank as deputy governor in 1872, and Wormwood Scrubs in 1874 [ibid.]. He was a former Major in the 63rd West Suffolk Regiment [ibid.]. He was the author of several works relating to crime and punishment, and befriended several senior police officers of his day.
Griffiths main importance to Ripper research lies in the fact that not only was he a friend of Robert Anderson and Melville Macnaghten, he was the first person to publicly describe the three suspects for the Whitechapel murders named in Macnaghten's now famous report of 23rd February, 1894; Kosminski, Ostrog, and Druitt, but without naming them, in his book, Mysteries of Police and Crime, Cassell & Co., 1898, 2 vols. He visited New Scotland Yard and was entertained by both Anderson, Assistant Commissioner head of the Criminal Investigation Department, and Macnaghten, the Chief Constable, Anderson's second in command. There is absolutely no doubt that at this time information on the three suspects was passed to Griffiths, by both Anderson and Macnaghten. However, use of any such information would have to be sanctioned by Anderson as head of the department. This was in 1894 or early 1895, we cannot be certain of the exact date. With his great interest in the 'Ripper' case Griffiths made three separate references to the murders in this book and they are as follows -
'The outside public may think that the identity of that later miscreant, "Jack the Ripper," was never revealed. So far as actual knowledge goes, this is undoubtedly true. But the police, after the last murder, had brought their investigations to the point of strongly suspecting several persons, all of them known to be homicidal lunatics, and against three of these they held very plausible and reasonable grounds of suspicion. Concerning two of them the case was weak, although it was based on certain colourable facts. One was a Polish Jew, a known lunatic, who was at large in the district of Whitechapel at the time of the murder, and who, having afterwards developed homicidal tendencies, was confined to an asylum. This man was said to resemble the murderer by the one person who got a glimpse of him - the police-constable in Mitre Court. The second possible criminal was a Russian doctor, also insane, who had been a convict both in England and Siberia. This man was in the habit of carrying about surgical knives and instruments in his pockets; his antecedents were of the very worst, and at the time of the Whitechapel murders he was in hiding, or, at least, his whereabouts were never exactly known. The third person was of the same type, but the suspicion in his case was stronger, and there was every reason to believe that his own friends entertained grave doubts about him. He was also a doctor in the prime of life, was believed to be insane or on the borderland of insanity, and he disappeared immediately after the last murder, that in Miller's Court, on the 9th November, 1888. On the last day of that year, seven weeks later, his body was found floating in the Thames, and was said to have been in the water a month. The theory in this case was that after his last exploit, which was the most fiendish of all, his brain entirely gave way, and he became furiously insane and committed suicide. It is at least a strong presumption that "Jack the Ripper" died or was put under restraint after the Miller's Court affair, which ended this series of crimes. It would be interesting to know whether in this third case the man was left-handed or ambidextrous, both suggestions having been advanced by medical experts after viewing the victims. Certainly other doctors disagreed this point, which may be said to add another to the many instances in which medical evidence has been conflicting, not to say confusing.'
In the character sketches of Anderson and Macnaghten in Griffith's book pp 133-135, of Macnaghten he states -
'Mr Macnaughten [sic] keeps by him, as a matter of business, some other and more gruesome pictures, always under lock and key; photographs, for instance, of the victims of Jack the Ripper, and of other brutal murders, taken immediately after discovery, and reproducing with horrible fidelity the mutilated remains of a human body, but which might belong to a charnel-house or abattoir. It is Mr. Macnaughten's duty, no less than his earnest desire, to be first on the scene of any such sinister catastrophe. He is therefore more intimately acquainted perhaps with the details of the most recent celebrated crimes than anyone in Scotland Yard.'
This is a revealing comment. It shows Macnaghten's liking for the sensational and blood-curdling; an interest which, perhaps, exceeded the normal for a man in his position. The Chief Constable's office was not really the place where one would expect to see such gruesome photographs stored, and Macnaghten was not averse to showing them to visitors, which would seem to be the reason he kept them.
Griffith's third mention of the 'Ripper' case appears on page 135 where he states -
'Nor can the detective officers of the City Police be passed by without an acknowledgement of their skill and devotion to the public service, especially Mr. McWilliam, who has long been chief of the department. He has repeatedly shown himself a keen, clear-headed, highly intelligent official, and he has gained especial fame in the unravelling of forgeries and commercial frauds. The sixth of the so-called Whitechapel murders, that of Mitre Square, was perpetrated within the City limits and brought the additional energies and acumen of the City detectives to the solution of a mystery which still remains unsolved.'
Now this is a most interesting statement for Griffiths to have made. It shows that Griffiths acknowledged that the case was indeed still unsolved. The knowledgeable reader will have at once discerned that in speaking to both Anderson and Macnaghten about the suspects listed he probably learned from each of their own preference in relation to these suspects. In Anderson's case the Polish Jew (Kosminski) and in Macnaghten's case the insane doctor (Druitt). Also worthy of note is the fact that Griffiths calls the Mitre Square murder (Eddowes) 'the sixth of the so-called Whitechapel murders.' This is correct by the reckoning of the extant Police files on the murders, the previous five being Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, and Elizabeth Stride. (Here we are speaking of the 'Whitechapel murders', as opposed to the 'Ripper' murders). Macnaghten, as we know, left Smith and Tabram out of his definitive list of 'Ripper' victims.
The point to note about Anderson and his subordinate, Macnaghten, is that they actually disagreed as to which of the listed suspects might be guilty of the murders. And quite dramatically at that! Anderson claimed that it was a 'definitely ascertained fact' that the Polish Jew was the murderer [The Lighter Side of My Official Life, 1910], whilst Macnaghten merely stated that 'I incline to the belief that the individual who held up London in terror resided with his own people; that he absented himself from home at certain times, and that he committed suicide on or about the 10th of November 1888...' [Days Of My Years, 1914]. Clearly Anderson was the more dogmatic of the two, and the sensationalist, Macnaghten, the more non-committal.
It would be of the greatest relevance to know exactly what Major Griffiths had to say in relation to Anderson's claims, if indeed they were communicated to him, and why he accepted the insane doctor, and not the Polish Jew, as the most likely 'Ripper.' The well-read student of the case may state, "We do not know that Anderson gave his opinion to Major Griffiths." A very fair statement.
However, the answer can now be given here. Yes, we do know that Anderson, as well as Macnaghten, voiced his thoughts on the suspects to Griffiths. The answer is to be found in 'The Windsor Magazine', Vol.1, January to June 1895, page 507, in an essay entitled 'The Detective In Real Life.' Writing under his pseudonym of 'Alfred Aylmer,' (possibly because he was still a serving senior Prison official), Griffiths states -
'Much dissatisfaction was vented upon Mr. Anderson at the utterly abortive efforts to discover the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders. He has himself a perfectly plausible theory that Jack the Ripper was a homicidal maniac, temporarily at large, whose hideous career was cut short by committal to an asylum.'
So at this earlier date, 1894 or early 1895, Anderson's 'definitely aseertained fact' was only 'a perfectly plausible theory.' It had not yet gelled into fact. The wording of Griffith's essay leaves it patently clear that parts of it were used in his 1898 book, some three or four years later. Interestingly, it also shows that Griffiths obtained his information from BOTH Anderson and Macnaghten. Later, when he came to publish his 1898 book, Griffiths appeared to opt for Macnaghten's preferred suspect, the 'drowned insane doctor in the Thames,' as opposed to Anderson's 'perfectly plausible theory.'
This, of course, may be directly linked to the statement made by Ex-Chief Inspector Littlechild in his letter of 23rd September, 1913, to George R. Sims -
'Except that I knew Major Griffiths for many years. He probably got his information from Anderson who only "thought he knew"'
Littlechild had retired in 1893, the year before the Macnaghten report was written, and worked at Scotland Yard with both Anderson and Macnaghten. It was only Anderson who ever made the claim that he knew identity of the killer, albeit not until, apparently, he came to write his piece in Blackwood's magazine and his book in 1910. Littlechild is obviously referring to Anderson from whom Griffiths did, indeed, get information. Also, this significant early reference by Griffiths to Anderson's 'theory', now reinforces Littlechild's dismissal of Anderson's dogmatic claim to actually 'know' the identity of the Whitechapel murderer. He did not know, it was merely another personal theory.
Copyright - S P Evans 1998.Reader Reactions