|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 33, February 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.|
by Eduardo Zinna
On 27 July 1876 The Standard, an English-language newspaper founded in Buenos Aires in 1861 by Eduardo T. Mulhall, published a letter to the Editors, which read as follows:
Buenos Ayres, July 26th
To the Editors of the Standard,
Last night (Tuesday), a horrible murder was committed in Calle Corrientes, a poor girl having her throat cut in her sleep by a man who was occupying the same room. The object of the murder was no doubt plunder, but the other inmates of the house being disturbed, he made off, leaving the greater part of his clothes behind him. On the Comisario being called in, and the clothes examined, it was discovered by a photograph in one of the pockets that the assassin was the same party who had lately complained of being robbed of several gold ounces and a watch and chain whilst staying at the Hotel.... Having ascertained that his new address was the Hotel..., the police immediately proceeded thither, and learned that the man they were in search of had arrived at the Hotel in a state of semi-nudity, told a story of having been robbed and stripped in the street, drank a glass of hot grog, redressed himself and disappeared.
Argentina's Biblioteca Nacional is housed in a massive, cube-like concrete building perched on the edge of an old riverbank that slopes down gently towards land long reclaimed from the waters. For many years a lovely villa surrounded by a spacious park and a high iron fence stood on that site. Until 1955 it was used as the residence of the Argentine Presidents. Its most famous occupant being Evita Peron, who died there of cancer in 1952 at the age of 33. In the weeks before her death, thousands of people gathered at the fence to pray for her. At dusk they lit candles. I went to see them one evening: hundred upon hundred of flickering yellow flames encircling the Residencia like a star-belt in the darkness.
Last September I was back in Buenos Aires. At the Biblioteca's old-newspaper department I requested the issues of the Standard for 1876. They brought me the actual newspapers, bound in green leather. As I ran my fingers down the yellowing, brittle pages, I could feel the grain of the paper and the slight raising of the print. It was a direct contact with the past that you don't get when using a microfilm reader!
I read the letter on the Calle Corrientes murder. The Standard had discreetly withheld the name of the murdered girl, that of her suspected killer and the hotels where he had lodged, but thanks to Carl Muusmann, the author of Who was Jack the Ripper?, and his translators and editors, Rikki Skipper-Pedersen and Adam Wood, I knew that what I had found was the first report on the murder of Caroline Metz by a suspect called Alois Szemeredy.
I could even supply the missing details: complaining of having been robbed, Szemeredy had moved on 22 July from the Hotel de Provence, located in Calle Cangallo 33, to the Hotel de Roma, in Calle Cangallo 323, a few hundred yards eastwards. In memoirs published in 1881, Jose Antonio Wilde described the Hotel de Roma as one of the best establishments of its kind in Buenos Aires.(1) As for the Hotel de Provence, an advertisement published regularly in the Standard listed its amenities:
Cangallo, No. 33
Fine Suits of Rooms for Families
Clean Linen; attendance and cuisine of first order
Visitors of short stay in town, Board & Lodging at $ 50 per day
Families and regular visitors at conventional terms
Orders for Breakfast. Dinners, Suppers, Lunch, Pic-Nics, Dispatched 'al primer cartelo'
Hotel de Provence
Joseph Perez & Co.,
I continued searching the Standard for more news on the Metz murder case. The next day, Thursday 28 July, the following item appeared under Editor's Table:
"The barbarous murder committed in this city on Tuesday night, the particulars of which we published yesterday, has shocked the public mind. The assassin is known, and is being pursued by the police; it is generally thought he will be caught, and let us hope that whilst the particulars of this shocking crime are fresh to the public mind he will be tried. Public opinion is fast centering up on the outrageous impunity for crime which exists in the Plate. (2) For minor offences, punishment is generally certain, whilst for the highest crime which the law has to deal with, the law is impotent. Scarcely a day passes by that there is not some record of murder, either in town or camp,(3) published in the newspapers. The arrest of the assassin would appear to be almost the vindication of the law, for with regard to the trial we never see a line published in the newspaper; there is not one with a speciality for publishing the trials in the Criminal Court. The murder on Tuesday night was one of the most barbarous in the annals of crime, and perpetrated by a villain who, if we are to believe report, pretended respectability. "
The murder was further covered on Friday:
"Yesterday we saw a photograph of the unfortunate woman murdered on Tuesday night in Calle Corrientes. Judging from the photograph, she was a young and very handsome woman; her real name is not known, but she went by the name of Metz, probably her native city. The assassin, it was said yesterday evening, is caught, and is a Hungarian. The Chief of Police has been most unceasing in his efforts both night and day to capture the murderer. The Porteoo says that Mr Commissary Wright leas very active in his measures from the moment the murder was known. "
By Sunday the hard news was scarce and the Standard was reduced to discrediting gossip: the rumoured capture of the Calle Corrientes assassin, it said, was incorrect, as evening newspapers had contradicted it. Other news was that Argentine Army troops captured by Indian chieftain Namuncur. the previous May south of Buenos Aires were in good health. On 1 August, the international news was that Garnet Wolseley was gathering 27,000 troops in Britain for an undisclosed purpose.(4) Another newspaper, the Tribuna, was cited to the effect that two men had been arrested in connection with the Metz murder. But this would turn out to be a false alarm.
Yet another false alarm found its way into the Standard's pages on 2 August: the still unnamed Hungarian who had allegedly murdered Caroline Metz had been seen entering a house in Calle Temple on Saturday but eluded capture by making his exit over the wall. On 3 August, Rosario newspapers reported that the Hungarian had committed three previous crimes: one in Milan, one in France and one in Rio de Janeiro. He had later travelled in Argentina, where he had been in prison in Mendoza and San Luis.
And then the Metz murder case disappeared completely from the news. As I scanned copies of the Standard for the following months, other events caught my eye, but nothing on Szemeredy and his crime.
On 8 August an incident had taken place at the junction of Calles Maipu and Paraguay in central Buenos Aires. Policemen had ordered two soldiers to move so as to allow cattle to be driven up the street. The soldiers refused to budge and in the ensuing melee one soldier and one policeman were wounded. In Azul, 150 miles south-west of Buenos Aires, 500 soldiers under Colonel Donovan faced rebellious Indian chieftain Catriel at the head of 4,000 warriors. During the month of August the tramways carried 64,000 passengers in the city of Buenos Aires and 45,000 in the suburban line. The substitution of silk underclothing for cotton attracted comment from the Standard on 1 November: "What next?" asked the newspaper rhetorically, "or has Folly come to the end of her tether?" On 29 November the news was published of a horrid crime "which will probably be forgotten in a few days like the murder of Caroline Metz." And that was it.
Because of a malfunction in the Biblioteca's equipment - a problem that plagues libraries and other public-funded institutions throughout the world - I could not consult other newspapers. I could not look for further information on the elusive Hungarian's flight to Montevideo, his extradition, his trial and his acquittal of the charge of murder - with all of which I was familiar from Muusman's book. Thus ended, for the time being, my search.
However, from my visit to the Biblioteca I had obtained, independent corroboration of the beginnings of Szemeredy's criminal career.
A few months earlier I had found evidence about the end of his career, the last of his crimes and the end of his life.
On a grey July morning in Vienna I climbed the steps of the Osterreichische National Bibliothek, the Austrian National Library, which is located in a magnificent palace that was once part of the Hotburg, for over six centuries the home of the Austro-Hungarian Emperors for over six centuries.
The National Bibliothek is famous for its collections of maps, autographs, incunabula, Egyptian papyri and musical instruments. In a vast room in the basement I explained in a combination of English and halting German what I wanted to see. Finally I sat before a microfilm reader, a crank on the side if which allowed me to scroll through page after page of the newspapers Weiner Tageblatt and Neue Freie Presse. If any mention of Szemeredy existed in that labyrinth of Gothic-scripted German text, I was determined to find it.
In the Tageblatt's issue for 1 October 1892 1 came across an item entitled Der Selbstmorder von Pressburg (The Pressburg Suicide). I had found Szemeredy!
Further analysis of contemporary newspapers produced a number of articles on him, which are still awaiting decipherment and study, but a particular tantalising item found tucked amid advertisements for restaurants and concerts, publicised a Szemeredy exhibition consisting of photographs and documents. One wonders where those photographs and documents are filed now!
I had entertained serious doubts about Szemeredy, not merely about his viability as a Ripper suspect but also about whether he really existed at all. I had a pet theory that Szemeredy was identical with Alonso Maduro, another suspect hailing from Buenos Aires. Adam Wood had reviewed this theory in an article "From Brick Lane to Buenos Aires" (Ripperologist, No. 25) and concluded that the two were different. The news in the Tageblatti dispelled any doubts I'd had and proved Adam correct. As soon as I returned home to Geneva, I e-mailed Adam Wood:
"I have some good news which I thought I should share with you. Have you ever suspected that Alois Szemeredy was fictional, that he had been made up by Muusman?"
Adam's sent a reply of remarkable brevity:
However, Adam had thought that if either of them was fictional then it was likely to be Maduro. However, in Buenos Aires I was to learn more about Maduro.
The grand old man of Argentina's Ripperologia is without doubt Juan-Jacobo Bajarlia, writer, lawyer, criminologist and political activist. I was taken to meet, him by a younger but equally dedicated Ripperologo, Juan Jose Delaney.
We met in his book-lined studio and over vine, tinto, home-made bollitos and Turkish coffee, courtesy of Senora Enriqueta, Bajarlia told us about his search for el Destripador.
His interest in the Ripper first awoke during a trip to London in 1963(5) and there he heard about Alonso Maduro.
Supposedly an Argentine financier, in 1888 Maduro had come to London and befriended Griffith Salway of a City brokerage firm in old Broad Street. Salway later came across Maduro in Whitechapel on the night Emma Smith was murdered and later he overheard Maduro saying that all prostitutes should be killed. After the murder of Mary Kelly, Salway had the opportunity to investigate Maduro's trunk and in a secret compartment he found a dark overcoat, a soft hat and a set of surgical knives. A sticker in the trunk read "Paseo de Julio - followed by an illegible number - Buenos Aires".
Back home, Bajarlia looked for confirmation of the story and after much searching he came across people who had known a similarly sounding Alfonso Maroni.
Maroni was an enigmatic man who in the early years of the twentieth century frequented the Bolsa, the Stock Exchange, lived somewhere in the neighbourhood, and was noted for dressing in the long dark overcoat and soft felt hat. Maroni died on a rainy morning in October 1929 at the age of 75 years in a hotel in the Paseo de Julio (named on the sticker in 'Maduro's' trunk), across from Plaza Mazzini.
My companion that day, Juan Jose Delaney, is a writer whose literary output - short-story collections, including Treboles del Sur (Southern Shamrocks) and a recent novel, Moira Sullivan - has almost exclusively concerned the Irish Diaspora in Argentina.
In the January 1999 issue of the Argentine periodical, Todo es Historia he sketched out the first fruits of his Ripper research. The article covered Szemeredy and Maduro, but concentrated on the third and perhaps best-known South American suspect, Dr Stanley. As Ripper scholars round the world know, Dr Stanley is the suspect first revealed by Leonard Matters on 26 December 1926 in the People newspaper and developed by him into a book long narrative, The Mystery of Jack the Ripper.
According to Matters, he had learnt of the Ripper's identity from a Spanish-language article published in a journal in Buenos Aires.(6) The story told how a surgeon named Jose Riche had written to the author of the article, also a surgeon, summoning him to a major hospital. When the article's author arrived, Riche took him to a patient occupying Bed 58, Ward V, at whose request he had acted. The surgeon recognised the patient as his former professor in London and to whom Matters gave name `Dr Stanley', but made it clear that this was not his real name. Dr Stanley told his former disciple how he had trodden the streets of the East End in pursuit of Mary Jeannette Kelly, the prostitute who had infected his gifted son with syphilis, thus ending his career and his life and plunging his father into the deepest despair. As soon as he had confessed to the Ripper crimes, the patient fell back on his bed and died. He was buried in the Western Cemetery.
Although Matters did not specify them, the hospital where Dr Stanley died and the cemetery where he was buried are easily identified. The Hospital could only be the The Hospital Ingles - later the Britanico - the British Hospital, and the Western Cemetery or Cementerio del Oeste is more commonly known as the Chacarita.
Stories and unconfirmed rumours about Dr Stanley abound. Many - maybe most - think that he was merely Matters's invention. Yet Juan Jose Delaney has obtained independent proof of his existence. In 1989, an aged Irish priest living in Argentina, Father Alfred Mac Conastair, who died in 1997, told Juan Jose a story. A former chaplain of the Britanico in the nineteen-twenties had confided in Father Mac Conastair that he had been called to the deathbed of a man of "another faith" - that is to say, not a Catholic - who wanted to clear his conscience. What burdened this man was his responsibility for the Ripper's crimes.
The Hospital Ingles was founded in 1844 to tend to the needs of 8,000-strong British residents, who constituted the largest foreign community in Buenos Aires (the total population of which was only 65,000) and the numerous British seamen and voyagers. Juan Jose saw Dr Goodman Mercer, Medical Director of the Britanico, and Ms Diana Logan, its external relations head. The possibility of checking staff files at the Britanico in search of Jose Riche and the medical history of all men named Stanley who died in the hospital during the first decades of the nineteenth century was raised, but Dr Goodman Mercer felt that this task would require an enormous effort and he mentioned that Juan Jose was not the first person to think of it. Some time ago, he said, a British Ripperologist society had written on the same subject.(7)
On another occasion Dr Goodman Mercer underlined that nobody named Jose Riche had ever worked for the Britanico and that no ward V or Bed 58 had ever existed at the Hospital.
Juan Jose's next destination was the Western Cemetery, the Chacarita. A section of it is occupied by the British cemetery, which dates back to the midnineteenth century, when British nationals came to Argentina in large numbers to work in banking, shipping, insurance companies, the railways, the meat packing plants, or another of the many economic areas in which Britain had at the time extensive interests. Juan Jose told me of his many walks among the rows of tombs. Yet Dr Stanley's grave still eludes him.
Not satisfied with these results, Juan Jose made a stop at the Centro de Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA), Centre for Latin American Migration Studies. He learned there that 56 people whose surname was Stanley - 24 of them women - entered Argentina between 1888 and 1926. CEMLA's files are, unfortunately, incomplete. In some cases they list surnames but not first names and may or may not indicate sex, religion, occupation or nationality. They seem invariably to record the ships in which the voyagers came and the ports of origin, which included Southampton, Liverpool, Durban and Rio de Janeiro.
A further link to Buenos Aires is a dive called Sally's Bar. Like many others, Juan Jose first learnt about Sally's Bar from author Daniel Farson who in his book Jack the Ripper, recalled receiving a letter for a Mr Barca of Streatham in which he wrote about a dive in Buenos Aires that between 1910 and 1920 was allegedly owned by the Ripper.
No confirmation was ever found from another source, except for Professor Enrique Mayochi who assured Juan Jose that a bar by that name had indeed existed in the financial district during the first years of the century.
For many years, Buenos Aires was one of the great port cities of the world - to the extent that those of us who were born there are known as Portenos - people from the port. A number of disreputable bars and joints catering mostly for foreign seamen could still be found in the late 50s in Calle 25 de Mayo, not far from both the financial district and the docks.
I can well recall walking with my friends down the street, lit by the harsh pink and blue glare of neon signs and snatches of piano music and the sound of English words wafting from the interior of the bars there. Inside, fair-haired sailors talked to dark-skinned hostesses whose lips always seemed too red. The air was heavy with the smells of strong perfume, cigarette smoke and spilled liquor.
Our favourite was the Texas and on occasion we summoned up our courage and walked in. Hopelessly under-age and utterly devoid of proper I.D., we managed once or twice to down a beer quickly before been expelled, firmly but not unkindly by the staff. By the time we were old enough to enter the Texas legitimately we had other interests and I never crossed its threshold. Within a few years I went to sea myself - but that's another story.
Soon the world-wide decline of shipping affected the Buenos Aires docks. Few merchant ships stop there now and the bars in Calle 25 de Mayo are long gone.
Professor Mayochi established yet another connection between Buenos Aires and the Ripper, though frankly it is a tenuous one.
Many Ripper roads lead to Buenos Aires. No clear evidence has yet been found to confirm or confound the candidacy of Szemeredy or Maduro, Stanley or Maroni to recognition as the Ripper, but the search goes on. There are old newspapers to read and old documents to study, and there is the ever-present hope that sometime, somewhere a clue may be unearthed which brings the mystery even a step closer to its solution.
Juan-Jacobo Bajarlia has been searching - so far in vain - for any records of Szemeredy's trial in a collection of Procesos celebres (Famous Trials) published by Argentina's Supreme Court in the nineteenth century. Juan Jose Delaney is writing his second novel: Sally's Bar. We keep trying.
Sources consulted for this article include: Bajarlia, Juan Jacobo: Jack el destripador, argentino? Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine No. 3, February 1976; El destripador era argentine, Magazine, La Reuista-Libro Argentina No. 13, October 1979, Una Conjetura: Acaso el manibtico nacib en estas pampas? ClarIn, 3 April 1988; Jekyll y el Destripador, Historias de Monstruos, 1989; El destripador era argentine, Noticias, 27 March 1999; Cianciabella, Teresa: El Hospital Britanico, Todo es Historia No. 378, January 1999; Delaney, Juan Jose: Jack el Destripador: de Londres a Buenos Aires, Todo es Historia No. 378, January 1999; Farson, Daniel: Jack the Ripper; Farwell, Byron, Eminent Victorian Soldiers; McCormick, Donald: The Identity of Jack the Ripper; Matters, Leonard: The Mystery of Jack the Ripper; Mayochi, Enrique Mario: Belgrano: 1855 - Del Pueblo al Barrio - 1993; Muusmann, Carl: Who was Jack the Ripper?; Wilde, Jose Antonio, Buenos Aires desde 70 anos atras; Wood, Adam: From Buenos Aires to Brick Lane, Ripperologist No. 25, October 1998.
1. Wilde, Jose Antonio, Buenos Aires desde 70 anos atras.
2. The Plate is the generic name for the region adjoining the River Plate. It generally includes Buenos Aires and its environs as well as Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, on the other shore of the river.
3. Camp is an Anglo-Argentine word, derived from the Spanish word 'campo', which means `countryside'.
4. Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913) was a celebrated Victorian general who fought the Russians, the Sepoys, the Chinese, the Ashanti, the Basutos and the Zulus, conquered Egypt, gave rise to the expression `All Sir Garnet', was a tad too late to rescue Gordon from Khartoum and was the very model of a modern major-general in The Pirates of Penzance. In 1876, however, he was chief administrator of Natal, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, he could not have been engaged in raising troops in Britain. Yet another minor mystery.
5. As for me, I read my first book on the Ripper in 1966. It was the Mayflower-Dell paperback edition of Robin Odell's Jack the Ripper in Fact and Fiction.
6 Matters apparently was not only fluent in Spanish but an accomplished translator as well. The list of his publications includes The House of the Ravens, London, Williams & Norgate (1924], his translation of La Casa de los Cueruos by Argentine author Hugo vast (Gustavo Martinez Zuviria).
7. The 'Ripperologist society' was the Cloak and Dagger Club and I was the author of the letter. In April 1998, 1 wrote to Ms Logan asking for any information available on Dr Stanley, Leonard Matters or the Ripper. I have not received a reply yet.