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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 8, December 1996. 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 Jon Ogan


The following article is not produced In an attempt to establish any form of 'guilt against the subject. Instead it is written to give some insight into the background of an initial Police suspect as the Investigation unfolded.

The case of John William Smith Sanders (JWSS) has been intriguing due to JWSS's insanity, medical and geographical knowledge, and the Police investigation into his whereabouts at the time of the murders. Four criteria which ostensibly makes Sanders a viable suspect.

Initial Police inquiries indicated that JWSS had been living at 20 Aberdeen Place (sic), but had since left the country. Insp. Abberline's report (1st Nov 1888) stated:

"Searching enquiries were made by an officer at Aberdeen Place, St John's Wood, the last known address of the insane medical student named John Sanders. But the only information that could be obtained was that a lady named Sanders resided with her son at No 20, but left there to go abroad about 2 years ago." 1

The original file copy revealed that the officer was Sgt. Froest. 2

In fact, JWSS resided at No 20 Abercorn Place, Maida Vale. Presumably the name of the street had been misread during the process of copying out the longhand report, although a check of Kelly's Street Directories reveals that the inhabitants at Aberdeen Place varied each year. So it is possible that someone named Sanders/ Saunders may have been a tenant. 3

A similar check of the inhabitants of No 20 Abercom Place reveal that JWSS's mother was Laura J. Sanders (occassionally spelt Saunders), residing at that address continually until 1894. The rate books show that she took residence in 1878, subsequently moving into 55 Hartham Street in Holloway. The last entry for L. Sanders was in 1895. 4 Much of JWSS's past is now well documented. The salient points are as follows:

JWSS enrolled at the London Hospital, Whitechapel on 22nd April 1879. III health caused his withdrawal in 1881. s Paul Begg discovered a faint annotation along-side JWSS's name stating:

"Away with Dr Swete for several months in 1882". Begg also discovered that the doctor was Superintendent of the Royal West of England Sanatorium. s

JWSS's final years were apparently spent in a number of institutions until his demise in Exeter Lunatic Asylum, Heavitree on 31 March 1901, 7 although his death certificate states 1st April 1901. a However, it is the intervening years that are most important, especially the autumnal months of 1888.

JWSS's records at Exeter Lunatic Asylum described his illness as a "prolonged attack - 14 years duration. Has been at West Mailing for 3 years and Virginia Water for 9 years." Both establishments were for the 'Genteel Insane'. West Mailing was West Mailing Place in Sander's home county of Kent, and was opened in the later half of the 18th century by a Dr. Perfect.

Extant records at County Hall, Maidstone, only cover the Hospital Committee 1907-46. Individual patients records do not remain. 9 The Gazetteer for 1874 described the establishment as 'a picturesque and healthy locality combining cheerfulness and refinement.' 10 However, the Commissioners in Lunacy (1899) felt compelled to report it's 'unfavourable general condition', but saw an improvement the following year. 11

West Mailing Place has now become St Leonard's Rest Home for elderly persons. The present owners informed me that there are no surviving records for the period in question. They did, however, kindly offer to pass on my enquiry to the former owner's son, who has since emigrated to South Africa. Unfortunately, after a number of years, there has been no response. 12

The Virginia Water asylum was the Holloway Sanatarium at Egham, sponsored by the philanthropist, Thomas Holloway. It was built to cater for the less prosperous middle classes. Originally, it was believed that Sanders was in Virginia Water in 1888, but extant records at the Surrey Record Office reveal that he was admitted into Holloway on 12th June 1889. His previous place of abode was given as West Mailing. However, the remaining records are incomplete and do not provide a full account of his medical condition, merely stating that his 'dementia' was due to 'overwork' and his body condition was 'spare'. It was also noted that he was free from any disease. 13

Nick Warren noted that JWSS was listed as being from Glasgow in the 1891 Census for the sanitarium's patients. If this entry is correct then JWSS must have been a resident in Glasgow at sometime between his being 'away with Dr. Swete' and his incarceration at Egham. 14 His death certificate at the Exeter Lunatic Asylum further noted a widely travelled patient and recorded that JWSS was a 'medical student from Barnsley'. JWSS's father, Henry S. Sanders, was an Army surgeon. A glance at the 1881 Census for the Sanders family at Abercorn Place shows the transient nature of Army personnel. One child was born in Manchester, one at sea, four in Kent, and one in London. 15

Incidentally, Henry Sanders shot himself on Mt Aboo (Aka Abu), India, in 1867. The burial certificate stated that at this point, he was 'temporarily insane'. 16 While the family travelled extensively, there is no mention of Glasgow or Barnsley. The mystery of the Barnsley connection may lie with the doctors attending JWSS. An examination of JWSS's medical certificate, first issued 8th February 1887, shows that it was signed by Drs J.W. Scarth and A.E. Switzer. The latter hailed from Ireland, but obviously had been local to JWSS to be able to co-sign the medical certificate. Dr. Scarth, however, was a resident of Leeds, at Woodhouse Hall, and had been surgeon to the First West Riding Artillery. 17 The Kelly's Street Directory for Leeds in 1888 gave the more specific location of 207, Woodhouse Lane. 18 There were no asylums in the Barnsley area, the nearest being the South Yorkshire Asylum at Wadsley and the Stanley Royd Asylum at Wakefield. 1s Possibly JWSS had been a patient under the care of the two doctors, rather than at Barnsley itself? The same might be considered regarding the Glasgow address. Past records of Glasgow asylums are now in the care of the University of Glasgow Archives Department.

Only one private asylum existed for the period in question: the Royal Glasgow Asylum (now Gartnavel Hospital). The archivist, Mr Tough, checked the annual registers, but could find no trace of any John Sanders/Saunders, but added that as these were compiled annually, Sanders could have been resident for a few months without appearing on the register. 2o A more comprehensive search of the day books may turn up the fact that he was treated in the private asylum. It would seem inconceivable that JWSS would have been placed in a pauper asylum, bearing in mind the rigid class system endemic in Victorian Britain. A hypothesis supported by the fact that JWSS was later placed in two private asylums at West Mailing and Egham.

Neither West Mailing Place nor Holloway had been noted for catering for violent patients. However, the case notes at the Exeter Lunatic Asylum indicated that JWSS was capable of displaying violence. The medical certificate issued 8th February 1887 showed that he was subject to attacks of violence, unprovoked assaults, and exercised tyranny over the household. Previously he had been described as being shy and retiring. 21 Although lacking in detail, these episodes of violence, punctuated with quiet, passive interludes may have been due to a schizophrenic condition.

Further evidence 'against' JWSS may be seen in the ambiguously worded note in the Home Office files. The note queried the progress in searching for the three insane medical students: 'Mr Murdoch. Please see Mr Wortley's pencil memo on sir C Warren ('s?) letter? Shall the Police be asked at the same time for report as to what has become of the 3rd insane medical student from the London Hosp? About whom (under the name Dr.---) there is a good deal of gossip under circulation.' The annotation was initialled W. B. Although undated, the dates of previous, unrelated jottings indicates that it was written on, or after, 27th October 1888. 22

Despite these glimpses into JWSS's social and medical history condition, the missing records at Maidstone meant that a full comparison between the dates of the murders and his incarceration could not be made. However, recent research by Phil Sugden showed that JWSS was at least present in West Mailing Place in both February 1888 and 1889 at the time of compiling the annual registers for lunacy. 23 This would seemingly remove John William Smith Sanders as a viable suspect. Whether the police themselves were able to eliminate him from their enquiries we shall never know, as the MEPO files became considerably slimmer in content regarding the subsequent discovery, and investigation, of the Miller's Court murder.

Notes and scources:

1. MEPO files 3/140 - Abberline's report to the Home Office.
2. File copy of the same document, with alterations to Sgt Froest's name.
3. Researcher's notes from Kelly's Street Directory.
4. Letter from Marylebone Library to researcher dated 24th August 1987.
5. Letter to researcher from London Hospital (Jonathan Pepler) dated 3rd September 1985.
6. Paul Begg: Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts Robson, 1988.
7. Letter from County Archivist (M. Rowe) to researcher 24th April 1989.
8. JWSS's death certificate obtained from St Catherine's House.
9. Letters from Centre of Kentish Studies (D. Gibson) to researcher 10th/17th Feb 1993.
10. Green's Gazetteer for Kent, 1874. Photocopy supplied by E. Bolton, West Mailing Library, 2nd June 1989.
11. Commissioner's in Lunacy Report to Parliament 1899.
12. Telephone conversation with current proprietors.
13. Letters from Surrey County Archivists (R. Simonson & J. Pooley) to researcher 2nd/12th Feb 1993.
14. Nick Warren - The Asylum at Ascot: Ripperana (July 1992) & Sickert's Student and the Ripper.
15. Letter from Marylebone Library (R. Bowden) to researcher 16th September 1986.
16. Letter and copy of Burial Certificate from British Library (India Office) to researcher 6th July 1987.
17. Medical Directories 1887-89.
18. Kelly's Street Directory for Leeds 1888. Information kindly supplied by Leeds University Library (P. S. Morrish to researcher 19th March 1993)
19. Letter from Archivist, Barnsley Library, (R. Vyse) to researcher 18th November 1992.
20. Letter from Archivist, University of Glasgow (A. Tough) to researcher 2nd November 1992.
21. Letter from Administrator, Wonford House (G. Meredith) 16th November 1990.
22. Note appended to Home Office File 144/220/A49301C.
23. Letter from Philip Sugden to researcher July 1993.

Related pages:
  John William Smith Sanders
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  Jon Ogan
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