James Maybrick was a well known cotton merchant in Liverpool. The mysterious emergence of the so-called Maybrick journal in 1992 however, immediately thrust him to the forefront of credible Ripper suspects. Regardless of the Diary's authenticity, the story of James Maybrick is remarkable in its own right. Convicted of his murder in 1889, Maybrick's wife was sentenced to be hanged. The trial, by any standard, was a horrible travesty of justice. Within two years, the trial's presiding judge died in an insane asylum. Fifteen years later, Florence Elizabeth Maybrick was finally released from prison. Here is the remarkable story.
The Maybrick family had been established in Liverpool for several generations when James was born to William and Susannah on October 24, 1838. Of James' six brothers, two never survived to adulthood. One brother, James, was his namesake and died in 1837 at the age of four months. Alfred Maybrick died at the age of four in 1848. Of the four remaining brothers, William became a carpenter and gilder's apprentice. Thomas, born in 1846, and Edwin, born in 1851, went into commerce and participated in the cotton business. One brother of note achieved considerable fame and success in his own right as a composer of popular music. Michael Maybrick, born in 1841, wrote such songs "The Holy City", "Nancy Lee", and "A Warrior Bold". He used the stage name Stephen Adams.
While the marriage of James Maybrick to Florence is well known and documented, Scottish lawyer William MacDougal alleged in 1891 the existence of a previous spouse. Although no marriage certificate has ever been found, the 1891 census records, released in 1992 after one hundred years, appear to confirm this allegation. Sarah Ann Robertson, listed as single and aged 44, was residing in London at the time. Other legal documents, however this same person as Sarah Ann Maybrick. In 1868, her step father's will, for example, shows her as "Sarah Ann Maybrick, wife of James Maybrick." Upon her death on January 17, 1927, she is listed in the records as "Sarah Ann Maybrick, otherwise Robertson." She lived for a while on Bromley Street, near Whitechapel, and on Mark Lane, across the road from Whitechapel. In all probability, James Maybrick's association with Sarah Ann lead to familiarity with the area where the Ripper murders occurred.
By 1871, census records James Maybrick was unmarried and back in London living with his mother. About two years later, he formed Maybrick and Company, Cotton Merchants with his brother Edwin as a junior partner. In 1874 James left for the thriving cotton port of Norfolk, Virginia to establish a branch office. This decision later proved to be a crucial turning point in the life of James Maybrick. Upon his return to England in the early spring of 1880, two significant changes had occurred.
Three years after arriving in Norfolk, Maybrick contracted Malaria. After an initial but unsuccessful prescription of quinine, a second consisting of arsenic and strychnine was tried. Perhaps a bit bizarre by modern medical standards, it was not unheard of in the 1870's. "Fowler's Medicine" which contained arsenic, was a popular tonic at the time. Arsenic also appealed to James Maybrick because it was believed it increased virility. He was not alone however, for arsenic and strychnine abuse was becoming fashionable among professional men in both America and Britain. Arsenic is addictive, and overwhelming evidence suggests James Maybrick carried this habit to his grave.
On March 12, 1880, Maybrick departed New York aboard the SS Baltic. During the six day voyage to Liverpool, he was introduced to beguiling 18 year old Florence Chandler and her mother, Baroness Caroline von Roques. Florence, known as Florie, was a five foot three strawberry blonde with blue eyes. Born in Mobile, Alabama on September 3rd, 1862, she was related to important and influential figures in Southern society. Although Maybrick was 24 years her senior, a whirlwind romance immediately ensued. Upon their arrival in Liverpool, James and Florie had already planned a marriage for the following summer. The fashionable wedding took place on July 27, 1881, in London at St. James Church, Piccadilly.
Florie prematurely gave birth to a son, James Chandler, known affectionately as "Bobo", eight months after the wedding. In 1882, the Maybrick's returned to America with their infant. For the next two years, the family divided its time between Norfolk and Liverpool. Declining business opportunities prompted Maybrick to return to England in March of 1884. He formally resigned from the Norfolk Cotton Exchange on August 22nd, 1884. The family resided in Grassendale, a suburb of Liverpool. An economic slump however, also occurred in England that same year. Maybrick became increasingly distressed with health and financial worries. His use of arsenic and other "powders" continued.
On July 20th, 1886, Florie gave birth to a daughter, Gladys Evelyn. The birth of their second child did little to help the Maybrick's troubled marriage. It was rapidly deteriorating, despite the Maybrick's acceptance in Liverpool's social circles and an outward display of affluence. By this time, James had been showing signs of substance abuse for several years. In 1887 Florie discovered there was another woman in her husband's life, perhaps Sarah Ann Robertson, the original "Mrs. Maybrick." Later that same year, Florie met Alfred Brierly, a cotton broker, with whom she also had an affair. By this time, the couple had probably moved to separate beds, and the first Ripper murder was less than nine months away.
In about early March of 1888, the Maybrick's moved to the palatial Battlecrease House in Aigburth, less than a mile away. The estate consisted of several acres of well tended gardens, trees, a pond stocked with fish and a small natural stream. Despite their new home, the Maybrick's marital discord continued. James maintained his gloomy disposition, hypochondria and hot temper. Violence erupted on the night of March 29, 1989, which resulted in a black eye for Florie. About a month later on April 24th, Florie purchased a dozen fly papers, something she would no doubt regret for the rest of her life. Also on that same day, James obtained another one of his prescriptions as his heath continued to fail. More "medicine" arrived by package on the 26th, and the following day James Maybrick was seriously ill, apparently from an overdose of these substances.
From this point on, James Maybrick never regained his health. After seeing his doctor on May 3rd, he visited his office for the last time. Assuming the Diary is authentic, this would probably have been the time he made the final entry, which is dated that same day. Probably fearing the worst, Michael journeyed from London as his brother's health rapidly declined. At 8:40 p.m. on May 11, 1889, James Maybrick died.
Michael took charge of family matters after his brother's death, including the ailing Florence. Florie, even before James passed away, was already suspected of poisoning him. Although these suspicions lacked substance and based primarily upon rumor, Florie was confined her room at Battlecrease House and formally charged with the crime on the 14th. On May 30th, the body of James Maybrick was exhumed from its final resting place in Anfield Cemetery and examined for arsenic. On June 30th, Florie was brought before the Magistrate for the first time to hear the "evidence." James' brothers, servants and doctors all testified against her. On July 26th, the case was committed to trial scheduled to begin on the 31st of that month. It ended after seven days.
The trial was presided by Mr. Justice Fitzjames Stephen, father of J.K. Stephen, a Ripper suspect in his own right. By any standard, was a horrible travesty of justice. The evidence was based on suspicion, rumor and innuendo. Testimony was later recanted and crucial evidence favoring Florie either disappeared or remained unheard by the jury Surprisingly, James Maybrick's arsenic addiction was never introduced during the trial, and a blatantly biased Judge Justice Stephen repeatedly made inflammatory statements against the defendant.
Unfortunately for Florie, her inadequate legal counsel failed to produce essential evidence that could have exhonerated her. The prosecution alleged that Florie had obtained the arsenic from the fly papers she had purchased at the time of her husband's illness, yet no fly paper fibers had ever been found in the meat juice she was alleged to have used to poison him. Furthermore, it was later determined impossible to produce sufficient arsenic in suitable form to cause death from fly paper. Regardless of the fact there was simply no real hard evidence against Florie, the jury took only 35 minutes to deliberate. The verdict was Guilty! Justice Stephen assumed the full dress of the criminal Judge consisting of a black cap when he pronounced the following sentence:
"The court doth order you to be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be afterward buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall be confined after your conviction. And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul!"
The sensational trial received considerable coverage on both sides of the Atlantic. Florie was not without her supporters however, and many prominent people appealed for her release, including three American presidents and Robert Todd Lincoln. Florie was a survivor, and endured not only the shadow of the gallows but sickness, solitary confinement and hard labor. Her ordeal lasted fifteen years, and in 1904 was finally released from prison. In an ironic twist of fate, the Maybrick case was to be Justice Stephen's last, and he died in 1894 in an insane asylum in Ipswitch. Florie however, lived on!
Initially upon her release, Florie went to a convent in Truro, Cornwall for six months. She then went to France to visit her mother before finally sailing home to America. In response to public demand for her story, she published her memoirs, entitled "My Fifteen Lost Years" in 1904. In 1907, Britain's Court of Criminal Appeal was introduced, primarily as a result the Maybrick case. In 1918, Florie was financially destitute and moved to Connecticut for employment as a housekeeper. The following year she purchased a small tract of land in Gaylordsville and had a three room cottage built.
By this time, Florie used her maiden name of Chandler in hopes it might help maintain her privacy. Although she seems to have enjoyed a certain level of anonymity in Connecticut, she became increasingly reclusive. Locally, she was known as the "Cat Lady". On October 23rd, 1941, Florence Elizabeth Chandler Maybrick was found dead at the age of 79. The report of her death once again made front page news one last time. She was buried in South Kent, Connecticut.
The story of James Maybrick was not associated with the Ripper case until the emergence of the diary in 1992. While the authenticity of the journal may be hotly debated, it nonetheless has yet to be proven a forgery. Whether it is real or a fake, it maintains remarkable constancy with the known facts. The diary also introduces what some would call startling evidence to support its authenticity .