GOOD KNIGHT: An Examination of THE FINAL SOLUTION
Unfortunately, it isn't. -- Donald Rumbelow
One of the most controversial Ripper theories was made in Stephen Knight's 1978 book, JACK THE RIPPER: THE FINAL SOLUTION. In it, Knight weaves a fascinating tapestry of conspiracy involving virtually every person who has ever been a Ripper suspect plus a few new ones. Knight's conspiracy has become the most popular Ripper theory ever despite strong objections raised by Ripperologists such as Donald Rumbelow and the recanting of pertinent testimony from Knight's key informant. Still, it has received the most exposure and support of any Ripper theory and continues to appear in other areas of popular culture. Clearly, it manages to appeal to a great number of people and we shall examine that reason shortly.
First, however, it is important to discuss the actual theory as Knight presents it in his book. The basic genesis of Knight's theory actually began in 1973 and had nothing to do with Knight at all! The Ripper murders had recently increased in popularity to the point where the BBC decided to produce a television program on the murders. In an unprecedented move, they combined their theatrical and documentary departments to produce a strange hybrid of a show that purported to solve the mystery once and for all using documented evidence, but by including fictional television detectives. It was decided that research would be extremely important to the shows success so several assistants were assigned to obtain all possible information on the murders. In speaking with a Scotland Yard detective, they were advised to speak to a man named Sickert who knew about a secret marriage between Eddy and a poor Catholic girl named Alice Mary Crook.
The researchers could not find evidence of the marriage or the man Sickert. Puzzled, they went back to their Scotland Yard contact who revealed that the details were slightly off (apparently to test their intentions) he then gave them Sickert's address and phone number. The researchers tracked down Sickert and were told an amazing story.
Joseph Sickert's father had been the famous painter, Walter Sickert, who had lived in the East End during the time of the murders and reportedly knew the truth behind them. Joseph briefly outlined a tale in which Eddy, while slumming as a commoner under Sickert's guidance, met a girl named Annie Elizabeth Crook in a tobacconist's shop in Cleveland Street. Eddy soon got the girl pregnant and they were living quite happily until the Queen discovered her grandson's indiscretion and became furious. She demanded that the situation be handled as Annie was not only a commoner, but a Catholic. Joseph explained that the government had been very vulnerable at that time and the news of a Catholic heir to the throne was likely to cause a revolution. Queen Victoria supposedly gave the matter to Lord Salisbury, her Prime Minister, for resolution. Salisbury ordered a raid on the Cleveland Street apartment and Eddy and Annie were taken away in separate cabs. Her child, a girl by the name of Alice Margaret, had somehow escaped.
Salisbury then enlisted the aid of Sir William Gull who was the Queen's personal physician. According to Walter Sickert, Gull had Annie put away in the hospital and performed experiments on her which made her lose her memory, become epileptic, and slowly go insane. The story would have ended there if it had not been for Mary Kelly.
Kelly was found by Walter Sickert in one of the poor houses and he brought her to the tobacconist's shop to help Annie. She soon became Alice's nanny and it was supposed that Alice was with her when the raid took place. Desperate, Mary placed the child with nuns and fled back into the East End, falling into a life of drink and prostitution. But she knew the entire story of Eddy's indiscretion and began spreading it around. Soon, several of her cronies pressured her into blackmailing the government for hush money. These cronies were Polly Nichols, Liz Stride, and Annie Chapman. When Salisbury learned of the threat, he called on Gull once again.
Gull brought along John Netley, a coachman who had often ferried Eddy in his forays into the East End, for help and soon devised a plan that would rid them of the bothersome women and teach them a lesson about trying to topple a government. Together with John Netley, he created Jack the Ripper as a symbol of Freemasonry. To that end, the aid of Sir Robert Anderson was also enlisted to help cover up the crimes and act as lookout during the murders.
Eddowes, Sickert said, had been a mistake. She often went by the name of Mary Kelly and the conspirators thought that she was the one they were looking for. When the mistake became known, they found the real Mary and viciously silenced her.
The murders were hushed up and a scapegoat chosen if anyone tried to investigate too closely. The poor barrister, Montague Druitt, was chosen to take the blame and possibly, Sickert hinted, was murdered for it. The girl, Alice Margaret, grew up quietly in the care of nuns and later, by an odd series of twists and turns, married Walter Sickert and gave birth to their son, Joseph. Sir William Gull died shortly after the murders, but there were rumors that he had been committed to an insane asylum. Annie Crook died insane in a workhouse in 1920. Netley was chased by an angry mob after he unsuccessfully tried to run over Alice Margaret with his cab shortly after the murders. He was believed to have been drowned in the Thames.
Joseph said that his father was fascinated with the murders and bore great guilt over them. Walter Sickert, after all, had been the one who introduced Eddy to Annie and started the grisly game. To alleviate his guilt, for he could say nothing safely, he painted clues into several of his most famous paintings. Later, Walter Sickert supposedly married Alice Margaret.
The researchers were amazed as no one had ever put forward anything like this before. In checking the few facts, they did find that a woman named Annie Crook lived in Cleveland Street at that time and that she did give birth to a bastard daughter at the same time that Sickert said she did. They felt that the theory was the correct one and they incorporated it into the show.
When it appeared, JACK THE RIPPER (the BBC production) was confusing to many viewers. The strange combination of facts with fictional detectives and an outlandish theory prompted many to question the program's veracity. Joseph Sickert appeared in the last episode and verified everything that had been said. It was, they all felt, the only solution.
Stephen Knight enters the story a little later when he asks Joseph Sickert for an interview for a local paper. After some indecision, Sickert agrees. During the course of their interview, which took place over several occasions, Knight also became convinced that Joseph Sickert believed he was telling the truth. The story, he said, had been told to him by his father to explain why his mother always looked so sad and why both she and Joseph were partially deaf.
Once given the basic germ of the plot, Knight then proceeds to try and confirm the theory. Eventually, he felt that the story warranted a book. Joseph was disappointed as he had only agreed to be interviewed for an article and wanted very little publicity. Undaunted, Knight went ahead with his book in which he tried to prove that the conspiracy did exist, that Eddy did father Annie's child, and (most amazing of all) that the third man in the murderous trio was not Sir Robert Anderson at all but Joseph's own father, Walter Sickert.
The book was initially released in 1978 and caused something of a sensation. As both the BBC program and Knight's book were derived from Sickert's story, they varied only in the identity of the third man. In essence, then, Knight is reiterating the same story told to the BBC but is trying to validate it as a serious theory. It is a fascinating piece of fiction, but very little actual evidence is produced.
Knight makes great use of the infamous Ripper files held by Scotland Yard and the Home Office (not to be opened to the public until 1992 and 1993 respectively and a source of much speculation in 1978) but it is difficult to accept some of his conclusions. His logic is, at times, extremely flawed. Having discovered the birth certificate of Alice Margaret, he verifies the existence of Annie Elizabeth Crook and the fact that she was in Cleveland Street. The fact that she is listed as being employed as a "confectionary assistant" instead of a tobacconist is never fully explained. The name of the father is left blank.
Knight then moves on to the story of a man who remembers his grandmother foster feeding "a child of the Duke's." This story is strictly hearsay with nothing to support it. Knight has proved that Alice Margaret existed but then goes on to connect her with the child of the apocryphal story. There is nothing to link the two and nothing to prove that the rumor of a Duke's child had any basis in fact. Knight merely assumes that because Alice Margaret did exist when Sickert said she did and because of this story that they were one and the same. This is typical of much of Knight's reasoning and logic. It is based primarily on assumption and the belief that if "X was true than Y must also be true." This is wonderfully faulty logic at its best.
A great deal of time is spent connecting Eddy with Cleveland Street. At the time, it was considered a great mecca for artists and Knight postulates that Sickert maintained a studio on that street. There is, outside of the story he told his son, nothing to firmly state that he did so. He does not appear on any of the registry books or as a rent payer. Knight explains this by simply saying that Sickert may have avoided being listed in case he had to make a quick escape from the landlord or something even more sinister. He then implicates Eddy in the Cleveland Street scandal of 1889 in which a homosexual brothel was raided. Eddy was reportedly one of the clients and, according to Knight and several other authors, a cover up was done to erase his involvement.
Knight then goes on to say that the cover up was initiated not to conceal Eddy's "bisexual nature (which was well known by then anyway), but his connection with that particular street" (K 107). This is incredible reasoning. Knight seemingly believes that Eddy would be no more than 'inconvienced' if his bisexual nature was exposed. This is in spite of the strict anti-homosexual laws which existed in England. Surely if Eddy was exposed as having homosexual relations, the scandal would be quite large on its own without having to worry about any other connections. It was these laws which brought Oscar Wilde from fame to absolute ruin and disgrace. Would the outcry be any less against a future King?
The connection is supposedly even greater when Knight mentions that the infamous Aleister Crowley claimed in one of his books that he had compromising letters from Eddy to a boy called Morgan who lived in Cleveland Street. Knight then goes on to link these letters (whose existence has never been verified or even been seen by another source) with a Mrs. Morgan who "ran the very shop at No. 22 Cleveland Street in which Annie Elizabeth worked" (K 103). Even if we accept that these unseen letters existed, there is nothing to positively connect them with this Mrs. Morgan or Annie. Knight assumes that if Eddy wrote letters to this boy then he surely must have been a frequent visitor to the shop. Are we then to suppose that Eddy was seducing both Annie and Morgan?
This is symptomatic of the entire problem with Knight's book and the Sickert theory. It is based entirely on assumptions. There is no direct, objective evidence to link Eddy with Annie, Gull with Sickert and Netley, or even Warren and Anderson with the Masons. Knight builds his argument through assuming that certain things are true. His proof is loose, lacking in hard facts, and uses them to make further assumptions leading to the murderous trio. It is a veritable house of cards which could be toppled by the removal of the slightest piece of evidence.
One of the most detailed parts of the book involves Knight's attempts to implicate the Masons into the conspiracy. Of course, Knight takes it as certain that the conspiracy did exist because of some of the strange evidence given at inquests (or not given) and the unexplainable actions of several of the principals. It is absolutely necessary for Knight's theory that there be a conspiracy so one is naturally assumed to have existed. The Masons are chosen as the movers behind the conspiracy. As victims go, the Masons are probably the best choice Knight could have made. Intensely secretive, they would not allow anyone to consult their files and would refuse all requests for information. This merely fuels Knights certainty that they were implicitly involved in the conspiracy. Knight lists the principal characters as Masons merely on assumption that in order to achieve their political and social stature, they would have to be Masons. There is no evidence to prove this which, of course, fits right in with Knight's conspiracy.
This is actually one of the main reasonings behind his theory. Evidence does not exist because the conspiracy made sure that all evidence was destroyed. This is a handy excuse for lack of hard, objective facts. No marriage certificate for Eddy and Annie? Conspiracy. No evidence that Gull, Salisbury, Warren, and Anderson were Masons? Conspiracy. Evidence suppressed at the inquest? Conspiracy. It is a handy excuse but one that requires an amazing amount of trust from the reader.
The Mason connection is tenuous at best and relies entirely on Knight's supposed 'revelations' about the sect. He discloses that the murders were ritual re-enactments of the murder of Mason Hirem Abiff in Soloman's Temple by three initiates Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum. Knight claims that further evidence of the placing of the victims in specific areas points directly to the Masons. One of these claims rests upon Mitre Square being significant to the Masons as a local meeting place of various lodges and the words Mitre and Square being symbols of Masonic tools. This is an example of Knight's symbolic logic. Working from a list of Procedures, supposedly dictating Masonic conduct, Knight believes that the murders were committed to show Masonic power and had to include humor as well. This explains some of Knight's stretches in logic as he identifies virtually everything to have connections to Eddy or the Masons. For instance, John Netley is said to have been killed, not by jumping off a bridge, but by being run over by his own cab. This is significant, Knight implies, as it was probably a Masonic killing which took place at Clarence Gate. The Clarence being, of course, a veiled reference to Eddy.
Sickert is implicated because he knows too many details about the murders to be an outside man. He must have been working with Gull and Netley. Knight then goes on to suggest that the man seen by several witnesses was Sickert. The parcel the man was carrying is said to be a portrait of Kelly which they were using to track her down. This is confusing in that if Sickert was involved because of his first-hand knowledge of Mary Kelly and the Cleveland Street affair, why would he need a portrait to find Kelly? He knew what she looked like perfectly well so why bring such a useless item along?
In Rumbelow's revised edition of JACK THE RIPPER: A COMPLETE CASEBOOK, he addresses the question of the Gull and Sickert theory. He does not find much truth in the conspiracy. Criticizing Knight for his lack of facts, Rumbelow goes on to prove that Annie Crook did indeed drift from workhouse to workhouse before her death but Alice Margaret was with her during much of this time! Also, in her 1918 marriage certificate, Alice Margaret lists her father as William Crook who was actually her grandfather! This raises just as much possibility that Alice was a product of incest as she was a child of the Duke. In addition, Rumbelow has found that Alice's grandmother, and Annie's mother, Sarah Crook had also been living in workhouses with them and that she was also deaf and given to epileptic seizures. This raises the possibility of Alice's medical problems coming from somewhere other than the Duke.
Perhaps one of the strongest points Rumbelow makes against Knight is when he proves that the actual location which Knight names in Cleveland Street, could not have existed in 1888. The buildings were in a process of being torn down and renovated during that time and could not have been the scene of the dramatic abduction. Rumbelow then goes on to attack Knight's accusation of Sickert as being unfounded. Much of Knight's theory has to do with a red handkerchief which Sickert used in his painting. It is described as being a tool he used to stimulate his memory. It implies the connection that the last man seen with Kelly gave her a red handkerchief and this is what makes Knight name Sickert. To be fair, he also includes Sickert's intimate knowledge of the crimes and his moodiness. Rumbelow points out that the use of the handkerchief is noted in 1917 and there is no indication that he used it before then. Plus, he continues, Sickert had many moods including his 'Ripper' phase which invalidates that argument.
One of Knight's points against Sickert was supposed 'hush' money paid to him by Salisbury. The story went that Salisbury had abruptly appeared in Sickert's Dieppe studio one day and, without looking at it, bought a painting for 500 when it was barely worth 3. Knight says that Sickert had originally attributed this story to the artist Vallon but confided to his son that it had actually happened to him. Rumbelow discloses that the actual painting was done by A. Vallon and was hung in Salisbury's home (where it remains) and included his family which was why he had paid so much for it. By assuming, rather than checking, Knight has left himself open to accusation by the facts.
Knight himself is contradicted by Joseph Sickert who confessed shortly after the book's appearance, to having made up the entire story. Knight claimed that this revelation was simply in reaction to his naming Joseph's father as one of the killers and not to be taken seriously. Yet Knight also contradicts the testimony of Dr. Howard. There was an article printed in a Chicago newspaper shortly after the murders in which a Doctor, while drunk, confessed to having sat on a board of medical inquiry passing judgement on Jack the Ripper. This man, reportedly named Doctor Howard, told how the man was judged to be insane, committed, and a mock funeral given to explain his absence. Knight jumps on this story and proves, through a circuitous route, that the unnamed man mentioned in the story was Dr. Gull. In a postscript, Knight mentions that a letter by Dr. Howard was found and published by Richard Wittington-Egan in which Dr. Howard loudly discounts the story and claims to have not even been in Chicago at the time. Knight explains this rejection of an important part of his theory by saying that "Dr. Howard would hardly have admitted that he had become drunk and broken the solemn oath binding him to secrecy about the Masonic lunacy commission proceedings" (K 211). Once again, he uses the conspiracy theory to explain the existence of conflicting or nonexistent evidence. Clearly, there is no arguing with Knight.
Another interesting point comes in Knight's examination of Gull as a suspect. He states that Rumbelow and Farson have both discounted Gull as a suspect due to his having a stroke a few years before the murder. Knight then goes on to prove that a man can indeed function perfectly well after major strokes and that Gull had only suffered one slight stroke. Then, strangely, he relates the story of mystic Robert Lees leading a detective to the house of a doctor claiming that the man was Jack the Ripper. Knight establishes that this was Gull through another account in a memoir of Gull. Be that as it may, Knight relates the story of Lees and the detective confronting the man who confessed that his mind had been confused as of late and that he had, on more than one occasion, woken up with blood on his shirt. Knight appears to be laying a case for Gull having a split personality that resulted in his committing the Ripper murders. This would appear to be in contrast with the portrait of Gull which Knight earlier paints as a Masonic madman intent upon saving the realm through an intricate plan. It is a strange contradiction.
Ironically, Knight himself accuses Cullen and Farson of not checking their facts when they accused Druitt. Their theories, he says, are based on inaccurate copies of the MacNaughten papers and are thus worthless. The same accusation applies to Knight as his lack of evidence makes his theory just as worthless.
Despite the lack of hard facts, the Sickert theory remains one of the most popular Ripper theories yet advanced. It continues to appear in popular fiction and media, eclipsing all other theories. The reasoning for this is quite simple. The conspiracy theory is a favorite among many people as a large number of them often have persecution complexes and do not trust the government. That aside, the Sickert theory makes an excellent story regardless of whether it is true or not. It is far more powerful than a tale of a lone madman stalking women. It involves powerful people subverting justice for their own ends, romance, tragedy, and guilt. In short, it is the perfect Hollywood story! This fact has not been missed by most as this theory appears frequently in such different forms as movies, television shows, comic books, and novels.
When read as fiction, it makes wonderful sense and provides an incredibly enjoyable read. If taken as fact, Knight's book falls apart from the lack of evidence supporting it. The entire concept is only effective if key elements are believed on faith. The study of the Ripper requires much more than that.