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The Lodger

In January 1911, McLure's Magazine published a story by Marie Belloc Lowndes entitled "The Lodger." The story revolves around a retired couple, both formerly servants who make extra income by renting out rooms in their home. Unsuccessful as landlords and facing the prospect of hard times, they are saved when a single gentleman rents their upstairs rooms at a higher rate than usual. The extra money permits the husband to once again indulge himself in a daily paper wherein he follows closely a series of murders of harlots committed by a madman calling himself "The Avenger."

The new lodger is a quiet gentleman who is a bit idiosyncratic. Deeply religious, he spends his days reading the bible aloud. He is given to nocturnal wanderings, leaving the house late and not returning until early morning. On those nights when he is at home, he conducts strange experiments on the gas ring in one of his rooms.

The wife becomes suspicious. Noting that her lodger's late night disappearances coincide with the murders, she begins to believe that he is "The Avenger."

Thus was born for the public the mythical lodger who turns out to be Jack the Ripper. The strange, bible quoting gentleman with the deep seeded hatred of whores, who spends his days alone and spends his nights prowling the city for prey. Belloc Lowndes story went on to become a best selling novel and no less than three films have been based on it. One of these films, "The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog," was made by a young Alfred Hitchcock and is generally excepted as the first truly Hitchcockian film.

Mrs. Belloc Lowndes is supposed to have gotten the idea for this story by overhearing a snatch of dinner conversation wherein one guest was telling another that his mother's butler and cook claimed that had once rented rooms to Jack the Ripper. But the story of the lodger appears well before Mrs. Belloc Lowndes and, as recently put forward by Stewart Evans and Paul Gainey in their book, "The Lodger, The Arrest & Escape of Jack the Ripper" it may very well have more fact behind it than originally thought.

Prior to Belloc Lowndes the story had already been put forward by at least two people: Lyttleton Stewart, Forbes Winslow and the painter Walter Sickert. Both of these tales contain the same essential ideas and "facts" and suggest that the story had reached the level of urban myth within a few years of the Whitechapel murders.

Forbes Winslow was the son of a doctor who specialized in lunacy. He followed in his father's practice and became a leading alienist. In his memoir "Recollections of Forty Years," as quoted in Donald Rumbelow's "The Complete Jack the Ripper." he describes himself as a medical theorist and practical detective. A description not unlike that given to the medical doctor upon whom Conan Doyle based Sherlock Holmes.

Forbes Winslow became engrossed in the Whitechapel murders. "Day after day and night after night I spent in the Whitechapel slums. The detectives new me, the lodging house keepers new me, and at last the poor creatures of the streets came to know me. In terror they rushed to me with every scrap of information which might be of value. To me the frightened women looked for hope. In my presence they felt reassured, and welcomed me to their dens and obeyed my commands eagerly, and found the bits of information I wanted."

Using his experiences with those suffering from homicidal-religious mania and foreshadowing the modern practice of psychological profiling, he claims to have constructed an imaginary man whom he now set about to find.

In 1889 Forbes Winslow connected with a Finsbury Street lodging house keeper named Callaghan who told him of a former lodger, G. Wentworth Bell Smith, who had rented a large room from him in April 1888. According to Callaghan, Smith was a Canadian and he went on to describe him as 5' 10" tall, dark complexioned with a full mustache and beard worn closely cropped. He walked with a curious weak-kneed, splay-footed gait. Smith's dress and manners suggested a man of some gentility. Callaghan also said that Smith was multilingual and had a foreign appearance.

The landlord was told by Smith that he was in England on business and might stay an indefinite period of time. He requested and received a house key. Soon the landlord and his wife began to take notice of their tenants behavioral idiosyncrasies. He changed clothes several times a day, wearing a different suit and one of three pairs of rubber soled boots each time he went out. He kept three loaded revolvers in his room. He frequently railed against the women of the street and once filled fifty or sixty sheets of foolscap paper with his disgust for "dissolute women." These ramblings were punctuated with a mixture of morality and religion which he often read to his landlord.

On August 7, the night of the Martha Tabram murder, he arrived at his lodgings at 4:00 AM, explaining the lateness by claiming that his watch had been stolen in Bishopsgate, which later proved untrue. In the morning the maid found bloodstains on his bed and noticed that the cuffs of his shirt had recently been washed. Soon after Smith left his lodgings saying that he had to return to Canada, but it was known that he remained in England.

It was in August of 1889 that Callaghan, who had in the mean time moved, was told by a woman that she had been approached by a man in Worship Street who had offered her one pound to accompany him down a court. She refused, but soon after there had been another murder. The woman told Callaghan that she had recognized him as a man she had seen coming and going from Callaghans Lodgings in Finsbury Street. Callaghan immediately assumed it to be Smith and told this to Forbes Winslow. Since he perfectly matched the man Forbes Winslow had in mind, he knew he had his man.

According to Forbes Winslow's written story he went to the police with his information. He claimed that the man could be captured at Saint Paul's Cathedral, where he went ever day at 8:00 AM. He said that if the police would not cooperate with him he would publish his story. According to Forbes Winslow the police didn't cooperate and he published in the form of an interview in the New York Herald Tribune. In the interview he showed the reporter a pair of rubber soled, bloodstained boots saying they belonged to Jack the Ripper. (*We assume he had the boots from Callaghan.)

When the English press picked up the story Scotland Yard dispatched Chief Inspector Swanson to interview Forbes Winslow who immediately began to back-peddle. He said the story printed in the paper was not accurate and misrepresented the entire conversation between himself and the reporter. He claimed the reporter had tricked him into talking about the case. In truth, Forbes Winslow had never given any information to the police with the exception of an earlier theory of his involving an escaped lunatic. A theory which even Forbes Winslow had abandoned. He showed the boots to Swanson and they turned out to be canvas topped boots the tops of which were moth eaten and the molt of the moth still adhering to the tops. No bloodstains.

In "The Jack the Ripper A-Z" it is suggested by the authors that Smith was an agent of the Toronto Truss Company which had offices in Finsbury Street. He kept another office on Saint Paul Street. Eccentric as he may have been and resident in London at the time of the murders, there is nothing to connect him in any way with the murders. Indeed, at Five foot ten and fully bearded, he doesn't match either Mrs. Long's or Lawendes description of the murderer.

The second lodger story involves Walter Sickert, painter, and for better or worse now indelibly caught up in the Ripper myths. However, there is no royalty or masonic plots in this contribution bearing the Sickert name. Instead it involves the painter's claim that he knew the identity of the Ripper because he occupied his former rooms.

Sickert took lodgings in Mornington Crescent, Camden, in a house owned by an elderly couple. It was several years after the Ripper killings. It was they who told him that the previous occupant of the rooms was Jack the Ripper. He was a veterinary student with delicate looks and suffering from consumption. Again, this lodger was said to stay out all night and rush to buy the morning papers on the morning following the murders. They said he was in the habit of burning his clothes. Eventually his health began to fail and his mother returned him to Bournemouth where he died shortly there after.

They told Sickert his name which he supposedly wrote down in the margin of a copy of "Casanova's Memoirs" which he gave to Albert Rutherford. Unfortunately, Rutherford could not decipher Sickert's handwriting and the book was lost in the blitz.

As reported in "The Jack the Ripper A-Z" the tale takes another twist and seems to point at another well known suspect, Montague J. Druitt. Donald McCormick, author of "The Identity of Jack the Ripper," says that he was told the story by a London doctor. The unnamed doctor had been at Oxford with Montague Druitt's father. According to him the veterinary student's name was something like Druitt or Drewett or Hewett. McCormick also suggested that this story was told to Melville Macnaughten who, in his famous Memorandum wherein Druitt is named as a suspect, states that "from private info I have little doubt but that his own family believed him (Druitt) to be the murderer." McCormick suggests that this story may be the "private info."

Research by N. P. Warren, editor of "Ripperana, The Quarterly Journal of Ripperology" shows that the only student at the Royal Veterinary College whose name is close to Druitt is George Ailwyn Hewitt. Hewitt would have been 17 or 18 years old in 1888 and he died in 1908. Only one student who failed to follow a career beyond 1888 came from Bournemouth. His name was Joseph Ride who was 27 in 1888.

These two stories bear a great deal in common: the solitary and strange lodger whose habits slowly bring him under the suspicion of his landlord and landlady. The night-time wanderings, the unusual habits with clothing and the hatred of whores. They also share the dubious distinction of having been brought forward well after the Ripper murders stopped. Indeed, they are not the only two. Another with very similar sounding "facts" relates to a seaman from New Zealand (see Ripperana No.4, April 1993, pgs. 6-9).

Of the two stories, the Forbes Winslow story gives the initial impression of carrying a bit more weight. Unfortunately, a more careful examination doesn't bear this out. For one thing, he bases his finding on there having been more murders than are generally attributed to the Ripper. The murder reported by the woman to Callaghan to Forbes Winslow was that of Alice McKenzie which even at the time was considered a copycat (sic) murder. There is also evidence of considerable tampering with other evidence brought forward to support his story.

His work as an amateur detective is no different than that of countless others who descended on the East End during the murders. Why should we believe his success over any of the others? Forbes Winslow went on to embellish and change the story for the rest of his life.

There is little to reccomend either of these stories as a possible lead in identifying Jack the Ripper and they should be relegated to the realm of myths. But there is another lodger story which is contemporary with the murders, was reported in the newspapers of the day and, with the research done by Stewart Evans and Paul Gainey in their pursuit of the Littlechild Suspect, takes a much more important place in the story.

The story first appeared in The Globe of October 10, 1888.


"A well informed correspondent states that he has gleaned the following information from an undeniably authentic source, and from careful and persistent inquiries in various quarters he is able to relate the news fact, though for obvious reasons names and addresses are for the present suppressed: A certain member of the Criminal Investigation Department has recently journeyed to Liverpool and there traced the movements of a man which have proved of a somewhat mysterious kind. The height of this person and his description are generally ascertained, and among other things he was in possession of a black leather bag. This man suddenly left Liverpool for London, and for sometime occupied apartments in a well-known first class hotel in the West End. It is stated that for some reason or another this person was in the habit of 'slumming'. He would visit the lowest parts of London, and scour the slums of the East End. He suddenly disappeared from the hotel leaving a black leather bag and its contents, and has not yet returned. He left a small bill unpaid, and ultimately an advertisement appeared in The Times, setting forth the gentleman's name, and drawing forth attention to the fact that the bag would be sold under the Innkeeper's Act to defray expenses, unless claimed. This was done last month by a well-known auctioneer in London, and the contents, or some of them, are now in possession of the police, who are thoroughly investigating the affair. Of these we, of course, cannot more than make mention, but certain documents, wearing apparel, cheque books, prints of obscene description, letter, & c., are said to form the foundation of a most searching inquiry now afoot, which is being vigilantly pursued by those in authority. It has been suggested that the mysterious personage referred to landed in Liverpool from America, but this so far is no more than a suggestion."

Evans and Gainey suggest that this must have been written of October 9 and that the detectives must have been sent to Liverpool at the beginning of that week. This would be almost immediately following the 'Double Event.' Further information came forward over the next several days.

In an article dated October 13, the Suffolk Chronicle wrote "The steamers leaving Liverpool for America and other ports are now carefully watched by the police and passengers are closely scrutinized by detectives, there being an idea the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders may endeavour to make his escape via Liverpool."

Just three days later a report in the Daily News, October 16 adds to the story:

"According to a Correspondent, the police are watching with great anxiety a house in the East-end which is strongly suspected to have been the actual lodging, or house made use of by someone connected with the East-end murders. Statement made by the neighbours in the district point to the fact that the landlady had a lodger, who since Sunday morning of the last Whitechapel murder has been missing. The lodger, it is stated, returned home early on the Sunday morning, and the landlady was disturbed by his moving about. She got up very early, and noticed that her lodger had changed some of his clothes. He told her he was going away for a little time, and asked her to wash his shirt which he had taken off, and get it ready for him by the time he came back. As he had been in the habit of going away now and then, she did not think much at the time, and soon afterwards he went out. On looking at his shirt she was astonished to find the wristbands and part of the sleeves saturated with blood. The appearance struck her as very strange, and when she heard of the murders here suspicions were aroused. Acting on the advise of some neighbours, she gave information to the police and showed them the bloodstained shirt. They took possession of it, and obtained from her a full description of her missing lodger. During the last fortnight she has been under the impression that he would return, and was sanguine that he would probably come back on Saturday or Sunday night, or perhaps Monday evening. The general opinion, however, among the neighbours is that he will never return. On finding out the house and visiting it, a reporter found it was tenanted by a stout, middle-aged German woman, who speaks very bad English, and who was not inclined to give much information further than the fact that her lodger had not returned yet, and she could not say where he had gone or when he would be back. The neighbours state that ever since the information has been given two detectives and two policemen have been in the house day and night. The house is approached by a court, and as there are alleys running through into different streets, there are different ways to approach and exit. It is believed from the information obtained concerning the lodgers former movements and his general appearance, together with the fact that numbers of people have seen this man about the neighbourhood, that the police have in their possession a series of important clues, and that his capture is only a question of time."

At this point Evans and Gainey put forward that the police had indeed found the East End base of the murderer. It appears that they had solid evidence connecting the lodger with the crimes, certainly the shirt being a significant clue. They also knew his identity. Conversely, their quarry now had to know that he was being searched for and was on the run.

Another press story suggests that the police were trying to play the events down and try to keep the press in the dark. This was a hallmark of the police-press relationship throughout the Whitechapel murders.

East Anglican Times, Wednesday, October 17:

" The startling story published Monday, with reference to the finding of a blood-stained shirt, and the disappearance of a man from a certain house in the East End, proves, from the investigation carried out by a reporter, on Tuesday, to be not altogether devoid of foundation, though on Monday afternoon the truth of the statement was given an unqualified denial by the detective officers, presumably because they were anxious to avoid a premature disclosure of the facts of which they had been for sometime cognizant. The police have taken exceptional precautions to prevent disclosure, and while repeated arrests have taken place with no other result than that of discharging the prisoners for the time in custody, they have devoted particular attention to one particular spot, in the hope that a few days would suffice to set at rest public anxiety as to further murders. Our reporter, on Tuesday, elicited the fact that from the morning of the Berner Street and Mitre Square murders, the police have had in their possession a shirt saturated with blood. Though they say nothing they are evidently convinced that it was left in a house on Blatty Street by the assassin.

Having regard to the position of this house, its proximity to the yard in Berner Street, where the crime was committed, and to the many intricate passages and alleys adjacent, the police theory has in all probability a basis in fact. The statement has been made that the landlady of the house was, at an early hour, disturbed by movements of her lodger, who changed some of his apparel, and went away after instructing her to wash the cast-off shirt. Although, for reasons known to themselves, the police, during Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, answered in the negative all questions as to whether any persons had been arrested, there is no doubt that a man was taken into custody on suspicion of being the missing lodger from 22 Batty Street, and that he was afterwards set at liberty.

The German lodging-house keeper could clear up the point as to the existence of any lodger absent from her house under the suspicious circumstances referred to, but she is not accessible and it is easy to understand that the police should endeavour to prevent her making any statement. From our own inquiries in various directions on Tuesday afternoon, a further development is very likely to take place."

Batty Street is one street east of Berner Street -- central to all the Ripper killings. The lodging house in question nearly backs up to Dutfield's Yard, scene of the Stride murder. Much of this has been previously overlooked because of a series of articles, possibly placed by the police through the Central News Agency, countered and played down the story.

Evans and Gainey conjecture that there was an increasing cover up by police surrounding this suspect. His name was Francis Tumblety, an American quack doctor and herbalist. He was in Whitechapel at the time of the murders. Although there is no absolute proof that Tumblety was the Blatty Street Lodger, there is a very strong circumstantial and conjectural case for it. He was arrested for "unnatural acts" during the period of the murders and was RELEASED ON BAIL! He fled, through Liverpool and finally made his way back to America where Scotland Yard continued the chase sending detectives to New York City where Tumblety once again gave them the slip.

Tumblety is a very strong suspect. That he was the preferred suspect of John J. Littlechild, Chief of CID Special Branch is weighty enough. His habits (it is reported that he kept a collection of uteruses in jars) and personality as put forward in Evans and Gainey's book appear to give him a psychological profile which makes him a potential candidate. Ongoing research regarding this suspect is underway.

Moreover, Tumblety again lends credence to a very likely "type" of suspect. Far from Royalty and the semi-famous or infamous, he puts forward the image of the quiet little man, ignored or barely noticed by those around him who takes his revenge on the society which he feels has unjustly alienated him by murdering strangers. Not unlike those people who, when they are arrested as serial killers are described for the evening news by their neighbours as "Him? Oh, he kept to himself and seemed harmless!"

Related pages:
  The Lodger
       Message Boards: The Lodger 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 16 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Leytonstone Express and Independent - 21 September 1889 
       Press Reports: Manchester Guardian - 16 October 1888 
       Press Reports: New Oxford Item - 17 October 1890 
       Press Reports: Ogden Standard - 14 October 1890 
       Press Reports: Port Philip Herald - 22 November 1890 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - The Lodger