For those of you who neglected your homework on Victorian serial killers of London at school, you may not be aware of Jack the Ripper. Well, he was something of a scoundrel who took a liking to killing prostitutes in Whitechapel in London, and surgically removing their organs. Yikes.
The moniker Jack the Ripper originated from a letter written by someone purporting to be the murderer, but this was widely discredited, and it was, in fact, suspected that it was written by a journalist to stimulate sales, and further sensationalise the story. The story, of course, needed very little sensationalising – it was the talk of the town, of the country and of the world. The killer was actually known by the police investigating the killings as ‘Leather Apron’, or the ‘Whitechapel murderer’, but apparently those names didn’t have quite the same ring to them.
As the years passed, tales of Jack The Ripper have evolved to become folklore, myth and urban legend. He probably wasn’t just misunderstood, but rumours abound that he may have actually been a member of the royal family, an Oxford graduate, or even Winston Churchill’s father. Here we take a trip back to those murky London streets and explore the legend and myths, both credible and incredible, surrounding the most prominent Jack the Ripper suspects.
The Duke of Clarence
The most high profile and outrageous of suspects, the Duke of Clarence was one of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, and reportedly suffered from syphilis which had affected his mind and driven him to these unspeakable acts.
Known as ‘Eddy’, the Duke was born to Prince Albert Edward, the son of Queen Victoria. A slow child, and a dull adult, Eddy was once affectionately described as being ‘as aimless as a gleaming gold-fish in a crystal bowl’. He wasn’t linked with the murders in any way until long after the event, when theories emerged connecting him to the murders in 1962, claiming that he and the Duke of Bedford committed the crimes together. This became the basis for the rumour mill that turned for many years to come, which claimed that Eddy contracted syphilis while in the West Indies; this drove him insane and caused him to commit the dreadful crimes before being carted off to a mental home.
As it turns out, even a cursory glance at the facts reveals that the Duke of Clarence did not have syphilis, wasn’t institutionalised, wasn’t in London on the pertinent dates in 1888, and that the Duke of Bedford, his rumoured accomplice, didn’t actually exist.
Montague John Druitt
An Oxford educated schoolmaster, Druitt was unambiguously described as ‘sexually insane’ and eventually killed himself, which coincided with the end of the killings. So far, so suspicious.
Several experts were convinced that the killer was local, and had a job with normal hours, given the timings of the murders. Druitt lived very close to the Whitechapel area and was spotted in Whitechapel after several of the killings had occurred. In November 1888, approximately 2 months after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly – the Ripper’s final victim – Druitt was found floating in the Thames, the date of his death being estimated to be shortly after Kelly’s death. This series of events left him as a very credible suspect.
Lord Randolph Churchill
At the other end of the scale, a less credible suspect. Theories suggest that Sir Winston Churchill’s father Lord Randolph was the head of a conspiracy of Masons which set out to murder the prostitutes in the Whitechapel area.
There is very little credible evidence linking him to the murders. The main evidence seemed to be that a description given by Mary Jane Kelly strongly matched the appearance of Lord Randolph. Assuming, however, that this description focused on his trademark waxed moustache and beard, it must be possible that he was one of many hundreds of London gentlemen of the 19th Century who could have been implicated.
Interestingly, it has been theorised that the penchant for accusing the privileged was a reflection of cultural attitudes of the times. The random murder of working class women by an unknown perpetrator seemed to mirror the arbitrary oppression of the same people by the ruling classes, in desperate, impoverished times for many Londoners.
The true killer of course was never found. Many more suspects were accused and investigated over the years, some far more likely than others. It wasn’t even really decided whether the victims were only the five women killed in 1888, or whether the few killed in 1891 were the result of the same perpetrator. The legend lives on.
In any case the rumours gave a certain Duke a higher profile than he might otherwise have had. The Duke of Clarence, dull and supposedly riddled with syphilis, discovered that there is such a thing as bad publicity. If you would like the opportunity to repair the historic damage done to the titles of Duke and Lord, then you might be interested in purchasing a noble title from the many available to purchase, and become a Lord or a Duke. You can have them legitimately added to your passport, credit card, driving licence, and other documents, but just remember as an honorary member of the ruling classes, you too may become part of the royal rumour mill and, like the Duke of Clarence, get slightly more than you bargained for.