Tonight’s Read: The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper! It’s those “cases that haunt us” …


 to the 2008 Edition

When I was approached back in 1998 to put this book on Jack the Ripper together for the Mammoth list, I was initially somewhat taken aback. After all, I considered myself more of a crime and mystery fiction writer than a true crime specialist and the little I then knew of the notorious case was dizzying in its multiple choice solutions and endless speculation. No theory about the identity of the culprit stood out as the logical one, and despite the plethora of specialists, historians and “ripperologists” around, no one could provide an ideal answer to the eternal question: who was Jack the Ripper?

It soon became apparent that it would work best…if the book did not actually pretend to provide any specific answers, but instead gave an idea of the sheer complexity and contradictions the case offered. My colleague, Nathan Braund, who was then in charge of the true crime section at London’s Murder One bookshop, was recruited and did an incredible job sorting out the theories, the facts and the claims; and we hit on the idea, for the central part of the book, of asking some of the more prominent experts on the case each to summarize their opinions and views.

Of course, they strongly disagreed amongst themselves, but I think the final result was both enlightening and fascinating for the lay reader who now had to make a personal choice based on all the suspects and possibilities presented to him or her.

It seems this approach was welcomed by the public, and the book remained in print for many years.

While updating the bibliography of books on Jack the Ripper for this newly revised edition, I was truly amazed to see that the interest in this subject has not abated in the least, with handfuls of new books still appearing in the UK and the US every single year since, including the notorious intervention of leading US crime writer Patricia Cornwell, which made headlines worldwide. There have been yet further theories and fingers pointed and it was felt the time had come to update the book.

We’ve excluded some of the original essays and have welcomed five brand new writers to the fold, some of whom have actually published some of the more interesting books on the Ripper case since our initial edition appeared.

Barry Forshaw, of Crime Time Magazine, examines the whole Patricia Cornwell affray with wit and insight, and there is also a short essay by the late Derek Raymond written for a small French magazine and which has never appeared in English previously.

I have no doubt as we march into the twenty-first century in earnest that more books and theories will keep on surfacing on a regular basis as this unsolved mystery keeps on fascinating new generations. For now, these are some of the facts and possibilities. You…choose your solution!

Maxim Jakubowski, 2008

Introduction to the First Edition

Who was Jack the Ripper? This question has plagued policemen, doctors, journalists, historians and enthusiasts for over a hundred years.
 Jack the Ripper has been portrayed as a slaughterer, fishporter, lodging-house keeper, policeman, barrister, doctor and clergyman. In fact, it would be easier to list the things he has not been described as.

A whole host of individuals have been labelled “Saucy Jack”: Montague John Druitt, Aaron Kosminski, Michael Ostrog, William Henry Bury, Dr Francis Tumblety, Joseph Barnett, James Kelly and James Maybrick. There are famous suspects like Prince Albert Victor (the Duke of Clarence), Dr William Withey Gull (Queen Victoria’s physician) and Lord Randolph Churchill (Sir Winston Churchill’s father). Even children’s friends like Doctor Barnardo and Lewis Carroll have been eyed with suspicion.
In 1988, one hundred years after the autumn of terror, the FBI produced a psychological profile of Jack the Ripper for a TV docudrama. They suggested that he was an employed, white, single working-class male in his late 20s who had been abused as a child. He had no police record and no anatomical knowledge. Obviously, the FBI offered the profile as a form of speculation but, if we accept the assessment, it simply adds to the mystery because it does not name a particular individual.
Not all Ripperologists agree that the murders were the work of one man. The late Stephen Knight argued that the Whitechapel Murders were part of a conspiracy that involved the Freemasons, the government and members of the Royal Family.

Peter Turnbull argues in this anthology that the murders were a series of “copycat” killings by different men. And we should not necessarily assume that Jack was a man. He could have been Jill the Ripper. William Stewart suggested that the killer was a female abortionist and Edwin T. Woodhall insisted that the murderer was Olga Tchkersoff, a Russian immigrant.

Because of the tireless, ongoing debate about the Ripper and his presence both in fact and fiction, he feels strangely familiar. Although he is faceless, he lurks within the shadows of our own subconscious. The identity of Jack the Ripper could greatly depend on who we are and who we wish to perceive as a brutal killer. At the time of the murders, foreign immigrants, particularly Jews, were often accused of being the Whitechapel fiend. With the passing of time and the shifting of social trends, the Ripper’s identity will continue to change. Therefore, we should attempt to analyze the writers themselves (if possible) in order to assess their theories. A frequent and valuable criticism of certain “experts” is that they choose a suspect and then find facts to authenticate their belief. Another criticism is that the Ripper debate often turns into a battle of egos where individuals make personal and almost libelous jibes at their contemporaries.

Putting 16 Ripperologists in the same room could be regarded as being as sensible as leaving Jack the Ripper in a brothel. However, most Ripperologists would no doubt agree that their desire is to find the truth and, in the words of someone far wittier, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Lively debate is, therefore, a necessary part of tracking down the elusive East End killer.

Beyond the troubling but fascinating lull of sexual violence that hangs around the murders like a Sherlockian fog, the killings remain so intriguing because the suspect was not found and, consequently, a motive was not discovered (if indeed the murderer had a motive). It is a whodunnit and a whydunnit that attracts earnest historians and obsessive crackpots alike.

Thankfully, the following seventeen essays are written by notable and serious Ripperologists, offering compelling and often conflicting arguments on the identity of Jack the Ripper.

We, the editors, do not know who Jack the Ripper was. Therefore, we have no interest in offering essays of our own to strengthen personal, half-baked theories. Instead, we have gathered seventeen persuasive and carefully researched theories with the hope of introducing the Ripper debate to new readers and offering updated arguments for experienced Ripperologists.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Feel free to decide for yourself. Even if you do not find the answer within, you will certainly become addicted to the Ripper mystery.

Please tread carefully and keep away from the shadows; you are about to enter the abyss.

Maxim Jakubowski and Nathan Braund, 1999

(The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper, Maxim Jakubowski, eds.)

One response to “Tonight’s Read: The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper! It’s those “cases that haunt us” …

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