Towards the end of the 19th century, the Whitechapel district in the East End of London was living in terror because of one man: Jack the Ripper. An unknown phantom who had slashed the throats of several women, removed their internal organs, and even took some organs with him, this was a terrifying boogie man.
To this day, the true identity of Jack is a mystery (his very name comes from a letter written to investigating officers, likely not even written by the Ripper himself). Absent a concrete conclusion, an entire cottage industry has grown around trying to identify this mystery murderer with its own area of study and literature, known as Ripperology.
Ripperologists have suggested that Jack might have been H.H. Holmes, the master of the murder castle from Chicago, who may have been in England at the time of the slayings. There is also the “Jane the Ripper” theory. It postulates that the murders were committed by a deranged or revengeful midwife who would know anatomy and has performed c-sections or abortions. Nobody would find it suspicious if a midwife was wandering about Whitechapel and had bloodied clothes or an apron.
Imagine uncovering the true identity of Jack the Ripper, solving a historical cold case that still leads people down rabbit holes just trying to find who Jack was. It would be huge!
What if you found a diary that describes five of Jack’s murders with so much detail that they HAD to have been there? What if that diary had a confession from someone who lived in Whitechapel during the time Jack the Ripper was active and identified himself as Jack the Ripper?
It’s a wild thing to imagine, but this happened. The diary of Jack the Ripper and in it, information about the identity of Jack, was discovered in 1992. However, the jury is still out on if it is real or a hoax, but the details of the diary are compelling and makes you ask yourself, has the mystery of who was Jack the Ripper finally been solved?
The Diary of Jack the Ripper
In 1992 a scrap metal merchant, Michael Barrett, came forward with a journal written by Jack the Ripper that finally could identify the brutal murderer. The diary of Jack the Ripper supposedly belonged to James Maybrick from Liverpool, England.
When the news of the finding of Jack the Ripper’s diary also revealed the identity of Jack, anyone who had heard or read about Jack the Ripper and Ripperologists were excited. Until that day, James Maybrick had never been considered a person of interest, suspect, or appeared in anything related to Jack the Ripper. The identity of Jack the Ripper and the diary made everyone ask, “Who was this man?”
Maybrick was a cotton merchant from Liverpool, England, who died in May 1889. Not long after he died, his wife Florence was charged with using arsenic to poison him to death. Was he the monster, and if so who could blame Florence for trying to save the lives of all women in England?
In Jack the Ripper’s diary, the author (Maybrick) writes that he had caught his wife with a lover in the seedy Whitechapel district of London. Maybrick was full of rage, referring to his wife as “the bitch” and “the whore” in the pages of the diary.
His wife’s infidelity triggered a fit of anger that led to James Maybrick stalking the streets of Whitechapel, mutilating and murdering women who were sex workers and women who had been known to receive money for sex on occasion. According to the diary, he sought revenge on all women of loose morals, blaming then all for his wife’s infidelity.
Jack the Ripper’s diary contained page after page filled with details of each murder of who are known as “the canonical five”. These are the five victims who are unanimously agreed to have been killed by Jack the Ripper due to how similarities in the murder scenes and what was done to the bodies.
The canonical five victims are Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. Many Ripperologists believe that Jack the Ripper may killed more victims, but the “official victims” are the canonical five.
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Those pages are concluded with the proof that the diary of Jack the Ripper was the real deal was the sentence, “I give my name that all know of me, so history do tell, what love can do to a gentle man born. Yours truly, Jack the Ripper.”
Was James Maybrick Actually Jack?
Ripperologists disagreed on whether the diary of Jack the Ripper belonging to James Maybrick was the real deal or a hoax. When the news broke in 1992 about the diary being discovered, many people had doubts about the authenticity of the diary.
Around 40 years before, in 1957, the so-called diaries of Benito Mussolini were found, and not just one diary, but thirty. At the time, the sheer quantity of diaries made people believe it couldn’t be a forgery. It turns out they all had been forged.
Again in 1983, billionaire Rupert Murdoch bought the rights and publication rights to 60 diaries by Adolf Hitler. Again the Hitler Diaries were claimed to be authentic, but it turned out that they were not Hitler’s diaries, and they were only 60 excellently crafted forgeries. Was this yet again a forgery and a hoax?
Experts who examined Jack the Ripper’s diary were confident that it had been written between 1888 and 1891, the correct time of the Ripper’s murder spree, and they felt that it was probable that James Maybrick actually wrote it. However, all experts that examined Jack the Ripper’s diary did recommend further scientific testing on the diary to learn the exact time frame when Jack the Ripper was active and before James Maybrick died.
At this point, the authenticity of Jack the Ripper’s diary gets messy. Again, it is worth mentioning that James Maybrick was never considered as a suspect in the killings of Jack the Ripper. There was a long list of people suspected to be Jack the Ripper, but Maybrick had been completely unknown.
The popular list included all sorts of famous connections. The painter Walter Sickert, Lewis Caroll, Winston Churchill’s father, Oscar Wilde, the grandson of Queen Victoria, and even an escaped orangutan were all considered. And now in 1992, James Maybrick.
The Facts Pointing to Potential Forgery
At some point, the man who brought Jack the Ripper’s diary to public attention, Michael Barrett, told writers at the Liverpool Post that he had 100% forged the diary. He said his wife did the writing while he dictated to her.
He also said his wife gave the diary, which had been in the family for years, to Michael’s deceased friend to give to her husband to “inspire him to be an author.” But the story whereby the married wife of Michael gave his buddy a diary to then give to her husband, and to keep it lying around for years in the house the couple both lived in doesn’t make any sense.
Michael also retracted his statement about the diary of Jack the Ripper being fake. But the issues about the validity of Jack the Ripper’s diary are already popping up.
When investigated closely, the content of Jack the Ripper’s diary, many of the detailed descriptions of the five murders and the crime scenes were taken from press reports and later literature about Jack the Ripper murders. An example is the description of the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, whose limbs and some organs were described by the press disturbingly as “hung around the walls like Christmas decorations”.
The diary of Jack the Ripper describes where and how he put her limbs and organs in places about the room and how he cut off her breasts and “kissed them for a while” before leaving them on the bedside table. The descriptions are incredibly graphic, but there is nothing here that couldn’t be drawn and embellished from the rumors about Kelly’s mutilation.
In reality, according to what police records survived the Blitz in the Second World War, and based on the crime scene photos, the diaries describe a different crime scene. Yes, she was disemboweled and had organs removed, but they weren’t strewn across the room like some kind of macabre confetti or Christmas decorations like the diary depicts.
Some of the removed organs were placed beneath her head, other organs and viscera were placed on the bed where she was found near her feet, thighs, and some material from her stomach and thighs was spread to a nearby bedside table. One breast was found under Kelly’s head, and the other was located underneath the body on the bed. Not on the bedside table like the diary said.
The inaccuracies in the description of the brutal slaying of Mary Jane Kelly casts a large shadow of doubt on the authenticity of Jack the Ripper’s diary. If it is supposed to be written by Jack the Ripper, it should have intimate knowledge of exactly how her body was left, and it would match how the police found and recorded the scene. There is a public house mentioned in one entry called the “Post House,” but the pub had a completely different name when Jack the Ripper was active.
The handwriting has been analyzed, and while some handwriting experts affirm the writing is Jack the Rippers and have compared it to the “Dear Boss” and “From Hell” letters, it is questionable. Handwriting analysis is largely considered a pseudoscience, and forensic handwriting analysis is a skill that takes years to learn.
The statistics on how many “matches” were incorrect are largely unknown. There has been a debate for a long time now in the legal system in the US about whether forensic handwriting analysis reports should be admissible in court. Polygraph test results were admissible in the US until 1991 because they are not scientifically reliable to use given the legal situation or crime committed. You can match signatures, but you can forge them as well.
The Ripper Letters do not match the writing in Jack the Ripper’s Diary. While it seems like solid proof, it isn’t. Hundreds of “Ripper Letters” were sent to officers, and journalists were known to create fake letters for a good story.
Two of the letters matched handwriting, but it is impossible to prove if Jack wrote those letters or if the two matching letters were written by somebody unknown who was injecting themselves into the case. There is too much uncertainty.
So is it a Forgery or Not?
Many people believe that the diary of Jack the Ripper is real and implicates James Maybrick, but it is largely seen today as a forgery. The British author of the book “The Diary of Jack the Ripper,” Shirley Harrison, maintains however that the diary of Jack the Ripper is authentic.
The book explains how it was scientifically proven to match the writing, ink, and paper of the Ripper Letters and that Maybrick was Jack the Ripper. It was published in England in 1993, but when brought to the United States and scheduled for printing and publication by Warner Books Inc, it was canceled one month before 200,000 copies of the book were to be sold.
A historical documents dealer looked at the journal and said it was fake, and this was enough to spook Warner Books, who refused to print and publish it. The document dealer said the handwriting was not Victorian, didn’t match, and was written on an oversized scrapbook that had the first 20 or so pages removed. The author’s British publicist said that one opinion wasn’t correct and that the book explains the similarities.
So a likely forgery then. The question then becomes when was it forged? There have been multiple studies performed on the ink in the journal. In 1992 a test was run on the ink that determined that there were zero signs of aging on the ink.
Iron-based inks, like the ones used during the Victorian era, begin to bronze as they age. The bronzing process happens quickly, but this ink showed no bronzing. The ink went through many studies by scientists paid for by Ms. Harrison and those run by independent investigators.
Both disagree on the results; it is unknown if the ink has been tested since the 1990s. It is likely the ink is newer and not the proper age. Books are easy to alter to look old, and to give them the notorious yellowed tint of an old book, just put it in the oven. Unfortunately, or fortunately for Michael Barrett, the friend who allegedly gave him the book died in 1991, so nobody can verify the journal being written in before Barrett got his hands on it.
Evidence points towards the diary of Jack the Ripper being a hoax. Many bring up the Ripper’s watch as a link that connects Maybrick to the canonical five murders of Jack the Ripper. In 1993 a man bought an antique gold watch with the initials of each of the five victims and a signature reading J. Maybrick.
Under the signature are the words “I am Jack.” The watch can’t be considered legitimate proof, and here is why, only a year after the diary of Jack the Ripper was brought to light and named Maybrick as Jack, this antique watch was purchased. Very sketchy, and there had been no proof of any provenance that could link Maybrick to owning the watch.
With any unsolved crime this old and this notorious, it is hard to convince people that what they believe to be true is anything but. People have also suggested that it wasn’t James Maybrick who was the Ripper, but rather his brother Michael Maybrick. Will we ever find out who Jack was?
Top Image: Did this diary reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper? Source: Ginettigina / Adobe Stock.
By Lauren Dillon
Nickell, J. 2011. Diary of Jack the Ripper. Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication. University of Kentucky Press. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/kentucky-scholarship-online/book/29209/chapter-abstract/242712505?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Streitfeld, D. 1993. ‘Diary’ of Jack the Ripper Canceled as Hoax. The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1993/09/08/diary-of-jack-the-ripper-canceled-as-hoax/be6eed2d-9520-433e-b85a-55779bf27469/
Harris, M. 1997. The Maybrick Hoax: A Fact-File For The Perplexed. Casebook Jack the Ripper. Available at: https://www.casebook.org/dissertations/maybrick_diary/factfile.html