- - Wednesday, December 2, 2015



By Bruce Robinson

Harper, $35, 864 pages

Who was Jack the Ripper? It’s one of the great unsolved mysteries that has stumped amateur and professional sleuths for more than a century.

There are many theories about the identity of the elusive serial killer who murdered five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. More than a hundred suspects have been named, including Prince Albert Victor, author Lewis Carroll, royal physician Sir William Gull, and bootmaker John “Leather Apron” Pizer.

Yet, the most controversial Ripper study has arguably just been written. Bruce Robinson, an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and director, spent close to 15 years studying this penetrating case. His massive book, “They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper,” throws previous claims out the window and points the finger at a new candidate.

Mr. Robinson believes the Ripper was Michael Maybrick, a “prolific songwriter” and “lifelong pal” of composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. The sheet music for one of his compositions, “The Holy City,” written under the alias Stephen Adams, became “the best-selling song of the entire nineteenth century.” (He also wrote the intriguingly named song, “They All Love Jack,” in 1887, one year before the Ripper murders.) He regularly traveled in prominent circles, and lived in high society.

Maybrick, an “inhabitant of this superior world,” as Mr. Robinson writes, “seems a most unlikely candidate for Jack the Ripper.” The popular study of Ripperology, for the most part, has ignored him as a suspect.

But when you dig deeper into the bowels of history, there are some strange connections.

For instance, Maybrick’s brother, James, became associated with the “mother mystery of them all” after the supposed discovery of a now-discredited “scrapbook” in 1992 titled “The Diary of Jack the Ripper.” Meanwhile, his brother’s wife, Florence, was sent to jail in 1889 for poisoning her husband. One of her accusers? You guessed it: Michael Maybrick.

Mr. Robinson also believes there’s a cover-up among the Ripper murders, Maybrick’s involvement and the Freemasons.

“Unlike Freemasonry today,” he writes, “the Craft had its own class hierarchy, centralizing like everything else in London, and above all at its gentlemen’s clubs.” Michael was a member of this fraternal organization, and held the vaunted position of grand organist. Yet, his brother’s “Masonic contribution was expunged by the police as they pretended to investigate his crimes,” and his “Masonic secret was posthumously imposed by Freemasons themselves.”

Mr. Robinson also believes the Ripper’s famous graffiti that was written (and hastily wiped off) a wall has been misinterpreted. In his view, “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” doesn’t refer to Jews, but rather the three ruffians who are central to Freemasonry: Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum. Someone like Sir Charles Warren, head of the London Metropolitan Police during the Ripper murders and a Freemason, would therefore have been “better acquainted with the story of the Three Ruffians than any other man on earth.”

Wait, there’s more.

Maybrick may have been homosexual, a trait commonly associated with the Ripper. He was known to travel extensively, and “there were no murders while [he] was on provincial tour.” One famous sketch of the Ripper looks like him. Mr. Robinson believes he “had many styles of handwriting, and used many different pens,” which could explain some or all of the Ripper hoax letters. He stayed (or worked) for a spell on Conduit Street, one of the places “the Ripper chose to draw attention to.” And so on.

Indeed, this book is well researched and documented. It draws an extraordinary amount of imaginary lines, but connects many of them. While there’s more than enough salty language to affect your blood pressure, it’s still an entertaining tale.

Nevertheless, there’s an enormous amount of conjecture contained in each chapter. Mr. Robinson’s confidence that virtually everything written previously about the Ripper is wrong often smacks of bravado. The overarching emphasis on conspiracies, including Freemasonry’s shadowy presence and a lack of police involvement for reasons other than incompetence, is troubling.

Plus, there’s a glaring omission. Maybrick supposedly “disappeared” to the Isle of Wight in 1893 “to live in self-imposed exile for the remaining nineteen years of his life.” Um, not quite. He was elected mayor of Ryde on five occasions, served as a magistrate, and was chairman of the Isle of Wight hospital. After writing such an extensive book, shouldn’t Mr. Robinson have devoted a couple of pages to this?

“They All Love Jack” is feisty, thought-provoking and worth reading. If you’re hoping to find out Jack the Ripper’s true identity, it remains a mystery for now.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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