Was he or wasn’t he Jack the Ripper?
October 28, 2017
“May the good lord have mercy on my soul and forgive me for what I have done.”
There was a reserved family man in England named Albert Johnson and he carried an air of quiet dignity. He was semi-retired from a college security job. It had not made him wealthy, but he fared okay. He was also a collector of what others may view as meaningless curiosities. As he passed a jewelry shop on some of his walks, he eyed an antique gold man’s pocket watch. It caught his fancy and on the fifth or so pass, he went in and purchased it. The receipt from the jewelry shop in Wallasey, Cheshire exists, and the purchase date was July 14 1992. In his straightforward manner, Albert explained to interested parties that he had noticed some strange scratchings on the case—unreadable to him at the time. He put the watch in a drawer for his granddaughter, Daisy, to inherit someday. He then forgot about it.
One day a good friend came over, also a straightforward man, and as they were watching a version of Antiques Roadshow, Albert mentioned the watch to his good friend. The friend talked him into taking it to a nearby Science Block to look at the scratchings under high magnification. Albert brought back the information that the name scratched on the watch was James Maybrick. The person doing the scratching had also written, “I am Jack.” In addition there were five sets of initials scratched alongside. The friend’s eyes got very big.
The friend talked Albert into contacting some journalists about the watch, and basically the journalists gave them the runaround and nothing came of it. Albert was convinced he had made a purchase of possible historical value and he eventually took his younger and more animated brother, Robbie into his confidence.
Robbie had been following some regional news stories and he knew that another person was snooping around about a James Maybrick. Could it be the same Maybrick? It did not take much prodding to get Albert to get in touch with some people who were working in the interest of a young man, Michael Barrett. You see, Michael had been given an old diary that was supposedly written by a Maybrick. The person who gave him the diary explained that it had been found under the floorboards of an old building by remodeling contractors—he was living on borrowed time and wanted Michael Barrett to do something with the diary, as it was probably very important. He died shortly after giving it to Michael.
Now, the story becomes very confusing. The giver of the diary had died. Michael and Albert had both gotten solicitors by this time, as they felt they needed protection for their valuable artifacts. A couple of writers with good noses were also sniffing around and getting into the fray, trying to make deals and what not. Eventually, Albert, himself died after going through a sad period with Alzheimer’s. This, and the fact that money could figure hugely, has clouded all of the facts.
Who was James Maybrick? Why is he important? We know who James Maybrick was as a man. He was a cotton merchant from Liverpool that was fairly well-fixed. He was also an arsenic addict and had been for several years, dosing himself daily with the stuff. His wife was Florence—he met her on an ocean voyage that had been to America and was so smitten that he had proposed by the end of the voyage.
On May 11, 1889, James Maybrick died, after a short but successful life. In a strange twist, Florence was put on trial for murdering him with arsenic. It was a weak case but she was sentenced to death in the Liverpool Crown Court. She was an American from a prominent family and there was a huge outcry on both sides of the Atlantic to commute her sentence—it was commuted to life. When she was released 1904 she returned to America.
The strange diary that was found under the floorboards does not contain the name James Maybrick as the author—and several pages of the diary, or journal, actually, have been torn out. There is, however enough information to determine that it was probably he who wrote it. I have read a transcription of the diary and it is chilling:
He mentions knives frequently, and arsenic, and his hatred of wayward women. On the last page of his journal he says, “Remind all whoever you may be, that I was once a gentle man. May the good lord have mercy on my soul and forgive me for what I have done.”
He finishes with an astounding flourish…
“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”
If James Maybrick truly was Jack the Ripper, what would drive him to these heinous crimes? We know he had an arsenic addiction that possibly clouded his thinking. He complained of headaches toward the end of his life, but the driving force seems to be an event he had witnessed. It seems he had witnessed Florence having a tryst with a lover, possibly on more that one occasion. After an accidental witnessing, he went on to try to catch them in future liaisons. He got an obsession about taking out what he considered wayward women and viewed the prostitutes he encountered as Florence. In theory, he was killing Florence over and over again—yet he could not actually bring himself to murder Bunny—his pet name for his wife.
As for the gold watch, the writings scratched on it were: The name, “James Maybrick,” the words, “I am Jack,” and the initials of the five Whitechapel Ripper victims, MK, ES, CE, MN and AC.
Even though it is a case of too many coincidences at the same time: a diary or journal, a gold watch with intriguing scratchings, the deaths of the people who provided all of this tantalizing evidence in the early 1990s, the documents and watch have been dated and traced and cannot be ruled out. Early on so many people thought the watch and the journal all part of an elaborate hoax, more and more Ripperologists seem to believe James Maybrick, successful gentleman cotton merchant of Liverpool, could be Jack the Ripper after all. Even many of the experts have jumped on the bandwagon. Stay tuned.
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Curious Indeed, a collection of true stories about the unknown and unexplained. Please click HERE to purchase the book on Amazon.