Self-proclaimed “Ripperologists” are often lambasted as being at best, eccentrics and at worst, full blow conspiracy nuts. However, Phillip Sugeden who died recently aged 67 was widely regarded as the first academic historian to apply legitimate scholarly theory and research to the study of the Jack the Ripper murders.
According to his obituary, published in The Telegraph, Sugeden “disdained many of the books about the Ripper killings” and decried them as nothing more than a “monstrous cult industry”. Sugeden is perhaps best known for his own publication ‘The Complete History of Jack the Ripper’ (1994) wherein he went back to primary sources in a bid to undo years of misinformation, hoaxes, invention and pure speculation based on illegitimate or outright fraudulent information. To this day, his work is considered to be something of an industry standard when it comes to Ripperology.
As an experienced historian, Sugeden spent many months of research, trawling through original documents pertaining to the Whitechapel murders; he successfully reconstructed the events surrounding the brutal murder of at least four, potentially nine, prostitutes in the East End. He did this to discredit some of the more outlandish theories put forward by opportunistic or lazy Ripperologists who attempted to identify Jack the Ripper as a variety of things, including “black magicians and imaginary Russian doctors, mad Freemasons and erring royals”.
In addition, Sugeden is credited with exposing a number of Ripper frauds and decrying the well-known Ripper Diary as an “impudent fake”. While Sugeden was certainly keen to state categorically who the Ripper was not, he also had his own theories on the identity of the culprit. Though he never claimed to know who the Ripper was, he did put forward the case for the Polish-born George Chapman but even then he considered him as nothing more than “the best of a poor bunch”. According to his obituary, Sugeden said: “There is every possibility that the man the Victorians called ‘the master murderer of the age’ was in reality a complete nobody whose name never found its way into the police file… some sad social cripple who lived out his days in obscurity, his true identity a secret now known only to the dead.”
Lauded for his attention to detail, Sugeden contributed immensely to the often belittled subject of Ripperology. Despite his success as a writer and a historian, Sugeden was regarded by many as a recluse but a mild mannered and academic man. Philip Sugeden, born January 27 1947, died April 26 2014.
Sugeden was one of many who have taken a keen interest in the brutal Whitechapel murders. Join us on one of our Jack the Ripper tours, as we take you to the scenes of the crimes and disclose all of their grisly details!