Many Jack the Ripper suspects have been discussed over the years. Some are highly plausible, some less so, but with the identity of the Ripper still a mystery, will we ever succeed in pinpointing the man behind the mask beyond all doubt?
James Maybrick is one of the most plausible Ripper suspects due to several pieces of key evidence which came to light after his death. Could James Maybrick have been Jack the Ripper?
Born in Liverpool in 1838, James Maybrick entered the cotton trade business at an early age. He briefly worked in a London shipbroking office before returning to Liverpool and the cotton trade.
During the course of his work, he frequently travelled to and from the US. He eventually moved to Virginia in 1871 before unfortunately contracting malaria in 1874. As a result, he quickly became addicted to the medication he was given to treat the disease – medication which contained arsenic.
Maybrick then returned to Liverpool once again, marrying a young woman named Florence Chandler. The marriage bore two children, but it was an unhappy one, with both turning to infidelity. Maybrick had multiple mistresses, while his wife enjoyed an affair with a cotton broker called Alfred Brierley.
In April 1889, Maybrick became ill again, eventually passing away in May of that year. His wife, Florence, was accused of poisoning him with arsenic and was sentenced to life imprisonment for the supposed murder, although she was later released in 1904 after serving 15 years in prison.
Although it was plausible that Maybrick had died under suspicious circumstances, the decision that Florence was responsible, and her subsequent trial and imprisonment were later thrown into question. This resulted in a re-examination of the case and her eventual release in 1904.
Over a century after his death, two pieces of evidence came to light which purportedly point to James Maybrick and Jack the Ripper being one and the same.
The first was a diary, supposedly written by Maybrick’s own hand. The traditional Victorian scrapbook diary was discovered battered and ripped, with many pages missing and just a handful remaining. These pages outline the Ripper murders in detail, pointing towards James Maybrick’s involvement in the case. Additionally, although many of the details mentioned in the diary would have been widely known by the general public at the time, there were also references to specifics which were not known by anyone except the police – and the killer.
Lastly, although the author of the diary did not explicitly name the murderer, there were several references to a “Sir Jim” throughout the pages. This is reportedly the nickname that James Maybrick gave himself whilst in the US.
Though less convincing than the diary, the second piece of evidence is a Victorian pocket watch. Discovered not long after the diary was found and brought to light, the pocket watch again purportedly belonged to James Maybrick. The back casing of the watch is inscribed with the message - “I am Jack, J. Maybrick” – along with the initials of each of the Canonical Five victims.
However, the authenticity of the pocket watch has been thrown into question over the years. Experts are divided over whether or not the watch is actually a genuine Victorian pocket watch. Could it simply have been cleverly made to look older than it is using modern technology and ageing techniques?
While this evidence may seem to conclusively point to James Maybrick’s guilt, there are many questions surrounding this suspect which still need to be answered.
Maybrick’s knowledge of London and the fact that he had previously lived in the East End ensured that he was familiar with the Ripper’s hunting ground. Additionally, the fact that he was regularly travelling to and from Liverpool meant that he could easily escape up North to avoid detection if police in London happened to get a little too close for comfort.
A further hint to Maybrick’s guilt is a Victorian crime scene photograph of one of the victims, taken at the site of the murder. In the background, the initials ‘F.M.’ appear to have been scrawled on the wall behind the body in blood. Those who believe that Maybrick is indeed the Ripper think that these initials stand for Florence Maybrick, James’ wife. This would then add weight to the theory that the Ripper murders were committed by an individual who hated women and wanted revenge. Could Jack the Ripper really have been seeking revenge on his wife for having an affair?
One person who definitely seems to be convinced is author Shirley Harrison. In her opinion, not only is Maybrick Jack the Ripper, but he may also have been another serial killer active in Texas in 1884 and 1885. The Servant Girl Annihilator brutally murdered eight people over a two-year killing spree, just three years before the first Ripper murder occurred.
James Maybrick is just one of the many suspects who have been accused of being Jack the Ripper over the years. The diary and the pocket watch may seem to be pretty conclusive, hard-hitting evidence, but experts are still divided over whether or not they are genuine, or just a very well pulled off hoax.
With evidence and new theories still emerging today, over 130 years since Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of Whitechapel, it remains likely that we will stay in the dark about the Ripper’s identity for many more years yet to come.
If you would like further information about James Maybrick and the other Ripper suspects, why not join us on our Jack the Ripper walking tour? Immerse yourself in the world of Victorian London as you walk the streets of Whitechapel, learning all about the case, the murders, the victims, and of course, the suspects! Book your place on an upcoming tour with us today and prepare to delve deep into the mind of one of the most notorious serial killers that history has ever seen.