Over the years, many potential Jack the Ripper suspects have been identified and discussed in detail. Police, detectives, and amateur sleuths alike have waded in, all keen to give their opinion and share their thoughts on the Ripper case.
However, one of the names that commonly crop up again and again is that of Montague John Druitt. Who was this man, and could he have been Jack the Ripper?
Born in Dorset on 15th August 1857, Montague John Druitt came from a privileged background. He was educated at Winchester College and excelled at sports, developing an interest in cricket from an early age.
With a glowing academic track record supported by his cricketing prowess, Druitt won a scholarship to New College, Oxford, where he continued his education. Montague Druitt continued to excel whilst at Oxford, playing cricket and rugby for the college team. Following graduation in 1880, Druitt decided to pursue a career in law.
Druitt set up practice as a barrister and special pleader in 1885, renting legal chambers in the Temple area of London. It is unclear whether his business struggled, or he simply wished to fund a more lavish lifestyle, but either way, Druitt also worked as an assistant schoolmaster at a London boarding school to supplement the income earned from his legal business.
For reasons that remain unclear to this day, Montague Druitt was dismissed from his position at the London boarding school on 30th November 1888. The only clue we have is a newspaper report from the time which quoted that he had been dismissed because he had got himself into serious trouble. Exactly what that trouble entailed; we will probably never know.
Whatever transpired in Druitt’s life at the time clearly affected him deeply, as he went missing in early December 1888 and – as far as we know – he was never seen alive again.
The body of Montague John Druitt was discovered in the River Thames on 31st December 1888. It quickly became clear that his body had been in the river for a while, presumably since his disappearance. His pockets were full of stones, which had most likely contributed to the considerable period of time between his death and the discovery of his body.
Interestingly, a considerable amount of money (for the time) was found on Druitt’s body. Could this have been a severance payment from the boarding school or something intended for more sinister purposes?
Even today, over 130 years after his death, we are still unable to paint the complete picture of what happened to Montague John Druitt – and why. Did he commit suicide, or was he murdered? Did losing his job at the school drive him over the edge? Were there additional forces at play that we don’t know about? The answers to all these questions may well hold the key to the mystery of Montague Druitt’s untimely end.
Some contemporary experts have suggested that Druitt could have been dismissed by the school for homosexual behaviour, which was illegal at the time. It is thought that this could then have driven him to suicide.
Alternatively, another theory suggests that the large amount of money found on his body (£16 in gold and a cheque for £50) could have been payment for a blackmailer. In today’s money, this equates to a total of around £7,500 – a substantial amount to be carrying on your person without good reason.
A third school of thought speculates that Druitt did indeed commit suicide, but that it was caused by a hereditary psychiatric illness rather than any evidence of homosexuality. We know that Ann Druitt, Montague’s mother, was institutionalised in 1888 due to depression. Similarly, Ann’s own mother committed suicide, as did Montague’s eldest sister Georgiana in later life. It’s clear that a history of depression and psychiatric illness ran in the maternal line of Druitt’s family, but was this the reason for his apparent suicide?
A suicide note addressed to his brother, was discovered in Druitt’s home. The note read: “Since Friday I felt that I was going to be like mother, and the best thing for me was to die”.
Despite inconclusive – and contradictory – evidence, the jury at the inquest into Montague Druitt’s death concluded that he had indeed committed suicide, delivering the verdict that Druitt drowned whilst in an unsound state of mind. Whether this was true or not, we may never know.
At first glance, it may seem as though this well-to-do gentleman with a keen interest in law and sports could surely have nothing to do with the horrific tale of Jack the Ripper. However, Druitt’s unexpected death suddenly threw his name into the spotlight.
After the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the Canonical Five Ripper victims, rumours began to circulate saying that Jack the Ripper had drowned in the River Thames. Later, in 1891, Henry Richard Farquharson, the MP for West Dorset, publicly declared that the Ripper was the son of a surgeon who had committed suicide following Kelly’s brutal murder. He gave no name, but the description and circumstances clearly pointed to Druitt.
Similar comments and allusions were made regarding Montague Druitt and Jack the Ripper being one and the same by other notable figures of the time. These included journalist George R. Sims, Assistant Under-Secretary of the Home Office Sir John Moylan, and Assistant Commissioner of the CID Sir Basil Thomson.
Perhaps more importantly, Druitt was also named among the premier Jack the Ripper suspects by Sir Melville Macnaghten in his 1894 private memoirs. Macnaghten drew particular attention to the timeframe, highlighting the short gap between the murder of Mary Jane Kelly and Druitt’s estimated time of death in early December 1888. Interestingly, he also claimed to have been in receipt of private information which “left little doubt” as to Montague Druitt’s guilt. Sadly, the specifics of this private information remain a mystery.
While we may never know for certain, there certainly seems to be strong evidence to point both ways. Some argue that the timing of Druitt’s death was just an unfortunate coincidence in light of the recent Whitechapel murders, saying that Montague Druitt had actually been playing cricket matches or defending clients as part of his legal business when the murders took place. Could Druitt have been Jack the Ripper if he had solid alibis for the times of the murders?
Conversely, others are convinced that Druitt is the man responsible for the crimes. After all, he both lived and practised his legal business in London, meaning that he could easily have travelled to and from the city between the murders. But is this enough to cement his guilt?
No matter what you believe, though, it’s clear that Montague John Druitt was a troubled soul who may have carried a clue to the Ripper’s identity to his watery grave.
You can find out more about Montague John Druitt and the other Jack the Ripper suspects on one of our Ripper walking tours in London. Follow in the footsteps of one of the most notorious serial killers in history as you explore Victorian Whitechapel, seeing some of the key locations first-hand. Book your place on one of our tours today and delve into the dark history of Jack the Ripper.