Robert Mann was brought to international attention in 2009 when author M. J. Trow highlighted evidence to suggest Mann could have been behind the gruesome killings by Jack the Ripper. That said, is there really enough evidence to confidently put Robert Mann’s name forward as a suspect? Here, we will present you with the facts so that you can come up with your own answer.
Who Was Robert Mann?
Robert Mann is a fairly unknown figure. He was not considered a major suspect by police in Whitechapel during the time of Jack the Ripper’s murders and, as a result, there are few records surrounding his background or history.
What we do know is that Robert Mann was a poor resident of the Whitechapel Workhouse and worked at the Whitechapel mortuary. The mortuary was far from official and more of a shack within the workhouse’s grounds, though a few of Jack the Ripper’s victims did end up being handled there – which is key to M. J. Trow’s theory.
At the mortuary, Mann was a keeper or guard. He was in charge of the mortuary but wouldn’t usually handle the bodies, except for transportation purposes to get them into the building. Then, he would secure the building and wait for nurses or a doctor to arrive who would directly handle the more gruesome work.
Why Do Some Consider Robert Mann a Jack the Ripper Suspect?
With limited information on his background or motive, you might think that Robert Mann is an unlikely Jack the Ripper suspect. However, there was definitely more than meets the eye to the man and M. J. Trow’s theory for why he could be the infamous killer is based on a few key pieces of evidence.
Firstly, Trow cites a psychological profile conducted by the FBI in 1988, 100 years after the gruesome Whitechapel murders. Utilising modern profiling techniques, the FBI defined a likely description of the killer’s identity, detailing that Jack the Ripper was likely:
- A white male with a broken home life and potentially alcoholic mother
- A menial labourer rather than a skilled professional
- A loner, who spent long periods of time in solitude
- Socially inept
- A resident of Whitechapel
From what we know, Robert Mann fulfils the majority of these criteria. As a poor workhouse resident and keeper of the mortuary, he would spend long periods alone, surrounded by the dead. This would contribute to a lack of social skills and as he worked around the deceased, he would have the rudimentary knowledge of how to cut out organs, as Jack the Ripper did to his victims.
Secondly, Mann was a part of the legal proceedings for two of Jack the Ripper’s victims – Mary Ann Nichols and Annie Chapman.
In Mary Ann Nichols’ trial, Mann was working at the mortuary and handled the body after her death. He arrived at the mortuary at 5:00am after police summons and stayed there until the body was transported inside, after which he locked the door and went for breakfast. After breakfast, Mann claimed that he and a fellow workhouse resident, James Hatfield, returned to the mortuary and undressed the body. This was against the instructions from the police to leave the body untouched which, when highlighted, Mann claimed he had forgotten. He also said that he couldn’t remember whether the police inspector for the case, Joseph Helson, was present when the body was being undressed, or where the blood was on the body.
This conversation occurred in the official court proceedings and according to the coroner, contradicted some of Mann’s earlier statements. The coroner stated that Mann was supposedly known for having fits and an unreliable memory, making his accounts undependable. Trow argues that Mann was conscious of breaking the police’s instructions and wanted to admire his handiwork.
In Anne Chapman’s inquest, this idea of him breaking the rules was supported as his duties were described as those of a watchman who managed the mortuary but wasn’t meant to handle the dead or touch the bodies.
After the murders, all we know about Mann was that he died in 1896 of phthisis (tuberculosis).
So, we have a man with a direct link to some of the Jack the Ripper victims, an untrustworthy statement and who fits the FBI’s profile. Was he really the Ripper, though?
The Evidence Against This Theory
Despite some of the odd coincidences and profile matching status of Robert Mann, there are other considerations we should include before deciding he was the Ripper.
To start with, Mann was living in a workhouse and therefore was one of the poorest members of society. This would likely make him illiterate, meaning that he probably wouldn’t have been able to write the letters that the Ripper supposedly sent to the police regarding his investigation. Furthermore, with few funds available, buying the supplies to write the letters would have proved a challenge in itself.
Additionally, it’s supposed that Mann was called to the mortuary at around 4:00am on the morning of Mary Ann Nichols’ death. There are reports that he was in a deep sleep when roused and considering Nichols’ body was discovered just 15 minutes beforehand at 3:45am, it would have been challenging for Mann to get home, dispose of the murder weapon, clean himself and nestle into a deep sleep within that time.
Learn More on a Jack the Ripper Tour
After learning all the information, it’s hard to say with confidence that Robert Mann was Jack the Ripper but that is partly what makes this mystery so interesting – there are a host of different possible suspects and answers.
On our Jack the Ripper Tour you can discover all of the most popular theories surrounding the identity of the world’s most famous serial killer, all whilst walking through Whitehall and exploring where the murders took place and what happened at each one. Led by leading Ripperologists and local experts, we encourage you to come to your own conclusions about who committed these heinous crimes.