Orsam Books

Agog for Ostrog

As Simon Wood continues to claim that Macnaghten was lying when he put forward Ostrog as a Jack the Ripper suspect in his February 1894 memorandum (e.g. #195 of 'Proof of Innocence?' thread on JTR Forums: 'We know Macnaghten lied about Ostrog') I thought it would be worth re-publishing a section from my article Re-Reconstructing Jack which was first published on 9 June 2019.

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Even for Wood, the twisting of logic in his section on Ostrog is quite extraordinary.  Having told us that Philip Sugden established when researching his 2002 book that Ostrog had been in a Parisian jail during the period of the Whitechapel murders in 1888, Wood simply assumes that Macnaghten became aware of this information at some point after he wrote his famous memorandum about the Whitechapel murders in February 1894. Consequently, Wood asks why Macnaghten didn't remove Ostrog from his list of suspects before Major Griffiths wrote his book in 1898. 

It's an odd point even if Macnaghten did become aware of the information about Ostrog having been in a Parisian jail because Macnaghten didn't make any changes to his memorandum after February 1894 - he was under no obligation to update it - and it's not clear why he is supposed to have any responsibility for what Griffiths decided to publish four years later. Macnaghten can't sensibly be said to have kept Ostrog in the 'frame', as Wood does, in circumstances where he didn't write or publish anything about Ostrog himself, after having learnt that he had been in prison in May 1889, or even in 1888, assuming that he did learn this.

All Wood actually demonstrates in his book is that, at some point after Macnaghten wrote his February 1894 memorandum, officials at the Home Office and the Treasury became aware that Ostrog had been in a French prison during May 1889, because this information was contained in a Home Office letter to the Treasury dated 9 October 1894.  It's notable that Wood gives a wrong reference to this letter - one might call it a 'fake' reference - in his book.  Footnote number 153 in his latest edition (number 132 in his 2016 hardback) claims that the letter can be found in 'A.56090/B'.  There is, however, no such file in existence.  The correct reference is HO 34/77 which is a Home Office file of letters sent to various Public Departments held at the National Archives (with the letter in question being found at page 314 of that file).  What Wood has done here has simply been to reproduce the original internal Home Office file reference number (a file which no longer exists) which is visible on the face of the letter, in the top left hand corner.  It's a sign of his poor standards that he feels able to include incorrect file references in his book which will mislead or baffle any researchers attempting to check his work.

Anyway, the fact of being in prison in May 1889 wouldn't, on its own, have cleared Ostrog from suspicion of committing the Whitechapel murders during the previous year (and, of course, Macnaghten believed the last Ripper murder occurred on 9 November 1888). There is no actual evidence that Macnaghten ever knew that Ostrog had been in prison at any time during 1888.  It's an assumption made on the basis that the Metropolitan Police was aware in October 1894 that Ostrog, whose term of imprisonment after conviction began on 14 November 1888, had been held in custody by French Police since July 1888, a knowledge which Wood does not demonstrate.

Had Wood actually done some original research into the matter, rather than simply relying on Sugden, he would have discovered that the actual sequence of events (exclusively revealed here) was as follows:

Shortly after Ostrog's conviction at Aylsebury on 2 July 1894 for having obtained goods by false pretences in Eton five years earlier in May 1889, the Vice Consul General of the United States in Paris informed the Home Secretary, Herbert Henry Asquith, that during May 1889 Ostrog had been confined as a lunatic in the Central House of detention in Gaillon, Normandy, under the name of Lublinsky, having been transferred to that institution from prison on 26 January 1889 and subsequently discharged and expelled from France on 14 November 1890 (FO 146/3381). This appeared to corroborate Ostrog's claim during his trial that he had been confined in a French asylum at the time he was accused of having committed the crime in Eton.

It's important to note that there was no doubt in the Home Secretary's mind that Lublinsky was in prison during May 1889.  The only question was whether Lublinsky was also Ostrog.

On 23 July 1894, the Home Office wrote to the Foreign Office to request that the Foreign Secretary, Lord Kimberley, instruct his officials in Paris to write to the French Government, 'for the purpose of obtaining Lublinsky's measurements and description so that it may be ascertained by the anthropometric system whether Ostrog's assertion is true' (FO 146/3381).

The letter to the French government was duly written by Edmund Constantine Henry Phipps, the Secretary of the British Embassy in Paris, on 26 July 1894, and, in line with the Home Office's letter, an official request for Lublinsky's measurements and description was made. 

In a reply dated 3 August 1894, from Gabriel Hanotaux, the French minister of Foreign Affairs, it was stated that Lublinsky, or Lublinski (which appears to be the correct spelling), had originally been convicted in Versailles on 2 July 1885 when he had been sentenced to 13 months imprisonment but had been expelled from France on 9 June 1886 and then left the country on 2 August of that year. At some unspecified later date, he had returned to France without permission and was convicted for theft on 14 November 1888.  During the course of his sentence, he was transferred from prison to a special asylum in Gaillon and freed on 14 November 1890, when he was again expelled (FO 146/3395).

Crucially, the letter from the French government did not contain the information discovered by Sugden more than 100 years later in a document held at the Archives Départmentales de Paris, when researching for his 2002 book, that Ostrog had been arrested on 26 July 1888 and held in custody until his conviction on 14 November 1888.  It's true that the letter from Hanotaux attached two documents which have not been retained in the Foreign Office file so that their contents cannot be established but it is likely that either one or both of them contained the details of Ostrog's description and measurements which had been specifically requested by the Home Office (and which were not included in Hanotaux's letter).  Consequently, it's perfectly possible that the information as to the date of Lublinski's arrest was never transmitted to the British authorities. This information would not have been regarded as of any importance by the Home Office bearing in mind that, as stated above, the Home Secretary already knew that Lublinski had been locked up during May 1889 and he didn't need (and was not requesting) proof of this fact, nor was the date of Ostrog's arrest relevant to the enquiries the Home Office via the Foreign Office was making of the French authorities.

Mr Phipps at the British embassy in Paris forwarded Monsieur Hanotaux's letter to Lord Kimberly in London on 7 August 1894 and Kimberly, in turn, forwarded it to Asquith two days later on 9 August.  The information must have been forwarded by the Home Office to  the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Edward Bradford, because he sent a memorandum about Ostrog to the Home Office on 18 September 1894, reporting the result of certain (unknown) enquiries, as recorded in a Home Office Register (HO 46/112).  A copy of the memo doesn't appear to have survived but it presumably confirmed that Ostrog had been wrongfully convicted at Aylsebury and recommended, on the basis of the information received from France, that Ostrog's prison sentence be remitted. The Assistant Commissioner, Robert Anderson, who was the police authority on the anthropometric system of identification, provided a further memorandum about Ostrog to the Home Office on 22 September 1894 in which he suggested that Ostrog should be photographed before his release from prison (see the letter from the Home Office to Anderson dated 26 September 1888 in HO 65/88). The Home Secretary subsequently ordered on 26 September that Ostrog be released from Reading Prison (HO 147/5).

On 1 October 1894, Ostrog applied to the Home Office for compensation for wrongful imprisonment (HO 46/111) and it was to Anderson that the Home Secretary wrote on 8 October 1894 requesting him to give £10 to Ostrog (HO 65/88). The Commissioner subsequently confirmed, by way of letter to the Home Office dated 22 October 1894, that the £10 payment had been made (HO 46/112).  The Receiver of the Metropolitan Police also wrote to the Home Office about this payment eight days later, on 30 October (HO 46/112). 

As we have seen, the information which proved Ostrog was innocent had been obtained from the French authorities by the Foreign Office pursuant to a Home Office request. It was not the result of an investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department of which Macnaghten was Chief Constable.  However, it is evident that the C.I.D. had some part to play in the process due to Anderson's involvement but this still does not necessarily mean that Macnaghten read the reports or was even necessarily aware of the compensation payment.  Anderson obviously knew that Ostrog had been in prison from 14 November 1888 but whether Macnaghten would have needed to have known this historical information too, and was thus told about it, is uncertain.  Without any evidence as to how information was circulated internally within the C.I.D. at the time we just can't know for sure.  Given that there is no evidence that the British authorities (including the Metropolitan Police) were ever informed of the date of Ostrog's arrest as being July 1888 it is impossible to say that Macnaghten was aware of it or must have been aware of it.

I did ask Wood about the state of Macnaghten's knowledge on the Censorship Forum on 4 May 2017 in the thread 'Deconstructing Jack by Simon Wood' at post #326.  I asked him if Macnaghten knew at any time prior to 1898, or indeed at any time in his life, about Ostrog being locked up in prison during 1888.  He never answered the question (merely referring me to his book, which I had already read).  

On its own, it would seem to be a minor point about a minor suspect but it goes much further than this, for Wood claims that because Macnaghten 'lied' about Ostrog - on the basis that he knew that Ostrog was in prison during the period of the Ripper murders and thus falsely labelled him a suspect - it can be said that he also lied about Aaron Kosminski and Montague Druitt being Ripper suspects.  Thus, as he said in a Censorship Forum post dated 27 March 2019 (in thread 'What Makes Druitt a Viable Suspect', #298); 'Macnaghten lied about Ostrog....Why should we believe him about Druitt?' and then in a subsequent post dated 1 April 2019 (#431): 'If Macnaghten lied about him [Ostrog], chances are he lied about the other two.'.  

The logic here is so remarkably twisted because even Wood doesn't claim that Macnaghten knew that Ostrog was ever in a French prison at the time he wrote his February 1894 memorandum. So he can't possibly claim that Macnaghten lied about Ostrog in his memorandum.  Indeed, Wood confirmed in a Forum post on 1 April 2019 (#400 in the thread 'What Makes Druitt a Viable Suspect) that Macnaghten's claim that Ostrog's whereabouts at the time of the Ripper murders couldn't be ascertained was 'true' at the time he wrote his memorandum. His argument seems to be that Macnaghten 'lied' by not preventing Griffiths from publishing untrue information four years later, something which doesn't seem to fall into the normal definition of lying.  One might equally (or, in fact, with more justification) ask if Wood's failure to correct the many errors in his book, which have been pointed out to him, so he knows about them, means that he is lying about there being no Jack the Ripper.  

Further, as we have seen, there is no actual evidence that Macnaghten ever knew during his lifetime that Ostrog was in a French prison in May 1889 let alone during 1888.  It's all based on conjecture.  Wood speculated in a Forum post dated 1 April 2019 (#393 in Druitt thread) that Macnaghten's heart must have 'skipped a beat' when he learnt of Ostrog's 1889 imprisonment and he said that, as Chief Constable, there is 'little doubt that wouldn't (sic) have heard of it, even if he was not directly involved in the matter.'  Wood is, in other words, just guessing about Macnaghten's knowledge relating to Ostrog's whereabouts at the time of the murders, at a time after his 1894 memorandum had been completed.  

This is just one flaw in Wood's book about Ostrog.  Another is that he doesn't produce any evidence that Macnaghten passed his memo to Major Griffiths in 1898.  Having said this, it wouldn't really matter if he had because it was a historical document, dated 23 February 1894, which obviously reflected Macnaghten's knowledge at the time he wrote it.  He wasn't under any duty to provide an updated version (to the extent that he was aware that any information in it was out of date) and, even if he did pass his 1894 memo to Griffiths in 1898, and was consciously aware that the section on Ostrog was out of date, it certainly doesn't mean he lied about anything.  He could reasonably have regarded the new information about Ostrog as irrelevant, bearing in mind that his favoured candidate was Druitt so that Ostrog was effectively eliminated as a suspect anyway. Indeed, Griffiths said in his book that the case against the 'Russian doctor' (i.e. Ostrog) was 'weak'.  Griffiths didn't actually publish the names of any of the three suspects in his book so it hardly even matters. 

Most important of all is the fact that Griffiths was telling his readers about three supposed police suspects investigated by the police 'after the last murder', of which the unnamed Ostrog was said to have been one. Sure, in respect of all three suspects that may have been wrong, or misleading at the very least, because it's possible that Druitt didn't become a suspect in the eyes of the police until some years after the murder of Kelly (and then possibly only in the eyes of Macnaghten) but Macnaghten can't possibly be responsible for what Griffiths wrote in his book.  Macnaghten himself, in his memorandum, did not describe Druitt, Kosminski and Ostrog as contemporary police suspects from 1888;  he merely said that they were more likely than Cutbush to have committed the  murders. It was Griffiths who gave the impression that they were all suspects in late 1888. 

But the key point here is that Macnaghten's knowledge (or otherwise) in August, September or October 1894 of Ostrog's imprisonment in 1888/89, or even the knowledge of the Metropolitan Police as a whole at that time, was of no importance to Griffiths, and would have made no difference to what he published in his book, because Griffiths was simply informing his readers of the existence of three police suspects who were supposedly investigated following the Kelly murder.  He wasn't writing a Ripperologist type book setting out who the Ripper suspects currently (in 1898) were, and weighing the evidence against each of them in order to try and discover who the murderer was. In that context, it simply didn't matter that Ostrog was discovered six years later to have had an alibi for the Ripper murders (if that was indeed the case, which isn't clear because the known alibi only covered May 1889).  It wouldn't change the fact that he was a police suspect at the time!  Wood, in other words, has got completely the wrong end of the stick about what Griffiths was saying in his 1898 book.

In the end, and amusingly, Wood's argument about Macnaghten not telling the truth about Ostrog doesn't seem to rest on whether he had been in a French prison or not.  For he said in a Forum post dated 1 April 2019 (#400 in Druitt thread), 'There is nothing in the known history of Ostrog to suggest he was a Ripper suspect, so I would suggest that in February 1894 Macnaghten simply made it up.'  That is some strange logic on its own but, as mentioned above, Wood positively accepts that Macnaghten's claim in February 1894 that Ostrog's whereabouts at the time of the Whitechapel murders were unknown was true which means that official enquiries simply must have been made as to his whereabouts at the time of the murders (otherwise how else could Macnaghten have known it?) which, in turn, means that Ostrog must have been a suspect for those murders.  By Wood's own admission, therefore, Macnaghten wasn't lying about Ostrog having been a suspect and thus we might feel this gives credibility to Kosminski and Druitt having been suspects too!

Furthermore, we know for a fact that the police were trying to track the missing surgeon Ostrog down during October 1888, following the double event, because there was a wanted notice about him published in the Police Gazette of 26 October 1888 in which he was referred to as 'a dangerous man' for whom 'special attention' was required.  This would appear to strongly corroborate Macnaghten's claim that Ostrog was a suspect and makes a nonsense of Wood's belief that he was somehow lying about this.  Ironically, it was the very fact that Ostrog was, unknown to the Metropolitan Police, locked up in a French prison under the name of Stanislas Lublinski during the time of the Ripper murders that created suspicion about him in the minds of the Met Police because it meant that they couldn't establish his whereabouts.

Although not actually mentioned in Wood's book, but referred to in his online posts, one argument that Macnaghten wasn't telling the truth in his 1894 memorandum is that he stated that Ostrog had, after 1888, been 'detained in a lunatic asylum as a homicidal maniac'.  There is no doubt that Ostrog was admitted to a lunatic asylum in Banstead Asylum in Surrey in May 1891 (having, prior to the Ripper murders, been detained in Surrey County Lunatic Asylum) but what about him being a homicidal maniac?   Was there any evidence of this?

Well, Ostrog told a doctor who examined him on 4 May 1891 (and who certified him as insane) that he intended to commit suicide by cutting his left femoral artery.  Today, we would not regard this as homicidal but what I think has been overlooked by everyone, including Sugden in his 2002 book, is that suicide was not only a criminal offence in the nineteenth century but the crime of self-murder was regarded as a homicide.  The following is a quotation from an 1891 book entitled 'A Guide to the Criminal Law Intended for the use of students for the Bar Final and for the Solicitors' Final Examination' by Charles Thwaites (Third Edition):

'Felonious homicide is the killing of one's self or another without just cause or excuse; it is always a punishable crime and may be suicide, murder or manslaughter'.

So technically and legally, Macnaghten was perfectly correct to say that Ostrog would have been regarded as homicidal (and thus a homicidal maniac) by threatening to commit suicide by cutting his left femoral artery. 

One final point on this subject is that Wood posted this on 1 April 2019 (#400 in Druitt thread):

Can you imagine what might have happened had Macnaghten's memo ever seen the light of day?  In October 1894 a Secretary of State might have asked him to explain, "why are we giving £10 compensation to a possible Jack the Ripper suspect?"

Were it not for the fact that he says something similar in his book, one would naturally have assumed this to have been an an April Fool's prank on Wood's part because he surely must have read the letter from the Home Office to the Treasury dated 9 October 1894, a copy of which he himself posted on the Forum, in which it is made clear that it was the Secretary of State's own decision to award Ostrog £10 in compensation and that he had directed the police to make that payment.  So the chances of him asking the Chief Constable to tell him why he had done it are frankly zero.  And the basis of Wood's post seems to be that, by virtue of being a Ripper suspect, an individual would have lost all their legal rights to compensation should they ever be wrongly convicted and imprisoned on another charge.  This is a ludicrous (and not legally correct) thought.  Ripper suspect or not, Ostrog would have been perfectly entitled to compensation for wrongful imprisonment.  If the Home Secretary had discovered from the French authorities that Ostrog had been in prison during the time of the Ripper murders during 1888 (and Wood presumably believes he did), the entire fantasy imagined by Wood of the Home Secretary being upset by paying compensation to a man who was once a Ripper suspect (but who had now been cleared) would be entirely exploded. If, on the other hand, he didn't know it, then neither did Macnaghten, so Wood's entire point falls away.

LORD ORSAM
Originally published: 9 June 2019
Republished, Orsam Day: 14 May 2022