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  • Lord Orsam

A Funny Little Man

As part of a new bid to deflect attention from the fact that the Jack the Ripper diary is a proven fake, due to its impossible expressions, Tom Mitchell decided, out of the blue, in a Casebook thread which is supposed to be devoted to facts which refute the diary, to focus on the diarist's description of Inspector Abberline as a "funny little man" (albeit that this line is crossed out in the diary with the diarist plumping for '"clever little man" instead) with the intention of showing that only James Maybrick could have formed such a view of Abberline, whereas Michael Barrett could not.

Demonstrating the quality of research and analysis that made his "Society's Pillar" such a disaster, Mitchell's post was immediately fact checked and debunked by members of Casebook (a debunking described by one wag as a literal murder), so this blog post is not going to be directly related to Mitchell's "funny little man" argument (which is dead in the water) or, indeed, to the question of whether the diary is or is not a fake, because of course it is a fake. I am interested, however, in the questions of (a) whether the actual murderer would have regarded Inspector Abberline as his protagonist in 1888 and (b) whether a forger of the diary needed the 1988 Michael Caine TV mini-series to educate him about Abberline's role.

Neither of these questions, I want to stress, go to the issue of whether the diary is fake or not because that is already resolved, nor to the issue of whether the Barretts were or were not the forgers. They are being asked out of academic interest.


The Times of 1 September 1888 stated in respect of the murder of Mary Ann Nichols:

"The matter is being investigated by Detective-inspector Abberline, of Scotland Yard, and Inspector Helson, J Division"

If the murderer had read this it seems likely that he could well have regarded Abberline as his protagonist at Scotland Yard from day one.

When it came to the inquest, the Times of 3 September 1888 stated:

'Detective-Inspectors Abberline and Helston and Sergeants Enright and Godley watched the case on behalf of the Criminal Investigation Department".

The same newspaper also reported on the same day that:

"Detective-Inspector Abberline of the Criminal Investigation Department, and Detective-Inspector Helson, J Division, are both of opinion that only one person, and that a man, had a hand in the latest murder".

Within a a few days of the murder of Nichols, therefore, there was already sufficient material in the press for the killer, who would likely have been more observant about these sorts of details than an ordinary member of the public, to have concluded that his opponent at Scotland Yard was Inspector Abberline.

When it came to the murder of Chapman, we find that the Times of 10 September 1888 stated that, 'a telegram was sent to Inspector Abberline, at Scotland-yard, appraising him of what had happened'. Then, when a suspect (Pigott) was arrested, it was reported in the Times of 11 September 1888 that, "In response to a telegram apprising him of the arrest Inspector Abberline proceeded to Gravesend yesterday morning". When a witness claimed to have seen a man threatening a woman in the street with a knife, it was Abberline who was reported in the Times of 12 September 1888 to have taken the man to the Whitechapel mortuary to see if he could identify the deceased as Chapman. As with the inquest into the murder of Nichols, Abberline was reported as being the only Scotland Yard detective to attend the Chapman's inquest.

When a man was arrested on suspicion of having committed the murders on 14 September 1888, it was reported in the next day's Times that: "On his arrival at the police station in Commercial-street, the detective officers and Mr Abberline were communicated with." On 26 September, the Times reported that Inspector Abberline was to interview Charles Ludwig in connection with the Whitechapel murders.

I am sceptical of an argument, therefore, which says that the prominent role of Abberline in the investigation of the 1888 murders is a modern creation. It seems to me that the killer might well have been keenly aware in September 1888 that Abberline of the Yard was the detective who was on his trail.

Perhaps not so much the rest of the public, though, and we can gauge the general feeling in this respect by the fact that, while many letters from individuals claiming to be Jack the Ripper were addressed to Sir Charles Warren between the Double Event and the murder of Kelly, none were addressed to Abberline personally by name during this time period. On 21 November 1888, however, a telegram from "Jack the Ripper" was received by Scotland Yard addressed to Inspector Abberline which said:

"Jack the Ripper wishes to give himself up. Will Abberline communicate with him at number 29 Cable Street Houndsditch with this end in view".

This should dispose of the idea that no one in 1888 would have regarded Abberline as the man chasing the Ripper.

By this time, of course, as had been widely reported, Abberline had testified at the inquest into the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, and his role in the investigation into that murder was clear from press reports, so there can be no doubt that his name above all other detectives at Scotland Yard was associated with the hunt for the murderer. It didn't need Michael Caine.

The forger of the diary also didn't need Michael Caine. Robin Odell's 1965 book Jack the Ripper in Fact and Fiction states that "A large force of divisional detectives under the supervision of Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard dealt with the murders" and that Abberline was, "a portly, gentle speaking man [who] had proved himself in several big cases". Martin Fido's 1987 book, The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper states that, following the Nichols murder, "Inspector Abberline, the former head of the Whitechapel CID, was drafted back from Scotland Yard to co-ordinate the investigation". Colin Underwood's 1987 book Jack the Ripper: One Hundred Years of Mystery states that  "Inspector Abberline headed the team of CID officers investigating the Ripper murders". Donald Rumbelow's 1988 book The Complete Jack the Ripper records that, "In charge of the investigation was Inspector Frederick George Abberline" and that Abberline was someone who had "unrivalled knowledge of the East End" and was "the best known of the squad of detectives out scouring Whitechapel".

None of this is to say for one second that the forger wasn't influenced by the 1988 mini-series, he probably was, but only that this mini-series wasn't essential for the forger to know that Abberline was the Ripper's main protagonist on the ground.

LORD ORSAM 4 April 2024

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