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  • Lord Orsam

Electricians' Special

If you mention Lord Orsam on JTR Forums, he will appear.



'Orsam might like to comment on this one in his blog,'


What needs comment? A brand new rabbit pulled out of the hat by Keith Skinner, never mentioned before, being notes of a conversation with Margaret Davies, wife of Alan Davies, over the telephone on 6 July 2004.


We are not told that the transcript of Keith Skinner's notes is a complete transcript nor are we shown an image of his notes but, as usual, we have to work with what we are given. Here is the transcript which has been provided:


"sold in a pub"


"under floorboards rewiring"


"old book - old handwriting"


"Eddie offered to Arthur"


"You'll never guess what [offered?] - old book in Doddy's house in biscuit tin plus ring"


"someone's wife who worked for solicitor would not let him talk to Shirley"


"Wife worked for solicitor" [KS NOTE - I THINK THIS IS REF TO ARTHUR RICBY]


"found by two of them - she thinks Eddie - sold in a pub in Anfield - v[ery] quickly"


"Apparently Alan D tried to persuade electrician to talk with Shirley"


"Margaret wanted to buy book...very interested in history"


"Colin R came round to see Alan D - 'cost us our jobs' !"


The first thing to note about this is that it would appear to be triple hearsay. Margaret presumably obtained her knowledge from her husband. But who did he obtain his information from? We don't know but if he was told a story by an electrician who heard it from someone else, there is our (at least) triple hearsay.


So why aren't we told what Alan Davies knows about this matter? After all, James Johnston interviewed Alan Davies on 15 February 2016. The following year, I asked Johnston to publish the full transcript of this interview (and his other interviews with electricians) but he refused, with the full support and encouragement of the person who now wants me to comment on what Margaret Davies once said to Keith Skinner!


Not knowing what Alan Davies recalls, and not being able to see the transcripts of the other interviews given by the electricians, makes it hard for me to comment on what Margaret said to Keith but I shall do my best considering that I have been specifically requested to do do.


The second thing to note is that the story of workmen having found the diary under the floorboards while carrying out rewiring work has been in the public domain since April 1993. The Liverpool Daily Post of that date recorded that it had been suggested that, 'the diary was found in Maybrick's mansion, Battlecrease House, in Aigburth, Liverpool during major rewiring work three years ago'. This was repeated on 13 May 1993 when it was said that 'the publishers are claiming the diary was found during minor (sic) rewiring work at the house'. Later in the year, the Sunday Times of 19 September 1993 said that Paul Feldman had, 'discovered that shortly before the diary appeared builders had been carrying out rewiring work at Battlecrease House...The inference was that, raising a floorboard in Maybrick's old bedroom, workmen had found the diary.' In the same newspaper, the world was told that two employees of Colin Rhodes, 'say they went drinking in the Saddle...' and it was also stated that the corner of the Saddle was 'where Barrett used to sit with Devereux'. Then, of course, Feldman in 1997 included in his book the story 'two electricians' who had been seen carrying a mysterious parcel, one of whom was confirmed to drink in the Saddle.


So when we look at what Margaret Davies told Keith Skinner, it's very easy to see how a number of the elements of her story could simply have been based on rumours by anyone developed from what was already in the public domain. The fact that there was "under floorboards rewiring" was old news. That the diary might have been "sold in a pub" was obviously what was being suggested in 1993. The same for "found by two of them - she thinks Eddie - sold in a pub in Anfield - v[ery] quickly". Sure, the name of Eddie Lyons wasn't in the public domain but, for the electricians who might well have been speculating amongst themselves in 1993 as to what had happened, they would no doubt have easily worked out who the electrician was who drank in the Saddle, assuming they didn't already know it.


In any event, we already knew that Alan Davies is supposed to have told Alan Dodgson in late 1992 that he had been informed, after having tried to locate the diary in order to sell it to Tim Martin-Wright, that the book had been sold in a pub in Anfield’. If Davies was telling this to Dodgson (which conversation occurred, in my view, in 1993) it isn’t very surprising that he had told this to his wife prior to 2004.


As for the sale happening ‘v. quickly’ it’s interesting that the diary defender who is asking me to comment on this once put forward the theory that the sale of the diary involved a protracted negotiation which required Mike to obtain an invoice for an 1891 diary for £25 so that he could show Eddie in order to set a price for the Jack the Ripper diary. This would mean that the diary still hadn’t been sold by Eddie to Mike prior to 28th March 1992 when Mike would have received the invoice.


That aside, far more important is the fact that Alan Davies telling his wife that the sale occurred 'v. quickly', by which he must have meant in March 1992, is wholly inconsistent with him supposedly telling Alan Dodgson in December 1992 that the diary was still for sale and could be purchased by Tim Martin Wright. In other words, if Davies learnt that the diary was sold very quickly in a pub in Anfield, he must have heard this, by his own account, after December 1992, which not only makes it pure hearsay but would appear to be nothing more than a rumour long after the supposed discovery in question. The question, which I've already asked many times, the answer to which must surely be in the suppressed transcript of James Johnston's interview with Davies, is: who told Davies in or after December 1992 that the diary was sold very quicky in a pub in Anfield?


Let's look at what we've got left:


"old book - old handwriting"


It looks like we may have finally found the source of the 'old book' quote that is repeated in almost every post by diary defenders. It's funny because I've been saying for years that no source for this has ever been presented and when RJ Palmer confronted our diary defending friend on the Casebook Forum, there was an angry response about how so many electricians had mentioned an 'old book' to Keith Skinner but none was identified by name. No mention was made at the time of this conversation with Margaret Davies and one has to assume that this is why Keith Skinner has the expression 'old book' in his head.


But anyway, the implication is obvious, isn't it? Alan Davies told his wife that 'an old book' had been found under the floorboards of Battlecrease containing old handwriting.


This, however, is very odd. Here's why:


Alan Dodgson is quoted by James Johnston as having been told by Alan Davies that, 'Eddie found under the floorboards a leather-bound diary'. Johnston also told me that according to both Tim Martin-Wright and Alan Dodgson, 'it was a leather bound diary written by Jack the Ripper.'


Curiously, in the account of Margaret Davies there is no mention of a discovery of a leather bound diary, let alone one written by Jack the Ripper. All she appears to have been told was that an old book containing old handwriting had been found.


You'd really think she would have known more because Keith's notes record, "Margaret wanted to buy book...very interested in history".


It sounds like she was wanting to buy an old book containing old handwriting but that's all she knew about it. But if that's all she knew about it, surely that's all Alan Davies knew about it. And if that's all Alan Davies knew about it, how is it that Alan Dodgson and Tim Martin Wright both apparently recall being told by Alan Davies (in late 1992) that it was a leather bound diary of Jack the Ripper that had been found and was available for sale?


Something doesn't compute.


We may note, incidentally, that the diary is not quite leather bound (it is bound in leather cloth and leather half-binding) but the Sunday Times of 19 September 1993 described it as 'a black-and-gilt, leather bound book'.


"Eddie offered to Arthur"


If this means anything it would seem to be that Eddie offered for sale the ‘old book’ containing old handwriting to Arthur Rigby. If it doesn’t mean that, I don’t know what it means.


The problem here is that when Arthur Rigby spoke to Paul Feldman he clearly knew nothing from his own personal knowledge about Eddie having discovered a diary. Even though Rigby was Feldman’s confidential informant, and even though Rigby was evidently trying to convince Feldman that Eddie had found the diary, the only things he could tell him were that something had been thrown out of a window of Battlecrease into a skip (although by whom is unclear) and that he later saw Eddie and another electrician carrying a mystery parcel which was taken to Liverpool University. As Feldman records it in his book, Rigby told him (underlining added):


‘With everything that I’ve since heard about the diary and considering the trip to Liverpool University, I think I’ve solved your problem’.


From that, it must be crystal clear that Rigby had no first-hand information about the discovery of the diary and, had he been ‘offered’ it by Eddie Lyons he would surely have told Paul Feldman of such an offer.


Further, it seems clear from the words 'With everything I've since heard about the diary' that Rigby was basing his suspicions on what he had heard from others. He was passing on rumour, gossip and speculation, in other words, presumably from the other electricians who were all trying to work out which one of them had found the diary under the floorboards, as Feldman was obviously convinced had happened.


So when we take these two entries:


"someone's wife who worked for solicitor would not let him talk to Shirley"

"Wife worked for solicitor" [KS NOTE - I THINK THIS IS REF TO ARTHUR RICBY]


What does it matter that Arthur Rigby’s wife (not ‘Ricby’, tut tut, attention to detail) would not let Arthur talk to Shirley Harrison when Rigby had already blabbed his heart out to Paul Feldman?


Unless Rigby had been withholding information from Feldman and/or downright lying to him, what more could he have said to Shirley?


"You'll never guess what [offered?] - old book in Doddy's house in biscuit tin plus ring"

There can’t be any doubt that Alan Davies has long believed that a biscuit tin containing the old book (diary) and a ring had been found under the floorboards. But who told him this? When speaking to James Johnston in February 2016, he said:


'I remember it was Brian [Rawes] or someone, telling me that it was in a tin under the floor.'


But Brian Rawes knew nothing about any biscuit tin. What it looks like here is Davies regurgitating a yarn that someone whose identity he can't now recall once told him.


As for the word ‘offered’, this appears to be uncertain so it’s not clear if it’s being said that the contents of the biscuit tin were being offered to Alan Rigby, making it impossible to comment on this particular snippet.


It will be noted that Margaret makes no mention of the discovery of a watch in the biscuit tin but I've always found this 2016 exchange between James Johnston and Alan Davies interesting:


JJ: Ok, last thing. Can you remember any mention of the book being found in a biscuit tin with a gold ring?

AD: That’s right yeah! And a watch as well.

JJ: And a watch?

AD: Yeah, I remember a watch I think. I never seen anything, but I remember it was Brian or someone, telling me that it was in a tin under the floor.


Suddenly he blurts out about a watch. Then it's 'I remember a watch I think'. According to Johnston, Davies had alluded to a 'gold ring' in 1997 but hadn't said anything about a watch. Do you think that Paul Feldman's 1997 book in which the Maybrick watch is heavily featured might have affected Davies' memory? I do. But the point here is that Margaret Davies hadn't apparently been told about any watch when she spoke to Keith Skinner in 2004.


"Apparently Alan D tried to persuade electrician to talk with Shirley"


I don’t think this gets us anywhere other than showing that Davies was trying to be helpful.


"Colin R came round to see Alan D - 'cost us our jobs' !"


I don’t know what this is supposed to mean. It seems like something to do with the diary had or would cost Alan Davies (or someone else?) his job. What could it be?


From what we've been told, Colin Rhodes was very helpful and co-operative to Keith Skinner, not only providing him with the timesheets but also apparently agreeing that Eddie Lyons might have been working in Battlecrease on 9th March even though there was no documentary record of this. We've never been shown Keith Skinner's note of his 2004 meeting with Colin Rhodes so we don't quite know what else Rhodes had said but the picture being painted by Margaret Davies seems to be that the theft of the diary was being regarded as a serious matter by Rhodes and someone was going to lose their job as a result. It just doesn't seem to match with what Colin Rhodes was telling Keith Skinner in 2004.


Finally, let me return to this extract:


"Margaret wanted to buy book...very interested in history"


Margaret wanted to buy the book yet, in the very same conversation, she told Keith Skinner that the book had been sold very quickly in a pub in Anfield! How could she have wanted to buy what had already been sold?


But then, hold on, Davies was trying shift the book to Tim Martin Wright as late as December 1992, wasn't he? For a mere £25. If he thought the book was still for sale why didn't his wife make an effort to buy what she was telling Keith Skinner she had wanted to buy?


It doesn't make sense. And, as I've already said, what did she want to buy? An old book with old handwriting or the diary of Jack the Ripper?


Even the most ardent diary defender must admit that this entire story has massive holes and just makes no sense.


So I've covered the entire transcript of the conversation and I don't feel that it takes us any further than the bizarre story we already know about regarding Alan Davies and his weird attempt to sell the diary to Tim Martin Wright even though it had (according to his wife) already been sold many months earlier.


QUESTIONS FOR LORD ORSAM


Before we finish, however, I suppose I must answer the questions which appear to be addressed to me in the post on JTR Forums:


Orsam may wish to consider whether Margaret Davies, speaking in 2004, a decade after Mike's first forgery claim, had stored up these collective baseless rumours, so that if anyone ever asked her about the diary in her husband's absence she'd be ready to trot out her side of the story and breathe new life into it, all the while knowing it was like Frazer's "Auld Empty Barrrn" yarn - nothing in it.


That, if I may say so, is a silly way of putting it. I don't doubt that Alan Davies got it into his head during 1993 that the diary had been found under the floorboards by Eddie Lyons and had been sold in a pub in Anfield. Equally I don't doubt that he told his wife all about this story and that she believed it. But I suggest that it derives from a scenario imagined by Paul Feldman, which we know for a fact appeared in the local and national press in 1993, and which spread like wildfire through the small P&R electrician community.


Next we have:


And when Paul Dodd told the police in October 1993 that Arthur Rigby had been round to see him in the summer to deny any involvement in taking the diary from the house, but giving him the names of Eddie Lyons and Jim Bowling, was it a case of Arthur talking tosh about his former workmates, knowing that they had taken nothing?


Yes, it must be Arthur 'talking tosh' because if he had any actual information about Eddie Lyons and Jim Bowling having stolen the diary he would have told Paul Feldman in 1993, wouldn't he? We know from Feldman's book that Rigby suspected Eddie and Jim, but had he simply put 2 and 2 together to make 5? That's the question.


Or were Margaret and Arthur just trying to be 'helpful', as Palmer has suggested Eddie was being when he told Robert he had found something in Battlecrease but threw it in a skip?


Probably trying to be helpful, yes. As for the irrelevant and unnecessary point about the skip, Arthur told Paul that he remembered something being thrown into a skip and Eddie told Robert he remembered throwing something into a skip. Perhaps Eddie simply found something one day and threw it into a skip.


If the rumours were all false, and triggered by Paul Feldman back in April 1993, when he had been phoning around and accusing people of something they knew nothing about, what would motivate anyone to carry on spreading them long after Feldman lost interest? What could they gain, apart from a reputation for spouting more nonsense than Mike Barrett ever did?


This is a shockingly naïve question. I'm sure the electricians were all interested in the idea that one of them had found Jack the Ripper's diary in the old house of James Maybrick. Rumour piled upon speculation, assisted by Paul Feldman, and they decided that it must have been Eddie wot found it. They believed it, they repeated it, they told their wives, until it became fact. So when asked about it, they told the truth as they understood it. But, I suggest, the truth has been corrupted. The answer to the diary mystery does not lie in Battlecrease. It lies in a secret search by a former freelance journalist and down-on-his-luck scam artist for a Victorian diary with blank pages.


CONCLUDING COMMENTS


I am now, and always have been, prepared to engage with any diary defender regarding the so-called Battlecrease provenance. I repeat my call for all information, notes and transcripts to be published to allow for informed debate on the subject. I really don't know what they are scared of. It seems they just don't like their theories subjected to close scrutiny. But if they don't release all the information, what's the point of releasing snippets like this transcript? What is their objective? Do they want to persuade us that the diary was found in Battlecrease or not?


I never hide. I was specifically asked to comment in this blog on the transcript of Keith's call with Margaret Davies and have done so in detail, line by line. Now what do you think the chances are of any diary defender (let alone the one who asked me to comment) engaging with me and responding seriously to this blog? There is a platform for them to do so in a JTR Forums thread called 'Lord Orsam's Blog', the very thread in which the 2004 transcript was posted. So there is no excuse. If they want to open a dialogue to debate the provenance of the diary, I'm happy to do so. They seem convinced of the Battlecrease provenance so I cant see why they would duck it.


To return to my question. What are the chances of any diary defender engaging with me and responding seriously to this blog?


I would say zero, but we shall see.


LORD ORSAM 13 September 2023



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