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Let's Talk About the Receipt

Diary Defenders love yapping on about the absence of a receipt for the photograph album, so you'd think that we'd have at least one image of Albert Johnson's receipt for the watch, wouldn't you?


Wouldn't you?


But no, we don't. So hardly anyone has ever seen it.


Even the esteemed authors of the 2003 book Inside Story don't appear to have seen it. For, after stating that Albert Johnson "has never deviated in any detail" from his account of how he bought the watch, they tell us (on page 40):


"Johnson had bought the watch from Stewarts the Jewellers in Liksard, Wallasey, on 14 July 1992 for £225".


If that is what Johnson told the authors of "Inside Story" he did, apparently, deviate in one important detail.


For, according to Paul Feldman (1997 edition, page 28), the receipt is dated 2 July 1992.


Yet, Shirley Harrison stated in the original 1993 edition of The Diary of Jack the Ripper (page 202, underlining added):


"This decent and sincere gentleman, Albert Johnson, and his brother, Robert, came to my offices in London with the watch and a receipt dated 14 July 1992 from Stewarts the Jewellers in Wallasey, Cheshire, who had sold it to him."


So she had supposedly seen the receipt but she gives a date 12 days different from what Paul Feldman recorded.


Harrison's book was published in the first week of October 1993 and, later in that same month (on 20th October 1993), Ron Murphy gave a statement in which he said (underlining added):


"I sold the MAYBRICK watch to ALBERT JOHNSON on or about the 14th July 1992 for a sum in the region of £250.00".


In the 1994 edition of Shirley Harrison's book (page 256), she actually quotes Johnson as saying:


"The shop receipt records the date of purchase as July 14th 1992. I paid £225".


How is this even possible?


Paul Feldman is very clear that the date on the receipt is 2 July 1992. This isn't a typo because he noticed the discrepancy and explains in his book where the 14 July 1992 date has come from.


He says of Murphy's claim that the watch was bought "around" 14th July 1992:


"I was later satisfied by the explanation given to me by Mr Murphy that he was able to identify the period because of the way he catalogued his receipt books. He did not, at the time, look up the actual copy receipt in order to prepare his statement, hence the discrepancy in dates."


Well, Feldman might have been satisfied but it strikes me as a bit odd. What's even odder is that we never hear from Murphy what date the "actual copy receipt" was dated. Did Murphy never bother to check it?


No explanation, incidentally, has ever been provided for why Murphy records the sale price as being on the region of £250 rather than the actual sale price claimed by Johnson of £225.


Given that Feldman noticed a discrepancy between the date on the receipt shown to him by Albert Johnson and the date provided by Murphy in his October 1993 statement, and asked Murphy about the discrepancy, it's difficult to believe that Feldman could have been mistaken about the 2nd July date on the receipt. If the receipt was dated 14th July 1992 there would have been no discrepancy.


This all raises the very troubling question about why Shirley Harrison's book, which was published prior to Ron Murphy's written statement, tells us categorically that the receipt is dated 14th July 1992 when this is not the case. It also leaves us baffled as to why Albert Johnson himself told Harrison that "the shop receipt" records the date of purchase as 14th July 1992 when Feldman tells us it is 2nd July 1992.


We may also note that Robert Smith in his 2017 book claims that Johnson, "showed me the receipt for the purchase of the watch for £225 from Stewarts the Jewellers in Liscard, near Wallasey on 14th July 1992" and he captions a photograph of the premises of the shop as being "where Mr Johnson purchased the watch for "£225 on 14th July 1992".


Something seems very wrong here.


The actual date on the receipt could be clarified very easily if we could see it. But are we supposed to believe that no one ever took a photograph of it? If someone did, why has it never been published?


One thing revealed by Feldman is that there was some definite jiggery pokery going on with the receipt. He tell us (page 29 of the 1997 edition):


"Robert also advised Albert to go back to the shop to have the date of the hallmark and the number of the watch added to the receipt".


Assuming that was done, the receipt now has non-original additions to it. Information was added to it at some point during 1993 by Ron Murphy which was not there at the time the watch was sold in 1992.


This is all troubling. What information about the watch was on the original receipt? According to Feldman, it just appears to be the words: "One Verity Pocket Watch".


This opens up the possibility of the watch with the markings produced by Albert Johnson in 1993 being a different watch to the one he purchased from Stewarts in 1992.


TWO WATCHES? 🤔


There's long been an argument that there were two Verity watches.


This is because the horologist, Timothy Dundas, who repaired a Verity watch for Ron Murphy in 1992, described a very different Verity watch to the one in Albert's possession, being one with the name "Verity" on the face in black (there is no such name on the face of Albert's watch), with black numbers (Albert's are gold), and without the initials "J.O." being engraved on the back.


As I've just said, the watch in Albert Johnson's possession does not bear the name "Verity" on its face. According to Paul Feldman, it has "Lancaster Verity"  engraved on the workings (on the back). But, according to John Griffiths, the curator of Prescot Museum consulted by Shirley Harrison, to whom she gave the watch to inspect, "Verity, Lancaster" is inscribed on the back. So is it "Lancaster Verity" or "Verity Lancaster"?  


I might be able to provide an answer to this question. In the 1998 edition of her book, Shirley Harrison included a rare photograph of Albert's watch which shows the workings on the back:



You should be able to see the name "Verity" elaborately inscribed at the bottom. In case not, here is an arrow pointing to it:



And here is a crude overwriting of the name:



What seems crystal clear is that there is no room for "Lancaster" either before or after "Verity" on that watch.


In fact, what comes after "Verity" is "No. 1286" (which matches the number 1286 stamped on the case).


I'll just turn the image around so you can see that number more clearly:



I can't see "Lancaster" anywhere on that watch but there does appear to be something which could possibly be "Lancaster" at the top which I circle here:



It doesn't look from this angle like it says "Lancaster" but, as John Griffiths tells us that "Lancaster" is on the back, one can only assume that it must do. Given its position on the watch relative to the name "Verity", this would explain why one person transcribes it as "Lancaster Verity" while another records it as "Verity Lancaster".


This issue aside, there is a further conflict between the recollections of Dundas and Murphy.


Dundas told Paul Feldman in 1994 (page 219) that, "there are not many Veritys about", and that such a watch is so rare that despite dealing with a hundred watches a week he hadn't seen a Verity watch since.


Yet, in attempting to explain why Dundas's memory of the watch he repaired was so different to the watch in Albert's possession, Murphy told Feldman that he actually remembered possessing a Verity watch similar to the one described by Murphy and sending it to Dundas for repair, so that, in his opinion, Dundas must have been thinking of this other watch he had sent him to be repaired because: "He possessed quite a few in his time".


So we are being asked to believe that despite the rarity of these Verity watches, Murphy sent TWO Verity watches to Dundas for repair at or about the same time.


The fact that Dundas described having repaired a very different Verity watch to Albert's "Verity" watch is what has created the possibility of there having been two different Verity watches (which there must, in fact, have been, if Murphy is to be believed), with the one being sold to Albert at some unconfirmed date in July 1992 being a different one to the one with the Ripper markings.


HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO


A curious story was told by Christopher T. George on Casebook on 11 October 2001 based on what he had been told by one of Paul Feldman's researchers. He said:


"In regard to the matter of there being two watches, Melvyn Fairclough told me an interesting tale when he and I were in private conversation in Bournemouth. As previously indicated, Fairclough was one of the researchers, along with Keith Skinner, for Paul Feldman's book. I may not have it word for word, but it was something along the lines of the following.

 

There was a letter sent in the 1960s. Sorry I don't recall if Melvyn said who was the sender or the recipient. But the gist of the letter was to the effect that "The Maybrick watch has gone to Liverpool." The implication was that Albert Johnson had the watch with the engravings much earlier than July 14, 1992, when he allegedly, according to Shirley Harrison's book, purchased the watch in Wallasey. He did buy a watch on that date but not the gold watch that is in question. Fairclough said that Johnson bought another watch to hide the fact that he had the Maybrick watch all along and so his family would have a receipt showing purchase of a watch to go along with the gold watch."

 

How bizarre is that?


To my mind, the only way this theory could make any sense at all is if Albert or Robbie had been privately told about the Maybrick diary by someone in Liverpool prior to July 1992, before news of its existence had become public, and decided to utilise a watch in their possession which they had long referred to as "The Maybrick watch".


I doubt if the description of the watch as "The Maybrick watch" (if true) meant that it bore Maybrick's scratched confession to being Jack the Ripper. What strikes me as more likely (if this story has any foundation in fact at all) is that Albert possessed a watch which was believed to have once been owned by James Maybrick but he had no proof of this and the watch had no provenance at all. When he heard in the summer of 1992 that a diary had emerged, supposedly written by James Maybrick as Jack the Ripper, he or his brother realized that he could put this otherwise valueless "Maybrick watch" to good use by adding some fake markings which would dramatically increase its value.


If this was the case, he would have needed a watch with a provenance. Knowing that his watch was engraved "Verity" he would have needed a receipt for an antique watch which said "Verity" on it. Perhaps he tracked one down to Stewarts and paid £225 for it, then quickly sold it. All he needed was the (genuine) receipt.


Then he would have had to have waited a year for the news of the Maybrick diary to emerge so that he could capitalize on his good fortune.


Of course, there is one big problem with this theory. It's that the entire plot would have been exposed as soon as anyone went back to Stewarts to check that Albert's "Ripper" watch was the same watch as the one he had purchased from them in 1992. If the jeweller had insisted that he'd sold a different Verity watch to Albert at that time, the whole thing would have fallen apart (albeit that diary defenders would probably have come up with a story to explain it, involving Ron Murphy being confused or lying).


So Ron Murphy would have needed to have been part of the conspiracy but, if that's the case, why did Albert bother with buying a watch from Murphy at all? Murphy could surely have just given him a fake invoice with the number 1286 on it.


If Fairclough's story has no basis to it, there's another possible theory as to why a second watch was required by the Johnsons but one that involves the name "Verity" being inscribed onto the watch movement by a modern forger in order to match the watch to the receipt. This strikes me as being so unlikely that, in the absence of any evidence that there is something wrong with the "Verity" inscription, there's not much point in me outlining this theory in any detail.


AGAINST


Against the idea of Albert having purchased a second watch, there is the fact that Timothy Dundas swore an affidavit on 3 July 1996 supposedly (according to Feldman) saying that the watch pictured in the Liverpool Daily Post in September 1993 was the watch that he had repaired. This is the picture:




The problem is that the name "Verity" isn't visible on the face of the watch so how could Dundas have have said (if he did say this) that it was the same watch as he had repaired if he was also maintaining that it had "Verity" on the face? Mind you, as Alan Gray was involved, perhaps Gray typed out the affidavit for Dundas to sign as he had done so for Mike Barrett in 1995 and was responsible for the errors like this in it.


ANOTHER INCONSISTENCY


Feldman notes another inconsistency in the statements of Ron Murphy.


Murphy implied in 1997 that the first time he had seen the watch since he had sold it to Albert was on 13 February 1997. But, in fact, Albert had taken it back to the shop after he bought it so Murphy must have seen it in 1993. What Murphy said in 1997 in other words couldn't have been true.


The fact that Albert took it back to the shop with the watch in 1993, apparently accompanied by Robbie, is another big problem because it means that the Johnsons had a private and secret conversation with Ron Murphy about the watch. Was it at this point that Murphy made clear that he couldn't confirm this was the same watch purchased by the Johnsons a year earlier, and the three of them came to some sort of arrangement that Murphy would falsely say it was the same one? After all, the diary defenders tell us that Murphy was a dishonest jeweller who lied about the watch having been in his family's possession for years prior to 1992. If he could lie about that fundamental fact relating to provenance perhaps he could lie about the description of the watch he sold to Albert.


THE DATE OF THE WATCH


The authors of Inside Story tell us that the watch is "Lancaster Verity hallmarked 1846".


According to Timothy Dundas, however, the watch he repaired was made "just before the turn of the century, around about there, from the style of it".


As RJ Palmer, has shown elsewhere, Henry Verity Junior of Lancaster only started making and selling watches in 1865 and there are no other known Verity watch makers in Lancaster during the nineteenth century.


While it is true that the number stamped on the case matches the number engraved on the movement, the FAQs on the Prescot Watch Museum state that a nineteenth century watch was not necessarily made in the same year as the hallmark on the case. Hence:


"There may be hallmarks and maker’s marks on the inside of the case which will refer to the metal and maker of the watch case, and this will give a date to the case – this does not necessarily mean that the watch is the same age as the case.


Sometimes cases are replaced if damaged, people sold the cases for scrap and in better times replaced them, good quality ones which had been sold were re-used to house a new movement, and sometimes movements went unsold for many years and were put into a case later."


The same FAQs also state that: "The watch movement may have a person’s name marked on it, but this person would not have made the watch from start to finish. It will be the name of the watch finisher or retailer."


CONCLUDING REMARKS


None of the speculation about two watches would be necessary if full images of the documentation in the possession of both Albert Johnson and Ron Murphy had been disclosed. At a very minimum, we should have seen an image of Albert's July 1992 receipt even though it bears information about the watch added to it long after the date of sale.


It's astonishing that even today, in 2024, we can't be sure on what date Albert bought the watch. Was it 2nd July or 14th July 1992? It may not matter but what we want to see is contemporary documentation which confirms that the watch sold to Albert Johnson was the same watch as the one with the Maybrick markings.


Why does such documentation not exist? Did Murphy retain such documentation or do we need to rely on his say-so that it's the same watch? Given that Dundas appears to dispute that it's the same watch, this isn't good enough.


The likelihood is that Albert's "Ripper" watch is the same watch he purchased from Stewarts in 1992 and I assume that the crude Maybrick markings were added at some point after the news of the Maybrick diary emerged in April 1993. But we really should, at the very least, have independent confirmation of the date the watch was purchased and what exact model number was sold to Albert. Why Ron Murphy's own written records relating to the watch have not been made available for this purpose is a mystery,


LORD ORSAM 18 June 2024



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Guest
Jun 21
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

If one takes a deep dive into the history of the 'Maybrick' watch hoax, there are a number of strange and unexplained statements.


For instance, what might Lord Orsam make of the following?


"I understand that the watch surface was polished some six to ten years ago in an attempt to remove some of the scratches on the inside surface of the watch casing."


This statement was made by R. K. Wild, of the University of Bristol, in a report dated 31 January 1994.


Strange.


Six to ten years previously would date this attempt to remove the scratches to sometime between January 1984 and January 1988.


All well and good, except that the only source for someone attempting to "remove…


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Lord Orsam
Jun 24
Replying to

"They claim that the watch is being ignored, or that "no one wants to discuss the watch," but if one does discuss it, they duck the difficult questions."


This is certainly my experience.


The silence from all diary defenders following anything I post about the watch, including this latest article, is deafening.

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Guest
Jun 18

There's another weird story about there being a second 'Maybrick' watch on page 25-26 of Harrison's "The American Connection."


Feldman sent Carol Emmas to interview a woman named Norma Meagher, who remembered being told about ten years earlier (in the mid 1980s) that James Maybrick's watch was still around, and "someone in Goodwin's Avenue has got it."


After hearing this, Robbie Johnson to Feldman that he had Albert had lived on Goodwin Avenue as children.


It sounds to me like Robbie was stringing Feldman along with a cock-and-bull story, but I wonder if any of Feldman's researchers back in the day bothered to check the childhood addresses of Albert and Robbie to either confirm this or disprove it? The st…


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Guest
Jun 18
Replying to

Sorry for the above. I'm on my damn phone and the 'auto complete' always leads to a string of typos.


That should have read "After hearing this, Robbie Johnson told Feldman that he and Albert had lived on Goodwin Avenue as children."


The whole Robbie/Albert saga is bizarre. Robbie went with Albert to Murphy's shop, supposedly to ensure that everything was on the up & up, but later tells Feldman a story that implies that the whole accidental purchase of Maybrick's watch by Albert was lie and he and Albert had had the watch years earlier on Goodwin Avenue.

How strange is that?

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Guest
Jun 18
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Well done. A very interesting piece.


The receipt business is really quite strange.  


"According to Feldman, it just appears to be the words: "One Verity Pocket Watch". 


What jeweler would do that? It's like selling a car and giving a receipt without the vehicle's identification number on it. The owner wouldn't be able to prove it was the same vehicle they had purchased.


I also wonder how Albert knew the watch was hallmarked 1846/7. (He and the Inside Story authors wrongly refer to it as 1846, but such stamps always signify a two-year span and not a single year).


There is no actual date on the watch; it's a stamp that signifies the date, and not many non-professionals would…


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Lord Orsam
Jun 18
Replying to

I do find it extraordinary with this artifact, which is supposed to solve the most famous crime mystery in British history, but for which there is no reliable provenance and which suddenly appeared in very suspicious circumstances, that we do not seem to know precisely when it was acquired by its owner. You'd think it would be one of the first things to be established with solid documentation. Yet, we've never seen a single contemporaneous document relating to the sale and purchase of this watch. It's astonishing.


For more than 30 years, everyone has seems to have been happy to rely on the recollection of Ron Murphy, and, because he said, a year after the event, that he sold the…


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