Orsam Books

False Facts: Response to the Muppets

On 21 September 2017, I published (here) an article, responding to the recent book by Robert Smith about the Maybrick Diary, entitled 'Robert Smith and the Maybrick Diary: The False Facts Exposed'.  This article has attracted the attention of a group of Muppets who regularly post about the Diary on JTR Forums (and to understand why I call them "Muppets" see here).  True to form they haven't even understood the purpose of my article.

I explained the reason behind the article in the Casebook Forum when posting the link to it.  I said:

"My own response to Robert Smith's book would have been too long to post in this forum so I have written an article which I have published on my website."

It was written, in other words, or, rather, in the same words, as a response to Robert Smith's book.  It was not an attempt to disprove that the Diary is old or written by James Maybrick.  Yet the first comment made about my article on JTR Forums was this:

"I dont see anything there that negates an old forgery."

Well that wasn't the purpose of it but I suppose that  particular poster was little unsettled at the exposure of the failures of accuracy by Robert Smith in his book.

And the bar is set very high by Mr Smith.  The very title of the book, "THE TRUE FACTS" , is provocative.  Here, after 25 years of research, are, we are told, the actual true facts.  Further, the notes to the book are said by the author to be "as factually and historically accurate as I can make them" (p.2).  Really?  On the first page, we are told that the question as to when the Diary was written and by who it was written is "finally" going to be answered.  And the answer, were are told by Mr Smith, is that it was written in 1888 and 1889 by James Maybrick!

That's big talk in a book entitled "The True Facts".  To be told that the Diary signed "Jack the Ripper", confessing to murders of five prostitutes in Whitechapel during 1888, was genuinely written by James Maybrick in 1888 and 1889.  If that isn't a claim asking to be challenged - and hard - I don't know what is. 

What surprised me on reading the book me was the number of errors that Smith, who should be an expert on the subject, makes throughout the text and that his 25 years of research seems to be largely based on claims published by Feldman and Harrison in their books which he hadn't taken the time to check.

The first tactic of my critics on JTR Forums has been to mischaracterise the nature of my article and thus attempt to demean it - while at the same time smearing me personally - by claiming that it is no more than a "personal diatribe" full of "bile" (just like Melvin Harris apparently).

Two examples (and two only) are provided to support this claim.

The first is this statement by me in respect of the McNeil dating of 1921 (plus or minus 12 years) for the Diary:

"If that's the case, it couldn't have been written by James Maybrick as Robert Smith claims. Smith is not downhearted and he laughs off this result with a casual remark that this means it is 'not at all a modern hoax!' (p.7), although why that is an important consideration is unclear."

I fail to see why these two sentences support the claim in any way that my article is a "personal diatribe".  I was making a very serious point.  The McNeil dating in no way supports Smith's claim that the Diary was written by James Maybrick in 1889.  He, therefore, has a problem.  As I say in the article, he attempts to downplay this problem with a lighthearted aside to the effect that, while the McNeil test result might be a disaster for him (if correct), it is also a disaster for anyone claiming that the Diary is a modern forgery.  My point was that I can't see why it's important to him whether the forgery is modern or old.  If it was written twelve years either side of 1921 it's a forgery and was not written by James Maybrick as he claims. It strikes me as a very reasonable point for me to have made and in no way part of a "personal diatribe". 

All Smith needed to do was explain why the McNeill report cannot be relied upon. Telling us that McNeill's finding does not support a modern forgery seems to be a strange thing for him to do, even in jest, not least because if McNeill's finding can be relied upon, then his own argument about the Diary's authenticity is sunk.

The second example in support of the alleged "personal diatribe" provided is this:

"How does Robert Smith deal with all these problems? By ignoring them basically. What he tells us – and it’s hard to believe he wrote this with a straight face - is:"

It will be noted that the quote has been cut off in mid sentence.  The full quote would have revealed that I wrote this:

'"How does Robert Smith deal with all these problems? By ignoring them basically. What he tells us – and it’s hard to believe he wrote this with a straight face - is:

'The one certain fact is that the diary was found in Battlecrease House on 9th March 1992…'

To which one can only reply: LOL!

So you can see that what was totally edited out was Smith's comment that it is a "certain fact" that the Diary was found in Battlecrease House on 9th March 1992.  I'm honestly not sure how one is supposed to respond to such extraordinary and unsupported hyperbole other than to laugh at it.

It's clearly not a "certain fact" at all that the Diary was found in Battlecrease and I'm sure that's why this was not quoted by the poster because it makes my own response - a comment that it's hard to believe that Smith wrote that sentence with a straight face - look entirely reasonable in the circumstances.

What is a certain fact is that my article was in no way a "personal diatribe".  Nor is there any bile in it. It was a serious response to issues raised in Smith's book.

Only when the poster in question was called out on this did he reluctantly start to respond to some of the issues I raised.  Let me deal with those responses individually.

One Off, Again

I will start with the response by my critic to my points about Smith's errors concerning the use of the expression "one off instance".

Actually, sorry, I can't because there hasn't been one!

Yes, that's right, this has been totally ignored despite me identifying serious errors in Smith's claim that he had identified written evidence of "one off" being used in both the Victorian and Edwardian periods to mean something unique.  The truth is that he failed miserably to do it.

But what I would like to take the opportunity to emphasise at this point is that I have always said that there have been no examples found of the use of the expression "one off instance" or similar to mean unique in the nineteenth century.  I underlined "or similar" in my article.  Some people seem to think that this must mean another phrase with three words.  But I don't necessarily mean that.  Sure, there is no use of any similar expression such as "one off occurrence", "one off event" or "one off happening" in the nineteenth century but the same is true of "one off" on its own to mean unique.

In other words, had the author of the Diary said "I didn't mean to hit my wife, it was a one off", that is an example of the use of a similar expression to "one off instance" and that too would have been totally unhistorical.  It would have been the first and only known use of "one off" in this way in the nineteenth century and the first ever use of it to mean unique outside of a production, manufacturing or design context, with the next one not occurring for over fifty years.

That being so, there isn't really any need to discuss the Diary further.  It means it wasn't written by James Maybrick in 1888 and 1889 and can be ignored.

But I will nevertheless continue the response, wearisome though this might be, and, bearing in mind that Robert Smith was perfectly happy to rely on Green's Dictionary Of Jargon (which, as readers of my original article will know, he misrepresented but had probably never even read, relying wholly on Harrison), I just wish to conclude this section with an extract from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Modern Fable (2006) edited by John Ayto and Ian Crofton:  

Now, while it is true that some isolated examples of "one off" being used in a manufacturing context can be found in the 1910s and 1920s, maybe someone will tell me why we should not accept the thrust of this entry which is that the expression "one off" was originally applied to a single manufactured object of some kind.  It is exactly what I found myself, namely that the expression began in this way before branching out slightly to mean a unique manufactured object of some kind before branching out further to have have a wider more metaphorical meaning so that the expression "one off" came to be used to describe unique occurrences not connected in any way with the manufacturing process and, as this dictionary tells us, to describe unique people.  And the very fact that the compilers of this dictionary were wholly unaware of its use prior to the 1930s, even in a manufacturing context, just shows how modern the phrase is.

False Facts

A bizarre criticism of my article is that I am said to have referred to "false facts" which I also define as "errors" and it is said that this is somehow inconsistent.

Of course it is not inconsistent at all.  It is the errors by Smith that creates, and indeed are, the false facts.  They are the same thing.

I don't suppose Robert Smith was ever deliberately going to publish false information, or tell lies in other words.  It was never my suggestion that he was lying. I'm sure he believed at the time of publication that everything he was saying in his book was correct. That doesn't mean that he hasn't published false statements, which we can otherwise call false facts.  They are certainly not true facts if they are wrong are they?  I can't understand the distinction being made by my critic.

It's not a question of minor typographical errors that we are discussing here but basic errors of fact.  Facts which are erroneous are false facts. It's very simple.

HP Bookbinders

I make the point in my article, and repeat now, that it is astonishing that Robert Smith is not aware that HP Bookfinders placed the infamous advertisement for a diary with a minimum of 20 blank pages.  It is a howler  because it is such a schoolboy error.  As I say in the article, it's amazing that Robert Smith could be so ill-informed.  I didn't, as my critic represents me, use the expressions "earth shattering" or "jaw dropping".  I said it was a blunder so howling that it is breathtaking and such a false fact as to be amazing.

Now, my critic has responded as if to say "well so what?" as if we should expect Robert Smith to get things so badly wrong and not bat an eyelid.  He draws attention to me saying that the error is not significant, although I actually said it was "not of great significance", but that doesn't mean the error is not important (although he wrongly claims that this is what I did say).

Let me explain.  If Barrett had placed the advertisement himself (which is what Robert Smith wrongly says he did) it would mean he knew at all times while he was alive that there was an advertisement in existence in a publication in which a request was made for a Diary with a minimum of 20 blank pages. But if, as was the case, the advert was placed by HP Bookfinders (i.e. Martin E. Earl) it would suggest that Barrett was entirely unaware of its existence.  He probably had no idea how HP Bookfinders went about finding books or diaries.  He would simply never have known that there was incriminating written evidence out there. 

It also means that Barrett didn't pay to place the advertisement which is important because until I discovered the small size of the ad, and its relatively insignificant cost, I personally believed (as, I think, did most others) that he had actually paid money to place it in the trade magazine over and above the cost of purchasing the diary.  Such small details are plainly important in this case.

This all then ties into (a) the fact that Barrett mentioned his attempt to purchase the Diary in his affidavit (but did not state that there was an advertisement) and (b) the fact that Anne Barrett was happy to co-operate with Keith Skinner by providing details of how the 1891 Diary was purchased.  If she too was unaware that there was an advertisement in print asking for a Diary with a minimum of 20 blank pages she might have thought that no harm could come in admitting that she paid for it on the basis that, as she told Keith Skinner, Mike had only been wanting to see what a real Victorian diary looked like. 

I didn't bother to make a point of all this in my article because there was no need.  The error, as I said, was not of great significance. But I would have thought it is axiomatic and goes without saying that facts presented in a book about the Diary - especially a book entitled "The True Facts" - should be accurate. 

Apparently, though, not everyone thinks so and my critic, at least, says he is in no way surprised, and his breath is not taken away, by Robert Smith making the most schoolboy error imaginable about this important issue in a book labelled as "The True Facts".

The Watch

Here is the criticism of my section on the watch:

"Now SamF...lets take an example. The Turgoose reports. Something which at least 99% of credible posters on diary matters have read. We all know whats in them.
So why treat us all to a blow by blow account of what Smith says and what the reports say? We all know what the reports say. We can think for ourselves and analyse what the reports say just as well as anybody (some of us even better apparently). So why go to town on Smith for that? It achieves nothing in relation to the diary. It could be argued its sole purpose is to take a few shots at somebody for attempting to "fool" readers or something. Readers who, in the main one must presume, already know what the Turgoose reports say and are not reliant on Smiths interpretation. An interpretation he is fully entitled to give one must add."

The criticism here is strange.  We are told that 99% of 'credible posters' (presumably this means readers of Smith's book) have read the Turgoose report.  Then it magically becomes 100% because "we all know what's in them". But if everyone knows what's in the expert reports on the watch, why on earth does Robert Smith waste space in his book quoting selected extracts from those reports?  And if everyone knows what else was in the reports, i.e. the bits which Smith did not quote, why is my critic getting agitated about me drawing attention to those parts of the report not quoted by Smith?  If everyone knows what was in them then no-one could possibly be surprised by what I said, could they?

The fact of the matter is that not everyone knows what the expert reports say.  Not everyone has read them and if they have read them they have quite possibly forgotten the contents.  Robert Smith referred to them for a reason and that reason was to convince his readers that the watch was genuine.

According to my critic's view of the world, it is illegitimate to challenge Robert Smith's selective presentation of the reports because everyone knows that the reports have caveats and so there is no need to repeat those caveats. Frankly that kind of thinking is Muppets meets Alice in Wonderland!

If Smith is fully entitled to state his interpretation of the reports then I am fully entitled to state a different interpretation.  The same rules apply to me as they do to Smith.

The criticism of this part of my response to Smith, therefore, can be rejected in its entirety.

Before leaving this topic, we may note that one of the muppets in JTR forums has decided that the watch was also found under the floorboards of Battlecrease.  This, of course, is something that Robert Smith pointedly does not claim in his book but one of the muppets knows better. Thus, it is said:

"The dates also now work out perfectly for the watch having been discovered alongside the diary, and sold to Stewarts the jewellers at just the right time for Albert Johnson to have seen it in their window when he said he did."

Okay, let's ignore that not a single one of the electricians ever said anything about finding a watch under the floorboards.   Do the dates "now work out perfectly" for the watch having been discovered alongside the diary"?  No, of course they don't.

Here is what Ronald Murphy, who sold the watch to Albert Johnson, said in a statement on 20 October 1993:

"I sold the MAYBRICK watch to ALBERT JOHNSON on or about 14th July 1992....I had owned the watch for a couple of years prior to selling it".

So how did Ronald Murphy manage to own a watch between about July 1990 and July 1992 which was under the floorboards of Battlecrease for over 100 years between May 1889 and March 1992?  It's a bit of a mystery really.

But the history of watch goes further back than this. Murphy says in his statement that the watch had been given to him by his father-in-law, who owned a jewellers shop in Lancaster. According to Inside Story, Robert Smith obtained a statement from Suzanne Murphy in June 1993 that the watch sold to Johnson had been in the Murphy family "for the last five years".   That is to say that it had been above ground and not under any floorboards since at least 1987 or 1988.

No wonder Robert Smith does not claim that the watch came up from under the floorboards in March 1992! 

Mike Barrett's Journalistic Skills

The criticism continues:

"Nothing else new is offered. Nothing that contributes to any understanding at all of who wrote the diary or where it came from.
That Michael Barrett had some pieces in a gutter rag is hardly groundbreaking information (nor is it exactly a pinacle of journalistic achievement either)."

As for the first part of this criticism, I can only repeat that my article was a response to Robert Smith's book.  It was not intended nor presented as an attempt to contribute an understanding as to who wrote the diary or where it came from.  This is what Robert Smith was trying to do and I was challenging his conclusions.  It is a false criticism, therefore, designed to undermine my article by sleight of hand in pretending that it has failed to do something which was no part of its constitution.

Equally, I never claimed that Mike Barrett being a journalist, or, as my critic puts it, having "some pieces in a gutter rag", was groundbreaking information, although it was certainly information that Robert Smith should have known. 

The reader will recall that Robert Smith tells us that Mike Barrett had never had anything published other than some puzzles in a children's magazine.  My point was that this was a false fact.  Mike had published some articles in a magazine called Celebrity.  I don't think it's reasonable to describe this magazine as a "gutter rag". Lowbrow magazine perhaps, but even if it was a gutter rag, like say the Sun, the Mirror or the Mail (as they have been described), for whom many perfectly good journalists have worked, this still makes Mike Barrett a professional freelance journalist, something that Robert Smith tells us he was definitely not.

There was no good reason for Robert Smith to have made this mistake.  It seems that he got his information from Shirley Harrison but she wrote in her 2003 book that Mike:

 "had actually published some short interviews with visiting celebrities and made up simple word puzzles for Look-in, a DC Thomson children's magazine."

Shirley's wording here was strangely ambiguous.  Were the short interviews being referred to for the children's magazine Look-in?  This is what she seems to have been saying but, in fact, those interviews were for Celebrity, a magazine for adults (also published by DC Thomson).  Robert Smith must have read this, and thought that Barrett only ever submitted pieces to Look-in, but has ignored the bit about the interviews and just said that Barrett made up simple word puzzles.

Mike did not just write celebrity interviews incidentally.  Here is one of his articles entitled 'Thumbprints of Hope' about a young boy who had come to Britain from Sierra Leone, after having had his fingers burnt off by his mother, which was published in the 13 August 1987 issue of Celebrity:

And Celebrity wasn't only a magazine writing about celebrities.  It branched out into true crime as well, among other topics; and here, for example (from its 11 December 1986 issue), is a piece by Angus Day about how Konrad Kajau made £3m from forging the Hitler Diaries:

Anyone reading this story, incidentally, would have learnt that the Hitler diaries were proved to be fakes when chemical tests 'showed that the paper and ink had been manufactured after 1945'.    Any forger would know that these two obstacles had to be overcome.

The conclusion to this section has to be that my point was good.  Robert Smith published a false fact in saying that Mike Barrett had no journalistic experience. 

Gladys

The one part of my article that I described as truly groundbreaking is in respect of the health of Gladys Maybrick.  The reason for this is that I have clearly demonstrated that the author of the diary, in writing that Gladys was unwell "yet again", does not show any intimate knowledge of the Maybrick family as has been triumphantly claimed by Diary supporters for the past 25 years.  This is, if I say so myself, a pretty major achievement. Here is how the point is dealt with in my critic's post:

"That some information may have been available to the writers that may be interpreted as having shown that Gladys was possibly repeatedly sick doesnt crack the case wide open." 

Look how my critic has set up a straw target - that I should be cracking the case wide open - and then condemning me for having failed to do so.  There has never been a claim by me or anyone that the discovery I made in this respect cracks the case wide open. 

But the above quoted comment shows that my critic has not actually understood the point.  My discovery that the information about Gladys was available to other writers (or, rather, is not only to be found in a file in the National Archives, as has been claimed for 25 years, but was published in publicly available newspapers) is obviously very important but the point I made actually goes far beyond this. 

For I don't believe that the forger was actually aware of what had been reported in the newspapers on this subject. My point is that a modern forger would probably have believed from the secondary literature that Gladys had whooping cough in 1887. Further, I say that the reference to Gladys being ill again in early 1888 has nothing to do with the report of her being ill in April 1889.  There cannot possibly be a connection.  But my critic fails to even grasp the point let alone acknowledge that something new has been discovered here.

Most importantly, for the purpose of my article, Robert Smith is wrong to assert that the sentence "My dearest Gladys is unwell yet again" has "special significance" and "strongly" indicates that the author of the diary possessed "first hand intimate knowledge of the Maybrick Family" (Smith, p.128).  It's a false fact.  I exposed it. My article did what it said on the tin.

The Grand National

Here's the criticism of me:

"That information as to a horse race could perhaps have been dug up ... case closed?"

Anyone can read my article and will see that the words "case closed" do not appear in it. 

My point is that Robert Smith was wrong to say that the information about the Grand National which appears in the Diary is "very obscure" (p.141).  On the contrary, it is information that would not have been difficult for a modern forger to obtain which is, of course, the opposite of what Robert Smith was trying to persuade the readers of his book to believe. 

Robert Smith's book includes a false fact on the subject and again my criticism was good.

Keith Skinner

A strange heading bearing in mind that my article does not mention Keith Skinner but, next in the criticism of my article, we have this:

"While Skinners research comes in for some stick (and lets remember...he is sticking by his opinion that the diary came most likely from Battlecrease) its worth noting that he is an eminent and experienced ripper researcher and I doubt his opinions are formed on shaky foundations."

I wasn't aware that I was criticising Keith Skinner's research at all.  He has found some timesheets and that was his research. I wasn't criticising this discovery.  I have yet to read any public comments from Keith Skinner as to what conclusions he draws from those timesheets. What I was directing my attention to was the claim by Robert Smith that on the basis of those timesheets he feels able to say that the provenance of the Diary has been proved.  About this my critic is silent.

And then, from the critic, a little personal dig at me:

"At least his (i.e. Keith Skinner's) research is devoted to getting to the bottom of the matter."

So my own research is not, apparently, devoted to getting to the bottom of the matter.  But considering that my research into the origins of the phrase "one off" was devoted entirely to getting to the bottom of the matter I reject this criticism of me, albeit that this was not the function of my article about Robert Smith's book.

Perhaps what my critic is trying to say is that research which supports the authenticity of the Diary is the only good and worthwhile research whereas research that demonstrates it to be a modern forgery is bad.

Criticisms of Robert Smith

Finally in the post responding to my article, we have this:

"As opposed to just countering points by an author in a manner that doesnt illuminate the overall case to any extent. Especially as most diary discussers are fully aware of the context around the matter and dont need pointers as to where an author is being selective or presenting their particular slant on things. That being the standard writing style in ripperology after all. And thats what Smith is being criticised for?"

Well what I was criticising Robert Smith for was some sloppy research in which he has presented certain "true facts" which have turned out to be "false facts".  That is a perfectly legitimate criticism. 

Having run through this list we can see that the criticisms of my article made by my critic are, on the whole, aimed at me personally and about my "writing style" with no sensible attempt made to address the points I made.  Either Robert Smith has got it right or he has got it wrong on all the relevant items under discussion.  The only sensible response to my article is either (a) to demonstrate that Smith got it right and I am wrong or (b) to accept that Smith got it wrong and I am right. 

My critic does neither.  

And for him to say that everyone who read Robert Smith's book would have known where the author was "being selective" or presenting a "particular slant" is just a joke.  In the first place he should not have been selective in his use of evidence!  In the second place, it would have been impossible for the reader to know whether Smith was or was not being selective over the issue of Gladys Maybrick's health to take but one obvious example.  Similarly, how could the reader of Smith's book be expected know that Mike Barrett was a professional freelance journalist?  How could the reader of Smith's book be expected to know that information about the Grand National times in the nineteenth century was publicly available in modern books?  Did everyone who read Smith's book know that he had wrongly identified the use of "one off" in a 1905 journal which was actually from a 1922 journal?  Had all his readers checked in Green's Dictionary of Jargon to see that "one off duty" was never a Victorian prison warder's expression? Would the general reader, even a well informed one, really have known all the details about the HP Bookfinders' advertisement?   I don't think so and the attempts to "pooh pooh" my effort at drawing public attention to these errors can only rebound on my critic.

What are the chances?

Let me ask you this.  If electricians were working in Battlecrease for 254 days during 1992, what are the chances that they were working in Battlecrease on 9 March 1992? Knowing that they wouldn't have been working on bank holidays and weekends, we can safely say that the chances are 1 in 1.  A 100% certainty in other words.  It would be absolutely guaranteed that they were doing work on 9th March.

Now, given that electricians were working in Battlecrease for 14 days in 1992, what are the chances that they were working there on 9 March 1992?   The answer to that question is mathematically certain. It is 1 in 18.

THAT is the simple (and absolutely correct) point I was clearly making in my article and any other figure or interpretation is nonsense. 

It's really important not to ignore the other 13 days in 1992 that the electricians were working in Battlecrease.  If, for example, Mike Barrett had telephoned the literary agency on 10 June 1992 to inform them he had "Jack the Ripper's Diary" there would have been electricians working in Battlecrease on that day.  How significant an event would that have been?  One can only consider the question in the context that electricians were not working in that property for only a single day of the year.  The context is that they were working in there for 14 days of the year and it is within that context that we must consider how extraordinary a coincidence we are dealing with.

What would have been an extraordinary coincidence, and hard to explain away, is if both Eddie Lyons and Arthur Rigby, and either Jim Bowling and/or Graham Rhodes and/or Vinny Dring, had been working in Battlecrease on 9 March 1992 because that would have matched the story (or rather, the stories) told prior to the discovery of the timesheets about how a diary (or something) had been found in the house.  This is what I was expecting to be the case but is not, in fact, what the timesheets tell us.  So it's not so much the numbers in respect of probability that are important here but the information that the timesheets reveal.

But we must also look carefully at the information presented by Robert Smith regarding the timesheets. For it is curious that Smith tells us only that no electrical work had taken place in Battlecrease "during the six months prior to 9th March 1992".   What about the three or four years before this?  We simply don't know from Robert Smith's book if electricians from Portus and Rhodes were working in Battlecrease during the years 1988-1990 and then for the first eight months of 1991. On the basis of the information provided, they could well have been.  We are certainly told that electrical work was done on the ground floor in 1989 (although no timesheets are produced for this) but the position regarding 1990 and most of 1991 is uncertain.  As any such work would mean that the Diary could have been discovered under the floorboards, or anywhere else in the property at that time, and, for example, passed on to Tony Devereux (when he was still alive), or directly to Mike Barrett, which would undermine the importance of the 9th March 1992 date, such information is rather important.

There are literally hundreds of days on which timesheet evidence showing activity by electricians in Battlecrease would have supported a Battlecrease provenance for the Diary.  What if it turns out that there was work being done by the electricians on a day in August 1991?  How would that impact on the 9th March 1992 date?  Surely that information would be crucial in assessing whether the diary was found in March 1992, especially if Eddie Lyons was working in Battlecrease on that same day in August 1991. For this reason, it is surprising that Robert Smith tells us nothing about whether there are timesheets for any period prior to October 1991. 

Probabilities are less important than the absence of a chain of evidence.  If something was ever found in Battlecrease there is no chain of evidence to link that to the Jack the Ripper Diary.  The most we have is the story that a "leather bound" volume was found under the floorboards.  Does that mean it is the same "leather bound" volume as the Jack the Ripper Diary?  No, clearly it does not.  According to the evidence provided, none of the electricians ever expressly mentioned that they had found a Diary by Jack the Ripper. Yet that's the most important thing about it! Did they not think to look at the last page to see what it was?

Most importantly, as I set out carefully in my article, but which those in JTR Forums have avoided discussing, the person who was supposed to have found the Diary, in all accounts of the find, was not present in Battlecrease on 9 March 1992, according to the timesheet evidence, which means, does it not, that the Diary can't have been found on 9 March 1992.  Whatever was found (if something actually was found) must have been found later in the year.  It's a very simple point and practically if not completely unanswerable.  By all accounts Rigby, who was working there on that day, didn't find anything under the floorboards, nor did Coufopolous, so, as I said in the article, the timesheet evidence actually disproves the idea that the Diary came from Battlecrease on 9 March 1992.

I rather thought that this was the most important point I made in the article but no-one in JTR Forums seemed to want to discuss it.

Returning to the numbers, the short point I wanted to convey in my article is that the "coincidence" of electricians from Portus and Rhodes working in Battlecrease on 9 March 1992 is not so remarkable or amazing.  It does not fly in the face of possibilities or probabilities. Coincidences happen all the time, day in and day out.  The timesheets which show work being done on 9 March also shows work being done on 10 March.  That alone changes the probabilities.  You simply cannot ignore that electricians were working in Battlecrease for 14 days during 1992 and if you do so then you are doing no more than putting your head in the sand.  

Under the Floorboards

Perhaps appreciating the force of the point that electricians were working in Battlecrease for 14 days in 1992 (and perhaps even the force of the point that there is nothing extraordinary about electricians working in a property on any particular day of any particular year), the 'Diary Defenders' seem to want to stress that it's not the number of days that the electricians were working in Battlecrease that is important but the days they were lifting up the floorboards.

Well let's look at that.

In the first place, the timesheets do not reveal any evidence of floorboards being lifted, or not lifted, on any of the 14 days in 1992.  In fairness though, it's only been 12 years since the discovery of the timesheets so clearly not enough time to put forward a case which contains evidence of exactly when the floorboards were lifted.

More importantly, there is no necessary reason why the Diary, if it came from Battlecrease, had to have been hidden under the floorboards.  It could have been hidden away in any nook or crevice in the house and then found during any form of electrical work.

Let's face it, if the timesheet of, say, Monday 20 July 1992 was actually dated Monday 9 March 1992 there can be no doubt that it would have been triumphantly waved around and claimed that this was the proof that Eddie Lyons had found the Diary in Battlecrease regardless of whether there was any evidence that the floorboards had been lifted that day and regardless of on which floor and in which room in the house the electrical work had been done.  

If we take a look at the origins of the floorboards story, we find that in every case where the floorboards were mentioned, it was also mentioned that Eddie Lyons was the person who discovered the Diary under those floorboards.  You can't separate the two. Thus, on 26 June 1993, Eddie Lyons told Robert Smith that he had found a book under the floorboards at Battlecrease and thrown it into a skip (Smith, p.18).  On 5 June 1997, Brian Rawes told Robert Smith that Eddie Lyons had told him one morning (in July 1992) that he (Eddie) had found something under the floorboards which could be important (Smith, p.18) and this was after Alan Davies had supposedly told Alan Dodgson in late 1991 or late 1992 (no-one seems to know which, despite the importance of it) that Eddie Lyons had lifted some floorboards and found a leather bound diary (Smith, p.19).

That being so, it is almost unbelievable that anyone can point to the timesheet of 9 March, which shows only Alan Rigby and James Coufopoulos working in Battlecrease that day, not Eddie Lyons, and say that because the floorboards were (supposedly) lifted on that day, this means that the Diary must have been found under there. 

What we have instead are two incoherent theories offered up (first by Robert Smith and now by James Johnston) which explain nothing and which do not tell us who found the Diary or how a supposed find on 9 March 1992 is consistent with the stories told by the electricians prior to the discovery of the timesheets. 

One important thing to note about all this is that the theory of the Diary being found under the floorboards was in existence long before there was any knowledge of any timesheet evidence.

Paul Feldman started making enquiries in January or February 1993 (Johnston (2017), p.76, Feldman (1997), p.128) and had immediately 'focussed his attentions on Battlecrease House'. At about the same time, Smith and Harrison visited the owner of Battlecrease who told them that night storage heaters had been installed in the house in 1988 or 1989 (Johnston (2017), p,76).  Having been given this information by Harrison, Feldman was already asking himself 'Had the Diary been found in the house by an electrician?'.  Feldman obtained the number for Portus and Rhodes and initially contacted the company's owner, Paul Rhodes.  According to Feldman (1997, p.133),:

'He [Rhodes] said that he had never heard whispers from his staff about anything untoward while they were working on the premises. He went so far as to say that that one of his electricians had found a Victorian newspaper and asked if he could keep it.  Paul had said he could.'

It will be noted that something WAS found at Battlecrease.  An old newspaper.  Was it found under the floorboards?  If so, when?  Or was it found in some other nook or crevice? The story of this discovery could easily have been misremembered by those who were not directly involved in it as the discovery of the Diary.

Anyway, here is what Feldman said in 1997 was in his mind in early 1993  (underlining added):

'Mike Barrett had taken the diary to the literary agent Doreen Montgomery in April 1992.  Three years before in 1989, for the first time since Maybrick's death on 11 May 1989 - the floorboards in what was his bedroom had been removed. I was finding it difficult to accept that there was not a connection between the two events.'

So not only was Feldman here speculating (in 1993) that something had come up from under the floorboards but he was also saying that he would have found it hard to believe there was not a connection if this had happened in 1989.  Not in March 1992, not on 9 March 1992, but a whole three years earlier in 1989!  Just like I said above, if the floorboards had been lifted by the electricians (or anyone) at virtually any time prior to 9 March 1992, it would still be said that this was strong evidence of the discovery of the Diary.  

Feldman certainly wasn't anticipating that the find had been on 9 March 1992 - in fact he was almost certainly expecting it to have been before this date - and this surely needs to be taken into consideration when considering how "amazing" the coincidence of the 9 March 1992 date really is.

It seems that it was always known that work was done which involved lifting the floorboards at Battlecrease at some point between 1988 and 1992.  A diary could have been found when this was done and could have been connected to the Maybrick diary if the floorboards were lifted at any time prior to 10 March 1992.  Like I said in my article, a lifting of the floorboards on 6 March would have been just as compelling, or 5 March, or 4 March, etc. etc.

But there is worse to come: for Feldman in early 1993 started telephoning round the electricians of Portus & Rhodes to ask them all the same question; 'Do you remember anything being found?'.  To a man they all said no, but goodness knows what ideas he was putting into their heads.

Then Arthur Rigby called him to say something which was extremely vague but which Feldman seems to have taken as confirmation of his entire theory.  Thus, said Rigby, after telling Feldman that he was not wasting his time in pursuing the notion that the Diary was found in Battlecrease (underlining added):

"I remember something being thrown out of a window of the room where we were working at Mr Dodd's house.  It was put in a skip.  With everything that I've heard since about the diary and considering the trip to Liverpool University, I think I've solved your problem." (Feldman p.134)

Thus, partly on the basis of what he had subsequently been told about this diary having been found by his colleagues, Rigby was able to speculate furiously from some vague memories about "something" having been found and put into a skip and from a mysterious visit to Liverpool University, and conclude that this must have been the Diary.  He was, in other words, telling Feldman precisely what Feldman wanted to hear.

My central point here is that, with the timesheets, the Diary Defenders are focusing on the supposed fact (albeit so far unproven) that the floorboards were taken up on 9 March 1992 while ignoring the fact that Eddie Lyons was not working in Battlecrease on that day. 

That aside, we have a coincidence that there is a timesheet showing work which possibly involved a lifting of the floorboards (of Maybrick's old room) on 9 March 1992 but we can't even begin to assess how much of a coincidence this is until we either see all timesheets relating to work done in Battlecrease going back to 1988 or have confirmation of exactly what work was done in Battlecrease during this whole period.

Let me put it another way.  Forget about all the stories told to Feldman, Smith and Harrison.  Is there anything, on its own, remarkable about electricians working in Battlecrease on the same day that Michael Barrett was telephoning the Rupert Crew Agency?  I would say, no, there isn't.  Like I said in my article, tradespeople are working in properties every single day of the week. Now, is there anything on its own, remarkable about electricians taking up the floorboards in Battlecrease on the day that Michael Barrett was telephoning the Rupert Crew agency?  I would say that, while it provides food for thought, and that, in theory, the Diary could have been found under those floorboards, it is just a theory.   Mind you, that depends on the floorboards being lifted (if they were lifted) before Mike made his telephone call that day.  On that subject, we simply have no information.  For all we know, his telephone call was made at 9am and the floorboards were lifted at 10am.  Or both happened at exactly the same time, thus making it impossible for one to have any relationship with the other.

In any event, even assuming that Mike's telephone call occurred a number of hours after the floorboards were lifted, it's not such an amazing coincidence that we can only conclude that the two must be linked and that there is no other way of looking at it. The same is true if it had been builders in Battlecrease doing refurbishment or reconstruction work on that particular day. We might have asked ourselves: "Could the builders have found the Diary while doing that work?" and, yes, perhaps they could, but it's not in any way conclusive simply because the two things happened on the same day.

So now we ask ourselves: why is the fact (if it is a fact) that the floorboards were taken up on 9 March by the electricians of such great importance?  The answer is surely the stories told to Feldman, Smith and Harrison by the electricians that the Diary was found under the floorboards. But, to repeat the point, those stories require the presence of Eddie Lyons at Battlecrease at the same time.  This is precisely what the timesheets do not show to have been the case.  You can't just take one without the other.  Sure, you can argue until you are blue in the face that the Diary could have been found under the floorboards by Rigby and/or Coufopulous on 9 March 1992 and Mike Barrett got to hear of this, or actually received the Diary, on the same day, but it is nothing more than another theory, another argument; there is nothing certain about it whatsoever.

And consider this.  Robert Smith wrote the following in the introduction to Shirley Harrison's 1993 book:

"I learned that electrical work had been carried out on various occasions from early 1990 until March 1992 in the Liverpool house where James Maybrick had lived and died.  For the first time since 1888, floorboards were lifted and it is tempting to speculate that one of the electricians found the diary, but they denied this and in reality we do not yet know where it came from."

What is surely interesting about this is that Smith appears to have believed since 1993 that electrical work was being carried out in Battlecrease during March 1992.  The only new thing that he has discovered is that some work was being carried out on 9 March 1992.  Yet, for some reason, he now feels able to say that this "conclusively" shows that the Diary came from Battlecrease. 

Coincidences do, as I have said, happen all the time and in this case the force of the coincidence is hugely lessened not only by work being done in Battlecrease by electricians at other times but also by the fact that Eddie Lyons, who should have been working in Battlecrease on the day of the discovery of the Diary, is not named on any Battlecrease timesheet for 9 March 1992.

Hypocrisy

The same person on JTR Forums who posted his criticisms of my article had, funnily enough already commented on Robert Smith's book.  He said that it was:

"An interesting summation of what was done but I wish the author had driven home his points a bit more. Put the boot in so to speak."

Look at that carefully.  His disappointment with Robert Smith's book was that he did not "put the boot in".  He obviously meant put the boot in to those who do not think the Diary is an old document.

So it rather shows stunning hypocrisy for him to criticise my article with comments such as

"Its a damn shame that "arguments" - weak or otherwise - cant be couched in something that appears to me more than simply a personal diatribe."

AND

"I wish someone would wake me when something new/definitive/interesting comes up couched, preferably, in a half-way neutral way."

This is from someone who wants to describe a perfectly respectable weekly magazine as a "gutter rag" simply because Mike Barrett had articles published in it!  Very "half-way neutral"!

When it comes to my article it is headshakes and "oh dear how uncivilised, if only it was more neutral" and yet this very same person eagerly wanted Robert Smith to put the boot in to opponents of the Diary!!

Well I like to think that I drove my points home in the style that our friend would have wanted Mr Smith to do.  There is nothing wrong with that.  My article was in no way personalised or a personal diatribe.  I focused entirely on what was said in the book.  And in that book, just like I said, we find an embarrassing number of false facts. 

What I didn't do is attribute any motives to Robert Smith in publishing his book but one of my critics on JTR Forums does precisely that to me, saying "The primary purpose of the piece seems to be to show how clever the author is."  Now THAT is a personal attack - it is, needless to say, untrue as I have no need to show anyone how clever I am - and another example of someone trying to smear a writer rather than deal with the points being made.

 

David Barrat
17 October 2017