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The Curious Case of the Fake Pensioner

In his 2015 book, Deconstructing Jack, Simon Wood puts forward an argument that the alibi provided by Edward Stanley, the so-called 'Pensioner' friend of Annie Chapman, that at the time of the murder of Polly Nichols, he was at Gosport on duty with the Hampshire militia (between 6 August and 1 September 1888), cannot be true, given what is known of Stanley's history.


According to Wood, it is clear that Edward Stanley 'could not have been on duty with the Hampshire militia'  and, he says, it is a mystery as to how he was able to provide Coroner Wynne Baxter with accurate dates of the whereabouts of 'a militia artillery brigade to which he could not have belonged...' . Without wishing to spoil the book for anyone who hasn't read it, Wood 's explanation is that the poor pensioner known as 'Edward Stanley' was really a wealthy Important Person in disguise who was a senior officer in the Hampshire Militia.


Why does Simon Wood say that Stanley could not have belonged to this militia?


At first, it seems that Wood wants to say that the problem is with Stanley's age. Thus he says, 'Edward Stanley was too old to be in the Militia Reserve.'  Pointing to a reference in the Evening Standard (which Wood accepts unquestioningly) that Stanley was 47 years old, Wood tells us that men over 35 could not enlist in the Militia Reserve.  However, he then explains that there was an exception, a loophole, whereby men who had served less than 3 years in the army or army reserve, without having earned a pension, were allowed to enter the militia within 3 years of the day of their discharge, if they were under 45 years of age.


So, as Wood accepts, Stanley could have been a member of the Hampshire Militia in 1888 at the age of 47, having been discharged from the army or army reserve at the age of 41 and having then joined the Militia at the age of 44.


It is not therefore, Stanley's age that was a problem, and Wood's statement that Stanley was 'too old' to be in Hampshire Militia seems to have been too hasty.


The real problem, Wood tells us, was one of residence.  The reason Stanley could not have been in the Hampshire Militia was because recruitment to that Militia was restricted to residents of the county of Hampshire or to residents of a county immediately adjoining Hampshire.


According to Wood, Stanley, 'by all accounts', had been a long term resident of Middlesex, which did not adjoin Hampshire, so it was impossible for him to have enlisted in the Hampshire Militia.  Although he uses the phrase 'by all accounts', Wood only gives us a single account as evidence of Stanley having lived in Middlesex.  This is from another newspaper report in which Charles Agent, proprietor of a lodging house in Osborn Street, was quoted as saying, 'I have known Ted Stanley for about 12 years. During that time he has mainly lodged here.'.


Wood ignores the problem caused to his argument by the word 'mainly'.  What if Stanley had lived in Hampshire, perhaps in Basingstoke, or in a county adjoining Hampshire, for just one year out of the twelve that Charles Agent said he had known him?  Could he not have joined the Hampshire Militia then?


It is worthy of note that the county of Surrey adjoined Hampshire and, contained within Surrey in 1888, was Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Wandsworth - all areas easily accessible to Stanley with no great effort.  Had he lived in one of these places for part of those 12 years, he would have qualified to join the Hampshire Militia.


So when Simon Wood says that he could not have been on duty with the Hampshire Militia in 1888, well, in fact, he could.


But the problem for Simon Wood is much worse than that.  As we have seen, to establish that Stanley had lived in Middlesex for most of the period since 1876, he quoted Charles Agent as saying that Stanley had lodged with him during that time.  But if Stanley was, as Wood claims, really the Important Person, this must mean that the Important Person had been living in a shabby east end lodging house for the best part of 12 years! It's ludicrous.


If, on the other hand, Charles Agent was incorrect about Stanley having lived in his lodging house for most of those 12 years then it is plain that Stanley could have been living in Hampshire during much of that period and joined the Hampshire Militia.


Either way, the whole of Wood's argument falls apart.


First published: 18 November 2015

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