After Michael Barrett signed a statement on 24 June 1994 admitting to having forged the Maybrick Diary, the Liverpool Daily Post published a front page story the next day (25 June) in which Barrett's confession was revealed to the world. The story stated that Barrett, 'was unable to explain how he managed to write a book which fooled experts or answer basic questions about how he found the old paper of the diary, or old ink'. The very next day, however, Barrett told journalist Harold Brough that the scrapbook came from an auction at Outhwaite & Litherland (as reported in the Liverpool Daily Post of 27 June). Within 48 hours of being asked, therefore, Barrett, despite now having a reputation as a complete idiot, had managed to identity an auction house in Liverpool that held regular weekly auctions of Victorian and Edwardian effects. At the same time, he also managed to identify an art shop in Liverpool which sold ink similar to Victorian manuscript ink. A reasonably impressive achievement for a supposedly incompetent person.
With Barrett having dealt with the questions of the ink and the scrapbook, a very public challenge was issued to him by Paul Feldman who posed five questions that he wanted him to answer to prove that he truly was the forger, believing that there was no way that Barrett could answer them. The questions were published in the Liverpool Daily Post on 28 June 1994 in an article headlined 'Ripper diary forgery claim 'is total rubbish''.
This is how Feldman's Five Questions challenge was reported by the Post:
'He [Feldman] said that Mr Barrett was simply not capable of having forged the diary and challenged him to prove his forgery "confession" by supplying written answers to where he found the following information:
1: That James Maybrick was indeed away from home at Christmas 1888.
2: That there were two, not three, brass rings missing from the body of Ripper victim Annie Chapman.
3: That Ripper victim Elizabeth Stride had red hair.
4: That James Maybrick did strike his wife Florence several times before the Grand National in 1889.
5: The knowledge that the daughter of James Maybrick, Gladys, was consistently ill.
"He will not be able to answer these questions simply because he did not write the diary."
Let's just look at those canonical five questions individually, knowing what we now know, and see if it was actually possible for the forger of the Diary to have answered them. I'll transform each one into an actual question, with question mark, which is how they are recorded in Feldman's 1997 book:
This question was asked on a false premise. There is no evidence to show that James Maybrick was away from home during Christmas 1888. All that we have is a comment by Florence's mother that Maybrick had left Florence alone at some point, for an unspecified amount of time, during December 1888. We know that Maybrick consulted Dr Drysdale on 5 and 10 December 1888, so probably didn't leave Battlecrease prior to 10 December, but there were thirteen further days in December before Christmas Eve and a further five days in the month after Boxing Day. The period being mentioned by Florence's mother could have been any of those days. It's pure assumption to think that she was referring to Christmas 1888: an assumption which seems to be based on the Diary being genuine so that Florence's mother simply MUST have been speaking of Christmas.
Q1. How did you know that James Maybrick was indeed away from home at Christmas 1888?
If Barrett, as the creator of the Diary's text, had simply been making up the story of Maybrick's Christmas spent with his brother in Manchester, one can see that he would have been dumbfounded by the question. If he had said something like 'I just guessed' would that have satisfied Feldman? Of course not
Q2. How did you know that there were two, not three, brass rings missing from the body of Ripper victim Annie Chapman?
Melvin Harris has already pointed out that Peter Underwood's 1987 book on Jack the Ripper is an obvious source for the two rings. Thus, quoting from his 'Guide Through the Labyrinth':
The Diary lists Annie Chapman's property as: two rings, two farthings and two pills. Feld p41 says this: "Although never previously published, a police report signed by Inspector Abberline ...confirms: 'The deceased was in the habit of wearing two brass rings... the finger bore marks of their having been removed by force.' The diarist later continued:... 'one ring,two rings, bitch,it took me a while before I could wrench them off'."
All this impresses Feldman; but all the fakers had to do was to read Und p9 which lists: "...two brass rings (presumably wrenched from the victims fingers) .. .a couple of farthings.. .two medicinal pills..." So, no unpublished police report was needed!
Now, I suspect it's unlikely that Barrett, assuming he was the forger of the entire thing, would have retained a separate copy of the Diary's text with footnotes recording the sources of every single bit of information which had been included in the Diary. He must have consulted a few books on Jack the Ripper when preparing a draft of the Diary but it would be perfectly understandable if, two years later, he couldn't remember the titles of the books he had read and which bits about the Ripper murders he had taken from which books. The whole thing could easily have been a blur in his memory. An answer by Barrett of 'I probably got it from a book' wasn't going to satisfy Feldman.
Q3. How did you know that Ripper victim Elizabeth Stride had red hair?
This had the potential to truly bamboozle the forger because Elizabeth Stride didn't have red hair! Furthermore, Feldman would later claim that the Diary doesn't even claim that Stride had red hair! So how could Barrett possibly have answered it?
It's both amusing and instructional to read what Feldman had to say about this question in a footnote to his 1997 book (at p.159):
'The colour of Stride's hair was not claimed to be red by the author of the diary, although we had misinterpreted it at the time. The references 'head...red' and 'A rose to match the red' were for the sake of rhyme, which Maybrick used so often in the diary, and as a reference to blood. At the time Paul Begg thought he had found a reference that Stride's hair was indeed red (Evening News, 1 October). The article was in reference to Eddowes, not Stride.'
As it happens, Feldman hasn't here entirely accurately reproduced the relevant poem in the Diary which, following on from a description of the double murders of Stride and Eddowes says:
So it's not 'head....red' at all, as Feldman would like us to think, it's Red-head!
In his 2017 book 'The True Facts', Robert Smith avoids providing a footnote, and thus any kind of explanation, for the inclusion at this point in the Diary of 'Red-head' which, on its face, does seem to be a reference to Stride having red hair, although there may be other possible but harder to discern interpretations. Is it possible that the forger (Barrett) was misled by the same newspaper report which misled Paul Begg? After all, Harrison does record in her 1993 book (at page 7) that Barrett, 'spent hours sifting through microfilm newspaper reports in the library'. This was supposed to be as part of his extensive research prior to producing the Diary in April 1992 so it would seem that she certainly believed he had access to old newspaper reports. Could he have seen in one of those newspapers the reference to one of the double event victims having 'auburn hair' and thought it was Stride? If so, he might have been able to answer Feldman's question but, again, he might just have forgotten whether it was from a newspaper or a book and which one, thus rendering any answer useless.
Of course, if he had never intended to say in the Diary that Stride had red hair then Feldman's question would have been simply incomprehensible!
Q4 - How did you know that James Maybrick did strike his wife Florence several times before the Grand National in 1889.
This is another false question. In 1889, Maybrick hit his wife AFTER the Grand National which was run on 29 March. The question here (and repeated in Feldman's 1997 book) is about Maybrick hitting his wife BEFORE the Grand National in 1889, something which didn't happen. The only other instance of Maybrick striking his wife contained in the Diary is at a period in October 1888, shortly after the double event. It's clear that Feldman messed up the question. Elsewhere in his book (p.297) he says he was impressed by the attention to detail shown by the forger with reference to 'the striking of Florence by James after the race'. In 'Inside Story' the point is made that professional researchers had taken months to uncover the fact that Maybrick 'struck his wife Florence after the Grand National in 1889' (p.96) That's obviously what Feldman was trying to refer to in his question to Barrett. It was, therefore, as worded, an impossible question for the forger to answer in respect of a Diary which actually describes Maybrick hitting his wife after the Grand National in 1889.
Q5 - How did you know that the daughter of James Maybrick, Gladys, was consistently ill?
This is another question based on a false premise. There is no evidence that Gladys was 'consistently ill'. As I've mentioned elsewhere, the evidence only shows that Gladys was ill on more than one occasion during 1889. There is precisely zero evidence in archives, or anywhere else, that Gladys was ever ill during 1888, which is the year in which the diary tells us she was ill. So, again, Barrett would have been baffled as to how his speculation in the Diary about Gladys being ill during 1888 has magically been confirmed by the researchers. An answer such as 'I guessed' was never going to satisfy Feldman who had convinced himself that the reference to Gladys' illness showed some sort of incredible inside knowledge by the author of the Diary when, in reality, it showed no such thing.
So, even if Barrett had been the forger, he had been placed in an impossible position with these five questions, the majority of which weren't even capable of being answered!
Yet Barrett's supposed inability to answer them has become part of the legend that he couldn't possibly have been involved in the forgery. Feldman naturally repeated the questions in his 1997 book with the comment that 'He [Barrett] could not answer any of them' while the influential 2003 book, 'Inside Story' also referred to them thus (at page 95-6):
'Paul Feldman, who was bravely telling his team that Barrett's confession was a positive development for the Diary in that it both brought the forgery question into the open and was easily disproved, had a similar set of questions, which Harold Brough printed in the next day's Post. In the article Feldman challenged Barrett to say where he had found a number of references that had taken professional researchers months to uncover. These included the little-known facts that James Maybrick was away from home at Christmas 1888, that he struck his wife Florence after the Grand National in 1889 and that there were two, not three, brass rings missing from the body of Ripper victim Annie Chapman. Barrett's confession, said Feldman, was 'total rubbish. The man is a liar.'
It is unfortunate that 'Inside Story' refers to James Maybrick being away from home at Christmas 1888 as a 'little-known fact' when it is not an established fact at all. We can also see that the authors of 'Inside Story' didn't notice that Feldman's question was that Maybrick had struck his wife before the Grand National when, as they rightly say, the fact was that it was after the race.
How it took professional researchers months to discover that Maybrick struck his wife after the Grand National in March 1889 when Bernard Ryan's 1977 book 'The poisoned life of Mrs Maybrick' states that Florence had a black eye the morning after the race, having had a row with her husband the evening before (pp.37-38) is a little hard to fathom (and we may note that the Diary author followed Ryan's mention of a black eye with the comment 'an eye for an eye', although that phrase, in context, seems to have no intelligible meaning). We've already seen that the two rings of Annie Chapman was mentioned in a 1987 book on Jack the Ripper, being another one that wasn't difficult for a forger.
We can see that 'Inside Story' concludes this section by quoting Feldman as referring to Barrett's confession as being 'total rubbish' on the basis that he couldn't answer his five questions, thus allowing their readers to take away the impression that Barrett had been caught out here when the truth of the matter is that Feldman's Five questions themselves could quite reasonably referred to as 'total rubbish'.
In short, the general reader of books about the Maybrick Diary would have been left with the quite false impression that there was information in the Diary which it had taken professional researchers months to find out and that Michael Barrett, when publicly challenged, was unable to account for how these obscure but supposedly established facts ended up in the Diary. I certainly don't say it's the only factor which affected people's conclusions as to whether Barrett forged the Diary nor necessarily a major factor but it was certainly part of the board canvas which made the idea seem to be absurd. We now need to reconsider that whole idea because it is all but certain that Barrett was involved in creating the forged Maybrick Diary.
20 August 2019