Orsam Books

What The Butler Saw: Archaeology In Mud

Let's talk about the watch!

One of the world's leading self-appointed experts of antique timepieces wrote an article in the 2017 book, 'Jack The Ripper: 25 Years of Mystery: Research and Conclusion', entitled 'The Maybrick Watch: Archaeology in Gold'.  This was Paul Butler of JTR Forums fame.

Mr Butler starts off his article by telling us that the watch is 'probably a 'male' one' but, at the same time, he says, it would 'NEVER' have been worn by a lady.  This confuses me.  If it is only 'probably' a male watch does this not mean it is possibly a female watch?  There are, after all, only two sexes.  If it isn't a male watch, what else could it be?

We also find in the next paragraph that, 'Victorian ladies, other than a few liberated ones, never wore a waistcoat and watch chain' (underlining added).  So when he said that such a watch would never be worn by a lady does he mean only those ladies who were not 'liberated'?

The whole issue seems to me to be a red herring in any case.  Although not mentioned anywhere by Butler in his article, the watch has the initials 'JO' engraved on it.  Maybrick's initials were not 'JO' and Maybrick would surely not have owned a watch bearing someone else's initials.

That being so, and assuming the initials 'JO' were on the watch at the time Maybrick owned it (about which, see Postscript 1 below), it strikes me as irrelevant whether the watch is a man's watch or a lady's watch.  If it wasn't Maybrick's watch, he could have scratched his victim's initials on a lady's watch just as much as a man's watch.  Indeed, one might think it would even be more appropriate to have scratched those initials on a lady's watch.

So we can move on from this point.

The next important thing that Butler tells us is that the scratches are found on a part of the watch that is 'in the most inaccessible place possible' which is 'the innermost part of the case'.  What Butler doesn't explain (and I would have loved to have read his explanation) is how it is that, in addition to the so-called 'Maybrick marks', one finds what Butler describes as 'random 'wear and tear' scratches' in the innermost part of the case.  How do wear and tear scratches come to be found on part of the watch that is 'in the most inaccessible place possible' ?  One would have thought that the most inaccessible place possible would not have suffered from any wear and tear, no?

But let's now come to the main part of the article.  This is that the two additional scratches or engravings, not apparently connected with the scratches supposed to have been made by Maybrick, namely 'H 9/3'  and '1275', were scratched or engraved into the watch after the words 'I am Jack' were scratched on it.  Well, that's what the Turgoose report says, although you don't learn this from Butler's article and have to work it out for yourself.  Butler only says that 'H 9/3' and '1275' were found to post-date what he describes as 'the Maybrick marks' because the 'Maybrick marks' are in a lower layer.  I think it would have been helpful for Butler to have identified the specific 'Maybrick marks' in question but he fails to do it. The Turgoose report says it is the 'J' in the 'Jack' of 'I am Jack' which was over engraved by the 'H 9/3' and the '1275'.  Clearly 'I am Jack' was part of the 'Maybrick marks' and must have been scratched onto the watch at the same time as the other Maybrick marks such as the victims' initials and the signature but it should, I think, have been part of Butler's mission to explain this.

As it happens I can't help wondering if Turgoose was mistaken.  He first says on page 1 of his report of 10 August 1993 that a horizontal line which cuts beneath 'H 9/3', as shown on his Micrograph 3, is part of the letter 'J' of Jack.  Well that's fine but he then says on page 2 that the number '5' as in '1275' is 'inscribed across the J' as shown his Micrograph 4.  The problem here is the the number '5' is cutting across a sloping vertical line and from the position of '1275' it's really difficult to see how it could be covering any part of the letter 'J' as in 'I am Jack'.  Let me try an explain visually.  Here is a reasonably good image of the watch that I found online:

You can see clearly the number 1275 in about the centre of the circle, just below H 9/3.

You can just about make out the words "I am", above and to the left of these numbers but the name "Jack" is almost invisible, although you can just see the "k" in the far right.  Using a clearer photograph in 'Inside Story' I've overdrawn where it looks like the 'Jack' appears on the watch:

From the image in 'Inside Story' we can't see the top of "J"(if there is, indeed, a cross at the top) so I haven't guessed at it above but it rather looks to me like it must be the tail of the letter "a" which crosses the "5" in "1275" while the tail of the "J" crosses the "7".

At the same time it's not impossible that there is a cross on the "J" which slants down over the "5" as below:

That would be quite an odd slope though. Perhaps both the "J" and the "a" cross with the "5" and Turgoose's Micrograph 4 does seem to show two separate lines crossing. If that's the case, though, why doesn't Turgoose say so in the report?  He only mentions the "J".

In the Casebook Forum back in 2004 I see that a John Hacker attempted to resolve this problem by suggesting that the tail of the "J" crossed the "5" rather than the "7".  Here is what he drew:


To me, that doesn't match the point at which it looks like the "5" overcrosses a line in Micrograph 4, nor the angle at which there is overlap, and it doesn't look from the image in 'Inside Story' that the tail goes so far over to the "5" but it's hard to be certain of anything. 

Anyway, if one of the letters, "J" or "a", does cross the "5", it's a somewhat academic point.

The more important question is, what is the meaning of the mark "1275"? 

According to the expert, Paul Butler, writing on the Casebook Censorship Forum on 11 March 2004 at 1.54pm:

'With the 1275 being a casemaker’s mark, this would have been made with a fine “scribing” tool. And such a tool would be made of steel at any time from the early 19th century right up to date.' 

Oh, okay, it's a casemaker's mark, that explains it, although that means it would have been put onto the case when the watch was made in about 1846, which makes it a mystery as to how it could have been placed on the watch after the 'Maybrick marks'.  

Ah hold on, Paul Butler's just had the same thought later on 11 March 2004, at 4.30pm, having been informed by another poster of the content of the Turgoose report.  This caused him to say:

'Well to say I’m staggered at the report’s suggestion that the 1275 goes OVER the JTR scratches is to put it mildly. The implications of this will be very far reaching indeed.'

Well yes, the first very far reaching implication is that Paul Butler got it completely wrong when he referred to '1275' as the 'casemaker's mark' which, I suppose, does have the equally far reaching implication that Paul Butler doesn't necessarily know what he's talking about when it comes to watches.  It wasn't his fault though, honest, he tells us, it was the fault of his 'colleagues' who were apparently responsible for him thinking it was a serial number, or casemaker's mark, which had initially embarrassed him because he hadn't noticed that himself:

'When I posted about the casemaker’s mark I spoke to half a dozen colleagues first, and to be frank they made me a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed it was a serial Number before! This is even more amazing seing (sic) as there is no other marking that could possibly be a casemaker’s mark, and yet we have another RS case that clearly has one, and in the sme (sic) place too!'  

But he still hasn't got it right.  He is then informed that there IS another marking on the watch that could possibly be a casemaker's mark, namely the mark '1286' which is at the bottom of the circle, below the 'Maybrick marks'.  So now he corrects himself again:

'Having just been and had a look at Michael’s posting, (and invited him on over, as did Chris also), and that lovely clear photograph, I’m with you all the way on that one. 1286 is the casemakers number without a shadow of a doubt. It’s back to square one with 1275 then. I am only too pleased to concede that one. It had to be there somewhere.' 

So from a statement that there was no other marking that could possibly be a casemaker's mark on the watch, he now says, with the luxurious benefit of hindsight, that the casemarker's mark 'had to be there somewhere'.  Well done Paul!

The thing is that the 1286 is very different from the 1275 because the 1286 is actually stamped into the metal of the watch whereas the 1275 is scratched on.  The watch expert doesn't seem to have been surprised by the casemarker's mark having been scratched onto the watch when clearly for a watch of this type it should have been stamped on.

Anyway, we can learn more from the master, writing on 11 March 2004:

'We must be very careful though, to not interpret these marks as dates too readily. It’s an easy trap to fall into as we’ve seen. Clearly 1275 isn’t a date. Its no longer possible as it cannot predate the Maybrick scratches unless James was a fortune teller.'

So that's good.  'Clearly 1275 isn't a date'.  The expert has spoken.  It. Is. Not. A. Date.  Got that? 

Now let's forward to 18 July 2007 where we find Paul Butler sharing his expertise about watches on JTR Forums (my underlining):

'Jewellers used repair marks in the past to provide them with a quick way of establishing when they last handled the watch. There was no standard way of doing this, but the whole exercise would be utterly pointless if it did not in some way indicate a date. This simple type of code was so that it was not obvious to the customer that the jeweller was dating his work. Albert’s watch has another repair mark, 1275 off the top of my head, which was almost certainly made in 1875. The Ripper marks are nowhere near this one fortunately' 

Whoooaaa!!!  Now my head is spinning.  Three years earlier we were told that 'Clearly 1275 isn't a date'.  Now it IS a date.  Apparently, and 'almost certainly', 1875.  So presumably he thinks it was placed on the watch on either December 1875 i.e. 12-75 or 1 February 1875 i.e. 1-2-75.

However, as with most of Paul Butler's posts on this subject, it's time for another rapid u-turn. Having read his claim that the Ripper marks are 'nowhere near' the number '1275', Caroline Morris quickly informs him that 'Turgoose observes that in the central region, the '5' is inscribed across the 'J'. I can only assume he means here that the 1275 was engraved after the J of Jack was put there.'

Paul Butler replied on 19 July 2007 as follows:

'I just dug out my Turgoose and you’re spot on about his observation about the “5” of 1275 being later than the Ripper marks. This bothers me a bit, as clearly it can’t mean an impossible date of 1875, so if a date is indicated it must be 1975, which is entirely plausible I suppose. It has been placed immediately below the ?9/3 mark, which is not only logical for a subsequent repair, but is something I have seen on many occasions before. Sometimes there can be a dozen or more all below one another in chronological order. '

So now we're getting somewhere.  It must be a date after all.  But 1875 is an 'impossible date'.  That only leaves 1975.  Hurrah!  We've worked it out.   That 1275 mark was placed on the watch either on 1 February 1975 or in December 1975.    That's good isn't it?  Now, with that crucial and important bit of information, let's see where I find that stated in Paul Butler's 2017 'Archaeology in Mud' article?  Hmmmnn, I'm reading it quite carefully and I can't seem to see it.  It must be there though.  We're talking about archaeology and layers of evolution of the scratches, so dates are real important.  Let me read it over again.  

Hmmmmmnnn. Nope. Zilch.

I've been through it three times now and it's just not there.  I wonder why not.

Could it be, perhaps, because a repair of the watch in 1975 would completely demolish the True Believers' wet dream fantasy of both the watch and the Diary having been buried in a large biscuit tin under the floorboards of Battlecrease during the late nineteenth century only to emerge for the first time, shining in the light, on 9 March 1992, as Eddie Lyons' excited fat face prized off the lid before rushing off to the local jewellers to flog the watch and then popping into the pub to start his negotiations with Mike for the sale of the Diary?

If that is the case, it doesn't really say much for Mr Butler's impartiality that he is prepared to abandon his conclusion about the meaning of the marking as a date of 1975 because it spoils his cherished theory about how and when the watch was discovered.

Now the careful reader will have noticed that Butler referred to the other supposed repair marking on the watch as '? 9/3'.  That's because it took him a long time to decipher it, originally thinking it was 'SC' rather than 'H'.   If his article is to have any meaning, we need to know what 'H 9/3' and '1275' means, and when these marks were scratched onto the watch.  This is essential if there is to be any importance attached to them when it comes to dating the 'Maybrick marks'.   Otherwise, what was there to stop the person who faked the 'Maybrick marks' (and I assume that Paul Butler believes that SOMEONE faked them because he always tells us that he's certain that Maybrick wasn't the Ripper and didn't write the Diary) from also faking some random repair marks, using different tools?  That's if he was someone who knew only a little bit about watches, just like Paul Butler seems to know only a little bit.

Lord Orsam
22 March 2020


Apparently, there is another marking on the watch which says '20789'.  The watch expert, Paul Butler, says that this 'could indicate a repair in July 1889'.  He calls it 'an intriguing date' and wonders if this was when the initials 'JO' were 'professionally engraved' on the back.   He speculates that the watch was stolen by John Over following Maybrick's death.  

The first thing about this is that Butler doesn't even discuss the possibility of 20789 representing a date of 20 July 1989.  He only considers it as being July 1889. 

Now, let's consider Butler's theory about 20789 as it relates to the Maybrick marks.  We know that he rejects the notion of Maybrick being the author of the Diary so that he must also reject the notion that Maybrick scratched 'I am Jack' on the watch and also scratched in the initials of the victim.  Someone obviously faked those scratches.  The relevant timeline is that Maybrick died on 11 May 1889.  The trial of Florence Maybrick commenced on 31 July 1889 and she was convicted on 14 August 1889. 

So presumably Paul Butler is thinking that the Diary was forged prior to 20 July 1889 and someone got hold of Maybrick's watch and scratched 'I am Jack' on it to match the newly faked Diary.  But then what?  he must think that John Over somehow acquired the watch and got his own initials engraved on it.  The Diary, presumably, was put under the floorboards of Battlecrease, where it remained until 9 March 1992, but what about the watch?  As of 20 July 1889 it's in the possession of John Over, who has had his initials professionally engraved on it, so the forger of the Diary must surely have lost control of it. Presumably it gets passed from person to person until it ends up in a Liverpool jewellers in 1992. Does Butler just think it's pure coincidence then that the first time the scratchings on the watch are spotted by anyone is shortly after the news breaks in Liverpool in 1993 that a Diary has been found by James Maybrick in which Maybrick reveals he was Jack the Ripper?  Because that is a bit of remarkable coincidence isn't it?


Writing on the Casebook Forum on 19 April 2004 Paul Butler posted:

'There is overwhelming evidence that the watch scratches pre-date the first public reports of the Diary's existence in April 1993'

By way of explanation, he said, excitedly, 'I've seen it, I've seen the micrographs'.

Then, two days later, on 21 April 2004, the same Mr Butler said:

'The watch scratches...can be traced back to a date in 1992, prior to Albert's purchase...No doubt about it.'

Then, to prove the existence of these scratches prior to 1992, we were told by Paul Butler on 26 April 2004:

'Try the Murphys, Tim Dundas and David Thompson for starters.  They all saw 'em, and before Albert even laid eyes on the thing, let alone got his hands on it.'

For added effect, he added, 'Irritating, isn't it?'

Someone who actually knew what he was talking about, however, immediately posted in response:

'I think you are confused. Dundas specifically said he didn't see them!'

No response from Paul Butler.

Then that same person posted:

'What on earth do you mean by saying that David Thompson saw the scratches "before Albert even laid eyes on the thing, let alone got his hands on it"?'

As the poster explained, Thompson had been consulted by Shirley Harrison only after Albert had reported the scratches.

There was, again, only silence from Paul Butler.

The fact of the matter is that, out of Butler's list of 'the Murphys, Tim Dundas and David Thompson', neither Dundas nor Thompson could possibly be used as evidence that the scratches existed on the watch prior to 1993. That leaves 'the Murphys' by which Butler must have meant Ronald Murphy because no-one else in his family has ever claimed to have seen the scratches prior to the sale of the watch.

I've written elsewhere about the problems with Murphy's account.  In short, Ronald Murphy never confirmed that he saw the Maybrick scratches specifically. In a confusing and contradictory part of the statement he provided on 20 October 1993, he said, 'I am almost certain that the markings were present when the watch was sold but they were not markings I would have taken notice of'.  Well if he wouldn't have taken notice of them, how does he know they were even there, let alone the same markings?  Then, in February 1997, he told Shirley Harrison that not only did he notice the scratches in the back of the watch in 1992 but, he said, 'I tried to buff them out with jeweller's rogue'.  But, hey, hold on.  In 1993 he said he wasn't even entirely certain that the scratches were there, and wouldn't have taken any notice of them if they were.  Five years later he is saying that there definitely were scratches on the watch because he tried to buff them out! So why was he only 'almost certain'  of their existence in 1993?  Did he think he had been trying to buff out something that wasn't there? 

If he was simply saying in 1993 that he remembered there being scratches but not what those scratches were, how was he in any position to say that the scratches were the same as the Maybrick scratches?  Furthermore, when he produced his statement in October 1993, why on earth did he not mention having attempted to buff the scratches out? Surely that was crucial information. Instead, he was only 'almost certain' that the scratches were there when he must have been 100% certain that there were scratches there if he had really tried to buff them out.  And it's odd that, having tried to buff out the scratches, as he claimed in 1997, he said in 1993 that he wouldn't have taken any notice of those scratches.  Surely an attempt to buff them out means that he DID take notice of them.  If he was trying to say that he didn't make any attempt to decipher them, why didn't he actually say that?

Furthermore, how did he even notice the scratches in the first place?  Not only are they in the most inaccessible part of the watch, as Paul Butler tells us, but they are, we are told, virtually invisible to the naked eye.  Albert Johnson could only see them apparently, when they happened to be caught accidentally in sunlight.  So for Murphy to have seen the scratches, either the watch also happened to be caught in sunlight or he was checking the surface with a magnifying glass, but if that's the case then he must surely have taken notice of the scratches.

Turgoose's report doesn't rule out there having been incidental scratches on the watch separately from the Maybrick scratches (and made prior to them, albeit that it's hard to know why such scratches would be there) but there is no indication from the Turgoose report that an attempt had been made to buff the Maybrick scratches out, as Murphy had claimed.

It may be worth noting that, before Murphy spoke to any researchers about the watch, he been visited by Albert and his criminal brother, Robert, in 1993 during which a private conversation ensued and who knows what was said?   

In any case, the story of the Murphys is that the watch was in their family since the 1980s which, if they are to be believed, explodes the idea that the watch was buried in a biscuit tin with the Diary in Battlecrease in the nineteenth century, something which I believe Paul Butler still clings to.  If Paul Butler relies on and believes the Murphys account, presumably he will now confirm that the watch could not have been hidden under the floorboards of Battlecrease for one hundred years or so. It also takes us back to the remarkable coincidence of Albert Johnson seeing the scratches shortly after news broke about the Maybrick/Ripper Diary, despite there being no possible connection between the emergence of the Maybrick Diary and the emergence of the watch, if the Murphys' story is true.

As for Butler's initial bombastic statements that the watch scratches pre-date April 1993, well, we don't find that stated in his 2017 article.  He must now realize he was going further than the evidence allows. Presumably he realizes that all he can say, based on the Turgoose report, is that the 'Maybrick' watch scratches pre-date the scratchings of 'H 9/3' and '1275' but, as he doesn't know when 'H 9/3' and '1275' was put onto the watch, it doesn't help much.  The pre-dating could have been a matter of seconds if the forger was also responsible for those marks.