Orsam Books

Who Was the Worst Jack the Ripper Writer?

I purchased the 2019 book ‘Who was Jack the Ripper?’ because I was interested in reading whether Mike Hawley had modified his arguments about Tumblety in response to the articles published on this website and also to see what Ed Stow had to say in what is, to the best of my knowledge, the first published case against Lechmere.  In the end, I found that both writers seem to be in competition with each other for the title of worst Jack the Ripper writer.

I’m going to discuss the chapters on Tumblety and Lechmere in this article but, before doing so, a quick honourable mention for the chapter on Joseph Barnett by the pseudonymous ‘Keith Stride’ which, at the end of the chapter, says ‘Barnett’s life after the Kelly murder remains a mystery.’  Seriously?  This is the state of knowledge by the person who is supposed to be the expert on Barnett in the field of Ripperology?  Does no-one pay any attention to anything?

We do know something of Barnett’s life after the Kelly murder.

On 20 January 1889, Arthur Warren of the Boston Herald published an article about the Ripper murders. He wrote that he had visited Miller’s Court and persuaded Mary Jane Kelly's former landlord, John McCarthy, to let him into number 13.  One of McCarthy’s employees refused to enter the room but a ‘young man’, who turned out to be Joseph Barnett, volunteered to accompany him and open the door. Warren reported that McCarthy said to him, ‘you’re in no condition to enter that place, Barnett’.

Barnett replied that he could stand it now and opened the door of the room.  Warren wrote:

‘I was interested in Barnett as a type of Whitechapel labouring man. He seemed quite a decent fellow of his class. His occupation is that of a fruit and fish porter but he is at present with McCarthy.  Barnett seemed to have been very fond of the deceased woman, and, in the manner characteristic of his class, he spoke openly of his intimacy with her…Her horrible death had shaken the fellow completely, and when I saw him, on Saturday last, his voice trembled, he avoided touching anything in the room, and he seemed greatly agitated.’

So Barnett was working for McCarthy until at least January 1889.  Not such a mystery really.

So let’s move on to Mike Hawley.  Any howlers in the chapter?  Oh yes!

Now, I don’t know whether his chapter on Tumblety was written before or after my article ‘Hawley’s Howlers’ published on 25 May 2019.  But some of the issues had already been raised in my now infamous discussion with him in the Casebook Censorship Forum on May 2018 and I’m sure his chapter was written after that date.  

I must say that I thought that Hawley might have read ‘Hawley’s Howlers’ when writing his chapter because, to his credit, he doesn't mention the 12 constables assigned to hunt for Tumblety nor, more importantly, does he mention the comical 'English detective' prowling outside Tumblety's lodgings in New York in December 1888 as reported by the New York World's correspondent 

He's also used a new word to describe what his three Scotland Yard officials are supposed to have said about Tumblety.  He’s discarded ‘named’, ‘commented upon’, ‘considered’ ‘admitted [he was a suspect]’, ‘confirmed’ ‘referred to’, ‘stating’ and he’s now plumped for the word ‘mentioned’.   Hence, he says that Tumblety; ‘was actually mentioned by no less than three Scotland Yard officials’.  But what’s laughable is that, in respect of one of those three officials, Inspector Andrews, he says no more than that a reporter asked him, ‘if he knew Francis Tumblety and his connection to the murders’.  Yet he doesn’t record that Inspector Andrews stated categorically in response that Tumblety was not the Whitechapel murderer!  Bearing in mind that this type of chapter must be written for those who know little or  nothing about the case, or about Tumblety's candidature as the murderer, it’s a pretty shocking omission.

But Hawley has put himself in a position where he has to omit the inspector’s dismissal of Tumblety’s candidature because he's committed himself to this ridiculous notion of three Scotland Yard officials referring to Tumblety as Jack the Ripper.  He thus has to include Andrews, even though he only referred to Tumblety in response to a reporter’s question in order to eliminate him as a suspect.

That’s just poor from Hawley but in the same passage he repeats an error that he seems irretrievably attached to regarding Assistant Commissioner Anderson (see Howler 2 below).  But let's start our count of the Howlers:

He actually opens with a lovely new howler:

HOWLER 1 – ‘Francis Tumblety was first mentioned as Jack the Ripper suspect by Detective Chief Inspector Littlechild of the Metropolitan Police in a letter…dated 23 September 1913’.  Doesn’t he ever think about what he is writing?  He is obviously aware that the first known mention was in the American newspapers on 18 November 1888.  But if one is citing private letters, there could, for all he knows, have been mentions in other private correspondence before that date and long before Littlechild’s 1913 letter.  So Hawley’s opening sentence is a brand new howler. 

HOWLER 2 – ‘In late November 1888, Assistant Commissioner Robert Anderson requested all information on Tumblety from Brooklyn’s chief of police specific to the Whitechapel murders.’  That simply isn’t known to be true and cannot properly be stated as a fact.  What we know of Anderson’s telegram to Brooklyn’s chief of police doesn’t mention the Whitechapel murders.  Hawley is well aware of this.  For, in his Rip 122 article entitled ‘Anderson’s Furtive Mission in North America’, he said, ‘Some have suggested that Anderson only requested information on Tumblety for the Brooklyn chief of police specific to the gross indecency and indecent assault charges’.  So he knows full well that his claim that Anderson was asking about information relating to the Whitechapel murders has been challenged. His only ‘evidence’ that Anderson was asking for information specific to the Whitechapel murders is that the article in the Brooklyn Citizen which mentions Anderson’s telegram was headlined “Is he the Ripper?”.  Well obviously this wasn’t a quote from Anderson’s telegram.  He certainly wouldn’t have been asking Chief Campbell to tell him if Tumblety was Jack the Ripper, so it’s nonsensical to rely on that newspaper headline as evidence that Anderson requested information on Tumblety specific to the Whitechapel murders.  All the newspaper actually said about Anderson’s specific request was that Campbell had been ‘Asked by the London police to hunt up the Record of Francis Tumblety.’

Hawley has, thus, simply invented the notion of Anderson asking about Tumblety specific to the Whitechapel murders.  He knows it’s disputed yet tells the reader of his chapter that it’s an established fact.  It’s the behaviour of a writer who cannot be trusted.

The fact of the matter is that the only Scotland Yard official who has said that Tumblety was a Ripper suspect was Chief Inspector Littlechild.  That’s not a bad authority but Littlechild’s responsibility was not the Ripper investigation so it’s also not the very best one.

HOWLER 3 – ‘The very first time the Public knew of the notorious Dr Francis Tumblety being arrested on suspicion for the Whitechapel crimes was in major US newspapers on 19 November 1888’ – Well, no. The first report about Tumblety’s supposed arrest for the Whitechapel murders was in the Sunday US papers on 18 November 1888.  Oddly, Hawley goes on to say that this information came from the office of New York City’s detective department.  I don’t know what information he is thinking of but he’s obviously garbled his chronology here and must have been trying to say something else.

HOWLER 4 – ‘Coincidentally, it was at this time [19 November 1888] Assistant Commissioner Anderson had contacted chiefs of police from two other US cities about Tumblety’.  Hawley is here stating as a fact that Anderson contacted the chiefs of police of San Francisco and Brooklyn on 19 November when, in respect of the San Francisco Police Chief, Crowley, it seems glaringly obvious that it was Crowley who contacted Anderson by telegram on 19 November with Anderson only responding three whole days later, on 22 November, to ask for handwriting and all details of Tumblety.  We don’t know who initiated the correspondence regarding Brooklyn.  All we know is that a telegram was said to have been received by the Brooklyn police chief from Anderson on 22 November.   In other words, the only two known telegrams sent by Anderson to American police chiefs were sent on 22 November 1888.   So there is no coincidence involved here between the 18 November report in major US newspapers (which Hawley refers to as the 19 November report) and Anderson’s telegrams other than that we can say that Crowley's San Francisco telegram was in response to the New York World's syndicated story about Tumblety being considered a Jack the Ripper suspect.

HOWLER 5 – ‘The five stories Greaves released in the newscable on 17 November were all breaking stories on the Whitechapel investigation and never made the London newspapers’.    Well that’s not true because the story of Sir George Arthur’s arrest was published in the North London News on 1 December 1888.  Last time I checked, North London was in London.   It’s also kind of irrelevant bearing in mind that the story in one form or another was published in at least 25 regional newspapers in Great Britain, so what’s the magic about the London newspapers?  In any case, it’s impossible to say that any particular story ‘never’ made the London newspapers.  I can’t stress enough that most of the later editions of the London evening newspapers from 1888 have not survived.  There could be all number of stories that were published which we don’t know about.  Furthermore, the story about Leopold Rothschild’s reward offer has not been found in any British newspaper which can only suggest that it was unlikely to have been a true story published in the New York World.  What good is an offer of a reward if no-one knows about it?  It looks very much like Greaves, or whoever wrote the New York World story, had confused Rothschild with Baroness Burdett-Coutts who had made a similar offer of a reward to the one attributed to Rothschild (which did appear in British newspapers).  Alternatively, that the story was inspired by Burdett-Coutts’ offer.  Either way, there doesn’t seem to be any basis to it.

HOWLER 6 – ‘Greaves admitted in two earlier newscables released on 6 and 9 October that he had a ‘Scotland Yard informant’.  Leaving aside the strange use of the word 'admitted' (whereas 'boasted' would be more apt), the way that Greaves described the person who gave him information on 9 October was: 'a gentleman, who stands in close relations at Scotland Yard'. As I've already mentioned in 'The Euston Incident', this man told Greaves that, having developed a theory that the Whitechapel murderer was influenced by the Robert Louis Stevenson play, 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', Scotland Yard now had a prime suspect, who was being kept under constant surveillance: a well-known, prosperous resident of Grosvenor Square.  Greaves reported that London was promised 'a sensation' in the near future when the man was arrested. But this couldn't have been true.   When Robert Anderson filed a report for the Home Office, merely a fortnight after Greaves was exclusively telling his readers that Scotland Yard had the Ripper in its sights, the Assistant Commissioner was telling his political masters that Scotland Yard had not 'the slightest clue of any kind'.  So much for the World correspondent's 'informant' within Scotland Yard.  

HOWLER 7 – Tumblety had a remand hearing in front of the police magistrate within twenty-four hours of his 7 November arrest’ - I don't know how many times I have to explain this but if Tumblety was arrested on 7 November, then his remand hearing was on the same day as his arrest because what we know for a fact is that he had a remand hearing on 7 November.  If Tumblety had his remand hearing twenty-four hours after his arrest, it means he was arrested on 6 November.  So Hawley's formulation of the position isn't right.  After being arrested, a person had to be brought before a magistrate as soon as possible (with no specific requirement for that to be within 24 hours).  But for all we know, Tumblety had been arrested a number of days earlier than 7 November, brought before a magistrate and released on bail on the same day, before a second remand hearing on 7 November.

HOWLER 8 – ‘Since the magistrate allowed bail at his committal hearing, he likely allowed bail at his earlier remand hearing’.  While this is certainly possible, one cannot say it is ‘likely’ unless one is tailoring the evidence to fit with Tumblety having been released from prison prior to 9 November 1888.

HOWLER 9 - 'It is unlikely that police officials were convinced beyond question, that Tumblety was the killer, but they did indeed take seriously this possibility.' There is no good evidence for the claim that the police ‘did indeed take seriously this possibility’ of Tumblety being the killer.  There is no evidence that he was seriously considered a suspect by police in 1888.  Littlechild never said he was (and one of his reasons for suspecting Tumblety was that the murders stopped AFTER he left the country).

HOWLER 10 – ‘Also, the writ habeas corpus was in effect in 1888 as it is today, meaning when Tumblety was arrested on suspicion, the police were bound by British law and could only hold him for twenty-four hours once arrested and identified.’  This is nonsense.  A writ of habeas corpus had nothing to do with it.  Police were obliged to take a person arrested to a magistrate 'with all reasonable speed' (Harris, Principles of the Criminal Law, Fourth Edition, 1886) or 'as soon as possible' (Harris, Principles of the Criminal Law, Sixth Edition, 1892).

HOWLER 11 – ‘Evidence that Scotland Yard took Tumblety seriously is the fact that they committed him for trial for the winnable misdemeanour case in order to get him off the streets’.  –  It is not known if Scotland Yard committed Tumblety for trial.  The involvement of the National Vigilance Association in Tumblety's prosecution at the Old Bailey leaves open the very real possibility that they were the prosecuting agency as at 14 November and were thus responsible for the committal.  Even if Scotland Yard had been involved in the prosecution, it can hardly be used as evidence that they took Tumblety seriously as a Ripper suspect because it could easily have meant no more than that he had broken the law and they, therefore, would have had a duty to charge him with the offence of indecent assault. 

HOWLER 12 – ‘The grand jury returned a ‘true bill’ on 19 November, meaning there was enough evidence to convict at Central Criminal Court, scheduled for the following day.  This is when Tumblety knew has fate was prison.’ - This statement shows a complete lack of knowledge of what a grand jury did.  A True Bill absolutely did NOT mean that there was enough evidence to convict.  All a grand jury was asked to do was to decide whether there was a prima facie case against a prisoner.  As this was exactly the same thing that, in most cases, a magistrate had already decided, it was rare for a grand jury to dismiss a case that a magistrate had ruled should proceed to trial.  It would seem that the most common type of case where a grand jury refused to find a True Bill was one of murder or manslaughter which had been sent to trial by a coroner's jury (but not by a magistrate).  In short, there is no way that a True Bill would indicate to a prisoner that their 'fate was prison'.  It would indicate nothing at all.  It would be astonishing if a prisoner was waiting anxiously for the verdict of a grand jury which was, in almost all cases, a mere formality.  Hawley just doesn't seem to understand how the system worked.

HOWLER 13 – ‘being spotted in France no later than 23 November’.  There is no evidence that Tumblety was EVER spotted in France.  It's just an assumption on Hawley's part. 

HOWLER 14 – 'Scotland Yard spotted him in France a full two weeks earlier [than 10 December] at a time he was legally out of custody, demonstrating their interest in him was something other than the charge in front of the courts’. - There is no evidence that Tumblety was ever spotted in France by Scotland Yard.


In a 13 page article that's an average of just over one howler every page, which is not bad going.

So what about Ed Stow.  Does he just repeat all the Fisherman nonsense?  Well, not quite, but I think we can fairly describe his chapter as Fisherman Lite.  To his credit, he avoids the temptation of saying that Charles Cross was found near the dead body of Polly Nichols and he doesn't say that Cross signed his name as 'Lechmere' more than 100 times.  But the rest of it is closely aligned to what we have heard about a thousand times from Fisherman; and includes what I think we can call Ed Stow's Fishtakes.

FISHTAKE 1 - 'He [Charles Cross]... is the only witness involved in the official record of the case whose true identity remained unknown until just a few years ago'.  To the extent that Stow is trying to say that the true identity of every other witness has been known for many years, I would ask him to tell us who Ellen Holland a.k.a. Emily Holland a.k.a. Jane Oram was.  According to the Jack the Ripper A-Z (underlining added): 'An Ellen Holland appeared at the Thames Police Court on 15 October 1887, charged with being drunk and disorderly and using obscene language, being sentenced to a fine of three shillings or three days in prison.  An Ellen Holland aged 65, hawker of flowers, is listed in the 1891 Census as living at 55 Flower and Dean Street.  It is not known if either was the same woman.'  In other words, at the time the A-Z was published, the identity of this witness, who was certainly involved in the official record of the case, was not known.  If it's known today, it puts her in the same category as Lechmere.  If it's not known today, then we can say that there is nothing remarkable about Lechmere's identity being discovered recently.

FISHTAKE 2 - '...a Sunday evening newspaper, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, published an exclusive.'   Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper was a Sunday morning newspaper. 

FISHTAKE 3 - 'They had managed to interview Robert Paul on the Friday evening but had sat on their scoop.'  How can a Sunday newspaper not 'sit on' a scoop before Sunday?

FISHTAKE 4 - 'The police reacted by issuing a statement that Sunday night reiterating that PC Neil had found the body...' - Perhaps Ed Stow can tell us who within the police was responsible for 'issuing' statements.  Or does he perhaps just mean that a reporter spoke to an officer within the police? The difference is important because a statement issued by the police implies that all the facts and information within the possession of the police had  been considered at a high level (and thus Mizen's version of events was known) whereas one officer speaking to the press simply indicates he was talking about what was known to that particular officer, perhaps in just one particular division.

FISHTAKE 5 - 'It was an obligation [at an inquest] to give one's true name and, in all instances, where an alias or alternative name was used and known about, the true name would also be given'.  This is simply false. There was no such obligation, especially in the case of a man with two fathers (one by birth and one stepfather).  And it comes from the 'pen' of the same person who, on JTR Forums on 23 October 2019, said: 'I have nothing against conjecture - it is a necessary evil in this business.  But making up basic facts to support a case is frankly ridiculous.'   What else has Ed Stow done here but make up a basic fact to support a case?   For a fair summary of the true legal position, see my post #19 in the thread 'Lechmere/Cross "name issue" Part 2' here .

FISHTAKE 6 - 'Lechmere seems to have been trying to mask his identity for some reason'.  Not if he was commonly known as Charles Cross in the area.  Giving his correct address to the inquest does not appear to be the action of someone trying to mask his identity.

FISHTAKE 7 - 'We know that in over 100 records in his life (including several in 1888) he called himself Lechmere and and never Cross'  - We know no such thing. The so-called 100+ records have never been revealed, despite requests.  If they constitute a very small number of categories (such as 30 years of electoral register entries in one category) then the number of one hundred is meaningless.

FISHTAKE 8 - 'One correspondent at the inquest, who wrote for the Star, recorded Lechmere's correct address.  No other reporter even got an approximation.  Did he mumble it?  Did he neglect to declare it and the Star obtained it from the clerk during the recess?'  Perhaps Stow could explain how Lechmere could have neglected to declare his address when, just like every other civilian witness, he would have been asked to state it at the beginning of his testimony.  Why does he not consider the possibility of bad acoustics or someone coughing when he stated his address?  

FISHTAKE 9 - 'In contrast to the other witnesses, Lechmere was also described as appearing in his work clothes' .  Except that Inspector Spratling was described by the East London Observer journalist on 8 September 1888 as 'a keen-eyed man with iron grey hair and beard, dressed in the regulation blue of the force'.   Those were, I think, his work clothes. Also, Robert Mann and James Hatfield were both described as appearing at the inquest on 17 September 1888 while wearing their 'workhouse uniform' (Daily News, 18 September 1888) which would presumably have been their work clothes at the mortuary just as one can only presume that the 'rough sack apron'  or 'coarse sacking apron' that Lechmere was described as wearing was part of his work clothes.  We also don't know if the 'ragged coat, and dark brown trousers' which the 'shabbily dressed' John Richardson was described as wearing (East London Observer 8 September 1888) were his work clothes as a market porter, nor if the 'black skirt, blue body, white apron, black shawl and black crape-trimmed bonnet' was what 'Mary Hardman' wore while working at her cat's meat store.  It's perfectly possible that Lechmere gave evidence at the inquest on his way home from work or even during his working day.  That would be a very simple explanation for why he gave evidence wearing his apron.  Stow says that it was bizarre that he didn't take the apron off but doesn't provide any evidence as to whether this would have been regarded as bizarre at an inquest in 1888.  He claims that Lechmere was 'trying to look the part' of an anonymous humble carman.  But as he WAS a carman he didn't really need to look the part did he?  That's what he was.

FISHTAKE 9 - 'By the time Lechmere appeared, the police investigation was already well underway and on a different track with a seemingly promising suspect called Leather Apron'.  There is no reason to think that the police ever regarded 'Leather Apron' as a 'seemingly promising suspect'.  Inspector Helson's report of 7 September 1888 noted that there was 'no evidence whatsoever against him'.

FISHTAKE 10 - 'When Paul left his house, he would have been walking some forty yards behind Lechmere all the way up to the time when he actually saw him in the road'.  This is frankly nonsense and nothing more than a guess.  If Paul walked much faster than Lechmere then it destroys all such guesstimates.  Without knowing the relative walking speeds of the two men - and bearing in mind that Lechmere stopped for an unspecified amount of time to look at the body which he initially thought was tarpaulin (which would certainly affect the relative distances between the two men at the time Lechmere turned into Bucks Row)  - it's simply not possible to state that Paul would have been 40 yards behind Lechmere the entire time from the moment he left his house.  

FISHTAKE 11 - 'Neither Lechmere nor Paul reported any blood despite being literally in touching distance of the body, nor did they get any on themselves...'.  How does Stow know they didn't get any blood on themselves?  Where is the evidence for it?  Neither of them were asked about it.  But what would Stow have said if Lechmere DID have blood on his clothes or hands?  Surely it would have been used as evidence that he had committed the murder.  In other words, if Lechmere had no blood on him he was guilty, if he had blood on him he was guilty!  He cannot win.

FISHTAKE 12 - 'Lechmere...said he left home at 3.30 am'.  According to the Daily News of 4 September 1888, Lechmere's evidence was that: 'On Friday morning he left home about half past three to go to work'.  The wording in Stow's chapter, omitting the word 'about', is, by strange coincidence, almost exactly the same as the wording in the briefing note prepared for James Scobie QC (as glimpsed on the famous TV documentary) which was that Lechmere was 'reported as saying he left home for work at 3.30am'.  If you tell a barrister that someone left home AT 3.30 and was next known to be standing near a dead body fifteen minutes later, at a place seven minutes walk from his home (see below), then it is an obvious and simple conclusion that there is a missing eight minutes in which that person could have done anything.  But by omitting the word 'about' from Lechmere's evidence you've loaded the dice against him unfairly.  The fact that Stow adds by way of caveat that 'Timings can never be relied upon absolutely' does not exonerate him from this Fishtake because he's misrepresented the nature of the timing by omitting the word 'about'.

FISHTAKE 13 '..yet seems to have taken fifteen minutes to cover the seven minutes to Buck's Row' . Again let's remind ourselves of what Ed Stow posted on JTR Forums: 'I have nothing against conjecture - it is a necessary evil in this business.  But making up basic facts to support a case is frankly ridiculous.'  How can Ed Stow possibly state as a fact that it was seven minutes from Doveton Street to Bucks Row in 1888?  The route that Lechmere would most likely have taken no longer exists.  And any modern timing will depend on walking speed.  If you walk faster or slower you could easily walk the modern route at least a minute or two on either side of seven minutes. 

FISHTAKE 14 - 'his involvement in the case became a secret from his family'.  This is a good example of how a reasonable statement can turn into an unsupported conclusion.  Earlier in the piece, Stow said that 'We know that future generations of his family were ignorant of his involvement in the case'.  Well I didn't know this as it happens, not having ever spoken to any of them, but accepting it is correct doesn't mean that it was a 'secret' from his family in 1888.  They might all have known it but just not mentioned it to 'future generations'.  Why should they have done?   

There are plenty of other dubious claims in the article which don't quite reach the level of 'Fishtake' but there is one more 'elephant in the room' type issue that needs to be raised.  I don't want to make cheap personal points but one can hardly ignore that it is stated at the end of the article that 'Edward Stow graduated in History from Queen Mary College in the East End'.  If we check the records of Queen Mary College will we find a record of an 'Edward Stow'?  I think not.  The author of this chapter seems to be using an 'alternative' name.  Why? Should we assume he has murdered someone?  If not, why should we assume that Charles Lechmere did?

So 14 Howlers in a 13 page chapter compared to 13 Fishtakes in a 10 page chapter.  Who was the worst Jack the Ripper writer in the book 'Who Was Jack the Ripper?'?  I'll leave it to you to decide. 

Finally, a quick word about the book itself.  The one thing I would say about it is that it is very well presented and nicely published, with a good font and layout.  My main criticism would be the absence of footnotes throughout, making it difficult in many cases to assess the accuracy of the information presented (and the absence of picture credits is also noted) but I would nevertheless say that, as long as one bears in mind what I have said about the chapters on Tumblety and Lechmere, it's a useful book for assessing the state of knowledge (or lack of it) regarding the identity of the person or persons known as Jack the Ripper.


Lord Orsam
24 November 2019