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Problems with the Macnaghten Memoranda
by Scott Hannaford

Although Sir Melville Macnaughten did not join Scotland Yard until 1889, ie after the final Ripper murder, his notes on the case have been used as the basis for study of a majority of researchers.

There still exist two versions of the memoranda - the Aberconway version which was discovered in 1959, and the Scotland Yard version as seen by Donald Rumbelow in 1975. These two both detail Montague Druitt, Aaron Kosminski and Michael Ostrog, and also refute the claims against Thomas Cutbush.

Macnaughten's grandson Gerald Donner also had a copy, which was seen by Phillip Loftus in the 1950's. Unfortunately Loftus did not take a copy of the memorandum, and could only recall that it described (i) Michael [sic] John Druitt ... (ii) a feeble minded man who stabbed girls with nail scissors (either Cutbush or Coldicott) and (iii) a Polish cobbler nicknamed Leather Apron.

The Donner version has never resurfaced, which is unfortunate as it would show the evolution of Macnaughten's theories. It may have also held details as to whether or not this Leather Apron was indeed Pizer. Because of its disappearance researchers now use either of the two existing documents.

Whilst the documents are important in that they introduce three plausable suspects, they should be used with caution as in hindsight we can see that they have too many errors which cast doubt on the validity of the supects and call into question the reliability of Macnaughten- a police officer not directly involved with the events of 1888.

In both versions of the memoranda Macnaughten writes that "no-one ever saw the Whitechapel Murderer". This clearly contradicts the beliefs of Anderson and Swanson and the statements of Lawende and Schwartz. Major Henry Smith believed that Lawende saw the Ripper, whilst Scotland Yard file MEPO 3/140 207 puts Schwartz as a very important witness- the file mentions "the opinion arrived at in this office upon the evidence of Schwartz at the inquest in Stride's case". So it is clear that the Police believed that Lawende had seen Eddowe's assailant (ie Jack the Ripper), whereas Schwartz had seen Strides (probably a different killer-note the MO differs drastically).

The Aberconway version contains the passage "I am inclined to exonerate the last two [Kosminski and Ostrog]", so why did he bother to mention them at all if he did not believe them guilty?

Macnaughten's description of the three suspects has far too many errors considering that he was supposed to have had access to all of the files. He described Druitt as bein a doctor of 41 years of age, whilst he was actually a teacher/failed barrister and aged 31. He also wrote that Druitt was sexually insane, and although it is clear that Druitt was indeed a paranoid depressive, he killed himself to prevent insanity (going like mother).

The Scotland Yard version oulines "a rational theory that ... he (the killer) immediately committed suicide or was confined in some assylum"; the latter clearly refers to Kosminski and Ostrog, so the former must be a reference to Druitt. He did not commit suicide immediately after Millers Court, but probably between 1st and 3rd December, a good three weeks later.

On Kosminski the memoranda are only inaccurate as to the date of his incarceration. He was not removed to an assylum "about March 1889", but spent three days in Mile End Infirmary in July 1890 and was then admitted into Colney Hatch Assylum in February 1891, ie two years later.

Both memoranda describe Ostrog as being a homocidal maniac, but a glance at his criminal record does not confirm this. He was a liar, thief and con-artist, and despite an attempt to throw himself under a train whilst handcuffed to a Policman, was not a homocidal maniac.

The three suspects have been considered in detail by many researchers, and it is difficult to make a strong case against any of them. It has been suggested, probably correctly, that Macnaughten named these three at random, taking them from a long list of equally plausable suspects.

It must be wondered why a senior officer who had access to all of the files could produce such an error-strewn document on three unlikely suspects. The answer is probably that Macnaughten wrote the memorandum simply to refute the ridiculous accusations against Thomas Cutbush (his uncle had been a Police Superintendent), and as the case against Cutbuch was practically non-existent, he could do this with ease even using three other unlikelys.

Macnaughten was not even a part of Scotland Yard in 1888, and his knowledge of the murders is all second and third hand. Whilst it is not a fake like the Maybrick Journal, or a hoax like the Gorman/Sickert story (and I apologise for putting it in the same passage as the two), the number of errors and Macnaughten's second-hand knowledge means that researchers should use the documents with trepidation.

I would welcome any comments.

Scott Hannaford
BA Undergraduate in History
Worcester College England


Related pages:
  Melville Macnaghten
       Dissertations: A Mystery Play : Police Opinions on Jack the Ripper 
       Dissertations: Emily and the Bibliophile: A Possible Source for Macnaght... 
       Message Boards: Melville Leslie Macnaghten 
       Official Documents: The Macnaghten Memoranda 
       Police Officials: Melville Leslie Macnaghten 
       Press Reports: Coshocton Tribune - 3 June 1913 
       Press Reports: Frederick Post - 2 June 1913 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 13 May 1921 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 16 May 1913 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 17 May 1921 
       Press Reports: Washington Post - 4 June 1913 
       Ripper Media: Days of My Years 
       Ripper Media: Days of My Years: Chapter 4 
       Ripper Media: Jack l'Eventreur Demasque 
  Scott Hannaford
       Dissertations: A Theory on Francis Tumblety 
       Dissertations: Anderson and the Swanson Marginalia