by Keith Skinner -- 19th January 1997
One of the early indications that the alleged Maybrick Diary (Journal) might well be an old document was when Melvin Harris proclaimed it was a modern fake. This was an honestly expressed belief which Mr. Harris has resolutely adhered to since July 1993. Its value lies in providing us with the opportunity to examine and test the informed opinion and undeniable knowledge upon which Mr. Harris rests his case.
Melvin Harris has recently described me as Paul Feldman's 'paid henchman.' It therefore follows that, bristling with menace, I should respond on behalf of Paul to Mr. Harris's article in the December 1996 issue of The Ripperologist -- THE MAYBRICK WILL: The Crucial Key to a Shabby Hoax.
I do not, however, intend to debate Melvin Harris's observations on Alexander MacDougall's representation of James Maybrick's Will. Paul Feldman will defend his interpretation of the existing Will in his forthcoming book Jack the Ripper -- The Final Chapter. My own position is that, evidentially, there are unresolved historical peculiarities surrounding the circumstances under which the Will was signed -- and this, curiously, is reflected in the text of the Journal. The easy explanation, of course, is that, as this information was in the public domain, so it has just been creatively woven into the Journal. I can accept that, but this implies a certain degree of required and acquired knowledge of the Maybrick Case. A certain amount of thought and preparation in order to slip in an arcane, esoteric detail. And yet I keep on being told that this Journal is an 'amateurish fake'; 'a crude forgery': something which was 'knocked together' as a practical joke to play on Michael Barrett!
What puzzles me, then, is Melvin Harris's need to devote so much time and discussion to James Maybrick's Will, when, apparently, he is cognizant of the identities of the people who are meant to have created the Journal. In December 1994, the Evening Standard quoted Melvin Harris as claiming: "The identities of the three people involved in the forgery will soon be made known."
According to Mr. Harris, "this Diary falls within the scope of the Forgery and Counterfeit Acts..." Scotland Yard are meant to be quietly monitoring the situation ready to swoop when one of the forgers slips up and gives the game away. I suppose the conspirators might have reasonably wondered whether Michael Barrett's headline confession, admitting he forged the diary, could have been something of a give-away. Fortunely for them, Mr. Barrett was unable to explain how he forged the sixty-three handwritten pages -- and has since stated that, in fact, he was given the Journal by Tony Deveraux, and that is all he ever knew about its provenance. I understand that Mr. Barrett has now retracted his original retraction (also independently made on his behalf by his solicitor), and is currently working closely with a private investigator, in Liverpool, to search out conclusive proof that he, Michael Barrett, did forge the Journal. All of this activity must be totally bewildering and confusing for his fellow conspirators -- as it is for the rest of us.
But who are these co-conspirators? Who are these three people? At the last count I was up to ten, including Michael Barrett. The theory has also been seriously advanced that Paul Feldman is behind the whole enterprise, in a brilliantly masterminded operation, to invest a fortune in investigating a hoax and attempting to authenticate a Journal, for which he was responsible for creating in the first place!
An immediately worrying problem here is that Paul Begg and myself were instrumental in actually introducing Paul Feldman to the Journal. This could account for the reason Paul (Begg) and I are deeply suspicious of each other's role in the conspiratorial chain whenever we meet.
Melvin Harris has written that 'every hoax contaminates the fields of honest research.' I support that view, although not wholly, as it makes no allowance for the valuable historical data which may be discovered in the process of researching the hoax. Also, the idea for the hoax might have been inspired by an old tradition which, in itself, merits further research -- as with the genesis of Joseph Sickert's original story. If Mr. Harris, therefore, could just identify for us who actually is involved in this collusion, and provide the supporting proof, then it will probably banish James Maybrick's canditature as "Jack the Ripper" to the realms of fiction.
It surely cannot be that difficult? Indeed, does not Melvin Harris have a duty and moral obligation to go to the authorities and present them with his evidence? Or is he waiting for Michael Barrett (who presumably knows who his fellow conspirators are) to confirm that he has the correct names?