by Richard Scheib
My fascination with the Ripper case began several years ago when I became interested in writing a Ripper novel which would contrast both the point-of-view of The Ripper and the police hunt. I was however somewhat dissatisfied with many of the attempts to pin the Ripper's identity on various suspects. Instead I wanted to approach my book from the point-of-view of what was known about The Ripper and, using behavioural profiling techniques, build up a picture of what person The Ripper had to be, rather than playing the game of match-the-identity-to-the-historical-character. In so doing I eliminated the majority of the classical suspects.
To my annoyance however my novel was beaten to the punch by the diary which went and undercut my idea of writing from the point-of-view of The Ripper. (Some diary proponents argue that my critique is simply sour grapes about having been beaten to the punch but I can assure that this is not the case - I have far more ideas for fiction than I ever have time to write or even fully develop as ideas. I would hope that the arguments I offer here are strong enough to stand on their own whether or not I may have underlying reasons to offer them).
I have observed the debate over the diary's authenticity with considerable interest. Here follows an extended critique of the pro-debate.
(NB. Throughout my argument here, to prevent confusion I use the term the diary in lower case to refer to the text that is purportedly written by James Maybrick and use the phrase `The Diary' capitalized and in inverted commas to refer to the hardcover book I have which contains the diary and speculation by Shirley Harrison).
I am not steeped well enough in the history of the period to be able to pull the diary apart on the grounds of historical accuracy. My approach however is from the point-of-view of the logic used to purportedly `prove' the diary's authenticity.
The majority of the authenticity proponents seem to have begun from the prefundamental assumption that the diary is either true or else appears to have had their initial scepticism defused by the diary's close adherence to facts of both The Ripper and Maybrick cases, the apparent authenticity of its age, and a number of points of evidence that appear to corroborate the case.
I however remain sceptical. If the diary is a hoax then these would be the things that any determined hoaxer would pay careful attention to. Many of the arguments for the diary's authenticity are either circular or extremely specious. Many of these arguments - particularly those put forward by Shirley Harrison - lack logical rigour and do not stand up beyond face value. By logical examination many of the pro-diary arguments do not seem as strong as some people have made them.
Contrary to most attempts at authenticate the diary, I am not concerned with the grounds on which the diary appears to stand. Instead I reverse the question and begin my critique by asking if the diary was a fake how could the arguments as to its authenticity be explained away ? Is it possible to plausibly explain away much of the face-value authenticity of the diary ? If you can eliminate that which could be easily faked is there anything in the diary that stands up as being something that on a balance of probabilities would be unlikely, or as being extraordinarily difficult for a determined hoaxer to fabricate?
The answer I arrived at is no. There is nothing in the diary that cannot be explained as a modern forgery with rather frightening ease.
Many of the proponents seem to argue that because it would be difficult to create the diary as a hoax therefore it is impossible. This is a logical leap - difficult does not equate with impossible. On the other hand I argue it is not really that difficult at all.
What would it take to fake the diary ?
- One ledger circa turn of the century
- Either one bottle of ink from the Victorian era or the knowledge and ability to fabricate Victorian ink
- A detailed knowledge of the Ripper killings
- A detailed knowledge of the Maybrick case
- And (arguably) some knowledge of the Victorian prose style
The detail of information:-
The Ripper case has been extremely well documented. For example with my novel, in attempting to plot out The Ripper's actions, movements and what he would have seen at each crime scene and so on, I found it extremely easy to do map this out using the information contained in Donald Rumbelow's book and Begg, Fido & Skinner's `A-Z'. Therefore familiarity with the details of the Ripper case can not be held to be an argument as to the diary's authenticity - all a hoaxer needs to do is probably go to their local library.
The question then has to be asked is - how difficult would it have been to do the same with the details of Maybrick's life ? The answer is partly given in the bibliography of `The Diary' which lists no less than nine books dealing with the Maybrick case. Some of these date from last century so one might argue that some of the books might be relatively obscure. However in that Harrison managed to track down copies, it does not seem unlikely that a hoaxer would have been able to do so as well.
For me one of the reasons I believe the diary to be contrived is its very detail of information. Just enough information is given to allow an informed reader to conclude that Maybrick and The Ripper were one and the same but without directly pointing it out. In some ways the detail works against the diary's credibility - for example when the police crime records list items that have been found on the victims or laid out at the scene of the crime, so does Maybrick; when police records mention graffiti, Maybrick remembers to bring along his chalk. Because there was a piece of Semitic graffiti at one of the crime scenes, Maybrick then rants anti-Semitically throughout the diary. Not a great deal more information about Maybrick or the Ripper that was not already known is included in the diary.
One of the credible arguments offered in favour of the diary is how a cross-check with Maybrick's doctor's appointments and social calendar has shown that Maybrick was not in Liverpool on any of the dates of the killings. Harrison does not include copies of these so it is difficult to conclude from this type of argument whether it strongly supports the diary's case or not. For eg. if Maybrick attended his doctor several times a week and held social functions most weekends then it would be, if Maybrick only went to his doctor once a month and entertained twice a year it would allow extremely wide margins. The question I would ask is how many windows of opportunity do these dates allow ? All that Maybrick is required to do is be free on five nights of one year. How busy was Maybrick in 1888 ? And how difficult would it have been for a hoaxer to get ahold of the records of Maybrick's doctor and social calendar ? It must also be noted that conveniently we do not have any dates in the diary, thus cutting down on the number of possible contradictions an independent search might turn up.
Further argument from the doctor's records really doesn't prove much. The Ripper killings all occurred on weekends. I'm not that well versed on the professional habits of doctors in Victorian England but there are not many doctors that stay open for appointments on weekends these days.
Try as `The Diary' might it is left with the one glaring fact that the handwriting of the diary, Maybrick's will and the Dear Boss letters simply do not match one another. Many extraordinarily specious arguments are offered up to get around this, but this one glaring fact remains.
To argue that the handwriting between the diary and the Dear Boss letters is different because Maybrick was not used to letter writing when he wrote the Dear Boss letters is just speculative nonsense. So too are the arguments that Maybrick wrote the Dear Boss letters in a hurry. Handwriting does not significantly change whether you are in a hurry or whether you have time to compose what you are saying or not - it may become more scrawled but the shape of your pen stroke, the emphasis you place does not. Furthermore the Dear Boss letters are written without errors (other than spelling) and without words having been crossed-out which suggests that The Ripper had at least mentally composed what he was going to say rather than was writing it as it came into his head, so there are no real reasons to assume that the Dear Boss letters were written in any particular hurry. Similarly the Michael Blucher letter written to Maybrick's brother and quoted in `The Diary' shows that Maybrick had no problems with letter writing so it cannot be argued that Maybrick was unfamiliar with letter writing. Thus one argument proves to complete speculation without any basis of foundation and does not stand up in the light of existing evidence.
The argument that Maybrick's brothers faked his will is an entire piece of speculation that has been drawn as a result of a very dubious piece of hearsay evidence. The only claim that the will is a fake is based on the misspelling of Maybrick's daughter's name and the servant's claim that Maybrick yelled he did not want to be harassed with business while on his deathbed. It is an absolutely extraordinary leap to go from there to say that the will is a fake. And notedly the sole reason for sustaining this argument is to cast doubt upon the authenticity of the only piece of independent Maybrick handwriting.
Anna Koren quotes the example of the handwriting changes of a women with 97 multiple personalities as proof that handwriting changes do occur. And indeed in cases of split personality or, to give its psychological term, Multiple Personality Disorder, extreme changes in behaviour, handwriting, even in spectacle prescriptions are well-documented. However there is nothing in the diary or anywhere else to suggest that James Maybrick was suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. It is a huge leap to argue that the characteristics of one disturbed personality - Multiple Personality Disorder - can be applicable to another - drug addiction or psychopathology. Argument by this type of analogy is extremely false and misleading.
We should surely be able to dismiss all attempts to talk about Maybrick's handwriting and its supposed changes on the basis of one glaring fact. And this is that Maybrick's handwriting does not change within the course of the diary. There are some minor fluctuations in size and scrawl but these are not uncommon fluctuations within the course of anybody's writing - I can show you the fluctuations in size that have occur in my own handwritten journals and can also assure you that I am not anymore psychologically disordered a personality than any other person. And while the handwriting in the diary does change slightly it certainly does not change by the significant amounts that we are being asked to believe occurs between it and the other documents.
When it comes to handwriting `The Diary' is willing to argue consistency when it suits its case and dismiss it when it doesn't. Harrison is happy to argue that the most substantial pieces of Maybrick and Ripper handwriting are not really what they appear to be, yet is then happy to turn around and argue in favour of the similarities between the diary and other exceedingly slender pieces of handwriting when it suits her to make connections. It seems the height of preposterousness to dismiss the Ripper letters and Maybrick will on the grounds of everything from personality changes to speculated conspiracies by his brothers and then argue the similarity between the diary's handwriting and two indistinct initials on a wall (the FM at the Kelly murder site) that were not even revealed until detailed photographic analysis and the `James/Juwes' that has been copied down in the handwriting of another police officer on the grounds that it is presumed that the police would copy it with a good likeness.
If Maybrick was trying to disguise his handwriting so as not to have the Dear Boss letter identified by the police, why did he not try to disguise his graffiti or the FM initials on the wall ? Or just as equally if Maybrick thought himself so superior as to leave taunting clues for the police all over the crime scenes, why would he have taken the time to disguise his handwriting in a letter ?
The more one tries to reason out `The Diary's handwriting arguments the more and more absurd its attempts to make its own case seem.
An avenue that nobody has looked into is comparison of the syntax and language of the diary. Even more so than the issue of handwriting, if one compares the language of the diary to that of the Dear Boss letter, the two clearly do not appear to be written by the same person. The diary is written in a very high-flown Victorian style - it appears very much in the manner of novels of the period (which is probably where a hoaxer would get their style from). The style of the diary is also very much at odds with the Michael Blucher letter quoted in Chapter 11, the only other piece of authentic Maybrick writing quoted throughout. The Blucher letter again is very Victorian in tone and has a tendency toward the high-flown style, but the sentences are very long and verbose, unlike those in the diary. The Dear Boss letters however appear written by someone less educated and more working class - the prose is short, sharp and taunting, the lexicography very vernacular and lacking in the more measured and clearly educated writing in the diary. I have spent several years professionally editing other's peoples prose and am very familiar with style - to me none of these documents seem to be written by the same person.
The writing in the diary is poorly spelt in places but this clearly jars with the more educated style of the writing. I don't believe someone who would be educated enough to construct their sentences like the diarist does would on the other hand be so poorly educated that they would spell badly throughout.
An eminently likely reason however is that the hoaxer, in an attempt to make the diary match the Dear Boss letter, has attempted to emulate the Dear Boss letter's style of spelling (and other things like starting sentences in lower case). However the hoaxer has failed to match the syntax.
Furthermore the diarist does not make many mistakes. There are many sections that have been crossed out, however these are crossed out in toto. At no point does the diarist cross out because of a spelling mistake or because he has started a word or a sentence and then thought of a different tack. Usually when someone handwrites they will do either of two things - compose their thoughts very carefully and then commit them to paper thus not making many mistakes; or else they will write as something occurs to them, crossing out as they revise what they are thinking. However relatively complex sentences such as the ones Maybrick is using generally need to be carefully composed unless one has a real talent for writing - but when Maybrick writes they come out with ease and careful forethought and little in the way of revision. For someone who is under the effects of drugs one would expect much more chaotic construction and writing. If you doubt me about this try writing in a carefully composed way and without making mistakes while you are under the influence of alcohol or even marijuana - your ability to work with aforethought is severely weakened. Maybrick does cross out much but only entire sentences and paragraphs after they have been written. He does not cross out words after he has started them and realized they did not make sense or he had spelled them wrong, the way most people do when handwriting.
The forensic tests seem to back up the age of the diary, however they do not definitely do so, as the courts would say, beyond a reasonable doubt. Neither do the paper nor the ink tests rule out the possibility of a modern forgery, according to their examiners. I have yet to hear anybody say the date of the diary is conclusive.
Is it possible then to construct the diary as a fake ? All that is apparently needed is a ledger of the right age and some ink of the right age. These would be difficult to obtain, but not impossible. What I would be interested in knowing would be - if Victorian ink could be replicated today, is there any way one could tell the difference between it and similar ink that had been applied to paper in the 1880s. For example would the older ink have aged in any way ? These might be further avenues which could be looked into.
In Martin Howells documentary about the diary David Forshaw points to the missing pages in the ledger as proof of their authenticity, saying that Maybrick may have torn out other diary pages that had been written there. This is an extremely speculative line of argument. What seems to me the most obvious and eminently more plausible explanation of the missing pages is not even considered - that the hoaxer obtained a ledger or diary circa 1880s, ripped these pages out because they had other material on them and wrote in the rest of the ledger.
Harrison's arguments are often self-justifying. She wants to prove the diary to be genuine and seems to invent excuses when the diary contradicts known facts. For example the diary gets it wrong when it refers to Michael Maybrick as being a lyricist as opposed to a music writer. Rather than see this is a mistake and possible grounds for the diary's dubiousness, Harrison instead speculates that Maybrick may not have known this information because he was not close to his brother. It is a wholly spurious argument offered to dodge a potential mistake. Notedly Harrison is unwilling to be consistent and argue that Maybrick may not have been close to his daughter when it comes to the question of the misspelling of her name on the will.
Perhaps one of the most amazing pieces is the reference to the use of Elizabeth Stride's knife. Here Harrison incredibly prefers what the diary says about Maybrick using the knife to the police account of having found the knife two days before. "Up until now researchers mistakenly dated the discovery of the knife to two days before the murder," she says. The diary apparently takes precedence over the known facts of the case.
At another point Harrison addresses the placement of Mary Kelly's severed breasts. Where the diary makes a genuine mistake upon two occasions about where the breasts were placed, Harrison, rather than admit that it makes errors, goes out of her way to find reasons for the mistake.
Yet another leap of speculation is to try and argue that the name S.E. Mibrac on a hotel register could be James Maybrick. The names have a vague similarity. But it is about the same as trying to argue, if I use the case of your name, that S. Ryder and a name like M.H. Rydall could be the same person. Coincidence does occur in the real world.
Anyway why would Maybrick have bothered to create different initials for himself. Why for that matter would Maybrick have signed a register with a slightly different surname ? Why only sign a partially similar name and give completely different initials ? If he was trying to keep his whereabouts unknown why not sign a completely different name ?
All eyewitness descriptions of The Ripper place him in his 30s, not his 50s. There is quite a difference between someone in their 30s and someone in their 50s - a person in their 50s will usually have graying hair, certainly Maybrick does in his photos. Harrison argues at one point that people could have been mistaken in their description of The Ripper. Be that as it may, it is very difficult to argue that every eyewitness could have mistaken in their placing of The Ripper's age, the one point on which most eyewitnesses seem to concur.
`The Diary' also claims similarities between the Daily Telegraph artist's rendering of The Ripper and Maybrick. Again this is extraordinarily specious. About the only real point of similarity is the fact that the two have a mustache. `The Diary' tries to argue similarity of hair - yet the figure in the drawing is wearing a hat ! Too much is taken from the drawing - the inaccuracy of artist's descriptions of Wanted posters is well known.
Harrison uses arguments when they buttress up her case however conveniently neglects to use them when they could be used against her case. For example she speculates that Maybrick may well have confused the fact that his brother did not write the lyrics of his songs because he was not close to him. Yet when it comes to attempting to disprove the authenticity of the Maybrick will, she will use the complete reverse of the argument as proof that the will is a fake. Is it not plausible to ask that if Maybrick was so distanced from his brother that he could confuse his profession, that he could not equally have been distanced enough from his daughter to misspell her name ? It seems absurd to argue that Maybrick is distanced from one member of his family enough to make a forgivable mistake, yet could not at all be distanced from another member of his family enough to misspell her name (and crucially to misspell her name on a document that could disprove the entire diary) ?
Furthermore Harrison elsewhere (in an attempt to explain the dissimilarities between the diary and the Dear Boss) letter argues that Maybrick was not a letter writer. (A spurious argument - there isn't much difference between writing letters and diaries). To take her argument, it is it not possible to argue that Maybrick (however much he may have been a good father) was similarly not used to writing his daughter's name and misspelled it.
I don't think misspelling a person's name is all that big a mistake. For example I have a sister named Phillipa whom I am not particularly close to - upon the occasions I write to her I cannot for the life of me remember the right number of p's and l's her name is meant to have.
Again Harrison is willing to stretch possibility to proof. The fact that Webster's and the OED consider the phrase `one-offs's usage may predate its dictionary date by up to 50 years does not necessarily indicate such is the case.
It is very suspicious that the diary chooses to dwell upon the very well documented Ripper killings but not the other killings or the attack in Liverpool. I would be interested to know what research has been done into trying to find information about these. At all other points the diary goes into great detail about the killing of the canonical Ripper victims, of Maybrick's mindset, yet the details of these other killings are left deliberately vague. Could it be that the hoaxer did this deliberately, not wanting to trip themself up should any information be located concerning such victims ?
There is nothing beyond supposition to really indicate that the will is a fake. The misspelling of Evelyn's name is a forgivable mistake. `The Diary' questions the will's authenticity on the grounds that Maybrick made most of the money and the care of the children over to his brothers and left Florrie only a pittance, yet conveniently ignores the fact the entire diary is 54 pages of ranting psychopathic hatred against Florrie. In light of the supposed authenticity of the diary it should surely be no particular surprise that the will doesn't give her much at all.
`The Diary' makes much of Alexander MacDougall's quote that it was "a will which no court in any civilized country could have regarded as a will made in his sound senses by any husband and father". The point should be made that Maybrick was not in `his sound senses' - he was suffering from arsenic poisoning and, if the diary is to believed, from violent mood swings and psychopathic rages. Furthermore for MacDougall's claim that no civilized country would uphold such a will, the will was upheld by the British courts so this is a rather shaky argument in the diary's favour.
Martin Howells' documentary implies that Florie killed Maybrick because she found out he was The Ripper. There is the attempt to suggest that the phrase in her letter `the tale he told me was pure fabrication and only intended too frighten the truth out of me' refers to such. Certainly depending where one places the emphasis in the sentence it can be made to suggest that he told her such. But the crucial emphasis in the sentence is surely the phrase `frightening the truth out of her'. A reading of this less informed by `The Diary' could suggest a far more innocent interpretation - that Maybrick may have hinted he saw her do something with Briereley or somebody else in an attempt to elicit information. Read in the context of the rest of the letter this explanation would seem eminently more likely than any read-in implications about The Ripper. Certainly if Maybrick had taunted her about being The Ripper surely she would have reacted in a more shocked manner in her letter than she did and surely a good deal more so if it is to be argued that she was shocked enough to poison him. If anything the attempt to use this letter to argue in favour of her poisoning Maybrick also defeats the argument as the letter also blatantly states that `the tale he told me was pure fabrication' indicating that she did not believe it.
I have not read her book, `My Fifteen Lost Years', but surely if she wrote a book about what happened to her, then might she not have mentioned the fact that her husband was or claimed to be Jack the Ripper ?
Certainly the `FM' at the Kelly murder site is one convincing clue in favour of the diary's authenticity. Although equally as much the FM could be read as a PM.
I am suspicious of the `M' on the ripped envelope at the Chapman murder site. I am not certain whether `The Diary' is trying to argue that the `M' was ripped off an envelope that it was already written on or if it is trying to argue that the M had been written on a piece of torn envelope. If the latter then there is no problem. If the former then is it possible that the M is the first letter of the title the person it is addressed to ie. Mr James Maybrick or Miss Annie Chapman. It is surely very unlikely that the M represents Maybrick - people don't address letters simply to the surname of the addressee. But if it is a Mr or Mrs or Miss, then it could just as equally be anybody.
The most specious argument of all the shaky logic attempted in `The Diary' is surely the Juwes/James argument. The attempt to argue that Juwes is simply an illegibly scrawled James is an audacious piece of reasoning, almost as audacious as Stephen Knight's attempt to connect the phrase Juwes with the Freemasons. In both cases the arguments fall down because the authors consider the phrase Juwes out of the context with the piece of graffiti. The graffiti reads `The Juwes are not the men who will be blamed for nothing'. Read as a sentence the only real meaning it can have is in relation to the Semitic race. Knight's reasoning falls down upon closer examination - why would Freemason assassins stop while fleeing from the scene of the crime to write a piece of cryptic graffiti ? And why would Freemasons, who normally conduct their affairs with the utmost secrecy, so willfully advertise their presence ?
`The Diary's argument falls down for similar reasons Knight's does - whether Juwes refers to Freemason assassins or to James Maybrick, the reference makes little or no sense within the context of the rest of the sentence. The sentence `The James are not the men who will be blamed for nothing' makes no sense whatsoever. Granted Maybrick appeared to like playing word games but why write his name in a sentence that has no meaning to it whatsoever. He doesn't in the rest of the diary. Perhaps it could be argued he was not used to graffiti writing !!!!
Surely the most plausible explanation for the graffiti is the most obvious one. It is simply a piece of graffiti, nothing else. There is no proof that it came from The Ripper's hand. The sentence makes perfect sense - if rather poor grammar - when read exactly as it is. It is clearly written by someone who could not spell very well and the rest of the sentence is consummate with suggesting that the author was rather poorly schooled and lacking in knowledge of the grammatic fine points. Any attempts to argue that it contains hidden meanings is only really intellectual game playing.
Once again the forensic examination does not rule out the possibility of a sophisticated modern forgery.
You may accuse me of being overly cynical - then I guess if the diary is a fake then I am entitled to - but I would like to see a piece of corroborating evidence that has been independently unearthed.
Martin Howells documentary tries to compare the diary's handwriting and the etching on the watch. I am not a handwriting expert but it seems to me that there would be a great deal of difference between ink pen handwriting and etching on brass. They are very different mediums. Scratching into metal would require much greater effort of the hand than handwriting would. Thus it would not be possible to conduct etched writing in the same naturally flowing style that handwriting comes in. I conducted some tests of this prior to writing and the two forms of writing came out wildly differently. Etching would not be expected to be the same as handwriting. And if it is then it would surely indicate that the writer had made some effort to make their written script resemble their etched script. And if that is the case we should surely be suspicious of an example where someone had gone to the effort of making the two writings appear to be the same.
Perhaps one of the most spurious arguments that is offered up in favour of the diary's authenticity is the means by which it came to light. As everyone points out the means by which it came to light - that it is traced to someone who has now conveniently died - is very murky. But one of the most ridiculous arguments offered is that this proves its authenticity. This is the use of reverse psychology - that the origin of the diary is so obviously questionable that no hoaxer in their right mind would use it therefore the diary has to be true and is utterly absurd reasoning.