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Unmasking Jack the Ripper
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 A Ripper Notes Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.
The Strange Case of Dr. John Hewitt
by Stan Russo


Stan Russo is the author of the soon to be released The Jack the Ripper Suspects: Persons Cited by Investigators and Theorists, published by McFarland & Co. It can be ordered through www.mcfarlandpub.com or participating bookstores.

___

 

In 1985 an accountant named Steward Hicks proposed an entirely new suspect for the murderer popularly known as Jack the Ripper. After discovering his name in the records of the Lunacy Commission in London, Hicks relayed his new idea to legendary true crime historian Colin Wilson, who had become a self proclaimed "clearing house" for theories on the case. Hicks recalled the story told by Sir Osbert Sitwell, in 1947 and again in 1950, of a young veterinary student who aroused the suspicion of his landlady due to his obsession with the murders during the time they were committed. Hicks believed he had identified this young veterinary student as Dr. John Hewitt, born in 1850, who died in 1892 of a general paralysis of the insane. With this interesting new discovery Hicks wholeheartedly believed he had found the murderer, and Wilson was incredibly optimistic about his findings.

This infamous young veterinary student, described by Osbert Sitwell, is attributed to the Victorian painter Walter Sickert. Sickert stated that the landlady of this student told him the information directly upon Sickert renting the same room. This information included that this student would stay out all night on specific occasions, then rush to buy the earliest edition of the morning papers to read about the murders. This young man also burnt the clothes he was wearing on these nights. The student was frail, perhaps inflicted with consumption, and in ill health. Shortly after the murders ceased his widowed mother took him home to Bournemouth, where he passed away three months later. This is the story Sickert relayed to Sitwell and is now a matter of public record in connection with the case.

Hewitt, identified by Hicks as Sickert and Sitwell's veterinary student, is a fascinating suspect, complete with a number of bizarre mitigating factors surrounding his distinctive situation. He fits the major believed mindset of what the murderer must have been: a loner, without any ties to impede his murderous lust, suffering from some form of insanity and having a specific reason explaining why the murders must have ceased, in this case his having moved to Bournemouth shortly after the killings ended. Hewitt also fit the broad characteristics of what was reported about Sickert's young veterinary student, with only minor differences. However, it was his name, as opposed to his true viability as a candidate, that eventually brought Hewitt into the suspect pool, and that is where the story becomes even more intriguing.

But as absorbing as the circumstances surrounding Hewitt are, enough about him for right now though.

What defines a person as a suspect? Unfortunately there is no standard definition. Over the years, as the case has evolved, a suspect's candidacy has generally remained consistent. The primary basis for any person becoming a suspect is proposal. Without proposal, in fact, there would be no suspects. While there is no general rating scale regarding suspects to determine actual viability, many suspects rank or rate higher than others, purely from an academic standpoint. Key examples of this are that Montague John Druitt is a far likelier suspect than Lewis Carroll, and Aaron Kosminski is much more of a candidate than Joseph Fleming. In the academic community Druitt and Kosminski are generally considered primary suspects while Carroll and Fleming -- as well as numerous others such as John McCarthy, Dr. Jon William Sanders, Frederick Nicholas Charrington and the Norwegian sailor Fogelma -- are often referred to as the laughable suspects, considered by many as a waste of time and valuable research effort. One question immediately comes to mind regarding this philosophy: Why?

All of the above individuals have been proposed as the murderer, with numerous others included in that distinct group. Why the difference in opinion from one suspect to the next? There is no evidence linking anyone to the murders. This is perhaps one of the most important statements in connection with this murder case, so I shall repeat it. There is no evidence linking anyone to the murders. I must state that I am not the first researcher or theorist to make this claim in print, and this principle has now become commonplace within the field.

Why then are certain suspects viewed with a higher degree of disdain or, more to the point, an elevated laughable quotient? It appears that the way a suspect is proposed, mainly the theory of why that suspect committed the murders, is directly responsible for shaping the minds of the academic community. In fact it is more than just the mere appearance of specific suspect partiality, it is obvious that a non-malicious bias exists against certain suspects. Let's try to examine why.

The two suspects mentioned above in the category of, to nicely put it, extremely unlikely, Carroll and Fleming, were first proposed during the late 20th century. It is, however, their unique proposal that has earned these suspects, and many more like them, a relatively diminished status within the case.
The children's author Lewis Carroll, born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was first proposed as the murderer in a 1996 book written by theorist Richard Wallace. Wallace's argument, or theory, revolves around his belief that Carroll was a pedophile who displayed extreme signs of deranged psychopathology. His theory of why the murders were committed is a convoluted mish-mash of numbers games revolving around the number 42 and Carroll's own inner demons suppressed by the prim and proper Victorian era. Wallace even mentions an accomplice, Carroll's friend Thomas Vere Bayne. The theory set forth by Wallace of why Lewis Carroll committed the murders is laughable, therefore his suspect is also deemed as such.

The suspect Joseph Fleming was first proposed in the early 1990s by researcher Mark King. He discovered that a lunatic named Joseph Fleming had died in Claybury Mental Hospital in 1920. This Joseph Fleming, also known as James Evans, has never been proved to be the Joseph Fleming that Mary Kelly knew, who might have visited her in and around the time of her murder. Even King states that precaution should be taken, only suggesting that, if the two Joseph Flemings were the same person, then he should be examined as a possible suspect due to the fact that he died in a mental hospital. Distinctly less than a theory, King's suggestion is nothing more than a researcher exhausting every possible outlet, and his finds are important. With as little as is currently known about the mason or plasterer Joseph Fleming, he is widely considered as a non-suspect, despite the doubts and possibilities raised under the flag of exhaustive academic research.

Of the above two named individuals, there is a non-suspect and a laughable suspect. Both have a major element in common, despite their varying degrees of believability: the theories regarding their suspect candidacy are wholly unconvincing. In this setting, to convert a suspect to laughable status or propose a new suspect and create laughable status, only requires a wholly unconvincing theory regarding that suspect. This is much easier done than said. What is not reflected in this instance is the possibility that, outside of these unconvincing theories, the suspect actually could have committed the murders. Why then are two primary suspects, Druitt and Kosminski, still treated differently from Carroll and Fleming? It is not entirely because of the theories surrounding their candidacy. It has more to do with the impeccable sources that are responsible for their proposal, Assistant Chief Constable Melville Macnaghten and Assistant Commissioner Robert Anderson, respectively.

In 1894 Macnaghten wrote a confidential report to refute the claims of a magazine titled The Sun. This magazine claimed that the murderer was Thomas Cutbush, nephew of former superintendent Charles Cutbush. Macnaghten's goal was to refute these claims, so he offered three candidates who were considered more likely than Cutbush to have committed the murders. There are three drafts of this report, known as the Macnaghten Memorandum, and there is no doubt as to whom Macnaghten's preferred suspect was, the only suspect mentioned in all three versions: Montague John Druitt.

Macnaghten's theory about the man responsible for the Autumn of Terror in 1888 is that the killer's brain gave way after committing the horrific murder in Miller's Court and that he committed suicide. Macnaghten does offer an alternate, what he believed was a less likely version: that the murderer was confined to an asylum after his relatives found him insane. Macnaghten later adds that he believed the killer was at one time at the bottom of the Thames River, displaying his ardent belief in Druitt's guilt. In the suspect section on Druitt, right after the above statement, Macnaghten states that Druitt disappeared at the time of the Miller's Court murder. Macnaghten also claimed Druitt was a doctor and that he was about 41 years of age. These conclusions on the part of Macnaghten are the crux of his belief in Druitt's guilt.

Druitt, however, did not disappear at the time of the Miller's Court murder on November 9th. He continued his duties as both an assistant headmaster and barrister, acting as special pleader in an appeal of a voter registration case on November 22nd. Druitt also attended his monthly meeting of the Blackheath Football, Cricket and Lawn Tennis Company on November 19th, acting as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, a post he had held since 1885. Druitt was definitively not in hiding nor had he disappeared immediately after November 9th. Macnaghten also believed Druitt was a doctor. He was not. Macnaghten stated Druitt's age as 41. He was only 31. In fact, in Macnaghten's earliest draft he even gets Druitt's first name wrong, identifying him as Michael. These are the major elements of Macnaghten's theory or belief in the guilt of Montague John Druitt. All of the above elements have been shown as erroneous, yet Druitt still remains as a primary suspect today. Even those devoted Druittites, abundant in the 1960s and 1970s, have seriously decreased in numbers.

Macnaghten was around during the time of the murders, but was he an impeccable source? Hardly. He never worked one minute of any murder case in 1888. For those who do not know, Macnaghten did not join the force until June 1889. The murder of Alice McKenzie, originally investigated as part of the same case file, occurred the month after Macnaghten assumed his post, and yet few if any reports mention Macnaghten as actively taking part in the investigation.

Former Commissioner Charles Warren described Macnaghten as incompetent and blocked his original appointment in 1887. Chief Inspector Donald Swanson described Macnaghten as annoying Anderson regarding a threatening letter related to the case. Even James Monro, the man who originally offered the post to Macnaghten in 1887, chose another man for the vacated post of Chief Constable after Warren had resigned and could not block the appointment further. Macnaghten was originally intended to serve as Assistant Chief Constable and then move up to Chief Constable upon the retirement of Adolphus Williamson. Even without Warren as an impediment, Monro chose not to appoint Macnaghten to a post he was originally intended to take over. This to me shows that James Monro, Macnaghten's original attempted benefactor, also had serious doubts regarding the level of his competency.

Macnaghten would eventually rise to the position of Assistant Commissioner, but where are the accolades surrounding his career outside his report on these murders? Recollections of Macnaghten are of the general nature that he was a likable guy and held a deep interest in crime. I have not yet found a reminiscence that describes Macnaghten as an exceptional officer who made a major difference in any particular case or event. Macnaghten's impeccability as a reliable source seems highly challengeable in light of the facts of the case and those who knew him. Why does this not affect the status of Montague John Druitt as a suspect?

Kosminski was first mentioned as a suspect in the Macnaghten Memorandum, although his name only appears in two of the three versions. His re-emergence as a suspect occurred in the late 1980s, when he was identified as Robert Anderson's Polish Jew suspect. As such, Kosminski, whether it was Aaron Kosminski or another Kosminski, belongs to Anderson. There is good reason for this, although a return to Macnaghten momentarily must take place.

One of the all important questions of the case that I have not seen answered yet is why Macnaghten was chosen to write the official report to refute the claims that Thomas Cutbush was the murderer. In Macnaghten's earliest draft he names three suspects, Michael John Druitt, a Polish Jew nicknamed Leather Apron and a feeble minded man who stabbed young girls. This last suspect is a direct reference to Thomas Cutbush. The mention of these suspects, the feeble minded man in particular, also dates this earliest draft at some time during 1891. It was during this time when Macnaghten fell out of favor with the CID, but these relations were fixed somehow just prior to having Macnaghten transferred to the uniform branch.

No mention of how Macnaghten repaired his problematic relationship has surfaced, but inferential deduction leads me to believe that his difficulty began because of his constant troublesome nature regarding the murders and that the repairing of this relationship dealt specifically with Macnaghten's original draft of who the three most likely suspects were. This made Macnaghten the perfect candidate to write the confidential report that attempted to denounce Thomas Cutbush as a suspect. So how did Kosminski eventually get in there?

The man whom Macnaghten most likely had to repair his relationship with had to be Robert Anderson. And it seems that Robert Anderson is the man who supplied Macnaghten with the suspect Kosminski. From Anderson to Macnaghten, Kosminski becomes the Polish Jew suspect Leather Apron. How could this happen? The original Leather Apron was identified as John Pizer, who was cleared of the murders. The timing plays an important factor. Thomas Cutbush was incarcerated on March 5th, 1891. Kosminski was placed inside Mile End Old Town Workhouse Infirmary almost exactly one month previously, on February 4th, 1891. One of the factors for his incarceration into Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum was that Kosminski threatened his sister with a knife. A report to the police of this activity would have been standard, especially since there was a belief that the murderer might still be out there. Just one week later Frances Coles was murdered and immediate connections to the original murders sprung up. It would have been the duty of Colney Hatch to inform the authorities of what they had just learned. This is a likely possibility of how Macnaghten's Leather Apron became Kosminski.

As with Macnaghten, the question arises: Was Anderson an impeccable source? That is a serious matter for debate, and a debate that rages on today. There is a definitive division within those who study or research this case, pro-Anderson and anti-Anderson.

There are numerous instances in which Anderson's credibility can be called into question. Anderson anonymously authored articles for The Times accusing Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell of having involvement in Fenian terrorism. Parnell was eventually cleared of all charges due to a lack of any shred of evidence. In this aspect, Anderson directly lied about Parnell and as a result forced the removal of an undercover agent working within the Fenian underground movement for more than twenty years. Anderson was discussed in a recent book titled Fenian Fire, in which the author, Christy Campbell, portrays an incredibly unflattering picture of him, going so far as to insinuate he was an outright liar. Despite having been born of Irish descent, Anderson worked within the Anti-Fenian movement in England as a spymaster. He was decidedly pro-English and his loyalty was to the Queen above all. As a lifelong spy, or involved in the spy network, just how far his loyalties would have taken Anderson are up for debate. This, however, tarnishes Anderson's unimpeachable presence as an unchallengeable source.

Furthermore, I recently learned from researcher Stephen P. Ryder that within Anderson's papers at Duke University was a document about the questionable activity of one of Anderson's close friends, Sir Thomas Snagge. The document pertained to Snagge stealing a woman's purse and then running away from a police constable. The matter was not taken to the next level, yet it seems apparent that Anderson removed a possibly harmful document from police files to protect the good name of his friend. This, of course, was most likely out of the scope of following police regulations. Anderson was loyal. No one ever argues that fact. It is the extent of Anderson's loyalty that calls his character and credibility into question. Just how far would Anderson have gone in protecting what he believed in? The debate continues and appears headed nowhere.

As a reliable source Anderson is questionable at best, but what of Kosminski? Anderson's theory at its most basic form was that Kosminski was a deranged lunatic who murdered these women for the mere pleasure of the kill. The primary belief in Kosminski as a suspect is Anderson's assurance that there was a witness identification of Kosminski. Anderson never reveals the name of the witness or the name of the suspect. In 1987 Donald Swanson's personal copy of Anderson's memoirs revealed that Swanson wrote that the suspect's name was Kosminski and that the witness was also a Jew. This above all has led those pro-Andersonians to wholeheartedly believe in Kosminski's guilt. Alternate Jewish suspects David Cohen and Nathan Kaminsky have also been suggested, resulting from the firm belief that Anderson oversaw a witness identification. Why Kosminski though?

Macnaghten's naming of Kosminski as suspect number two and Swanson's identification of Kosminski as Anderson's suspect has elevated him above Cohen and Kaminsky as a suspect. Obviously Macnaghten got the name Kosminski from Anderson. It has always been assumed that Swanson was at the witness identification, but why then would he need to reveal the name Kosminski to himself? There would be no reason to, implying that Swanson was not at the identification. More importantly, this implies that Swanson received the name Kosminski directly from Anderson. Kosminski as a suspect can be solely attributed to Anderson, and his feeding Macnaghten and Swanson that suspect's name has elevated Kosminski into primary suspect status.

The information about Kosminski that appears in Swanson's notes does not match with what we know about Aaron Kosminski. Some elements do fit Kosminski, while others are in direct contradiction, most notably that Kosminski did not die shortly after his transfer to Colney Hatch. Aaron Kosminski lived on for another 28 years. As such, the information provided to Swanson regarding Kosminski was not entirely correct. If Anderson were so sure that Kosminski was the murderer, wouldn't he have known that Kosminski was still alive while writing about him in 1910, 1907, 1901 and using Major Arthur Griffiths, under his pseudonym Alfred Aylmer, to declare that he had a perfectly plausible theory in 1895? Interestingly enough, it was in 1895 when The Pall Mall Gazette attributed the most respected theory to Swanson. For such an honorable, trustworthy and impeccable person as Robert Anderson, he just couldn't allow Swanson to receive any credit he felt he might have deserved.

This finally brings us back to the case of Dr. John Hewitt. Hewitt was a patient at Coton Hill Asylum during 1888. He was a voluntary patient, who could come and go as he pleased. After learning of Hicks' discovery, Wilson boldly stated that, if records showed Hewitt was not confined inside the asylum on the nights of the murders and had absented himself from Coton Hill of his own free will, then Hicks would finally have been the person who had positively identified the murderer. Before I reveal what the records showed regarding Hewitt, I will first explain the sole reason why Hewitt was suggested as Sickert's unnamed veterinary student in the first place.

In the 1947 and 1950 books by Sitwell, he does not mention that Sickert ever told him the name of the young veterinary student. In fact, the only tease to this man's identity was that Sickert said he had scribbled the name in a book he gave to his friend Albert Rutherston. This book is believed to have unfortunately been lost during the bombings of World War II. Again, it should be reiterated that neither Sickert nor Sitwell ever provided a name to the young veterinary student suspect. So where did Hicks get the connection to the name Dr. John Hewitt from?

In 1970, theorist Donald McCormick released his second revised edition of his 1959 book The Identity of Jack the Ripper. McCormick revealed that the name of the young veterinary student was something like Druitt, Drewett, or Drewery. Interestingly enough, McCormick states he got this information from a doctor who knew Sickert and whose father had gone to school with Montague John Druitt. McCormick is wholly responsible for the naming, or approximate naming, of Sickert's suspect. There are specific reasons why.

McCormick's simple goal here is to eliminate Druitt from consideration as a suspect. At the release of McCormick's second revised edition in 1970, Druitt was considered the main suspect. By providing unsourced information about Druitt, McCormick attempted to further support his own suspect, Vassily Konovalov, by casting doubt on Druitt. McCormick even goes so far as to state that Walter Sickert was a suspect, which in 1970 he was not. He then concluded that Druitt could now be eliminated from consideration because of Sickert's tainted association to the case. It is an impressive move, yet an easy one, especially when McCormick creates all this source material out of thin air. One piece, however, was not created out of thin air, but stolen and used in McCormick's attempted ruse to abolish Druitt from the pool of suspects.

In 1959 researcher Dan Farson was gathering any and all information on "Jack the Ripper" for a television program. McCormick was on board as an adviser to the program. Within the documents sent to Farson was an Australian document allegedly written by a Lionel Druitt, Drewett, or Drewery who knew the murderer. This document was obviously seen by McCormick. This suspect was originally assumed to be Montague John Druitt, but further research by Keith Skinner and Martin Howells showed that the document pertained to another suspect, Frederick Bailey Deeming, who used the alias Drewen upon arriving in Australia. This information came to Farson prior to his receiving the Macnaghten memorandum that names the suspect Montague John Druitt. By the time Farson received the memorandum, the Australian document had vanished.

In 1970 that Australian document would surface in the revised edition of The Identity of Jack the Ripper. Without mentioning anything about the actual document, McCormick stated that Sickert's young veterinary student's name was something like Druitt or Drewett. This wording is the link to the missing Australian document sent to Farson. More importantly, McCormick's misuse of stolen material for his own theory's benefit is the sole reason why Dr. John Hewitt was proposed by Hicks as the murderer.

The records from Coton Hill Asylum did reveal that Dr. Hewitt was confined inside the asylum on the nights of the murders. This information, made public in 1988, completely exonerated Hewitt as a suspect.

Remember what Wilson stated regarding the extraordinary find of researcher Hicks, that if one hundred year old records showed Hewitt was not confined during the nights of the murders then there would be no doubt that the case was solved. There would have been a suspect just like any other lesser or laughable suspect, with no hard evidence against him other than that there was no discernible proof that he were innocent, but who would have been viewed as a primary suspect. Basically Hewitt would have had no alibi for the murders, similar to Lewis Carroll and Joseph Fleming, but because of the intentional misuse of information by an untrustworthy researcher, the world would finally have a solution to the most historically unsolved murder case of all time, at least according to one of the foremost experts on the case.

Just imagine if the records were incomplete or showed that Hewitt was not in the asylum on those specific nights as well as most likely other random nights. Then we would have a real dilemma on our hands. We would now know that Hewitt should never have been suggested as a suspect in the first place, but there would be someone who had no alibi and the wholehearted endorsement of a leading expert. Luckily we do not have to face that problem.

Hewitt is meaningless as a suspect. In fact, he is a non-suspect as a result of academic research. The strange case of Dr. John Hewitt, and the circumstances surrounding his entire connection to these murders, however, should serve as an incredibly important parable about this case. Academic research will eventually discover additional instances similar in vital aspects to that of Hewitt and perhaps, just perhaps, we can start making a real dent in the suspect pool.

No evidence connects Druitt or Kosminski to the murders, yet their status as primary suspects will probably never change. No evidence connects Carroll or Fleming to the murders, and their status as laughable or non-suspects will also never change. Five men with similar stories, no hard evidence to link them to the murders and with the theories promoting their candidacy as suspects either erroneous, unconvincing or both. In what seems on the surface to be a monumental injustice, these five people, including Hewitt, are viewed in extremely different ways when it comes to discussing who is and who is not a viable suspect. It just does not seem fair to the suspects, who must remain as primary ones, that others can merely be laughed away simply because a researcher or theorist was not as convincing as they should have been.

If I had to personally rank these five suspects in the order from most likely to least likely, I would have to say Druitt, Kosminski, Fleming, Carroll, and exclude Hewitt, of course. I base this on nothing more than a gut feeling, so in actuality I have no real basis for listing these five suspects in this particular order. Any attempted ranking system within the parameters of this case would solely be based upon gut feelings and would differ with each individual researcher. Richard Wallace has a gut feeling. Mark King has a possible gut feeling. I can also positively state, without naming names, that currently two legendary researchers in this field have gut feelings that Montague John Druitt and Aaron Kosminski are the murderer. I personally have a gut feeling on who the murderer actually is. I'm sure you, the person reading this article, most likely have a gut feeling also. Colin Wilson had a gut feeling about Dr. John Hewitt, and still would if asylum records had mistakenly been lost or gone missing.

Sometimes the joy of solving this unsolvable case gets the better of all of us, and sometimes our frustrations are taken out against certain suspects, when they deserve their day in court, so to speak. Suspects, all of them, until they are cleared, deserve at least the appearance of equality, even if I don't believe they are on equal ground as viable suspects. Again it just is not fair to those who remain. This is not a popularity contest, or, more to the point, a popularity contest in reverse. It is an unsolved murder case, and as academics we should all remember this simple fact.

What does that really mean though? It means nothing in the long run. Or perhaps the next time a suspect is laughed at or viewed with the utmost approval as a viable candidate, a step back will be taken to embrace an overview of what this case really is. It is the unanswerable question. It is the ultimate in futility. It is... Well, you get the idea.

Who was "Jack the Ripper"? Hell if I know.

 

SOURCES:

Beadle, William, Jack the Ripper: Anatomy of a Myth (1995)
Begg, Paul, Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts (1988)
Begg, Paul, Fido, Martin & Skinner, Keith, The Jack the Ripper A - Z (1996)
Campbell, Christy, Fenian Fire: The British Government Plot to Assassinate Queen Victoria (2004)
Evans, Stewart & Skinner, Keith, The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion (2000)
Jakubowski, Maxim & Braund, Nathan, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper (1998)
McCormick, Donald, The Identity of Jack the Ripper (1970)
Ryder, Stephen P., Casebook: Jack the Ripper, www.casebook.org
Sitwell, Osbert, A Free House (1947)
Sitwell, Osbert, Noble Essences (1950)
Skinner, Keith & Howells, Martin, The Ripper Legacy (1987)
Wallace, Richard, The Agony of Lewis Carroll (1990)
Wallace, Richard, Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend (1996)


Related pages:
  John Hewitt
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Dr. John Hewitt 
  Stan Russo
       Ripper Media: The Jack the Ripper Suspects: 70 Persons Cited by Investi...