Keith Skinner, Seth Linder and Caroline Morris
Sutton Publishing, 2003.
Hardcover, 320pp., illus.
"Objectivity requires taking subjectivity into account."
- Lorraine Code
There's simply no middle ground when it comes to the Maybrick diary. You're either for it or against it. Even those who fancy themselves to be "on the fence" generally angle their disposition toward one of the two rival camps. And so it is with the authors of Ripper Diary: The Inside Story, who proclaim their work to be "the first to examine the diary objectively." Linder, Morris and Skinner admirably show no direct support for either side of the argument, but it becomes abundantly clear after only a few pages that their collective compass tilts ever so slightly toward the pro-diary claimants.
That's not to say that the journalistic threesome believe the diary to be the real McCoy; not by a long-shot. But it is important to note that their numerous analyses are noticeably more forgiving when discussing various pro-Diary claims than vice-versa. So be it. As I said, everyone has their bias in this emotionally-charged dispute. (My own bias, for the record, is against the diary - I believe it to be a modern forgery - and perhaps that colors my perception)
"Sometimes we remain true to a cause simply because its opponents are
- Friedrich Nietzsche
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the general outlines of the diary controversy, I'll try to summarize the major players briefly. There are, in the most general terms, three competing research camps - two feuding pro-diary groups, and one vociferously anti-diary group.
Shirley Harrison heads the first "pro" group. She contends that the diary is absolutely genuine, but has generally been pragmatic enough in publication to admit that it is "a belief, not a proven fact." Harrison was the first to investigate the diary, and the first to publish her findings.
The second pro-diary group is, or was, headed by Paul Feldman, a "relentlessly driven human dynamo" according to the authors of Ripper Diary. Feldman agrees that the diary is genuine, and has no qualms about publishing that opinion as absolute fact. His research methods are wide-reaching, but also chaotic and, at times, amateurish. On several occasions, Feldman refuses to share his research with the Harrison group, and although both camps are technically on the same side, there is a great deal of antagonism between them.
The most vocal of the anti-diary contingents is headed by Melvin Harris, himself a Ripper author and self-proclaimed hoax buster. Harris unequivocally proclaims the diary to be a modern forgery. Though intellectually at opposite ends of the spectrum, Harris and Feldman share the same dogged determination to prove their case and outwit the rival camp. As a result, the most bitterly vituperative aspects of the diary controversy center around their clash of personalities. At times - indeed at most times - it is difficult to discern whether their goal is to demolish their rival's argument... or simply to demolish their rival.
"What a long, strange trip its been."
- The Grateful Dead
The eleven-year saga of the Maybrick diary is confusing, complicated and inescapably tortuous. That the authors of Ripper Diary were able to compile all of it into such a surprisingly readable text is nothing short of miraculous. It may not be as riveting as the latest Patricia Cornwell novel (ahem), but for anyone who's been following the various twists and turns of the diary controversy over the past decade, it really is a near-perfect chronological summation of events.
Every ink test, paper examination, handwriting comparison, and ion migration test is meticulously covered, as are the various media battles between Robert Smith, The Sunday Times, Warner Books and other corporations who came into contact with the diary. Arguments from all sides are examined and contrasted. For every claim, there is a counter-claim. The first Baxendale report stated that the diary could not have been written before 1945 - but Baxendale later retracted this statement and conceded that it could date as far back as 1889. Ion migration testing placed the diary at 1921, plus or minus twelve years - but later it was admitted that the range could be more like thirty years in either direction.
The Sunday Times claimed phrases used in the diary such as "one off instance" and "top myself" were singularly 20th century expressions. Not so, says Shirley Harrison, who claims to have found Victorian-era documents using these expressions. The handwriting doesn't match Maybrick's will. No problem, his will was forged. But it also doesn't match the Dear Boss letter. Ah, well that's because Maybrick had multiple personality syndrome.
Michael Barrett confessed to forging the diary. then he retracted his confession. Then he retracted his retraction. Then he... well, you get the idea. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
The diary came from Tony Devereux. No, wait. It came from Anne Graham, who got it from Billy Graham. Michael Barrett isn't really Michael Barrett (oh wait, he is), and Anne Graham isn't really Anne Graham (no, wait, that's wrong too). Anne Graham was part of a government cover-up because of an illicit affair with a member of the IRA - or wait, on second thought, that was just a joke. Billy Graham is a descendant of James Maybrick. no wait, Florie Maybrick. Yes, that one seems to fit. Except the birth records are missing - but (of course!) that's because Anne went to Australia in the 1970s. And didn't you know that Robbie Johnson was murdered?
"Dogs got personality. Personality goes a long way"
- Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
The whole of the story, for anyone brave enough (or foolish enough) to ingest it all, is delicately laid out in Ripper Diary. It's a story driven more by personalities than by academic inquiry - and really, that's why the book succeeds. The book is being marketed as an objective, academic record of how the Maybrick diary has been tested and investigated, and on that level it achieves a certain success. But that's not its best selling point.
Outside of a few dozen isolated Ripper fanatics, no one is really debating the diary anymore. The general public and academia have moved on to greener pastures. Sutton Publishing should have done more to market the human aspect of Ripper Diary. That's what makes the book so engaging. Its Feldman and Harris, Barrett and Graham, Dangar and Warren and all the rest who make the story so interesting. Its their collective obsessions and psychoses, their ambitions and theories and faults that keep the reader's interest. Its the human story that the larger audience will connect with. The diary story stopped being about the diary years ago... today, it's the circus of personalities that prevails.
And that may not be a bad thing. Hollywood may have backed out on Feldman's lucrative movie deals, but I'll wager there's a still great film in all of this. A comedy, of course. The Maybrick Follies.
Maybe Woody Allen would direct?
From Sutton Publishing:
"Every bit as mysterious as the Whitechapel murders themselves, the "Ripper Diaries" have intrigued and infuriated both historical researchers and the "Ripperologists" since they first came to light in 1992. Either one of the most sensational finds of the 20th century or one of its most brilliant literary hoaxes, the diary of Jack the Ripper has created its own tangled and tortuous history. It is this history which Keith Skinner, Seth Linder and Caroline Morris disentangle in a work of literary sleuthing which offers a reassessment of the evidence and insight into the personalities involved in Ripper research. "