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An Interview with Deborah McDonald
October 2008

Deborah McDonald
1. What inspired you to write about JK Stephen? Did your interest in him inspire an interest in the Ripper crimes or vice versa?

My inspiration to write about JK Stephen probably began with my Open University degree course. One of the modules was on Charles Booth who, as you probably know, wrote 'Life and Labour of the People of London'. For this study on the degree of poverty in London, Booth employed several researchers. One of these was Clara Collet who became the subject of my first biography. She was researching her chapter on 'Women's Work' in the East End during the autumn of 1888, and moved into the area to conduct her interviews, some of which were with prostitutes. I realised the significance of the date that she was there and in order to provide background knowledge to the subject I read Donald Rumbelow's book 'The Complete Jack the Ripper' and became 'hooked'!

When 'Clara Collet' was completed, I had become fascinated with the East End and especially Jack the Ripper. Initially I thought I might write something about George Duckworth, another of Booth's researchers, but the only thing I could find of interest about him was that he had sexually abused his half-sister, Virginia Woolf (nee Stephen). Thus it was that while discovering Duckworth's lack of promise, I came across JK Stephen who was cousin to Woolf. Stephen's life, illness and contact with both the Prince and as a Ripper suspect led me to want to know more about him. I read several books but they all seemed to be lacking in reliable research so I put on my detective's hat and tried to find out more.

Thus it was a path via the East End and the Ripper that led me to Stephen.

2. What was the most surprising/interesting thing you learned about Stephen and the Prince during your research?

I found out many things about Stephen and the Prince - both collectively and individually - that both surprised and interested me. The discovery of Stephen's mother's diary was, of course, a wonderful piece of evidence leading to many new and fascinating insights into Stephen's life, not least his relationship with Eleanor Tennyson. Then at the Royal Archives at Windsor unearthing the poem written by Harry Wilson relating to Stephen's appointment as Tutor to the Prince was an amazingly insightful piece of evidence. Amazingly on the same day I also found the report written by Stephen regarding Eddy's progress for his father, so that was a double whammy. As if that all was not enough, I later found the notes written by the Prince's doctor at his deathbed! All new evidence.

The Prince, His Tutor and the Ripper (2007)
3. Without an established connection to either Stephen or Prince Eddy, what was the deciding factor in including the chapters on Druitt?

Despite there being as you say, no 'established connection' between Stephen and Druitt, in my opinion it is highly likely that they would have known each other. Firstly Stephen's brother Harry had Chambers in King's Bench only a few doors away from Druitt and his other brother Herbert was directly opposite in Paper Buildings. The proximity can be seen in the diagram in my book. Secondly they were law students at the same time, of which there were less than a hundred. Thirdly, there is the Lonsdale connection. He definitely knew both Stephen and Druitt. It, therefore, seems highly likely that the two would have been acquainted. Druitt's body was found a few yards from the house of one of Stephen's best friends. I do not really believe in coincidence! There must be a connection. Therefore, Druitt had to be included in the book, if only to allow an exploration of these connections.

4. At the end of the book you mention the Maybrick Diary and posit that if it is proven to be a Victorian era forgery, that Stephen is a prime candidate for penning it. Can you elaborate on what lead you to this conclusion?

Perhaps with hindsight I should have said that he was merely a contender as the author of the diary. His father was the presiding judge at the trial of Abraham Lipski a case that was reported throughout the country the year before the Ripper murders. Stephen would have been aware of this case and cannot have failed to notice the possible connection with Jack the Ripper when, after Elizabeth Stride's murder, the name of Lipski was linked with the case. Then at the trial of Florence Maybrick, his father was again the judge, so Stephen is likely to have been highly aware of the details of the case and probably followed it with interest. It was, after all, an infamous case in which his own father was being accused of incompetence and not being up to the task in front of him. Stephen was a good writer as evidenced by his poetry and journalistic publications and had quite a wicked sense of humour. I believe he had the ability, knowledge and when in one of his manic phases a prank like this could have appealed to him. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this.

5. Will you continue to research the Ripper crimes, and if so, where do you go from here?

Having found the diary of Stephen's mother, it would be fantastic to make some similar sort of discovery about the life of Druitt. I will try to do so, but, in the meantime, I am writing a biography on John Harriott who, after many years travelling the world in the 18th century, living with American Indians, surviving a shipwreck, surviving the plague, walking round and commenting on the foundations of Washington DC, engaging in a duel, amongst other things, finally put down roots in the East End, where he became the local Magistrate and in 1811 investigated another largely unsolved series of murders at Ratcliff Highway just a few hundred yards away from where the Ripper murders were committed seventy odd years later.

Related pages:
  Deborah McDonald
       Ripper Media: The Prince, His Tutor and the Ripper 
  J.K. Stephen
       Message Boards: James Kenneth Stephen 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 1 December 1875 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 12 March 1881 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 13 June 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 15 January 1892 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 20 October 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 24 April 1883 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 24 February 1881 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 25 February 1886 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 27 October 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 3 December 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 3 February 1942 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 30 January 1882 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 30 November 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 30 November 1891 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 31 May 1883 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 4 July 1896 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 5 February 1892 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 5 June 1877 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 5 May 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 8 June 1881 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 9 February 1880 
       Ripper Media: Clarence: Was He Jack the Ripper? 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper Revealed 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - James Kenneth Stephen 
       Ripper Media: Jack: The Grim Ripper 
       Ripper Media: Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper 
       Ripper Media: The Whitechapel Murders (Mylechreest, 1974) 
       Suspects: James Kenneth Stephen