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David Cohen (Part II)
Excerpted from the Casebook Message Boards
Originally posted by Martin Fido on Thursday, May 25, 2000 - 02:10 pm

I'm steering clear of the elaborate theories and deductions based on the sources under discussion, feeling that life is too short for me to go back through archive entries to see what it was all about originally and who Kemp is. But I may be able to contribute a little useful knowledge on which to base opinions of Anderson. Credentials first. When I started working on the Ripper, I not only read 'The Lighter Side of My Official Life' and 'On Criminals and Crime', but also A.P.Moore-Anderson's memoir of Sir Robert and a couple of of the old boy's 20+ books of theology. These last are very important, as they show the main and central concern of Anderson's life. The theology is original, independent, and in my opinion cranky and bigoted. But it isn't to be dismissed as stupid or irrelevant. A graduate student from Heythrop, the highly respected Jesuit theological college now attached to the University of London, wrote to me about ten years ago because he was doing a thesis on Anderson, who can still hold the interest and attention of specialist theologians.

I also had the advantage of being able to see the Scotland Yard archives with Anderson's memos on the Ripper case, (and I have every sympathy with American researchers who are put at an unfair disadvantage because these are out of their reach). By the time I started writing I was already able to pick out the items Anderson contributed to the notorious unsigned London Times series 'On Parnellism and Crime': later research showed that I had identified them absolutely correctly.

I noted the comments by people like the spy 'Le Caron', and the crime writers Hargrave Adam and Major Griffiths, and Anderson's contributions to books by one or other of them: I found on the debit side Anderson mixing up two different cases in correspondence with Adam at the very end of his life. So I assessed Anderson from a strong grounding in his own self-exposure in his writing, and contemporary opinion of him. I think it is fair to say that I have for a long time known more about the police involved in the case than anyone else, until Stewart Evans started his massive work on the files. I've always taken great pride in revising the caricature of Warren that existed in Ripper literature prior to 1987, and giving a clearer picture of the moderate liberalism and amateur scholarship underlying the military martinet attacked in the press.

Subsquently I have seen a great many more of Anderson's memos. I had the good luck to be in the Scotland Yard archives room at a moment when the late Russel Grey had just come across an old memo identifying two of the spies Anderson controlled when he was the Home Office anti-Fenian spymaster. Russel was checking that this closed file could now be safely opened. (Ripper work is constantly carrying one into these areas of preposterous government secrecy: Anderson's spy controlling work as far back as 1870 was still closed to the public when I began research, though I can't imagine who or what was supposedly endangered by secret information on the ludicrous Fenian 'invasion of Canada'! I will admit my shortsighted folly if Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness ever put together a task force to besiege London, Ontario!) Anyway, the paper Russel showed proved that Anderson was not, as had been suggested, managing only the one spy - Le Caron - and boosting him into a pretence to knowledge of the inner workings of the Fenians. Another set of papers I found in the notoriously half-closed, half-uncatalogued box of Home Office papers, HO144 in the Public Record Office, showed that among some civil servants' complaints about Anderson's irresponsible leakiness was an exchange of memos protesting about a paper he gave at a conference in 1901 which used the very words about the Ripper he later reprinted in 1907 in 'On Criminals and Crime'. The conference papers with Anderson's printed article were included, so it can be stated with absolute certainty that Anderson was saying the Ripper had been identified and caged in an asylum BEFORE he retired, and not as a piece of geriatric boasting.

For what it's worth, I also traced Anderson's granddaughter to an old people's home in South Africa and spoke to her on the telephone. I won't pretend that she gave me any more useful information than the pretty standard view of grandchildren of Victorian policemen who remember them, that they were very strict! And the sad news that she believed her father had destroyed Anderson's papers in London after completing his own memoir of his parents.

Lastly, I have the general advantage of being a trained literary historian with a rather detailed knowledge of 19th century politics. (My thesis was on Disraeli). So I know where critics of Anderson like Sir William Harcourt 'are coming from'. (It might help British readers if I synopsised him as a sort of Gladstonian version of Denis Healey: a parliamentary bruiser who nearly became party leader and so carried immense prestige, though his forte was aggressive partisan oratory rather than original or subtle thinking or perceptiveness. I'm sorry I don't know who could be put forward as an American equivalent.) And with a nonconformist background via a Quaker home and a Methodist school, I've know quite a lot about the sort of committed religiosity which was the most important thing in Anderson's life.

The blank suggestion that Anderson was a liar owes most to Stephen Knight. 'Nuff said, I hope. I have alwayas expressed respect for a lot of the work Knight did (eg his being the first to publish data on Israel Schwartz). But...! I don't overlook the 'Anderson's Fairy Tales' comment in parliament, but it has to be placed in the context of the Irish question. Anderson was an absolutely bigoted Black Prot. He genuinely thought that tha Catholic Church was OBVIOUSLY under the direct control of Satan. (He thought the same overlord controlled all churches that had acquired any worldly wealth and instutionalisation, but he thought it was easy to overlook this in the 'less corrupt' protestant churches). So he regarded Home Rule agitation as treason that was deliberately working in the devil's cause. I mean, he thought that literally! He was no friend to Liberal politicians, and they knew it. So it's little wonder that Harcourt and Churchill, Liberal Home Secretaries, give us some of the most damning contemporary observations on Anderson. And Churchill was dealing with a case where Anderson really had self-righteously overstepped all reasonable bounds of civil service decorum, publishing data from secret files to support a series whose whole aim was discrediting legitimate politicians with whom he disagreed. The oddest thing from a detached historical point of view is the way commentators like Adam and Griffiths talk about his being immensely discreet and secretive, while Home Office mandarins are screaming their heads off about his irresponsibe leakiness. Here one really does come to the 'How Bill Adams won the Battle of Waterloo' aspect. Like many self-memorialists, Anderson appears to have never made a mistake in his life. Indeed, he's achieved an awful lot that's pretty terrific... only for security reasons he can't tell you about it.... And so he keeps hinting at what he knows, and the hints exasperate his civil service masters, while the discretion frustrates the fascinated crime buffs. It was quirky, individual and striking, and Monro shows himself aware of it as a foible that amounts to a weakness when he puts three exclamation marks in the margin beside Anderson's claim that his refusal to name names is 'respecting the traditions of his old department'. This is as near as one comes to a cover-up in Anderson's writing: a wish to come out and tell all and get the credit, hampered by the knowledge that even before the Official Secrets Act it was an impropriety which would have some politicians howling for his pension. His treatment of the 'Jubilee Bomb Plot' is almost exactly similar to his treatment of the Ripper case. he tells us he and Monro had a triumph and were very relieved. He doesn't tell us how, who, what. He's tantalising, conceited, and uninformative. Only in the Jubilee Bomb Plot case, much can be adequately pieced together from other sources.

In fact, Anderson's characteristic self-righteous conceit was one of the strong points leading me to the belief (which Stewart Evans has now convincingly shown to be erroneous) that the memorandum headed 'AC Crime' in Monro's copy of Anderson's memoirs was actually from Anderson. It would be quite typical of him to think that he would solve the case very quickly if he could only spare the time.

The one place where we really do find a police cover up - the suppression of continuing suspicion that the Ripper was Jewish - is completely uncovered in Anderson. (The obvious primary source evidence of this cover-up is Hutchinson's statement: his signed statement on the files explicitly says 'Jewish-looking.' This is watered down to 'foreign-looking' for the press.)

Now those are the facts and data I work from. If you want to challenge them, please find alternative factual data before asking people to devote time to argument.

My conclusions, on the other hand, may be disagreed with by all means. For what they are worth, I think there is no possibiity whatsoever that Anderson would ever have distorted the truth as he saw it. Nor have I found him exaggerating to boost his own importance. His 'claim' to have stopped the on-street murders by warning prostitutes that they could not be protected, for example, is (even in Phil Sugden's words) only 'an inference' drawn from a statement which begins with the cautious arse-covering proviso, 'However it may be explained..." (I note, too, that Phil was unaware that Anderson was making his statements about th Ripper's being identified as early as 1901, and repeating them in print in 1907. So Phil puts them down to geriatric rambling or boasting in retirement in 1910: a conclusion which is disproved by reference back to the primary source.)

I agree with anti-Andersonians, however, that Anderson was so obstinate and opinionated that he would have stuck to a wrong conclusion for much longer than most people. I see no reason in the original documents to believe his memory was shaking by 1901, and so I take it that there was definitely a Jewish suspect positively identified by a Jewish witness who thereupon refused to give a sworn cofnirmation of his ID. I think it extremely probable that this took place after the suspect had been certified and committed. I note that we only know for sure of two other people who were aware of this ID, (Macnaghten and Monro) and Macnaghten's error about the witness being a City policeman suggests that he only knew about it secondhand. I note that Monro was by no means as sure as Anderson that the ID solved the case, and Littlechild, who may or may not have known Anderson's basis, thought he gave far too high credence to his identification of the Ripper.

The conflicts between Anderson's and Monro's accounts are obviously very important indeed. I believe they must be addressed in harness with some consideration of the ways in which Monro's account conflicts with demonstrable historical fact. I think it is addressing the problems quite improperly and unhistorically to suggest that 'Anderson was lying to boost his or the Met's reputation'. This would be completely out of character for Anderson, and blatantly overrules the simple historical principle that by and large an account containing no demonstrable error should be preferred over one containing demonstrable error.

One last thing. Most of the people we're talking about have descendants, many of whom take some pride in their grandparents and great-grandparents achievements. It is incumbent on us to shatter that pride in the interests of truth if we are sure we are proffering historical fact. It is also incumbent on us not to blackguard the memory of dead men's names with speculation in the interests of some peculiar puzzle pattern that takes out fancy. It is disgraceful when irresponsible Kennedy buffs insist that innocent living people are 'suspects' and their honest accounts of who they are and why they were in Dealey Plaza must be treated scptically because of their suspect status. Let us not be equally cavalie with the memory of the dead.

Related pages:
  David Cohen
       Dissertations: David Cohen 
       Message Boards: Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper 
       Message Boards: David Cohen 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands - Kosminski/ Lubnows... 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - David Cohen 
       Ripper Media: The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper 
       Suspects: David Cohen 
  Martin Fido
       Authors: An Interview with Martin Fido 
       Dissertations: Anderson, Monro and Jsfmboe 
       Ripper Media: The Jack the Ripper A to Z