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So You Want to Be a "Ripperologist"?
John Smithkey III

There are numerous books and publications that deal with the mystery of Jack the Ripper. Some are factual or, at least, claim to be, while others are fictional. Still others blend fact and fiction together. This creates confusion for a person who wants to seriously study Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders. The purpose of this article is to offer suggestions for the serious study of Ripperology

To begin with, what is a "Ripperologist"? According to the program Biography: Jack the Ripper, produced by the Arts and Entertainment Network, a Ripperologist is a person who is interested in the mystery of Jack the Ripper. William Beadle, in his book, Jack The Ripper: Anatomy of a Myth, (1995), paints an unflattering view of Ripperology when he compares it with that of a "three ring circus" (p.84). Beadle also places Ripperologists in the same group as "crime buffs, journalists, cranks and hoaxers" (p.85). Begg, Fido & Skinner (1996), inform us that the terms "Ripperology" and "Ripperologist" are terms credited to Colin Wilson, and mean "expertise and experts on Jack the Ripper"(p.374). However, Begg, Fido, & Skinner also point out that these terms have "increasingly become associated with cranks and charlatans"(p.374). It is the hope that this article will help prevent the reader from falling into the "cranks and charlatans" category.

I became interested in the Ripper case while vacationing in London in 1994. During this time, I took a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour. This excellent tour was hosted by Donald Rumbelow. The walk included a visit to the Ten Bells pub in the East End, and a book signing of The Complete Jack The Ripper, which was written by Rumbelow. As I read his book on my plane trip home, I knew that Ripperology would be a fascinating area of study, as well as an unusual hdbby

The problem with Ripperology is where does one start? All too often a person may read one book on Jack the Ripper, view a movie loosely based on the Ripper case, and believe that the one book or movie to be the whole truth about the mystery

Perhaps the best advice I can give to someone who is interested in the study of Jack the Ripper is not to start reading books that present a theory as to who a suspect might be. A good straightforward history book about Jack the Ripper should be the first purchase for the new Ripperologist's library.

There are some excellent books that focus on the history of Jack the Ripper, as well as the lifestyle in Whitechapel around 1888. The Complete Jack The Ripper, by Donald Rumbelow; Jack The Ripper: The Uncensored Facts, by Paul Begg; and The Complete History of Jack The Ripper, by Philip Sugden. All are excellent books that present the historic facts of Jack the Ripper. The prices of each book varies, so a good history book can be purchased by the beginner with a limited budget

A good reference book is a must, as the Ripper books often present many names and places. An excellent reference book is The Jack The Ripper A-Z, by Paul Begg, Martin Fido, & Keith Skinner. Virtually everything related to the Ripper case is listed in this book. This is not "just another Ripper book", but a valuable reference tool that any Ripperologist should not be without.

At this point the novice researcher would probably start to become interested in the different theories regarding the Ripper case. However, since there are so many theories published, it is helpful to have a good bibliography of available books and literature. Jack The Ripper: A Bibliography and Review of the Literature,by Alexander Kelly, is the most complete book published.

Not only factual books and articles are listed, but related items such as films, music, and drama. A review of the literature is also included as well. This book is expensive, but it is worth the price. Another publication is Jack The Ripper: ACollector's Guide to the Many Books Published, by Ross Strachan. This publication lists only books. Strachan also produces regular lists of out of print Jack the Ripper titles, and also conducts book searches

There are so many theories that have been published that the length of this article prohibits listing them all. I would like to discuss a few that I feel are a good start for the beginning Ripperologist. Jack The Ripper; The Simple Truth, by Bruce Paley, is a good theory for the beginner. Briefly, Paley's theory centers on the murder of Mary Kelly and her live-in boyfriend, Joseph Barnett. Paley's theory is presented in a good easy to follow chronological order. The first three chapters also present a good history on the lifestyle of the people of the East End of London during the late 1880s

The second theory I recommend is presented in the book The Crimes, Detection, and Death of Jack The Ripper, by Martin Fido. Fido's theory is based on police files, and a possible mix-up of names and identities of one suspect. He also presents a very good history of each victim, along with detailed maps of each murder site. An excellent chapter on sexual serial murders is also included.

Another interesting theory is presented in Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution, by Stephen Knight. I recommend this for two reasons. First, it was a popular theory when originally published. Beadle (1996) stated that Knight's book "was a global bestseller, without any doubt the most popular "ripper" book of all time"(p.116). Secondly, Knight was given access to sealed police files while writing his book. Fido (1993) says that "Abberline's report on Nichols; Swanson's Report on Eddowes; White's report on his interview with Packer; Hutchinson's full statement to the police: all these appeared in full for the first time in Knight's book"(p.197). Because Knight was the first author to gain access to sealed files, Fido claims, perhaps correctly, that "he holds an honoured place among historians of Jack the Ripper"(p.197)

The last theory that will be discussed, and I would personally recommend is presented in the book Jack The Ripper: First American Serial Killer, by Stewart Evans & Paul Gainey. This book presents a theory that the murders were committed by am American Physician named Dr.Francis Tumblety. The theory is based on a letter discovered by Evans. The letter was written by Chief Inspector John Littlechild in 1913. Littlechild had reason to believe that Tumblety was a major suspect in the Ripper Terror in 1888. The book contains many new maps of each murder site, as well as new photos. The Littlechild letter is also reproduced in it's entirety. This book is definitely well worth reading!

There are some other items that you may want in order to enhance your research or hobby. A good map of London will assist you in locating the areas mentioned in the different books. An up-to-date map can be purchased in any full service book store. A map entitled "Jack's London" is a reproduction of the Whitechapel area of London in the late 1880s, with the location of the murder sites. This map is a must for those interested in collecting Jack the Ripper material. There is also the "Ripper Project" providing a criminal analysis, that was written by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Copies of the "Ripper Project" can be obtained from this author

In a way, the ultimate research experience is a trip to London to visit the actual murder sites in Whitechapel and other districts. I highly suggest that you include a visit to the Ten Bells pub on Commercial Road. This pub was in operation during the Ripper murders. One of the victims, according to witnesses, was last seen drinking at the Ten Bells on the night of her murder! The pub has displays of the different suspects, as well as a giant list of victims. Jack the Ripper souvenirs are also sold at the pub

This article has attempted to give the beginning Ripperologist not only a sample of the availability of some important books, but also some guidance on where to start studying.

Who knows, perhaps the beginning Ripperologist will develop a new theory, or even discover the true identity as to who Jack the Ripper really was!

Related pages:
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       Dissertations: Whodunit? : Choosing a Ripper Suspect 
  John Smithkey
       Ripper Media: The Inquest of the Final Victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary ...