|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 10, April 1997. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
Nick Connell - January 1997
On the 15th July, 1873, Eton student Alfred Hands Cooke reported that a silver cup had been stolen from his rooms at the college. The cup was a trophy that bore an inscription of both his name and that of a previous winner. Superintendent Thomas Durham found the cup at Dobres pawnshop in Fitzroy Square, London on 14th October. The pawn ticket was in the possession of Dr. Watkins Robert O'Connor of Portland Road, London.
Dr. O'Connor explained that he had been visited by Michael Ostrog who was looking for O'Connors former partner, Mr. Baker Brown whom "he had known in St.Petersburg, and wished to ask him for assistance". Ostrog added that, "he was a surgeon in the Imperial Guard, and had fought a duel and left the country', with the assistance of Brown. O'Connor invited Ostrog to attend one of his operations but he declined as he was only interested in pawning a silver cup which was, "a prize he had won at a boat race, and he had erased the names to avoid detection by the Russian detectives". O'Connor pawned the trophy for £2 and sent the money to Ostrog.
On the 4th August, Ostrog returned to Eton College and told George Finey that he was in the process of writing a Russian dictionary and that assistant master Oscar Browning had given him permission to borrow some books from the library. Browning had met Ostrog before who told him that they had met at Eton some eight years ago. Browning gave him some money and lent him 2 dictionaries but did not authorise Ostrog to borrow books in his absence. In spite of this, Ostrog summoned a porter from his hotel to help him carry off the weighty volumes of Smith's Dictionary of Biography and Mythology and Smith's Dictionary of Geography. Once again Ostrog used Dr. O'Connor to get rid of the stolen goods. This time second hand book dealer Walter Brown of Great Portland Street gave him £3.
Superintendent Thomas Oswell learnt that Ostrog could be found at the Fox and Goose Inn at Burton-Upon-Trent. He found him in the dining room where Oswell, sensing that Ostrog was potentially violent, took the precaution of throwing the cutlery out of Ostrog's reach before con-fronting him with a copy of the Police Gazette and arresting him for the theft of the cup at Eton. Ostrog told Oswell that he was a Swedish doctor who was visiting the brewery at Burton-Upon-Trent and he had never been to Eton in his life. Ostrog had to be forced into the cab that took him to the police station. When they arrived Ostrog pulled a loaded 8 chambered revolver from his pocket but was disarmed by Oswell who turned the weapon upon the Russian.
Michael Ostrog, alias Bertrand Ashley stood trial on the 5th January 1874 before Richard Grenville, Duke of Buckingham, at the Buckinghamshire Quarter Sessions whose aim was, "the encouragement of piety and virtue and for the punishment of vice, profaneness and immorality". 2
The court heard that Ostrog's previous offence had been, "stealing I silver soap dish, 1 shaving pot, I glass toothbrush dish with silver top and 11 studs, value together - £5, the property of Captain Ferdinand W. Milner, at Woolwich on 3rd July 1873". Today he was standing trial for:
1) Stealing a silver cup, value £4. 10s , the property of Alfred Hands Cooke, at Eton, on 15th July 1873.
2) Stealing 11 books, the property of Oscar Browning, at Eton, on 4th August 1873. 3
Ostrog defended himself and, "pleaded guilty to receiving the property knowing it to have been stolen. He said that the charge of stealing was incorrect. It should be obtaining by false pretences. He could not have stolen the books, for the servant went and fetched them".
The trial proceeded thus: -
Clerk of the Peace - Then you plead not guilty.
Ostrog - I plead guilty but please make it right.
Chairman - The charge against you before the magistrate was that of obtaining the books by false pretences but now you are charged with stealing them.
Ostrog - I did not steal the books I am sick of my life. Why do you go into the different charges. Why not give me my sentence and let me go. That is all I crave. I don't want to be defended.
Chairman - As you have only pleaded guilty to receiving, the charge of stealing must be investigated by the court.
Ostrog objected to the jury and demanded a jury half composed of foreigners.
Clerk of the Peace - No.
Ostrog - Excuse me; I can.
Clerk of the Peace - You have not read all the Acts of Parliament. The privilege you refer to has been abolished.
Ostrog cross examined Alfred Cooke who stated that he did not know Ostrog, had never seen him at Eton, neither had any of his friends. Ostrog protested that some of the prosecutors questions were of a leading nature. He clashed with prosecutor G.L. Browne when he questioned Frederick Smoothy, keeper of the Railway Hotel at Windsor where Ostrog had stayed between 7th July - 21st December 1873. Smoothy revealed that Ostrog was in the habit of reading in the daytime: -
Browne - Do you know where he got his books?
Ostrog - Excuse me, that has nothing to do with the cup.
Ostrog explained that he knew that the punishment for stealing and receiving stolen goods were the same so the verdict, "did not matter more than the court had better know the truth". He claimed that he had the means to obtain a defence counsel but he could not, "see why he should be defended by the lying tongue of a counsel if he liked to speak the truth". Ostrog implored the judge to pass, "any sentence upon him, and he should be thankful and not complain". It also emerged that whilst awaiting trial Ostrog had taken poison and attempted to starve himself. The jury found him not guilty of stealing but guilty of knowingly receiving stolen goods.
In the matter of the books Ostrog argued, "I took the books away with the knowledge of the witness (Finey). If I went into a place and asked the servant for permission to select some books and he sent them away, that could not be stealing". Before sentence was passed Ostrog informed the Duke of Buckingham that he too was a nobleman and admitted that he obtained the books by false pretences which was different to stealing them. However, Ostrog was found guilty of stealing the books and much to his chagrin received a sentence of 10 years penal servitude with 7 years police supervision. 4
Ostrog began his sentence at Buckinghamshire county gaol where his records describe him in detail: -
Prisoner's Name- M. Ostrog, alias Bertrand Ashley.
Religion - Greek.
Trade - Surgeon.
Age - 40.
Height - 5' 1 0".
Complexion - Dark.
Colour of Hair - Dark brown.
Visage - Oval.
Apparent state of health - Good.
Is he lame or ruptured - No.
Any infectious diseases - No.
Clothes - 1 hat, 2 coats, 1 waistcoat, 1 pair trousers, I pair socks, 1 pair shoes, 1 shirt, 1 flannel shirt, 1 handkerchief.
State of prisoners apparel - Clean.
Place of nativity - Russia.
Father - Dead.
Marital status - Single, (no children),
Degree of instruction - Superior education. From whence brought - Slough
Has prisoner been in army or navy - 2 years Russian army, 5 years Russian navy
Conduct in gaol Good
Removed to Pentonville prison - 28.1.1874. 5
Fiffteen years later Ostrog returned to Eton. On 13th May 1889 he entered Frederick Rowell's shop, "he said that he had come from Windsor Castle, and that he wanted to see some watches for Prince Teck. They had none good enough, and Rowell went up to London to get some. Ostrog came back to the shop in the afternoon, and he was than wearing a mortar board, such as assistant masters at Eton College wear', (Ostrog had acquired the cap from hosier Samuel Lingwood using the alias of H. Weber. Lingwood would later pick Ostrog from an identification parade of 8 men).
Rowell's story unfolded, "He showed Ostrog the watches, and he wanted to take them away with him, and held out his hand for them. Rowell declined to let him have them, but said he would follow him where he was going. Ostrog took him to the college and Rowell accompanied him into the boys library. There were several boys there who raised their hats to Ostrog. Rowell gave Ostrog the watches but to his horror the boys admitted that they did not know Ostrog who made good his escape.
Ostrog hitched a lift from Edward Edwin Merridew who took him from Windsor to Staines where Ostrog visited a pawnshop before carrying on to Richmond. Merridew later found Ostrog's discarded Eton cap in his cab and also picked him out from an identity parade. The law eventually caught up with Ostrog when Inspector Pearman arrested him only to be told, "My name is not Ostrog, it is Claude Clayton. I was not at Eton in 1889. I was in Banstead lunatic asylum". Ostrog again proved to be, "very violent", when arrested. 6
In 1894 Ostrog was described as a 63 year old labourer whose degree of instruction was, " reading and writing - imperfect" 7.
He was charged with: -
1) On 13.5.1889 at the parish of Eton, unlawfully obtaining by false pretences from Frederick Arthur Rowell, 3 watches and 3 chains, the property of George William Betjamann with intent to defraud.
2) On 6.11.1893, at the Parish of Eton, feloniously stealing 2 books, the property of John Hay Brooks. 8
At the outset of the trial, prosecutor Mr. Attenborough warned the jury that, "from the prisoners appearance it might be thought his mind was affected, but he was prepared to prove he was a 'shammer"'.
Ostrog (vehemently) - My mind is not affected.
When Rowell took the stand Ostrog argued with him: -
Ostrog - I never saw you in my life.... Look at me! Look at me! I'm not the man.
Rowell - Yes, you put it on very well old chap.
Ostrog - Did I speak to you?
Rowell - Oh yes.
Ostrog - My tongue was at that time paralysed and I could not speak. I can bring witnesses to prove it.
Ostrog requested that the pawnbroker be called. When told that he was dead Ostrog amused the court by commenting, "that's a very bad excuse".
Banstead lunatic asylum confirmed that Ostrog was an inmate between 1891 - 1893. Ostrog also claimed to have been in a French asylum between 1888 - 1890, returning to England to sell the navy a life belt which enabled the wearer to swim around the world. He implored the court to confirm his stay at the French asylum. The court had sent a letter to France but had yet to receive a reply. Ostrog then said that if they had made inquiries he would have said that he was in Germany. He also admitted to being, " a wicked man who had spent a bad life".
Dr. Morris of Reading gaol had Ostrog under observation for nearly 2 weeks and concluded that Ostrog was not a lunatic but he was shamming. He was not, however, in a position to comment on Ostrog's claim that his tongue was paralysed as this was the first he had heard of it.
Ostrog was duly found guilty and sentenced to 5 years penal servitude followed by 7 years of police supervision. 9
Ostrog's criminal career had not developed over 20 years, however, there was a marked deterioration in his physical and mental state. Besides occasional outbursts of violence there is still nothing yet to make him a more feasible Ripper suspect than any number of contemporary suspects. No, the police didn't know his whereabouts at the time of the Whitechapel murders, yes, he had been certified insane and yes, he allegedly had surgical skill but his age and height almost immediately rule him out.
Possibly the reason for Macnaghten's inclusion of Ostrog as a prominent suspect was because of the location rather than the nature of the crimes. Eton old boy Macnaghten once said of the college, "to know Eton is to love her, and that love lasts as long as life itself' 10. Would Macnaghten's subjectivity on matters concerning Eton make him believe that Ostrog was, "a vile and terrible person, capable of any atrocity"?