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ABC-Clio, 2001 (hardcover)
Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia
John J. Eddleston
ABC-Clio, 2001. 304pp., illus., bib., index.
ISBN: 1 57607 414 5

Casebook Review:

Ripper encyclopedias are nothing new – the study already had several before Eddleston jumped into the fray – but it would be wrong to judge this newest entry as “just more of the same.” Comparisons with the Jack the Ripper A – Z are of course going to be made, though the two books aren’t necessarily the same sort of work. While the A – Z is a true reference work with only alphabetized entries, Eddleston’s Encyclopedia is more of a hybrid – a reference work interspersed with several chapters of linear, readable content.

In the Preface, Eddleston admits that several other “excellent books on the subject” have been written, including Sugden’s Complete History and Begg, Fido and Skinner’s A – Z. Knowing that his work will undoubtedly face comparison with the latter, he suggests a major difference in that “the [A – Z] has the entries for each particular crime divided throughout the book.” Eddleston, on the other hand, makes a point of organizing his book in a more readable manner. He begins with a handy “Note on Terminology” where he briefly discusses various forms of Victorian money, use of pseudonyms and the numbering of floors in England vs. America. The “guts” of the book begins with chronological, largely objective entries for the victims, followed by a “Summary” where he goes back over each cases and gives his own conclusions towards each woman’s candidacy as a true Ripper victim.

Next, Eddleston covers the witnesses, police and “others who played a part” in three separate chapters of alphabetized entries. Although he appears to have included practically every name known in the case, readers will notice that each entry is decidedly shorter than its counterpart in the A – Z. The entry for “Abberline, Inspector Frederick George”, for instance, is only 4 sentences long. These entries also lack, for the most part, a listing of dates of birth and death, which I personally find to be useful.

Following that is a fairly comprehensive timeline covering all events from 1887 to 1913, and a chapter covering physical descriptions of the killer (separated by each murder associated with the witness), and coverage of the more modern psychological descriptions made of the killer. “Letters and Correspondence” are next, covering eight of the more well-known letters, chronologically by date of receipt. One major oversight becomes apparent. In discussing the letter of 17 September 1888 [Ref: HO144/221/A49301C], Eddleston makes no note of the fact that most scholars have taken it to be a modern hoax. Accepting it as a true contemporary concoction, he believes it “leads to an astounding conclusion,” that “this was a genuine letter from Jack.” Most Ripper authors would vehemently disagree.

Another series of alphabetized entries follows in a “Miscellaneous” chapter, but next is one of the most useful portion of the book: “Myths and Errors.” Methodically, victim by victim and myth by myth, Eddleston lists the errors and canards that have crept into the literature in the past hundred years. Using to good effect a “Frequently Asked Questions” format, Eddleston sets the record straight on close to a hundred of these myths, going into great detail on some such as the rings found at Chapman’s feet, or the key to 13 Miller’s Court. This chapter in particular is extremely useful and is sure to be the cause of a major binding crease in every seasoned Ripperologist’s copy.

A short chapter on “Locations” is next, followed by a mammoth examination of well over one hundred Ripper suspects. Again, in alphabetical order, the “Suspect” chapter covers the basic facts of each suspect, with each entry including a rating of 0 to 5 of their “chance of being the Ripper.” These entries are, on the whole, much more substantial than their earlier counterparts, and again make up a major strength of the book. The two suspects earning the highest rating of five were “George Hutchinson (British)” and “Unknown Male.”

A comprehensive and annotated Ripper bibliography follows, separated by books and films, another useful reference point. Next is “Resources,” which covers Home Office Files, Internet Sites, Other Records, Scotland Yard Files, and then includes eleven pages of contemporary newspaper extracts from various papers across England. Anyone with an interest in capturing the local flavor of the time will be delighted with these little nuggets. Eddleston ends the chapter with a detailed set of directions through Whitechapel for “Your Own Ripper Walk.”

The book ends with a “Summary” chapter, where Eddleston breaks loose of his previously intended (but not always achieved) objectivity, and gives his final conclusions on the case. His preferred suspect, he notes, is George Hutchinson (the witness, not the American), and he proceeds to detail his reasons for suspicion against him. He cautions in the end, however, that he certainly can’t prove it was Hutchinson, and that he believes he is only the best suspect “yet named.”

In all, the Eddleston encyclopedia has the usual array of strengths and weaknesses found in most Ripper books. Some entries are appallingly short, even for major players in the case, and in at least one case (that of the letter of 17 September 1888) it appears as though Eddleston’s research missed out some major bits of previous Ripper scholarship. Still, the majority of the book is incredibly detailed and very well researched, and its strengths, I believe, more than outweigh these few weaknesses. A series of maps included for each Ripper victim provides the most accurate and detailed looks available for the murder sites, and several illustrations of Ripper letters are included, not to be found elsewhere. Several chapters, including “Victims,” “Suspects,” “Myths and Errors” and “Resources” are virtual treasure troves of information, easily found in a pinch and extremely useful to the serious researcher. These are the true gems of the work, which set it apart from the A – Z and other previous works. I would not be surprised to see this book added to the “close-at-hand” shelf of many Ripperologists, joining such standards as Complete History, Sourcebook and the A – Z as the handful of books first referenced in a pinch. In the few days I’ve owned the Eddleston, I’ve already found myself referencing the “Myths and Errors” section more than a few times!

The only remaining aspect of the book left to discuss is the price – a whopping $75 US for the hardcover. This will undoubtedly make it difficult for many Ripper enthusiasts to add it to their collection, though I’ve heard that a cheaper, softcover edition is in the works.

Related pages:
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Reference Guide 
       Ripper Media: The Jack the Ripper A to Z