Milestone Press, 2004
Softcover, illus., 246pp.
Self-published, and written in a casual, conversation-style English, On the Trail of a Dead Man: The Identity of Jack the Ripper has a different, more-personal flavor than most other suspect-based Ripper books. Miles writes in the first person, and he spends a great deal of time detailing his personal experiences during his seven-month investigation into the Ripper crimes. You'll read about his film projects, his then wife Karen, a mysterious phone message left on his answering machine by an unknown East End resident, even Mr. Miles' own experiences of crime and murder... you'll even read about his late-night research-sessions, often characterized by too many cigarettes and too little sleep.
Its a long, personal journey which eventually comes to its conclusion - that George Hutchinson, a witness in the Mary Kelly murder, was, in fact, the famous murderer himself.
Now, Hutchinson isn't a new suspect. Three previous authors (Bob Hinton, Stephen Wright and Garry Wroe) have published books making the case against this eagle-eyed witness, and several other authors and researchers have publicly-noted that they favor him as their top suspect. In fact, Hutchinson might be considered one of the more "popular" suspects of the past decade.
Miles believes Hutchinson's physical description meets with many of the surviving witness accounts, and that his place of residence - the Victoria Home, Commercial street - was in a prime location, close to several of the murder sites and especially close to the location of the Goulston Street graffito. Hutchinson's detailed statement to Abberline, describing a well-to-do man with Kelly on the night of her murder also seems highly suspicious to Miles. He believes this to have been one of a series of deliberate attempts by Hutchinson to send disinformation to the police. According to Miles, the Goulston Street graffito was Hutchinson's ploy to throw suspicion on the Jews, while the strange spelling and grammar of the From Hell letter was his attempt to throw suspicion on an Irish/Cockney... specifically on Joseph Barnett. Miles deftly links his suspect to Joseph via his brother, Daniel Barnett, who lodged at the Victoria Home along with Hutchinson.
Several other linkages are proposed, and many other observations are furnished - some sensible, others a bit far-fetched. And although perhaps many of these arguments against Hutchinson are already familiar to those who have read Hinton, Wright and Wroe, Miles does offer some interesting new observations. In discussing the From Hell letter, for example, Miles suggests that the author was, in a way, predicting the end of his murder spree after Mary Kelly when he told Lusk he would "send you the bloody knif ... if you only wate a whil longer". According to Miles this offering of the Ripper's "tool of the trade" might be a symbolic, perhaps even unconscious way for the author to say he's close to finishing his intended work. An interesting and novel psychological interpretation.
Altogether, On the Trail of a Dead Man is a fine overview of the case against George Hutchinson. Although the well-read Ripperologist will likely find very few new, earth-shattering revelations here, the familiar, conversational tone of the book makes for very amusing reading, and Miles' talent as a professional screen-writer shines through every page. Well-researched and recommended.