Tony Williams with Humphrey Price
Hardcover, illus., bib., index. 227 pp.
Tony William's Uncle Jack brings forth an entirely new Ripper suspect - the eminent Welsh physician, Dr. John Williams. The author proclaims he didn't set out on the path toward naming the Ripper. In fact his journey was begun innocently enough as an attempt to learn more about his ancestor, as family history was something of a passion for him.
The author began his study by rummaging through a box of Dr. William's personal effects which had been left with the family years earlier. Among these items was a letter addressed to 'Morgan' which indicated that the doctor would be in Whitechapel on 8 September. It was dated 1888. Tony states that at the time something had struck him about this letter, but it wasn't until he visited the National Library of Wales - a library Dr. William's had helped to establish, and which held a vast collection of the doctor's personal papers and effects - that he finally connected the dots. In the collection were a series of diaries belonging to Dr. Williams. For some reason, however, all the entries for the 1888 volume had been excised. Tony remembered the 'Morgan' letter dated in September of that year and decided to investigate further. He picked up a reference almanac and thumbed through to September 1888, to see if anything significant had occurred around that time. The almanac described the gruesome murders of Jack the Ripper which were committed in Whitechapel between August and November of 1888.
Slowly but surely, other bits and pieces began to emerge from the Williams collection which seemed to further implicate the good doctor. Among numerous dusty piles of paper, Tony discovered a 'normal looking knife' with the tip broken off, as well as three microscope slides with 'animal matter' smeared on them. There was also a bizarre letter written by Williams in early 1889 - apparently written in Welsh, but in such a shaky hand and with such terrible grammar that it seemed almost as if it were written by a madman. Among numerous other incomprehensible statements, the doctor referenced a 'secret' which he hoped the recipient would keep.
But the most incredible bit of evidence would be discovered in the doctor's own meticulously-kept log-books. Among the numerous entries for 1885 was a listing for an abortion carried out on a "Mary Anne Nichols". Could this be Polly Nichols, the Ripper's first canonical victim? Tony felt sure that it was.
Throgh the remaining pages of this rather slim (barely 200 pages) book, Tony Williams tries to cement his case against his ancestor. He delves into the oral history of his family, and discovers from his mother that "there were whisperings about [Dr. Williams] carrying on with a girl called Mary" in Wales. From this small shred of evidence, Tony spins a rather unconvincing tale about Dr. Williams being romantically involved with Mary Kelly, even taking her to Paris at one time. There's really no evidence to support this assertion, though the author does feel certain that he has positively located Mary Kelly (as well as her husband, 'Davies') in the Welsh census. This could well be our Mary (in fact this 'Mary' has been forwarded before as the true 'Mary Kelly' by previous Ripperologists), but really there's just not enough evidence to be sure.
Just why did Dr. Williams kill these women? As Tony explains, Dr. Williams had been president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and as such much of his work focused on the 'organs of reproduction'. Ironically, he himself had no children, though he did desperately want them, and so Tony suggests the doctor decided to perform 'research' on the women of Whitechapel in an attempt to someday cure his own wife's infertility.
What are we left with? At the very least, Tony Williams has succeeded in forever linking the name of Dr. John Williams with the Ripper crimes. On the face of it, he would not be a bad suspect - we know he was in Whitechapel in the midst of the murder spree, he had medical knowledge, and he was described by many as having a 'cold' personality. And of course there are the mutilated diary entries for 1888. His connection with 'Mary Anne Nichols' is intriguing, but unfortunately no concrete evidence was put forward to definitively link this woman with the Ripper victim Polly Nichols. The log entry did not specifically state that this abortion occured in Whitechapel (though to be fair, Tony did discover that a payment of £18 was made from the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary to a "J. Williams" in 1885). Perhaps further reearch will definitively link Williams to Polly, but as of now we just can't be sure.
Other evidence is less convincing. I see nothing odd in discovering a knife and microscopic slides in the collection of an eminent surgeon, and there there is just no evidence whatsoever that Dr. Williams personally knew Mary Kelly, let alone had a physical relationship with her.
What we have is a new name, a new face and a new line of research which has already begun among some Ripperologists eager to discover more about Dr. John Williams. The solution hasn't been "revealed at last", as indicated on the cover of Uncle Jack, but it is a fair assumption that Dr. Williams will remain a familiar figure in Ripper studies from here on out.