Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack the Ripper

The Maybrick Diaries

James Maybrick
James Maybrick
In 1992, Ripperologists were provided a rare opportunity to sharpen their teeth. Michael Barrett, a scrap metal dealer from Liverpool, came forward with a diary reputedly written by a cotton broker named James Maybrick, who died in 1889. In this diary, James Maybrick confesses to being Jack the Ripper.

Barrett says that his friend Tony Devereux gave him the diary, but Devereux never explained how it had gotten into his hands. Devereux was dead and his family had no knowledge of the diary at all.

For over 100 years, scholars wondered why the Ripper murders had begun suddenly in August of 1888 with the murder of Polly Nichols, and then stopped just as abruptly in November of that same year with the murder of Mary Kelly. The Maybrick diary, if it was authentic, provided the answer.

If James Maybrick were Jack the Ripper, his death in 1889 would explain why the murders ended when they did.

James Maybrick was a cotton merchant who began his business in London in the early 1870's. He traveled to the United States to open an office in Virginia and returned several years later. He had contracted malaria in the U.S. and was taking a combination of arsenic and strychnine to keep it under control. The medication was addictive and he continued to take arsenic until his death.

Florence Chandler before her marriage to James Maybrick
Florence Chandler
before her marriage
to James Maybrick
Maybrick brought home with him a beautiful, wealthy and socially prominent wife. Eighteen-year-old Florence Chandler (Florie) was less than half Maybrick's age, but they fell in love immediately and married soon afterwards.

The 1880's brought bad luck to the business and marriage of the Maybricks. Poor economic conditions in the U.S. and England hurt them financially at a time when they overextended themselves. In 1888, James and Florie and their two children moved into a huge mansion outside Liverpool. James Maybrick escaped his financial worries with increasing amounts of drugs, arsenic included, plus another woman. When Florie found that despite their financial straits, her husband was supporting a mistress and his illegitimate children, she gave up on him. She took up with a younger man.

Florence Maybrick
Florence Maybrick
In April of 1889, Florie bought some fly papers and soaked them to get out the arsenic to prepare a cream for her face, which had broken out just before some big social event. At the same time, James Maybrick, who was continuing to take his arsenic powders, became sick and died May 11, 1889.

Florie was charged with murdering her husband with arsenic. After a very hasty and unfair trial, she was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The judge had not allowed any evidence of James Maybrick's long arsenic addiction to be introduced into the trial. She spent 15 years in jail before she was finally released. The judge in her trial was the father of J.K. Stephen, the tutor of Prince Albert Victor (Eddy), and who was a Ripper suspect. The judge died a few years later in a hospital for the insane.

While Maybrick was never a suspect during his life, his alleged diary focused an enormous amount of scrutiny on him after its discovery in 1992. Many experts analyzed both the diary and the life of James Maybrick. The actual volume in which the diary was written was from the Victorian times, but such volumes are available in antique shops. Quite a few pages at the beginning of the volume had been removed, suggesting that it might have been partially used for some other purpose before it became the Maybrick diary. Several experts claimed the ink was modern.

Ripper expert Martin Fido found many anachronisms in the text and Scotland Yard determined that the handwriting had been altered to add Victorian flourishes. More problematic is that there were inaccuracies in the accounts of the murders that seem to have been taken from newspaper accounts. For example, Philip Sugden says of the murder of Mary Kelly:

We are told that the various parts of her body were strewn 'all over the room,' that her severed breasts were placed on the bedside table and that the killer took the key of the room away with him. None of these statements are true.

John Douglas and Mark Olshaker reject James Maybrick as a Ripper candidate based on his personality and history:

Even more to the point, how does a fifty-year-old man with a family, children, and no sociopathy suddenly blossom into a disorganized serial killer? He can't, and doesn't. Anyone who thinks his situation through enough to decide that he wants to kill prostitutes to get back at his wife but must do so on trips to another city, where he'll hide out, stalk women of the night, rip them up, and then return to his own world and home, would not exactly be disorganized. No one plans that carefully, then goes into such a frenzy of sexual pathology.

Finally, in 1995, a number of experts who labeled the Maybrick diary a brazen hoax are backed up by Michael Barrett's confession: "I, Michael Barratt (sic) was the author of the original diary of 'Jack the Ripper' and my wife, Anne Barrett, hand wrote it from my typed notes" Even so, the Maybrick diary is still a subject of controversy, despite the evidence that it was a forgery.

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