Every year there is at least one new theory about the identity of the infamous Jack the Ripper. As we near the 130th anniversary of the crimes in 2018, there will be more. We’ve seen everything from surgeons to artists to writers to pornographers, including the rich and famous. Was the person responsible for a series of murders in Whitechapel in 1888 even a man? One theorist, at least, says no.
Popular depictions of the Ripper tend to show the elusive figure in an opera cloak and carrying a bag, although there’s no conclusive evidence for either item. Many people believe Red Jack sent letters and gave himself his infamous moniker, but we don’t know this, either. We’ve even heard claims that DNA has identified the evil perp, but those claims have holes. Another author said JtR was nothing but a media creation.
I saw an article last month that stated “case closed,” adding that two people had done the killings for terroristic purposes. Gyles Brandreth believes that the murder total was 10, the spree lasted nearly six years, and two Eastern Europeans committed the crimes as part of a campaign to undermine the British state and the Royal Family. You have to purchase his novel to learn who they are. (It’s fiction, yes, but reportedly based on fact.)
Case closed? Not yet (unless you’re of the theorists who has made this claim).
Not everyone agrees on when the murders began, but “canonically,” it was the end of August in 1888. Two prostitutes were murdered in two separate events a week apart before the so-called “double event” at the end of September in which two women were killed on the same night in separate incidents Then, a letter came to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, accompanied by half of a kidney seemingly preserved in alcohol. The final victim was murdered inside a rented room in November.
Although by official records, the number of Ripper victims is five, many Ripperologists disagree, even excluding one or two of the official victims. However, most experts agree that the murder spree began in 1888. Maybe it ended in November or maybe it went on for several more years—and even in other places. When you don’t have a definite suspect, it can be difficult to clarify timelines and motive.
In Sherlock Holmes and the Autumn of Terror, Randy Williams also offers a team of killers, this time three. He also writes in a fictional framework, based on facts. A martial arts expert and private investigator in Pennsylvania, Williams has enlisted the forensics trio of Drs. Cyril Wecht, Henry Lee and Michael Baden (two pathologists and a criminalist) to assist him in the technical details of his explorations. On his website he states that they will also assist him with preparing a nonfiction version of his theory.
It's not easy to work outside the frame of tradition and expectation, especially when so many other experts remain inside, but Williams boldly explores a set of suspects that, if correctly identified, would completely dismantle the JtR traditions. They have been named in other reviews, so I’m giving nothing away. They are Louis Deimschutz, Isaac Kozebrodski, and Samuel Friedman. Not only did they kill the “canonical five,” he argues, but they had other victims as well.
Through the “deductive” techniques of Sherlock Holmes, as documented by Dr. Watson, Williams shows how he arrived at his proof. In his own description, he states, “The story opens in the year 2017 with the sealed box of Holmes’ most controversial cases being opened by Watson’s great grandson Jacob, and among those cases is that of London’s Ripper murders that took place in what was then and has forever after been known as the ‘Autumn of Terror.’”
It begins with a non-canonical victim, Emma Smith. She was gravely wounded in April 1888. Before she succumbed, she gave a description of the three men who had attacked her. Some experts view Smith as the first victim, but many believe she was the random victim of a roving gang.
These killers, says Williams, were members of a fraternal club located in the heart of Whitechapel. One of them even “discovered” the body of Elizabeth Stride, one of the victims in the double event.
Williams posits that a Russian aristocrat orchestrated and funded the violence to achieve social disruption in Britain. It wasn’t difficult to radicalize disgruntled men with little to lose. With violence, they sought attention for the impoverished people there. They killed prostitutes to show what terrible conditions they were forced to endure. (Yes, that seems both cruel and stupid, but no one said that zealots are smart. Utilitarian philosophies often justify nastiness.)
When such narratives are framed as fiction, it can be difficult to know whether a given claim or event is real or fabricated for the plot. However, Williams takes elaborate pains to ensure authenticity in language, period settings, and even Sherlock Holmes’ perspective (including Holmes’ development of a behavioral profile). The benefit of fiction for a 600-plus-page treatise is that readers can experience it with sensory detail, pacing, and dialogue, rather than as an intellectual exercise. In addition, this book is heavily illustrated. It offers pace and style for the non-Ripperologist who just wants a good story, while giving Ripperologists a new perspective to ponder.
Williams argues passionately for his ideas. He has done plenty of research. We don’t know that Jack the Ripper was a lone individual, so more than one person could certainly have victimized these women. Perhaps "JtR" was several unrelated killers, but with all the men’s clubs in the area at the time, along with the class divisions and political unrest, it could as easily have been a joint effort with a specific goal.
It's difficult to tolerate causes that victimize innocent people to send a message, but we’ve seen this throughout history, including in the arena of terrorism today. Zealots value ideals far more than human life. Those readers who prefer a sexually-motivated JtR in his opera cloak might resist Williams’ approach, but anyone intent on a serious study of these murders during the Autumn of Terror cannot ignore his contribution. He tested it on some impressive experts and found support. It's not without holes, but neither is any other theory at this time.
Williams, R. (2016). Sherlock Holmes and the Autumn of Terror. Rukia Publishing.