Nearly 130 years after Jack the Ripper killed his last victim, new evidence has emerged that might finally unmask the identity of history’s most famous serial killer.
The evidence, which first came to light in 1992, so it isn’t technically new. But the research that points to its authenticity is. It comes in the form of a diary which allegedly belonged to James Maybrick, a wealthy cotton merchant from Liverpool, England.
Nothing in Maybrick’s life would have connected him to the slayings were this diary not found. The journal does not explicitly state that it was written by Maybrick, but it contained enough detail about the life of the author to make it likely that it belonged to him. It also contained a chilling postscript that read: “I give my name that all know of me, so history do tell, what love can do to a gentleman born. Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.”
This would seem to be enough proof to close the case against Maybrick but for one problem. The authenticity of the diary has remained in doubt for the last 25 years. The man who claimed to have first found the diary died shortly after finding it, so no one knew exactly where it had been found. Many believed it was a sophisticated forgery. This view was strengthened when the man who presented the diary to the public, Michael Barrett, signed an affidavit saying he had faked the diary and made up the story.
After extensive research by several “Ripperologists,” there is new interest in the diary. First, Michael Barret later retracted his affidavit and began swearing that the diary was authentic. Second, the reason for Barrett’s wavering has recently come to light. It appears that he removed the diary illegally from the floorboards in Maybrick’s former home, where Barrett was performing some work. When it became clear that he might be prosecuted for this, he said he made the whole thing up.
Tests have been done on the diary to try to determine if the ink and paper were from the 19th century. While those tests were inconclusive, they also did not prove that it was a 20th-century forgery. In addition, a pocket watch was found in 1993, bearing an engraving which stated, “J. Maybrick” and “I am Jack.” It also had the initials of the five Ripper victims engraved inside. Tests showed that this was not a modern forgery.
Finally, circumstances in Maybrick’s life may show why the Ripper killings suddenly ended, a mystery that has boggled crime historians for over a century. The last acknowledged Ripper killing, that of Mary Kelly, took place in November 1888. It was a few months after this that Maybrick’s health declined suddenly. He died in April 1889, having been poisoned by his wife, Florence, who later went to prison for his murder. This would explain the sudden end to the Ripper’s killing spree.
Though this is not conclusive proof that Maybrick was the killer, it is certainly an interesting prospect. And if he was the killer, there may be some justice in the fact that he died as a murder victim himself. We may never know the true identity of Jack the Ripper, but for Ripperologists everywhere, this is certainly an exciting development.