What would it take to convince you of someone being Jack the Ripper? How about a signed and detailed confession? That’s exactly what the world was presented with in 1992, but was there more to the Diary of Jack the Ripper than met the eye?
In 1992 Michael Barrett, a Liverpool scrap metal dealer, presented to the world a journal which claimed to be written by notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. It was not signed or named, but there were enough details for it to be obviously written about James Maybrick, a Liverpool cotton merchant who was purportedly murdered by his wife in 1889. Barrett claimed that he had been given the book by a friend in a pub (who had since died). Later, Barrett’s wife Ann Graham claimed that the diary came from her family and that she had arranged for it to be given to Barrett in the hope he would write a book about it. Barrett however changed his story and said that he forged the book, assisted by his wife. Barrett later withdrew this confession, and then subsequently withdrew the withdrawal (a pattern that he has frequently repeated in the years since).
The diary itself is a Victorian scrapbook or photo album, with twenty pages torn out of the front. The paper and ink have defied conclusive scientific analysis – while some reports claim the diary is an obvious fake, others have stated it is old. Some tests have found the type of ink used consistent with the Late Victorian Period, others claim it is too modern. Some experts have claimed the ink has faded or bronzed over the last 20 years, others that it has remained the same.
The existence of the Diary has divided Ripperology. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s thousands of characters of text were exchanged in debate, argument and sometimes even insults on the Casebook message board. Some felt that the Diary was genuine and James Maybrick was Jack the Ripper, others that it was a modern forgery (and an obvious one at that) still a third group believed that it was a very old forgery (some believing that this didn’t mean that Maybrick wasn’t the Ripper or that perhaps he wrote it and was delusional). Even today the subject was controversial, but we are nowhere near figuring out just where and when it came from or who wrote it and why.
In a further twist, in 1993 a further piece of “evidence” surfaced that presented Maybrick as the Ripper. Albert Johnson came forward with a pocket watch, inside the cover of which is scratched “J. Maybrick”, the words “I am Jack” and the initials of the five canonical victims. The watch two has undergone scientific analysis.
Dr Stephen Turgoose examined them using an electron microscope in 1993 and reported the following:
“On the basis of the evidence…especially the order in which the markings were made, it is clear that the engravings pre-date the vast majority of superficial surface scratch marks…the wear apparent on the engravings, evidenced by the rounded edges of the markings and ‘polishing out’ in places, would indicate a substantial age…whilst there is no evidence which would indicate a recent (last few years) origin…it must be emphasised that there are no features observed which conclusively prove the age of the engravings. They could have been produced recently, and deliberately artificially aged by polishing, but this would have been a complex multi-stage process…many of the features are only resolved by the scanning electron microscope, not being readily apparent in optical microscopy, and so, if they were of recent origin, the engraver would have to be aware of the potential evidence available from this technique, indicating a considerable skill and scientific awareness.”
The following year they were also examined by Dr Robert Wild using an electron microscope and Auger electron spectroscopy:
“Provided the watch has remained in a normal environment, it would seem likely that the engravings were at least several tens of years age…in my opinion it is unlikely that anyone would have sufficient expertise to implant aged, brass particles into the base of the engravings.”
So we have a Diary that defies scientific analysis (with experts unable to agree on the age of ink and when it was applied to paper) and a watch that seems to have been engraved “several tens of years” ago. Despite this, the cries of fraud have not ended.
The book analysing the Diary and it’s authentication was written by Shirley Harrison and released in 1993. Harrison and the books publisher (and current owner of the Diary) Robert Smith, both believe the Diary to be genuine and that Maybrick was the Ripper. The waters were muddied however by the arrival on the scene of Paul Feldman, who bought the right to produce a documentary on the topic. Feldman produced his own book “The Final Chapter” in 1997, and became obsessed with proving Maybrick as author of the Diary and the Ripper. Feldman believed that Ann Graham and Albert Johnson were both descended from the Maybrick family, but no one has been able to prove this theory. For a more in-depth understanding of the whole convoluted story of the Diary and it’s various testings and dramas then “The Ripper Diary: The Inside Story”, written in 2003 by Keith Skinner, Seth Linder and Caroline Morris, is thoroughly recommended.
As we come to a look at the twenty plus year debate, two further events are worth mentioning. At the Trial of James Maybrick held in Liverpool in 2007, respected Ripper researcher Keith Skinner was asked if he felt Maybrick was a credible Ripper suspect. His answer shocked the audience when he replied that the Diary was the subject of ongoing enquiries but “if I went into a court of law with the documents in my possession, I think the jury would reach a verdict and say, “yes, this Diary came out of Battlecrease House.” (Battlecrease being James Maybrick house). He has since clarified that he did not suggest the Diary was genuine or that Maybrick was the Ripper, but beyond that has not revealed the research he possess, possibly because of contractual obligations.
The second was at the 2012 Jack the Ripper Conference in York where Robert Anderson (a self-confessed Maybrickian) presented an analysis of the scientific evidence for and against the Diary. As part of the presentation, Robert Smith had brought the Diary for delegates to look at and they revealed that Smith and his solicitor travelled to Liverpool to meet with workmen who had renovated Battlecrease House. They signed a sworn affidavit that one of their colleagues had removed from the building an old book and a woman’s gold ring. This confirmed speculation of many years that builders or electricians had discovered and taken the book when working in the house.
So despite over twenty years of speculation and hours of debate and arguing, many scientific tests and the loud shouting of its critics the it is a poor and obvious forgery, there are still many unanswered questions about the diary and its origins are an intriguing mystery.