Our suspect watch this week looks at little known suspect Alfred Blanchard. Blanchard was 34 years old at the time of the Whitechapel Murders and worked as a canvasser. He was catapulted into the investigation of the Whitechapel Murders on 5th October when he was arrested at the Fox and Goose Public House in Birmingham on suspicion of murder. The reason: He confessed to being the Whitechapel Murderer!

According to Richard King, the landlord, Blanchard embarked on a 9 hour drinking session in the pub. During this time he asked questions about the Birmingham police and detectives, with the landlord answering with his confidence in the local detectives, proclaiming he believed them to be very clever men. In response Blanchard declared: “It would be a funny thing if the Whitechapel murderer were to give himself up in Birmingham. I am the Whitechapel murderer!”

He then went on to detailing that the reason the women did not scream was because he compressed the windpipe with his finger and thumb while cutting their throat with his right hand and claimed he was responsible for six murders in London. Before his arrest he told the landlord: “You are a fool if you don’t get the thousend pounds reward offered for me, You may have as well have it as anyone else.”

Naturally Blanchard was arrested and brought before the magistrates for his confession. He claimed that he had been drinking heavily and became excited after reading about the murders. Police investigation found he had been in Manchester during the murders and for two months prior to his arrest.

So Blanchard was released without charge, but why would an innocent man confess to a crime he did not commit? Surely he must be guilty and the police and magistrates in Birmingham freed Jack the Ripper? Actually, no. False confessions are relatively common, especially in famous or notorious murder cases.

There are generally three types of false confessions: Compliant – where the the suspect will confess to get out of a situation, sometimes as a result of torture or police coercion; internalised – where the suspect actually believes they have committed the crime, often because of high suggestibility caused by mental illness, sleep deprivation, drugs or alcohol; or voluntary – freely given confessions, sometimes sacrificial (such as if a parent confesses to a crime their child committed) but often in the case of particularly notorious crimes, they are simply for attention. Blanchard’s confession was undoubtedly of this third case – he confessed to the Whitechapel murders because of the attention he would get, possibly also encouraged by alcohol.

As we have said, this is not uncommon in notorious murders. In 1947, over sixty people confessed to the Black Dahlia murder of Elizabeth Short. John Mark Karr falsely confessed to the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in 1996, despite never having been to the State where the murder occurred. He was exonerated due to an alibi, his story being inconsistent with the murder and his DNA not matching evidence. In 1932 over 200 people confessed to being responsible for the Lindbergh Kidnapping. This is by no means a modern phenomenon though as in 1666 Robert Hubert was tried, convicted and hung for starting the Great Fire of London after he confessed to throwing a firebomb through a bakery window. It was proven during his trial he had not been in the country at the time of the fire, had never been near the bakery in question, the bakery did not have windows and as a cripple he could not have thrown the bomb. But as he was a foreigner and a Catholic he was the perfect scapegoat.

As a notorious case, the Whitechapel Murders were no different to these and numerous people confessed to being Jack the Ripper. These include John Fitzgerald who confessed to the murder of Annie Chapman while drunk; Benjamin Graham who also confessed when drunk; William Bull, who confessed either as a result of drunkenness or mental illness; and an unnamed individual who ran into Bishopsgate Police Station shortly after the identification of Catherine Eddowes body and confessed to her murder. There were also several gallows confessions, most notably Dr Thomas Neill Cream.

So was Alfred Blanchard Jack the Ripper? No. And neither was John Fitzgerald, Benjamin Graham, William Bull or the unnamed man at Bishopsgate policemen. They were simply attention seeking time wasters, under the influence of alcohol and seeking fame and notoriety.