Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Gay Notes on Jack the Ripper

There never seems to be any decrease in the public’s morbid fascination of Jack the Ripper. Unlike other serial killers this fascination is based mainly on the greatest mystery – who was jack the Ripper?

In this article I wrote about the theories about Francis Tumblety being the Ripper. Each generation adds new names to the list of suspects which all add to the fascination. In the 1960s the Duke of Clarence (1864-1982) was suggested, and in the 1970s Walter Sickert (1860-1942).

The case of the Duke of Clarence has spawned many royal conspiracy theories concerning his own death, much like the ones which infest the internet today in connection with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. In some respects the two royals share certain traits. They were adored by the public, they dared to go against royal protocol, and the early deaths produced huge outpourings of public grief not seen with other royal deaths.

The Duke of Clarence’s name was HRH The Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. He was the Prince William of the Victorian era, the eldest son of the Prince of Wales and heir to his grandmother’s throne. There are many lgbt websites which list him. This is based on speculation based on the assumption that he was involved in the famous Victorian homosexual brothel scandal called the Cleveland Street Scandal.

While there may have been some vague rumours about the Duke’s sexuality in his own lifetime there has yet to be any proof that he even set foot in Cleveland Street. The scandal deserves its own article, which I will leave for another time. In my own opinion I do not think the Duke of Clarence was gay.

As with the supposed link to Cleveland Street the Duke’s link to Jack the Ripper attracted speculation and conspiracy theories, and both have been proved wrong. The link to the Ripper was first made by Thomas Stowell, a British surgeon, who wrote an article in 1970 for “The Criminologist” magazine. Even though he never mentioned the Duke of Clarence by name Stowell gave enough coded references for others to suggest that he was implying the Duke was the Ripper. Stowell denied the implication shortly before his death a few days after his article was published.

That didn’t stop conspiracy theorists from coming up with others that involved the Duke of Clarence. In 1976 Stephen Knight’s book “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution” suggested that Jack the Ripper was a prominent doctor who was ordered by senior members of the royal family to murder all the people who knew that the Duke of Clarence was secretly married and had a daughter. These claims made in the book can all be dismissed. All of it is circumstantial and based on the testimony of someone who later admitted it was all a hoax. See the Wikipedia entry on the book for more information.

What Stephen Knight’s book also did was link the Duke of Clarence to the artist Walter Sickert and claim for the first time that Sickert was involved in the murders. There was no secret in the fact that Sickert was a Ripper fanatic. He once lodged in a room in London where, his landlord claimed, was once rented by Jack the Ripper. Sickert even produced a painting of the room which he titled “Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom”. In his book Stephen Knight claimed that the Duke’s alleged daughter became Sickert’s mistress. All of Knight’s information came originally from an alleged illegitimate son of Sickert and his mistress. This son was the man who later declared he lied and that it was all a hoax. Even though Knight’s theories can be discredited there are still conspiracy theorists who have spent years picking holes in the proof that Knight was wrong.

Of the more recent attempts to prove Walter Sickert was the Ripper is the work of the acclaimed lgbt author and crime writer Patricia Cornwell. In 2002 she published “Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed”. So sure was she about Sickert’s guilt, and still is, that she said at the time that her reputation as a serious writer was at stake.

The reception of Cornwell’s book produced as much controversy as Stephen Knight’s. Part of the theory concerns her belief that Sickert was misogynistic and painted woman in this way. Critics also claim that Sickert was in France when some of the Ripper murders occurred. Cornwell proved that he was not – he was in London doing sketches in the music halls for his famous series of paintings on the subject (I know one of these painting well as it was on display at Nottingham castle where I used to work).

Another connection made by Patricia Cornwell is the analysis of letters supposedly written by the Ripper and signed by him. The handwriting closely matches that of Walter Sickert. However, many Ripper experts consider the Ripper letters to be hoaxes, so we only have to accept them if we consider Sickert was the Ripper.

Cornwell’s reputation didn’t seem to suffer much. Certainly her bank balance didn’t. She has continued to research and published another book earlier this year which contains more evidence to support her theories.

Whatever the truth, whatever the facts, there’s no doubt that jack the Ripper will continue to be the subject of theories, conspiracies and controversy for the foreseeable future.

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