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James Maybrick: Fact or Fiction?

Posted by Jenny Phillips, Jack the Ripper Tour Guide on Monday, September 14, 2020 Under: Jack the Ripper

James Maybrick: Fact or Fiction?

James Maybrick, a cotton broker from Liverpool, did not become a suspect until 1992 when a diary written on part of a Victorian ledger was rumoured to have been found by Tony Devereux, in the attic of Battlecrease House, Aigburth in Liverpool, the former residence of Maybrick. He supposedly gave it to a friend Michael Barrett in a pub, but the story later changed as his wife Ann said it had been in her family for generations. She had asked Devereux to give it to her husband because he had literary aspirations and she thought he might write a book about it. She had not wanted to tell him her family owned it, (which seems very suspicious) because she thought he would ask her father about it and relations between the two men were strained.


It was published as The Diary of Jack the Ripper in 1993 to great controversy. Few experts gave it any credence from the start, most immediately dismissed it as a hoax, though some people were open to the possibility it might be the genuine article.


The diary claimed to be written by Maybrick says that he was Jack the Ripper and committed these gruesome murders. However, there is no name in the diary, but just enough clues to point to Maybrick. Tests on the ink were inconclusive, with some pointing to Victorian ink, but others to ink from a much later period. The handwriting style was said to be more 20th century than Victorian by a handwriting expert! Barrett later signed two affidavits saying that the diary had been dictated by him and written by his wife Ann. Adding to this confusion, was Barrett's solicitor's subsequent repudiation of his affidavit, then Barrett's withdrawal of the repudiation.


So, can we really believe what he says at all? There is one further item worth looking at, as in June 1993, a gentleman's pocket watch, made by William Verity of Rothwell in 1847-8 and presented to Albert Johnson from Wallasey. The watch has ‘J. Maybrick’ scratched on the inside cover, along with the words ‘I am Jack’, as well as the initials of the five canonical Ripper victims. The watch was examined in 1993 by Dr Stephen Turgoose of the Corrosion and Protection Centre who concluded that it was impossible to accurately date the engraved scratches. They could have been made some time ago but equally there is a possibility that they could have been aged deliberately. This could only be resolved by a scanning electron microscope. When studied by Dr Robert Wild using one, he concluded that the scratches must be tens of years in age and in his opinion that it is unlikely that anyone would have sufficient expertise to implant aged, brass particles into the base of the engravings!


Though the mystery rolls on, one thing is certain. James Maybrick was an arsenic addict. He called it ‘my powders’. Many people believe that if you take it you will die at once, but this is not so if you take a minute dose. It does is not expelled  from the body, however, and eventually will reach a poisonous level. He did eventually take enough to reach this and died.


 Interestingly, his American wife Fanny was charged with his murder as the servants did not like her and told the police she extracted arsenic from fly papers, a common practice among women at the time, as they used it to whiten their facial skin. Fanny was charged and found guilty. She was sentenced to be hanged but her sentence commuted to life imprisonment by Queen Victoria and she spent 25 years in jail. She then returned to America living as a recluse in the backwoods for the rest of her life.

In : Jack the Ripper 

Tags: liverpool  1888  jack the ripper 
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