Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack the Ripper

From Hell: Royal Conspiracy

The theory that a royal conspiracy was behind the murders is a very popular one. Not only is it the premise of the 2001 movie From Hell with Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, it has spawned made-for-TV movies and documentaries and books.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence
Prince Albert Victor,
Duke of Clarence
This most appealing theory unfolds like this: Prince Albert Victor, known popularly as Eddy, was the grandson of Queen Victoria and in direct line to the throne of England. His father later became King Edward VII. Had Eddy outlived his father, he would have become King of England.

Eddy frequently went slumming in the Whitechapel area. He met and had an affair with a shop girl named Annie Crook, who he kept in an apartment there. Annie became pregnant with his child and, according to one version of the story, married Eddy secretly in a Roman Catholic wedding. Other versions have the child being born out of wedlock.

Sir William Gull
Sir William Gull
Marrying or impregnating a Catholic girl of low social standing was a definite no-no for a future king, and wind of this scandal got back to Grandma, who insisted on a resolution to the problem. The prime minister delegated this task to Queen Victoria's physician, Sir William Gull.

Dr. Gull had Annie taken away to a hospital where he savaged her memory and intellect, leaving her institutionalized for the rest of her life. Mary Kelly was caring for Annie's royal daughter, named Alice Margaret, when Annie was kidnapped. Mary Kelly, along with her friends, Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, and Elizabeth Stride, all knew about the relationship between Annie Crook and the prince, as well as their infant daughter. But they couldn't keep their mouths shut and thus became a major liability to the Crown.

Again Dr. Gull was asked for his help, this time in permanently silencing Mary Kelly and her friends. To explain the sudden demise of these troublesome whores, Dr. Gull cleverly created the persona of Jack the Ripper, a frenzied lust murderer with some degree of medical expertise.

Gull's trusty coachman locates each of the friends of Mary Kelly and persuades them individually to get into the coach. Dr. Gull then murders each woman, mutilates her in increasingly savage ways and leaves her dead on the street. Mary and her dwindling group of friends believe that a vicious gang that has threatened them in the past is responsible for the murders. Dr. Gull saves Mary for last and subjects her to ghoulish butchery.

One variation of the theory has Dr. Gull, whose intellect has been impaired by a stroke, becoming a kind of Masonic ritual executioner. Not only does Gull go to great lengths to create the belief that a sex-crazed doctor has perpetrated the series of murders, he also weaves into that creation some obscure ancient Masonic lore. Gull's Masonic group, which is the virtual Who's Who of the London upper class, includes top police officials like Sir Robert Anderson, who help Gull in his efforts to protect the throne.

Everybody loves a conspiracy theory and no doubt this one will endure for a long time despite the fact that there is no evidence to support it and quite a lot of reason to doubt that there is any truth to it at all.

There did exist a woman named Annie Crook who worked in a shop in Cleveland Street, and she had an illegitimate daughter named Alice Margaret. But there is nothing to connect her to a relationship with Eddy, whose sexual preferences were rumored to be men rather than women. Homosexuality was against the law in Victorian England and a man of Eddy's social standing would have to be very discreet if he were homosexually inclined.

Cleveland Street was the home of a brothel that catered to wealthy homosexuals. The brothel was raided, giving rise to strong rumors that Eddy was one of the patrons there, but there is no existing evidence of his presence there at the time of the raid. Also, there is nothing to connect Annie Crook to Mary Kelly, or to connect Mary Kelly to any of the other victims of Jack the Ripper. There is no evidence to suggest that they even knew each other at all and it is most unlikely that they were a tightly knit group of friends, or it would have been discovered in the interviews that police had with the families and friends of each victim.

The victims of Jack the Ripper were murdered where they were found, not in a coach or at some other location. Also, from witnesses in the crime scene areas, it is very unlikely that more than one man carried out the crimes.

Regarding Dr. Gull's ability to be Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow in The Complete Jack the Ripper points out:

Medically the slight stroke that Gull had in 1887 was the first attack of severe paralysis. Although he recovered from it, its effects were serious enough to prohibit him from further medical practice. Taken with the fact that he was 70 years old at this time, this is surely enough to cast doubts on the story of his roaming about Whitechapel. Finally, Gull did not die in a lunatic asylum. He died at home on 29 January 1890, after a third stroke which left him speechless.

Also, there is nothing to suggest that the Ripper murders had anything whatsoever to do with the Masons. Nor is it known whether Dr. Gull, Sir Robert Anderson or any of the other high level police officials involved in the Ripper murders were even members of the Freemasons.

Would the Crown have resorted to the flamboyant murder of five unfortunate women in order to protect itself? Donald Rumbelow explains the Royal Marriages Act, which was designed by George III to prevent his sons from marrying against his wishes:

"Under this Act, any such marriage as that between Eddy and Annie could have been set aside as illegal, since (1) Eddy was under 25 years old at the time of the marriage; and (2) he had married without the Queen's consent."

Finally, as John Douglas and Mark Olshaker state in The Cases That Haunt Us, the frenzied butchery of the Ripper murders is the "work of a disorganized, paranoid offender," not a person who "could continue functioning and interacting with people in a relatively normal way. Dr. Gull simply does not fit this profile.

There are a number of variants to the Royal Conspiracy Theory. One has Eddy being Jack the Ripper. Suffering from tertiary syphilis, he goes into murderous rages and haunts the streets of Whitechapel in search of victims. That is, until his keepers catch on to this and lock him up until his death from syphilis.

There is no supporting evidence for this variation either. Royal records show Eddy as a victim of the influenza epidemic of 1892. Also, several years after the Ripper murders in 1891, Eddy was named the Duke of Clarence, not a title that would have been bestowed on a person that was violently insane from tertiary syphilis. While Eddy did not possess a brilliant mind, he was always considered a nice person and was not in any way inclined to violence.

While there were rumors about Eddy's sexual proclivities during his lifetime, there was never any indication that police or anyone else at that time thought of him as a suspect in the Ripper murders. Indeed, Eddy had pretty unshakeable alibis for all of the murders, often being far from London when they occurred.

James Kenneth Stephen
James Kenneth Stephen
Another variant on the Royal Conspiracy Theory was that Eddy's tutor at Cambridge, James Kenneth Stephen, was Jack the Ripper: after Eddy ended a homosexual relationship with his tutor, Stephen committed the murders for revenge.

While it was true that Stephen was Eddy's tutor, there is no evidence of a homosexual relationship between them. A few years after Eddy left Cambridge, Stephen's brain was seriously damaged in an accident and he eventually died in an asylum. The emotional and mental problems that plagued Stephen after his accident gave rise to some violent phrases in his poetry, but that certainly doesn't add up to being a serial killer. Like the other variations of the Royal Conspiracy Theory, this one has no evidence to support it either.

Variants of the Royal Conspiracy will continue to prosper because they lend themselves to movies and books. They are dramatic stories that explain Jack the Ripper in motives that we can all understand, unlike the frenzied evil that drives a brutal serial killer.

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