Montague John Druitt was a barrister and a special pleader who also worked as an assistant schoolmaster at Mr. George Valentines boarding School in Eliot Place Blackheath from 1881 until November 1888 when, for reasons unknown, he was suddenly dismissed. His body was found floating in the Thames at Chiswick on December 31st 1888. Stones in his pockets had ensured that his body stayed on the bed of the Thames for several weeks and the jury’s returned a verdict of suicide by drowning “whilst of unsound mind.”
His name would, doubtless, have been long forgotten were it not for the timing of his suicide, which probably took place at the end of November 1888 – three weeks after what Melville Macnaghten believed was the last Jack the Ripper murder, that of Mary Kelly on the 9th November 1888. Montague John Druitt’s suicide led Macnaghten to favour him as the likeliest contender for the mantle of Jack the Ripper and thus the name of this, otherwise unknown, barrister/school teacher has achieved a posthumous notoriety high up on the list of suspects. But was he really Jack the Ripper?
A charge sometimes leveled against Macnaghten is that he wasn’t even in the police force in 1888 so therefore wasn’t around at the time of the murders to know what went on in the investigation. This is complete nonsense! With hindsight we might be able to say that the murders had ended by the time he joined the police, but at the time they didn’t know and the investigation was still on-going when he joined. Therefore, he would have been privy to how the investigation had been handled and how the investigation was then handled into its closing stages.
However, it should also be remembered that the memoranda contains Macnaghten’s personal opinions not the official view and not a definitive solution. The document is therefore a reflection of what he believed about the murderer and it is quite emphatic about the Ripper’s probable fate:-
It will be noted that the fury of the mutilations increased in each case, and, seemingly, the appetite only became sharpened by indulgence. It seems, then, highly improbable that the murderer would have suddenly stopped in November ’88…A much more rational theory is that the murderer’s brain gave way altogether after his awful glut in Miller’s Court, and that he immediately committed suicide, or, as a possible alternative, was found to be so hopelessly mad by his relations, that he was by them confined in some asylum.
So Macnaghten’s belief was that that the killer wouldn’t have been able to carry on after Miller’s Court – Mary Kelly was murdered in her room at Miller’s Court of Dorset Street – and that his mind must have given way. That therefore leaves two options. Either the killer committed suicide, or the killer was confined in an asylum.
There can be little doubt that from September 1888 the police were monitoring asylum admissions and suicides as part of their hunt for Jack the Ripper. When they concluded, probably in 1892, that the murders had ended they would have looked again at these records to see if they held any clues as to what had become of the killer. Given Macnaghten’s aforementioned beliefs three names might well have jumped out at him as dovetailing nicely into his theory.
So when Melville Macnaghten wrote the memoranda he mentions the cases of 3 men “anyone of whom” was more likely than Cutbush to have committed this series of murders. Those men were, according to Macnaghten:-
1) A Mr M. J. Druitt, said to be a doctor & of good family — who disappeared at the time of the Miller’s Court murder, & whose body (which was said to have been upwards of a month in the water) was found in the Thames on 31st December — or about 7 weeks after that murder. He was sexually insane and from private information I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer.
(2) Kosminski — a Polish Jew — & resident in Whitechapel. This man became insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, specially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies: he was removed to a lunatic asylum about March 1889. There were many circumstances connected with this man which made him a strong ‘suspect’.
(3) Michael Ostrog, a Russian doctor, and a convict, who was subsequently detained in a lunatic asylum as a homicidal maniac. This man’s antecedents were of the worst possible type, and his whereabouts at the time of the murders could never be ascertained.
This statement has often been misinterpreted as Macnaghten naming the police’s three main suspects. But he doesn’t say that he simply says that they were just more likely than Cutbush to have been the killer.
The first name on the list appears to have been Macnaghten’s own favoured suspect, Montague John Druitt, a barrister/school teacher who committed suicide at the end of November 1888.
However, Druitt is only actually viable as a suspect if one agrees with Macnaghten that there were only five victims and that Mary Kelly was the last. The Whitechapel Murders file actually has several other possible victims on it and if you believe that Alice McKenzie (July 1889) and Frances Coles (February 1891) were victims of Jack the Ripper, then Druitt is exonerated of any involvement in the crimes.
So why did Macnaghten suspect Druitt and what proof did he have that he was the Ripper? Let’s take a closer look at his memoranda.
There are two versions of the memoranda, a private version and a Scotland Yard version. The private version is a little more revealing about Macnaghten’s own opinions.
In the private version he writes:
Mr. M.J. Druitt a doctor of about 41 years of age & of fairly good family, who disappeared at the time of the Miller’s Court murder, and whose body was found floating in the Thames on 31st December: i.e. 7 weeks after the said murder. The body was said to have been in the water for a month, or more – on it was found a season ticket between Blackheath and London. From private information I have little doubt but that his own family suspected this man of being the Whitechapel murderer, it was alleged that he was sexually insane.
The Scotland Yard version read:
A Mr. M. J. Druitt, said to be a doctor & of good family, who disappeared at the time of the Miller’s Court murder, & whose body (which was said to have been upwards of a month in the water) was found in the Thames on 31st. Decr., or about 7 weeks after that murder. He was sexually insane and from private inf. I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer.
Both versions show that Macnaghten didn’t know a great deal about Druitt as he does make some very fundamental errors about him.
This is the account of Druitt’s inquest from the Acton, Chiswick, and Turnham Green Gazette of January 5, 1889:
“William H. Druitt said he lived at Bournemouth, and that he was a solicitor. The deceased was his brother, who was 31 last birthday. He was a barrister-at-law, and an assistant master in a school at Blackheath. He had stayed with witness at Bournemouth for a night towards the end of October. Witness heard from a friend on the 11th of December that deceased had not been heard of at his chambers for more than a week. Witness then went to London to make inquiries, and at Blackheath he found that deceased had got into serious trouble at the school, and had been dismissed. That was on the 30th of December. Witness had deceased’s things searched where he resided, and found a paper addressed to him (produced). The Coroner read the letter, which was to this effect: – “Since Friday I felt I was going to be like mother, and the best thing for me was to die.” Witness, continuing, said deceased had never made any attempt on his life before. His mother became insane in July last. He had no other relative.”
So when Macnaghten wrote his memoranda he got some things right about Druitt, but he also made some fundamental mistakes about him.
WHAT HE GOT RIGHT.
His name – M J Druitt
The date his body was discovered – December 31st 1888.
The place his body was found and means of death – found drowned in the River Thames.
That he was from a “good family” – they were doctors and lawyers.
A season ticket between Blackheath and London was found on his body.
WHAT HE GOT WRONG.
The timing of when Druitt disappeared. His mind most certainly didn’t give way after the Miller’s Court murder. Indeed he carried on with his duties at Valentines School Blackheath up until his dismissal on 30th November. He was also pursuing his duties as a barrister and on 19th November he was present at a board meeting of his cricket club. So his brain had most certainly not given way altogether in the aftermath of Mary Kelly’s murder. Since he was dismissed from the school on 30th November, a Friday, it seems likely that his suicide came about as a result of that.
His age. Druitt was 31 not 41.
His occupation. Druitt was a school master and a Barrister, not a doctor.
In addition, Macnaghten made two assertions about Druitt that we can never now hope to establish the veracity of but both of which are important in the possible case against him. These assertions were:
That he was sexually insane
That his own family believed him to have been the murderer.
The sexually insane accusation is probably a reference to Druitt’s apparent homosexuality, which in itself is hardly proof of him being Jack the Ripper. Indeed, it would probably suggest that he wasn’t Jack the Ripper.
As for Druitt’s family suspecting him of being Jack the Ripper, it should be noted that Macnaghten doesn’t say that they had proof that he was but rather that they suspected him. It does not necessarily follow that they were correct in their suspicion.
Today it is almost impossible for us to prove that his family actually did have suspicions about him. The exact quote from Swanson concerning this issue is “from private information I have little doubt that his family believed him to be the ripper…” If you analyze that quote Macnaghten appears to be saying that it wasn’t Druitt’s family who told him of their suspicions but rather someone outside the family. It suggests that it was hearsay, perhaps passed on by someone close to the family. Of course we can’t say this for certain as we don’t know what that private information was.
The biggest objection to Macnaghten’s suspect must be that Inspector Abberline, the detective who led the on the ground hunt for Jack the Ripper in the area in 1888, most certainly didn’t think he could have been the Ripper. In an interview with the Pall Mall Gazette in 1903, he is quoted as saying:
“I know all about that story. But what does it amount to? Simply this. Soon after the last murder in Whitechapel the body of a young doctor was found in the Thames, but there is absolutely nothing beyond the fact that he was found at that time to incriminate him. A report was made to the Home Office about the matter, but that it was ‘considered final and conclusive’ is going altogether beyond the truth.
Finally, there is nothing that we know about Druitt that suggests that he ever visited Whitechapel nor that he had any knowledge of Whitechapel.
The case against him depends on Macnaghten’s assertion that he had more information about Druitt than he wanted to reveal – information he claimed he had destroyed so as not to cause an uproar.
My own inclination is to feel somewhat sorry for Montague John Druitt. I think that, had he waited another year, or perhaps even another month, before committing suicide, he would never have been suspected of the crimes. But his suicide provided a convenient scapegoat for the police and some crime historians to hang the mantle of Jack the Ripper on. There can be no doubt that Montague John Druitt had his demons to contend with, but the murder of five prostitutes in the East End of London was most certainly not one of them.