A Lot of Iffing Buts

One of the most overwhelming things about the Jack the Ripper murders is just how many suspects there have been over the years.


Indeed, so many people have found their names put forward as possible perpetrators of the crimes, that they could start their own modestly sized village or small township!

Crime author Ann Marie Ackerman, summed up the dilemma perfectly when she recently tweeted:-

“The thing that scares me most about the Jack the Ripper case is the number of suspects!’


However, one of the the things that quickly becomes apparent as you plough through the pages of  the numerous books and websites in which a particular author strives to convince you that his or her suspect offers the final solution, is just how little proof the majority of authors have that a particular suspect was, in fact, the Whitechapel Murderer.


Indeed, a you start to read the “evidence” against so many suspects, you begin to realise that very little of it is, what might be termed “concrete” and that an awful lot of what you are being asked to take the author’s word for is little more than a lot of iffing buts.

“May have been”, “could have done”, “might have been” are all precursors to statements that set out to make bold claims that link a particular person to one of the crime scenes. “What if such and such had been so and so in such and such a place?” is the typical gist of a suspect argument.

I’ve lost count of the number of times in recent years I’ve sat down to read a book purporting to have solved the mystery once and for all, only to find myself, a few pages in, casting the book aside as it it quickly becomes apparent that the author had no evidence at all and is expecting me to accept what is at best wild supposition, and at worst blatant falsehood, without question.


What is even more astonishing is just how many people are then willing to take to the internet to extol the virtues of a particular suspect without bothering to question any of the supposed evidence.

Supposed DNA, supposedly found on a garment that might have belonged to one of the victims. Someone whose route to work took him past the majority of the murder sites, who might have been visiting his mother who lived near the sites that weren’t on his route to work. A poet who might have had a relationship with a prostitute and one of whose poems was full of references to mutilation (Quentin Tarantino had better watch out if artistic creativity is proof of  real life murderous intent). Somebody who might have visited a waxworks that showed depictions of violence and who might have then been inspired to go out and recreate what he had seen.

The above are all examples of recent published theories that attempt to do what no serious student of the case should actually do, twists facts to fit a theory.


The truth is, and has to be, that, for a suspect to be viable he, or she, has to have been in the area at the time, and provably in the area at the time.

We can’t simply state that “well he might have been working as such and such and, if this then happened to him, it could well have led him to carry out the murders.” Or, we can’t suggest that “I don’t actually have any proof that my suspect was known to the victims, but what if he had seen them as he did such and such.”


Imagine the chaos that would ensure if people appeared in court charged with a particular crime and the prosecution case consisted of “well they might have been there, so they could have done it on their way to work, but even if we can’t prove that, we can most certainly prove that they watched a film about murder once.”

Yet, in a nutshell, that is what many of the theories as to who Jack the Ripper was consist of.


The truth is that, little or no evidence has survived from the original investigation – not that there was that much to begin with – and so is all that we can do today is speculate.

Yes, people  have their own favoured suspects, but one person’s suspect if another person’s alibi, or vice versa.


So, I hereby declare my new movement to ensure that all new Jack the Ripper books that actually try to convince us that a particular suspect was the murderer be filed under true crime fiction.

And, if any book shop manager refuses to do so it can only be because he might be descended from the person responsible if he had happened to meet his great, great grandmother on his way to work on a long ago morning in 1888 and somehow his DNA got onto her shawl!

You know it makes sense!