An Interview With Adam Wood

Adam Wood has, over the years, made a huge contribution to Jack the Ripper studies and to the study of Victorian and East End history in general.

He has published scholarly  articles on major players in the investigation, such as Coroner Wynne Baxter and Sir Melville Macnaghten.

Adam Wood - Author and Publisher
Adam Wood – Author and Publisher

Over the years he has organised conferences on the case and he is the Executive Editor of Ripperologist Magazine, one of the most respected journals in the field of Ripperology. If you have an interest in the Jack the Ripper case a subscription to Ripperologist is almost a must.

He is currently hard at work on a biography of Donald Sutherland Swanson and has recently started a publishing company, Mango Books, to provide readers with detailed, quality books on important aspects of the Jack the Ripper case and on East End crime and history.

He has graciously agreed to take time out from his schedule to talk a little about his activities and his opinions on the Jack the Ripper case.

Hi Adam, and firstly might I say a big thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.

How long have you been interested in the Jack the Ripper case? What first tweaked your interest?

Hi Richard. My earliest memory of ‘Jack the Ripper’ is reading a story in the News of the World when I was about eleven and my Grandad looking over my shoulder and saying “Jack the Ripper? My Dad saw one of the bodies…”

It was the name which caused me to read the story, around 1976 so probably a Royal Conspiracy piece, but the supposed family link really caught my interest.

Adam's great grandfather Benjamin Wood.
Benjamin Wood

Much later I learned through research that my Great-Grandfather Benjamin Wood was living in Bacon Street, off Brick Lane in the 1880s.

He was living at 48 Old Nichol Street when he enlisted into the Tower Hamlets Rifle Brigade in March 1892.

My Grandfather John was born in 1903.

It was this continuing discovery of family ties to the East End which drew me there before the Ripper sites.

As I got older I followed newspaper mentions of the case, and the first book I actually bought was Summing Up and Verdict by Colin Wilson and Robin Odell, which I still have a soft spot for.

I picked up a few more before reading Paul Begg’s Uncensored Facts, and was massively impressed with the depth of research shown in the references and notes.

That had a major influence on my own later work – the need to check and double-check primary sources.

You’ve been visiting the East End for many years now, how much do you think it has changed since you first visited it?

I first visited the district in the 1980’s and went to areas associated with my family; Helen’s Place, the tenement building near Bethnal Green where my Grandfather grew up is still exactly the same, as is St John Church, where he was baptised. Spitalfields and Whitechapel have, of course, changed considerably and like any everywhere else in the country many pubs have closed.

Seeing photographs now of the Frying Pan, the Grave Maurice or Roebuck on Durward Street bring a pang of sadness when you’ve been in them but realise they are no more.

An image of two crossed frying pans on the former Frying Pan Pub.
The Frying Pan Pub

I’m not someone who generally disagrees with change, or complains when something like the White’s Row car park is pulled down.

It’s sad because it’s part of your memory of the area, but changes have been made in the East End for hundreds of years, and why should we preserve buildings which have a link to a series of gruesome crimes simply because we have an interest in it?

To me, the East End has an ‘atmosphere’, a ‘personality’ in the same way that south and north London do. That’s what I enjoy most when visiting the area today.

You also edit Ripperologist Magazine, the journal of Jack the Ripper, East End and Victorian studies. Can you tell us a little bit about it? How did that get started?

I joined the fledgling Casebook message boards in the very early days, and through discussions there met Paul Begg, Eduardo Zinna, Johanne Edgington and many several others, including Andy Aliffe. Andy invited us to a meeting of the Cloak and Dagger Club (I believe it was their fourth – it was still at the Alma in Spelman Street at the time) so a small group of us went along, not knowing that Andy had warned members that ‘the people from the internet’ were coming.

The front cover of Ripperologist
Ripperologist Magazine

We were immediately made to feel welcome, and after the talk that evening (by Nick Connell) I met Mark Galloway and Paul Daniel, who had agreed that Paul would become Editor of the club magazine, Ripperologist.

As a graphic designer, I offered my services to Paul and while he understandably preferred to put his own visual stamp on it, a short time later I became a sort of Sub Editor, helping with suggestions and comments as well as book reviews and reports from the C&D meetings.

A few years later Paul expressed a desire to step down so Paul Begg was invited to become Editor, and I took over artwork duties.

It soon became obvious that it was a lot of work and help was required, so we called in Eduardo Zinna and then Chris George. As the readership of the magazine grew it was apparent that the vast majority didn’t attend Club meetings, and Ripperologist became a separate entity, with the C&D renaming itself The Whitechapel Society 1888 and launched their Journal.

Over the years we’ve had some magnificent help from some special people such as Don Souden, Jane Coram, Jennifer Sheldon and Gareth Williams, and I’m proud that we have gone through some difficult periods (the move from printed magazine to electronic journal springs to mind), but have come out stronger.

This year the Rip will be 21 (of which I’ve been on board 17 years), and soon to publish our 150th issue. That’s a remarkable statistic given the supposed limited scope of our topic of interest, but testament to the work being conducted by those interested in the Jack the Ripper case and associated areas.

You’ve also recently become a publisher. What made you decide to take that step?

It came about as a result of a chat with Paul Begg.

We were discussing progress on my book on Donald Swanson and I commented that I’d designed a cover which I’d be reluctant to let some other publisher change; Paul pointed out that with my design background it actually made sense to produce the book myself, and the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea.

I happened to mention this decision to Neil Bell, who had long wished that the Police Code was more widely available to researchers, and that was the first step to taking on other authors’ work and I decided to launch the publishing part of my design company properly.

Luckily I have been able to call on the services of David Green as a professional indexer, along with editors such as Paul Begg and Mark Ripper, so I have all aspects covered.

Through my years as editor of Ripperologist I’d been aware of the excellent research being conducted by various people, who were producing fantastic work which would sadly not be taken up by mainstream publishers as not being commercial enough for their requirements. I wanted to be able to offer an outlet for these researchers and writers, so work with the author to get their work into print and also ebook format.

The idea is to produce an initial short print run and reprint as stocks demand, so that outlay is affordable and the book is therefore viable for me, as a specialist publisher.

Not long after launching I became aware that Kate Clarke was looking to republish her classic book on Adelaide Bartlett, and this has now been updated and repackaged and is currently at the printer. I will also shortly be publishing another of Kate’s books – watch this space!

And just this week I have reached agreement with Richard Whittington-Egan to publish his new book, a biography of ghost hunter and writer Elliott O’Donnell.

There are discussions going on with another four authors, so you could say people are embracing the opportunity as much as I am!

I was really impressed with the quality of your re-published Howard Vincent’s The Police Code. How useful do you think the Police Code is to Ripper studies?

The red front cover of Howard Vincent's Police Code
Sir Howard Vincent’s Police Code

Neil Bell was correct in saying that The Police Code is a book which every researcher into crime and policing of the Victorian period should read.

As well as detailing the duties of a policeman, the book gives an insight into their daily routine and in this way explains why certain officers involved in the Ripper case acted as they did.

It’s interesting that many students of the case look into where the victims or suspects lived, and closely examine their every move, but in the majority of instances they see the police as a huge, faceless force who should have caught the killer, without thought as to the methods or procedure employed at the time.

This is an area on which I hope the Police Code will help to shed some light, along with Neil’s Capturing Jack the Ripper.

A proportion of all sales is going to a very worthy cause, can you tell us a little about it?

In the early stages of planning the book – in fact possibly during the first conversation – Neil said that if we were to publish the book he was keen for the Metropolitan and City Police Orphans Fund to receive a share of profits, as this was something that Sir Howard Vincent, Director of the CID, had done during the book’s original lifetime.

This was something I agreed to immediately, and we contacted the Fund to let them know of our intention. They replied welcoming the offer of donations, and equally as important the exposure the book would bring for the charity.

In return, we cheekily asked whether the Chairman of the Fund, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, would be prepared to write a short foreword, and we were delighted when this was agreed to. The thing about the Met and City Police Orphans Fund is that while many are aware of its existence, very few have any knowledge of its history.

In fact, when Neil and myself visited their offices in Putney to look through their archives we didn’t really know what to expect, but as can be seen from the Police Code there is a wealth of material pertinent to policemen involved in the hunt for the Ripper, which if nothing else showed that the two forces – supposedly unable to work together – were in fact happy to sit side by side and discuss the welfare of police orphans.

Apart from it being the first book published through my company, I’m very proud of the ongoing donations made to the Fund and also for helping to increase awareness of the charity.

You’re also busy with Krayology by our very own John Bennett. How is that going and when is it out?

The front cover of John Bennett's Krayology showing the Kray Twins
The Front Cover of Krayology

John contacted me shortly after I launched the publishing company and announced that I was working on the Police Code with Neil.

He had an idea for a book on the Krays and wanted to hear my plans. We reached an agreement and it turned out that John had already started, so progress has been very smooth.

The original thought was to release Krayology to tie in with the launch of the new Krays film.

But the very nature of the book has delayed it by a short period – as John is accessing National Archives files and other original source material, this information takes time to uncover and assimilate.

It does mean that Krayology will be the first book using full official sources rather ‘gang members memories’, so it will be an important addition to the Kray library.

We expect to complete the book for indexing in early October, so I would expect it to be out the first week of November.

You yourself are currently writing a biography of Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson which is due for publication in November 2015. How important do you think Swanson is/was in the case?

Swanson was, to my mind, the most important officer in the investigation. That he collected and assimilated information from a myriad of sources put him in a unique position.

The front cover of Adam Wood's book The Life and Times of a Victorian Detective.
Adam’s Chief Inspector Swanson Book

I first decided to write his biography when researching for my Ripperologist article on the history of the Swanson marginalia.

The Swanson family made all their related documents available for my work on this article and I soon realised that the man had an incredible career, and that the Ripper case was but a small part of it.

I have taken care to describe Swanson’s background and upbringing, his early career in the Metropolitan Police and subsequent involvement in major cases, and in this way hope that readers will come to understand why he was selected to head the Ripper investigation and also his thought processes. It is a pity that his legacy on the case – the marginalia – has often been dismissed purely because of its variance to the known events in Aaron Kosminski’s later life.

As the one person who knew more than any other officer, what Swanson has to say is very important and should be read with great care.

Do you think he did know Jack the Ripper’s identity?

You’ll have to read the book!

 Do you think we will ever know for certain who Jack the Ripper was?

I feel the discipline has reached the point where even if the true identity was revealed – and it might have been already for all we know – there will be enough gaps in the evidence presented to allow dissenters to dismiss the suspect.

For example, if I were to prove that Swanson was correct about Kosminski, ergo Robert Anderson’s identification of the Polish Jew as the suspect, we’d still have the problem of no evidence whatsoever linking Kosminski to the murders, even though Anderson and Swanson were the two officials who really would have known. And until the missing suspects file turns up – if it still exists – we’ll never know for sure.

How can people get in touch with you and learn more about your books?

The Mango Books website lists those titles currently available and also coming soon. It outlines the mission statement of the company and gives information for prospective authors, so best to visit

Adam, many thanks.

You’re welcome, Richard.