Well, here we go again!
Yet another author has come up with a sensational twist in order to flog yet another book claiming to have finally solved the Jack the Ripper mystery.
MARY KELLY’S TRUE IDENTITY?
Dr Wynne Weston-Davies, a former surgeon, has “apparently” secured permission to exhume the body of Mary Kelly, the final victim of Jack the Ripper, in order to prove that she was, in fact, his great aunt, Elizabeth Weston-Davies.
According to Dr. Weston-Davies, Elizabeth had married a much older man Francis Spurzheim Craig, who worked as a reporter covering the criminal courts and inquests throughout the late 1880’s.
A SINISTER PLOT
In his upcoming book The Real Mary Kelly Dr. Weston-Davies will claim that his great uncle, Francis Craig, carried out the murders, which we now know as the Jack the Ripper murders, in order to cover up his “sinister plot” to kill his wife with whom he was extremely miffed because she had returned to the streets as a prostitute.
Think you’ve heard this one before? Well it is a re-working of the Stephen Knight theory that became the basis for films such as Murder By Decree and From Hell, both of which involved plots to kill Mary Kelly being presaged by the murders of Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes.
EXHUMING MARY KELLY’S BODY
Dr Weston-Davies is quoted in several newspapers as saying that “the only way of absolutely proving that the Ripper’s final victim was my great aunt is to exhume Mary Jane Kelly’s body.
We will then attempt to extract DNA from her bones or teeth and compare them with DNA from myself or my brother who, as far as I know, are her only living relatives.”
THE WONDERS OF DNA
Interestingly, as with so many of the recent “sensationalist” theories that have tended to play to the public’s belief in the wonders of DNA, fostered by programmes such as CSI, this theory has several major flaws. If these programmes are to be believed, exhuming bodies and/or obtaining DNA samples can solve any crime within an hour – 52 minutes if you allow for the adverts.
Sadly, few of the journalists who have covered the story under headlines such as
Will Jack the Ripper mystery finally be solved? Last victim’s body to have DNA tested
have bothered to ask the obvious question – how will proving that Mary Kelly was, in fact, Elizabeth Craig, née Elizabeth Weston-Davies, prove that her husband was indeed Jack the Ripper?
This is sloppy, lazy journalism in its finest form. You receive a press release from a publisher who is about to put out a book, and you reproduce it almost word for word without taking the trouble to check the facts. After all, who needs facts when you’ve got a headline? And, as any editor will tell you, combining the name of Jack the Ripper with the universal panacea of DNA is guaranteed to sell newspapers.
Furthermore, I would question the morality of exhuming the body of a murder victim on the strength of a hunch that you might be descended from them. But, that’s just a personal opinion.
THE CRITERIA FOR EXHUMATION
Exhuming a body is not a straight forward matter. Amongst other things, you will then need to get the signature of any close relatives, the owner of the grave plot and the burial authority. Then you need to organise the actual exhumation itself. This is a very involved process – safety and public health issue are massively important, and the utmost respect must be paid to the surroundings.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE PLOT
It goes without saying that it is imperative that the correct grave is opened. And, in this respect, a massive elephant enters the room (or in this case the cemetery) and stomps all over Dr. Weston-Davies’s plans. Because, despite what people like to believe, we don’t know with any degree of certainty the exact location of Mary Kelly’s remains.
The area in which she lies is a mass grave area that was re-used throughout the 1940’s and the 1950’s. The memorial stone over what purports to be Mary Kelly’s resting place is in fact a rough approximation of where she is “thought” to lie, and it is, in fact, a later adornment to the cemetery landscape.
As a member of the cemetery staff that I spoke to on the matter put it “if he thinks he’s going to dig down and find a coffin with her name on it… it’s just not going to happen.”
And, if that is the case, an attempt to exhume the remains of Mary Kelly is going to involve disturbing other graves in the vicinity – simply to help an author sell more copies of yet another book that claims to have identified Jack the Ripper once and for all – until, that is, the next book comes out that does likewise.
Furthermore, although we know she was buried in a wooden coffin of elm and oak with a simple brass plaque that read “Marie Jeanette Kelly, died 9th November 1888, aged twenty five years,” we don’t know if the coffin was lead-lined – the probability is that it wasn’t – so there’s a good chance that, even if they can located her exact resting place, the results are going to be the same as the exhumation of Cardinal Newman, who died in 1890. In that case his body was found to have completely decomposed.
And so the pantomime goes on!
SOUND BITE THEORIES
The sad thing is that all these sound bite theories – DNA proves this, exhumation proves that – do a huge disservice to the legitimate study of the crimes. The moment an author steps forward and uses those magic letters, DNA, journalists begin to salivate at the knowledge that by using a little pseudo-science – mostly dredged out of last night’s episode of CSI Wherever the Franchise Happened To Be – and mixing it with one or two salient facts on the ripper case that have been cadged from that undisputed fount of accurate knowledge, Wikipedia, you can cobble together an article that many will take as gospel.
And, let’s be honest about this, how many people actually take the trouble to check the facts when they can grasp the sound bite without having to think too much?
Anyway, I must rush as I need to obtain a special licence to exhume the remains of sensible, accurate and and historical research from the mass burial pit that is ripperology(1888-2015).
The photographs in this article were taken by and are the copyright of photographer Sean East.