Imagine if you were a clergyman just going about your everyday duties, such as hearing confessions, when, from the dark of the confessional’s other side, a gruff voice confesses his sins and admits to being “Jack the Ripper.” How would you react?
Well, according to an article in The Daily Mail in January 1899, that’s exactly what did happen to a “north country clergyman of the Church of England.”
THE DEATH OF JACK THE RIPPER
The article carried the headline “Jack the Ripper Dead” and added a sub heading, which informed readers that he had been “In Life A Philanthropist And At One Time A Surgeon.”
Opening its article, the newspaper informed readers that the “…identity of the murderer is as unsolved a mystery as it was while the blood of the victims was yet wet upon the pavements.”
THE VICAR’S LETTER
It went on to quote a letter it had received from the aforementioned north country vicar.
“I received information in professional confidence, with directions to publish the facts after ten years, and then with such alterations as might defeat identification. The murderer was a man of good position and otherwise unblemished character, who suffered from epileptic mania, and is long since deceased. I must ask you not to give my name as it might lead to identification of the perpetrator of the crimes.”
A LONDON MYSTERY SOLVED?
The clergyman had enclosed a “narrative” which he entitled “The Whitechurch Murders: Solution of a London Mystery.” He went on to say that proof was “for obvious reasons impossible – under seal of confession.”
The newspaper was having none of this and demanded to know “how any good could purpose could be served by publishing substantial truth in fictitious form?”
A REPORTER HEADED NORTH
When the vicar was still unforthcoming on the matter they sent their representative north to interview the vicar in order, they said, “to ascertain which parts of the narrative were actual facts.”
Unfortunately the vicar was as reticent in the flesh as he had been in writing and no mount of imploring would persuade him to divulge to the reporter “the identity of the most terrible figure in the criminal annals of our times.”
Indeed, the reporter came back empty handed and informed his editor that the good clergyman “does not intend to let anyone else in on the secret.”
HE DIED SHORTLY AFTER THE LAST MURDER
The only information concerning the fate of the perpetrator that the reporter could elicit from the vicar was that the “murderer died very shortly after committing the last murder.”
It also transpired that the perpetrator had not actually confessed to this particular vicar, but, rather, to a colleague of his who had then passed on the story to him.
So, by the time the readers got to the end of what, at first, seemed to be an intriguing article, they realised that it was in fact very much a none story.
A SLOW NEWS DAY?
One can only imagine that the day on which it was published had been a slow news day and so, remembering those halcyon days of 1888, when any mention of the Whitechapel Murders was guaranteed to result in extra newspaper sales, The Daily Mail had decided to publish the article and hope nobody would notice how little of it was based on cold hard facts – a technique that many recent books on the murders have excelled at utilising!
HE RESCUED HIS VICTIMS
In closing, the writer of the article informed the readers that:-
“The only other item which a lengthy chat with the vicar could elicit was that the murderer was a man who at the time used to be engaged in rescue work among the depraved women of the East End – eventually his victims – and that the assassin was at one time a surgeon.”
Not much to go on there then. But, then again, books on the ripper have become best sellers with a lot less!