During one of my many perambulations around London last week I came upon this photo of the Victorian American actor Richard Mansfield for sale in a shop window in Cecil Court, off Charing Cross Road.
The sales tag contained the following information:-
It read “Richard Mansfield One time Ripper suspect Died 1907 Created Jekyll & Hyde on stage at The Lyceum August 1888.
1888 was, of course, the year in which the Jack the Ripper murders took place in the East End of London.
Indeed, the murders themselves well and truly got underway in August 1888 at about the time Richard Mansfield was first appearing on the stage of the Lyceum Theatre in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The fact that Mansfield was able to transform himself from the upright and decent Dr. Jekyll into the despicable and evil Mr Hyde on stage night after night led to the inevitable suggestion that he may well have been Jack the Ripper.
On October 5th 1888 Mansfield was even named as a likely suspect in a letter that was sent to the City of London Police.
In common with many of the Jack the Ripper letters, this one was littered with spelling mistakes and bad grammar.
Now that these Horrable Murders are being Comitted I think it the duty of Everyone to let the Police know if they Susepect anyone. What I am going to Say Seems Allmost imposable but still Strange things have Happened at times. I have A great likeing for acters So that I should be the Last to think because A man take a dretfull Part he is therefore Bad but when I went to see Mr Mansfield Take the Part of Dr Jekel & Mr Hyde I felt at once that he was the Man Wanted & I have not been able to get this Feeling out of my Head….”
Later in the missive the unknown writer of the letter opines that:-
“…I thought it Strange this Play Should have Commenced before the Murders for it is Really Something after the Same Stile. The Murders take place on Saturday nights Mr M never has A Performance on Saturday. The Murders Once Took PLace on Friday & once Mr M Was to ill to Perform at the Saturday Morning Performance…”
Having mentioned a crime whereby:-
“…the Safe was Robed of £200 & no one knew by wolme it looks as if there was A Bad Person about…”
the anonymous writer goes on to sate that:-
“…I read in the Globe the outher night that the Same dretfull murders took place in America & were never discovered Mr M is I think A American But weather he Came from there I dont know…”
The writer then goes on to suggest that a watch should be kept on Mansfield “..without Causing any Bother…”
In closing the writer observes that:-
“.., I dont Know Whats Put this into my Head I Can assure you it is not because I See him Take Such A dretfull Part for I have Friends on the Stage Take Bad parts but did not think they were bad in Conquence
One Who Prays for the murdrer to be Caught.