One of the questions I am constantly asked when people learn that I have written books on Jack the Ripper is “who do you think it was then?” Indeed, I wait with baited breath for the question to be asked when I’m at a party, or even, on those rare occasions when the underground system goes down and I have to get a taxi to the start of my Jack the Ripper Tour.
There I’ll be sitting back, hoping to catch a few stolen moments of peaceful contemplation, when the taxi driver will strike up conversation along the lines of “Why are you going to Aldgate East?” Or, at least words to that effect. “I do Jack the Ripper Walks,” I’ll reply. A sharp intake of breath will be followed by the thoughtful pause which, in turn will be followed by “who do you think it was then?”
Now, if you think about it, it’s a question that can’t be answered, since the police never caught Jack the Ripper, so no-one can ever be sure who he was. But that doesn’t stop everybody thinking that someone, somewhere, must know his identity. So you can’t really say “I don’t know, they never caught him.” Well, i suppose you could and, on occasion I have tried this straightforward approach.
But my interrogators, whoever he or she may be, is rarely satisfied with this. “Do think he could have been Royalty?” Will come the reply. “No I don’t,” should be the answer. “But it must have been someone important for them to have covered it up, ” will be the come back. “But they didn’t cover it up,” should be my reply.
So I end up giving my honest opinion which is that Jack the Ripper was an ordinary nobody, who probably lived in the area and who was probably seen on a daily basis by the very police officers who were trying to catch him. His very ordinariness is what made him so difficult to catch because, in his everyday life, he did nothing to arouse suspicion.
A straight forward and honest opinion. But an answer that will, none the less, be followed by a contemplative intake of breath, a musing scrunching up of the eyes, a knowing nod, followed by the pronouncement “I think he was Royalty!”