Sir Melville Leslie Macnaghten (1853-1921) returned to England from India in 1887 and was offered the post of Assistant Chief Constable at Scotland Yard by his lifelong friend, the then Assistant Commissioner in charge of CID, James Monro. However his appointment was opposed by the Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren and, as a consequence, Macnaghten was rejected for the post by the Home Office. But when Sir Charles Warren resigned in November 1888 at the height of the Jack the Ripper scare, Monro was appointed Metropolitan Police Commissioner and in June 1889 Melville Macnaghten finally joined the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard.

Macnaghten proved to be very much a “hands on” official and, to quote one observer, he “… was a familiar figure at the scene of any murder case.” Another observer noted that “It is Mr. Macnaghten’s duty, no less than his earnest desire, to be first on the scene of any …sinister catastrophe. He is therefore more intimately acquainted, perhaps, with the details of the most recent celebrated crimes than anyone else at Scotland Yard.” At the time of his appointment the hunt for Jack the Ripper was still going strong and the police were still desperate to bring the unknown killer to justice.

But Macnaghten would later tell the Daily Mail that the greatest regret of his life was that he had joined the force six months after Jack the Ripper committed suicide. He went on to opine that: “Of course he was a maniac, but I have a very clear idea who he was and how he committed suicide, but that, with other secrets, will never be revealed by me. I have destroyed all my documents and there is now no record of the secret information which came into my possession at one time or another.”

It should be pointed out that many of the police officers who worked on the case had their own opinions as to who Jack the Ripper was and several of them even went on record to name him. The problem that confronts us today is that they nearly always named different suspects and what becomes apparent from this is that most of their theories were based upon speculation and presumption as opposed to hard evidence.

Despite his emphatic assertion that Jack the Ripper had committed suicide and his intriguing hint of “secret information” that had come in to his possession regarding the killer’s identity, a close study of Macnaghten’s views on the case clearly shows that he, like many of his fellow officers, allowed his own personal opinions and prejudices about the killer’s state of mind to influence his judgement as to the fate of Jack the Ripper. But what makes Macnaghten stand out from other detectives, at least as far as those who try to make sense of the case today are concerned, is that several of the statements that he made concerning the murders and the fate of the murderer, have more or less formed the bedrock of Jack the Ripper research for the last forty or so years.

One document in particular that was written by Macnaghten in 1894 has been ceaselessly pored over, analysed, quoted and argued about ever since its existence became known in the 1950’s. That document (or to be more precise collection of papers) is universally known as The Macnaghten Memoranda. It is an influential manuscript for several reasons. Firstly, it is a contemporary 19th century document that states the actual number of victims that Jack the Ripper had. Secondly, it names the suspect whom Macnaghten favoured, the suspect who, according to Macnaghten, committed suicide six months before he joined the police.

But before naming that suspect it is important to reveal why Macnaghten wrote the memoranda. On 13th February 1894 the Sun newspaper began a series of articles in which it claimed to know the identity of Jack the Ripper. Although the Sun never actually named the suspect it was apparent that the articles were referring to a man name Thomas Hayne Cutbush who was detained at Lambeth Infirmary as a wandering lunatic on March 5th 1891. However, within hours of being admitted to the infirmary he escaped and went on to stab a lady named Florence Grace Johnson, and then attempted to stab another lady, Isabelle Frazer Anderson. He was arrested on 9th March 1891 and in April was arraigned at the London County Sessions, found to be insane and was duly sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty’s Pleasure. He was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where he remained until his death in 1903.

You can read the full story of Thomas Cutbush and the Sun’s articles by following this link.

It was as a result of the Sun’s articles and a desire to refute the suggestion that Cutbush was Jack the Ripper that Melville Macnaghten wrote his memoranda. What we don’t know today is why he wrote it and why he was so anxious to refute claims against Cutbush – after all several other lunatics had been named as the killer and no senior officer had felt compelled to write a similar defence of any of them.

It is possible that he was asked to prepare the document by his superiors either in the police or the Home Office. Cutbush was much more of a “hot potato” than the other lunatics that the police suspected because he was the nephew of a senior Metropolitan Police Officer, Executive Supt. Charles Cutbush. Perhaps the powers that were grew a little nervous when the Sun ran its series of articles? Macnaghten was the officer who had given the order to close the police files on the investigation in 1892. If the Sun’s articles were correct and Cutbush was the Ripper, then the fact he was related to a senior police officer could have well resulted in accusations of a police cover up to protect one of their own. Questions might have been asked in Parliament and, for that reason Macnaghten was either asked to or else undertook to prepare the memorandum against such an eventuality.

In the document Macnaghten was dismissive of what he refers to as the “…inaccuracies and misleading statements made by ‘The Sun’.” With regard to the paper’s claim that its suspect had “… lived within a ten minute walk of the locality of most of the murders [and thus] was within easy reach of a place of refuge…” Macnaghten pointed out that “… He was born and had lived in Kennington all his life (at the time he lived with his mother and Aunt at 14 Albert Street Kennington).”

As to the Sun’s claim that “…He [Cutbush] had been employed in Whitechapel canvassing (selling advertising space for trade directories) so had had “the opportunity of learning the “labyrinthine constructions of that strange region,” Macnaghten wrote that “…He had been employed as a clerk and traveller in the Tea Trade at the Minories and subsequently canvassed for a Directory in the East End..”

The Sun also claimed that their suspect “…was the victim of “that strange form of delusion with regard to constitutional disease which is one of the most frequent accompaniments of the murder of fallen women.” In other words the Sun was claiming that Cutbush had caught venereal disease from a prostitute and was murdering street walkers for vengeance. Macnaghten conceded that Cutbush had “…apparently contracted syphilis about 1888 and since that time led an idle and useless life. His brain seems to have become affected, and he believed that people were trying to poison him.”

Macnaghten then went on to correct and counter as many of the Sun’s other claims as he could:- “.. In its issue of 14th February, it is stated that the writer has in his possession a facsimile of the knife with which the murders were committed. This knife … was found to have been purchased in Houndsditch in February ’91 or 2 years and 3 months after the Whitechapel murders ceased! …”

“The statement, too, that Cutbush ‘spent a portion of the day in making rough drawings of the bodies of women, and of their mutilations’ is based solely on the fact that 2 scribble drawings of women in indecent postures were found torn up in Cutbush’s room. The head and body of one of these had been cut from some fashion plate, and legs were added to shew a woman’s naked thighs and pink stockings.”

“In the issue of 15th inst. it is said that a light overcoat was among the things found in Cutbush’s house, and that a man in a light overcoat was seen talking to a woman at Backchurch Lane whose body with arms attached was found in Pinchin Street. This is hopelessly incorrect! On 10th Sept. ’89 the naked body, with arms, of a woman was found wrapped in some sacking under a Railway arch in Pinchin Street: the head and legs were never found nor was the woman ever identified. She had been killed at least 24 hours before the remains which had seemingly been brought from a distance, were discovered. The stomach was split up by a cut, and the head and legs had been severed in a manner identical with that of the woman whose remains were discovered in the Thames, in Battersea Park, and on the Chelsea Embankment on the 4th June of the same year; and these murders had no connection whatever with the Whitechapel horrors. The Rainham mystery in 1887 and the Whitehall mystery (when portions of a woman’s body were found under what is now New Scotland Yard) in 1888 were of a similar type to the Thames and Pinchin Street crimes.”

“It is perfectly untrue to say that Cutbush stabbed 6 girls behind. This is confounding his case with that of Colicott” [A few weeks before Cutbush’s arrest, several cases of stabbing, or jabbing, from behind had occurred in the vicinity, and a man named Colicott had been arrested. He was subsequently discharged owing to a faulty identification. According to Macnaghten:- “…The cuts in the girl’s dresses made by Colicott were quite different to the cut(s) made by Cutbush (when he wounded Miss Johnson) who was no doubt influenced by a wild desire of morbid imitation..”

Although Macnaghten does concede that the actual whereabouts of Cutbush at the times and on the nights of the murders were unknown his exposure of the glaring errors in the Sun’s reportage is, to say the least, convincing and it is probable that Thomas Haynes Cutbush was not Jack the Ripper.

But the importance of the memoranda cannot be underestimated for, in refuting the accusations against Cutbush Macnaghten makes several statements of fact that, as mentioned earlier, have formed the bedrock for a great deal of Jack the Ripper study over the last forty or so years. Perhaps the most important of these is his emphatic statement that “…the Whitechapel murderer had 5 victims and 5 victims only.”

These five victims have since become known as the canonical five. They are Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman. Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Kelly. So that makes the date of the first murder August 31st 1888 and that of the final murder 9th November 1888 a period of ten weeks. Today it is difficult to ascertain whether or not that statement is correct since no-one was ever charged with the crimes, so we have no way of being certain about which of them were the work of Jack the Ripper. The Whitechapel Murders file actually has 11 murders on it and includes two further murders that took place in July 1889 and in February 1891. These certainly dovetail nicely into proving the guilt of Thomas Cutbush since he was incarcerated in March 1891 and the murders ended around that time.