Over the course of ten months between 1888 and 1891, a string of murders took place in the Whitechapel district of London which remain unsolved to this very day.
All of these murders are believed to have been committed by one person and one person only, who today is infamously known around the world as being Jack The Ripper. And although over 120 years have passed since the Whitechapel Murders took place, people still continue to speculate about the murderer’s true identity; and Brett McBean is one of those (many) people.
We spoke with Brett McBean, an award-winning Horror, Thriller, Speculative Fiction writer and self-professed second-hand Ripperologist about his thoughts on all things Jack the Ripper.
What got you interested in Jack the Ripper in the first place?
I was ten years old, and the miniseries starring Michael Caine was showing on television. I was aware of the name Jack the Ripper, but other than a vague notion of a bogeyman who had murdered women, I didn’t know anything about the who, the what, the why, the when. The series was my first real introduction to the crimes, to Victorian era London, and watching the events unfold over two nights, I was utterly fascinated by the story and was drawn into the sinister world of the Ripper.
How long have you considered yourself a true Ripperologist?
I’m not sure I’d call myself a true Ripperologist. I have a deep interest in the Jack the Ripper case, but I’ve never done any first-hand research, such as trawl through the official records or discover new information about a contemporary suspect. There are plenty of wonderfully dedicated researchers who have done much work over the years to shine light on all aspects of the crimes, the people and the places, and who are, in my mind, the true Ripperologists. At best I’m a dedicated second-hand Ripperologist, in that I’m obsessed about the case and try to read/watch as much as I can about it and glean my own thoughts and conclusions.
What is the most believable theory you have heard about the ripper?
Whoever the Ripper was, I believe he was a local nobody, someone who lived and/or worked in the Whitechapel area and didn’t stand out from the crowd. Someone with rough anatomical knowledge and with mental issues befitting someone of the mixed offender type (that is, a blend of organised/disorganised personality, as laid out by the FBI’s BSU). Most likely with a criminal history, who was put away in either a prison or asylum not too long after the Kelly murder. The suspect who most closely resembles such a profile is Jacob Levy. He may not have the appeal of a Mason or a famous surgeon or a renowned artist, but his candidacy is more realistic and down to earth than most.
Ultimately, I don’t believe the Ripper has been named yet (and most probably never will). John Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s analysis of the Ripper in their book, The Cases That Haunt Us is the most sober and plausible theory as to the kind of person Jack the Ripper most likely was. They don’t pin a name on the Ripper, but they do use their profiling techniques to deconstruct the crimes and come to what is, in my mind, the most logical conclusions regarding the Ripper’s living conditions, personality traits, etc. and is the closest we’ll ever come to the identity of the elusive murderer.
What is the craziest theory you have heard?
There are so many! The one I always found the most absurd was that Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was the Ripper. If that speculation wasn’t ridiculous enough, the reason for his inclusion as a suspect is even more fanciful: that Carroll wrote coded messages about his crimes in his work by way of anagrams! Clever boy, that Jack.
Do you think we will ever know who jack the ripper was?
Unfortunately, no. Too much time has passed, too many reports missing, not enough evidence retained. I still hold out hope that some amazing artefact will be discovered that links an individual to the murders, but I doubt that will happen. And even if it did, it’d be near impossible to provide definite proof of that person’s guilt. I think, barring the invention of a time machine, the world will have to go on being content with it being an unsolved mystery.
How important is Jack the Ripper to Whitechapel history?
Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper will always be linked; perhaps no other crimes are so closely associated with the place in which they occurred. But, while no area ideally wants their claim to fame to be a series of brutal murders, some positives did come out of the horror. The murders in the East End helped bring attention to the squalor and crime and poverty and general degradation of the area, which in turn brought about reform and better living conditions. So much of the improvements and changes to Whitechapel post 1888 can in part be attributed to the Jack the Ripper murders. And because of the endless fascination with the crimes, people have researched the characters and the places involved more deeply and thoroughly than if the murders hadn’t happened, uncovering and recording a rich tapestry of biographies and details. So in a way, the Ripper murders not only helped shape the landscape, but also preserve Whitechapel’s history, history that might otherwise have been forgotten and lost to time.
How important is the ripper to modern horror culture?
The Ripper has become an icon of horror, much like Jason, Freddy, the Wolf Man, Dracula. To a great many people the reality of who he was – a mentally disturbed person who murdered innocent women – has been buried beneath myth and legend. The Ripper is more than a human monster; in his classic visage of top hat, black cape and knife he’s the embodiment of evil. A symbol of fear. The darkness lurking in the shadows. His legend permeates all parts of the horror culture, from books and films, to music and even costumes and figurines.
What websites or books do you recommend to any budding Ripperologists out there?
Ideally, you want to get a good understanding of the facts of the case before delving deeper into the murky world of suspect theories and anecdotal ‘evidence’. Build your knowledge first to help develop a critical eye. The essential first Ripper books I would recommend are: Jack the Ripper: The Facts, by Paul Begg; The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook, by Stewart P. Evans and Keith Skinner; and The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z, by Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner. Those are your Ripper Bibles. Also Casebook is a great website for information, especially its catalogue of official documents and contemporary newspaper articles, which are invaluable when researching the crimes.
Best Ripper Film?
I have a soft spot for the 1988 miniseries, and it is one of the better filmed Ripper stories. But as for feature films, Murder by Decree is arguably the best combination of entertainment value, cinematic quality, period atmosphere, and accuracy (despite using the ridiculous Royal Masonic theory for its plot). Hitchcock’s The Lodger is another excellent film, though light on the facts. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a definitive Ripper film, one that is both an outstanding piece of cinema as well as true to the facts of the case, something along the lines of Fincher’s Zodiac.
Best Ripper book?
It’s hard to go past From Hell, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Yes its plot is taken from the infamous Final Solution theory, but it’s nonetheless a brilliant piece of fiction (imbued with a healthy dose of facts courtesy of meticulous research), with incredible illustrations that help bring the story to life.
What are you working on now and where can people find out more about you?
I’m working on a new novel, a crime-thriller set in a sordid world of murderers and other abhorrent criminals.
People can find out more about me and my work at: brettmcbean.com
I also have a Ripper site, where I review books and movies and give my thoughts on various suspect and victim theories: saucyjacky.wordpress.com
Want to learn more about the Ripper in Whitechapel?
We have a Free Jack the Ripper Tour every night at 20.00 book here