The Ripper's 'diary,' not yet published, is being slashed to pieces

September 23, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau

London -- Jack the Ripper remains as elusive and dangerous as ever after 105 years, especially to publishers purporting to reveal the identity of the 19th century's most infamous serial killer.

The latest book may be the Ripper's latest victim.

"The Diary of Jack the Ripper," due to be published here by Smith Gryphon on Oct. 7 -- and in America about the same time -- has been widely branded a hoax before a single copy has reached the bookstores.

Presented as the confessional ramblings of the Ripper, the handwritten diary implicates the 73rd suspect in the grisly East London murders: James Maybrick, a Liverpool cotton merchant poisoned by his American wife with arsenic soaked out of flypaper rolls.

"FAKE!" blared the Sunday Times headline, leading into a two-page "special report." The newspaper said it had found the diary was bogus three months ago but was silenced by gag contracts.

Offered exclusive serialization rights, the Sunday Times first had to put up $5,000 and sign several confidentiality agreements just to look at the book.

The paper launched its own investigation, convening a panel of experts who "concluded the diary was a forgery."

The Sunday Times took the publisher to court to abort the gag clauses on grounds of fraud, fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation. Last week, Smith Gryphon agreed to return the Times' money and release the paper from contractual vows of silence.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post in the United States and the Independent here had questioned the authenticity of the diary. Warner Brothers canceled a first U.S. printing of 200,000.

"It's conclusive it's a hoax," said a Warner spokeswoman, after the Post published the thumbs-down findings of Kenneth Rendell, a historical document expert.

Soon after Warner's decision, the U.S. rights to the book were picked up by Hyperion. According to a spokeswoman for Hyperion, it will publish the text -- along with arguments pro and con regarding its authenticity -- in a book scheduled for release in early October.

The accusations reminded many of the fake Hitler diaries for which the Sunday Times paid $2.5 million in 1983. Eventually, two men went to jail in Germany in that hoax.

The Ripper diary surfaced in a Liverpool pub. An erstwhile scrap metal dealer says a retired printer gave it to him. He got himself a publishing agent and an author. Smith Gryphon bought the rights to the diary at a subsequent auction.

The experts who doubt the authenticity of the diaries question the handwriting, the ink, the style, some non-Victorian phrases, even the scrapbook or album it's written in.

"A farrago of nonsense," said one of the Sunday Times' Ripper authorities.

Smith Gryphon remains convinced the diary is the Ripper's and is pressing on with publication. But they have made the concession of putting a sticker on the book: "Is it genuine? Read the evidence. Then decide for yourself."

A surfeit of Ripper theories has nominated a range of suspects from homicidal maniacs to homosexual royals. A century of speculation has nurtured a legend, if not a cult. In the late 20th century, people have remained fascinated by this forerunner of Ted Bundy and the Son of Sam.

Jack the Ripper stalked his victims in the mean streets of Victorian London at exactly this time of year in 1888.

All his victims were poverty-stricken streetwalkers, all met grisly deaths.

He was easily the equal in depravity of the fictional Hannibal Lecter, the demon doctor of "Silence of the Lambs." But Jack was never caught or identified.

On a suitably dark and rainy night recently, nearly 50 Ripper fans were attracted to Donald Rumbelow's tour of the Ripper's route of death.

Thirty years a cop in the City of London, Mr. Rumbelow is the author of the definitive "The Complete Jack the Ripper," a sober, fact-packed casebook.

He was asked to authenticate the diary and has been released from a silencing agreement by the same ruling as the Sunday Times.

"I would love the diary to be genuine," he said, "but I am now certain that it is a modern fake."

He led his group into Ripperland. At Mitre Square, he talked of the awful death of Kate Eddowes, a weary, middle-age prostitute. Today, Mitre Square is enclosed by steel and glass and concrete buildings and bathed in the flesh-colored light of sodium lamps.

"The only thing left are the cobblestones," said Mr. Rumbelow, whose narrative style falls somewhere between Sergeant Friday and Vincent Price. "In 1888, there were no gas lights, no streetlights, only darkness.

"The spot where the curbstone turns is known locally as Ripper's Corner," he said. "This is where Eddowes' body was found."

"Her throat had been cut to the spine, her face slashed to the skull. The gash cut off the tip of her nose and part of her ear, which fell from her clothes in the mortuary. Her body was ripped to the breastbone.

"Nobody had heard or seen a thing."

Catherine Eddowes was the Ripper's second victim in the deadly hours between midnight and dawn that Sept. 30.

"To buy an East End prostitute did not require a lot of money," Mr. Rumbelow said. "Three pennies would do, the price of a measure of gin."

The Ripper's horrendous mutilations became progressively worse. They would culminate with the indescribable death of Mary Kelly, the 24-year-old prostitute the Ripper carved up at his leisure on Nov. 8 in an East End lodging house.

Mary Kelly was the last victim officially attributed to Jack the Ripper.

After the tour, Mr. Rumbelow took his Ripper trippers to the Ten Bells Pub for a pick-me-up. All the Ripper's victims drank there.

And the Ripper?

"We just don't know," said Mr. Rumbelow.

But if he did, he certainly didn't drink Ripper Tipple, a mystery drink offered to the unsuspecting tourists. Too bizarre for Jack the Ripper. Not perhaps for Ripper publishers.

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