The hunt for the identity of notorious Victorian murderer Jack the Ripper has obsessed investigators for more than a century. But now David Bullock, an English police support officer, working in his off-duty hours, has uncovered new information about one compelling suspect who might just be the real Jack the Ripper. What’s more, Bullock claims to know more than just the man’s identity.
Jack the Ripper’s murders took place in poverty-stricken Whitechapel in London’s East End between August and November 1888. At least five women, all prostitutes, were brutally murdered in the slums of 19th century London. The killings gripped the media of the day and both fascinated and horrified the public.
The Ripper preyed exclusively on women and what made the crimes especially shocking was the grotesque mutilation of his victim’s bodies. Throats were cut, abdomens were ripped open and internal organs were removed. At least five murders are generally thought to have been the work of the Ripper, although some believe that he may have killed more.
Over the years, more than a hundred men have been identified as possible perpetrators of these gruesome murders. The suspects range from the highly unlikely to those who seem horrifyingly plausible. Notable individuals who have been connected to the crimes include Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. True Ripper experts discount Carroll as a suspect, however.
Another individual whose name has been put in the frame is renowned Victorian artist Walter Sickert. Sickert was apparently fascinated by the killings and some of his paintings show scenes containing murdered women. Crime writer Patricia Cornwell has written two books naming Sickert as the murderer. What’s more, Cornwell claims to have spent more than $6 million of her own money in her pursuit of the Ripper. However, her theory is not widely accepted.
Certainly the most eminent of the men who have been named as a suspect is Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Prince Albert was a grandchild of Queen Victoria. His father, meanwhile, became King Edward VII on Victoria’s passing. Albert never succeeded to the throne, however, as he would die before his father. Although a favorite suspect of conspiracy theorists, there is no evidence that Albert was the Ripper, while claims that linked him to a grand plot have been proven to be part of a hoax.
David Bullock, meanwhile, has been investigating the Jack the Ripper murders for decades. Now in his 40s, he has been fascinated by the crimes since he was in his teens. What’s more, he has his own hypothesis about who the Ripper was. The man who he suspects was in fact first named in The Sun newspaper in 1894.
Bullock lives in Reading, England, a city some 45 miles west of London’s Whitechapel, where the Ripper committed his crimes. Bullock has spent 26 years researching the Ripper and his murderers – and he finally published a book on the subject, The Man Who Would Be Jack in 2012.
Bullock’s suspect is one Thomas Hayne Cutbush who was born in June 1864 in the south London district of Kennington. His father died while Bullock was still a young child, and he lived in a household with his mother and aunt, who are said to have spoiled him. As a young man, he worked as a clerk and then in the tea trade in the Minories – a neighborhood not far from Whitechapel.
Cutbush is said to have become insane in 1888. The root of his illness is thought to have been syphilis. In Victorian times, the disease was more or less untreatable – and it was far from rare. He is said to have spent many hours studying medical books and to have wandered the streets at night. He would have been 24 when the Ripper murders began.
Cutbush was sent to an asylum but was later able to escape. He is said to have stabbed a girl in the buttocks and tried to stab another. His medical records state that, “Through the carelessness of the attendant he escaped. Smeared his face with mud so as to avoid detection. Came home at midnight. Man at Cottons Wharf says he was there when assault alledged [sic] was committed.”
Despite the allegation, Cutbush did not go to jail. Instead, when his case came to court in April 1891, he was found to be insane. He was committed to Broadmoor, a secure hospital for the insane. It was some time after his court case and committal to Broadmoor, that it was first publically suggested that Cutbush might be the Ripper.
It was 1893, five years after the notorious murders took place that two journalists working for The Sun met Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector William Race. Race had been Cutbush’s arresting officer after the stabbing incident two years earlier. He had become convinced that Cutbush was the Ripper.
In a strange twist, one of the senior officers at the Yard was none other than Superintendent Charles Henry Cutbush, uncle to Thomas Cutbush. It is said that Race went to the press because Superintendent Cutbush rejected any idea that his nephew might be the Ripper. Superintendent Cutbush later shot himself in 1896 – some claim because he could not live with the stigma of being the Ripper’s uncle.
Another senior police officer, Melville Macnaghten, separately wrote a memorandum naming three men as potential Ripper suspects. The document contradicted the idea that Cutbush had been the guilty party. In fact, it seems certain that Macnaghten firmly believed that one of the three he named, Montague John Druitt, was the Ripper. In a bizarre example of how convoluted the world of Ripperology can be, a French author has also alleged that Macnaghten himself was the Ripper.
David Bullock’s book reexamines the evidence that Detective Inspector Race had gathered to support his theory that Cutbush was the Ripper. Cutbush was obviously insane. The brutality of the Ripper murders, meanwhile, has led many to believe that the perpetrator was mad. There were also no more Ripper murders after Cutbush was locked up in Broadmoor, where he stayed until he died in 1903.
The violent tendencies he demonstrated while detained seem to further confirm that he could have been a killer. His medical notes from the time say that when his mother visited, “Mrs Cutbush tried to kiss her son. He tried to bite her face and then commenced to swear at them.” On another occasion, “Thomas Cutbush told Attendant Slater at dinner twice that he would stick a knife into any of us if he had one.”
Speaking to Southwark News Bullock said, “When you look at the criteria of what makes a viable suspect, there are five or six boxes you need to tick. Cutbush ticks them all: he worked in Whitechapel at the time and knew the area like the back of his hand, he had a hatred towards prostitutes and his family and friends believed he was linked to this because he had an obsession with medicine and surgery and anatomy.”
Bullock’s other major discovery about Cutbush was that he was not buried at Broadmoor when he died. “I found his grave by finding out where his other family members were buried, thinking maybe they were buried in the same place,” he explained. “He is buried in Nunhead Cemetery [in south London].”
In his book, Bullock persuasively makes the case that Cutbush was the Ripper. But with the amount of time that has passed since these hideous murders were committed in 1888, it is perhaps impossible for there to ever be a definitive answer to the question that’s been asked for more than 125 years: who was Jack the Ripper?