Did Florence kill Jack the Ripper

There have been many, many theories about Jack the Ripper but how about this one.


Did Florence kill Jack the Ripper?

Florence Maybrick may well of killed Jack the Ripper. 1889 the 27-year-old American was found guilty of poisoning her drug-addict husband James Maybrick with arsenic.

It was a shocking crime and the Daily Mirror reported the scandal.

Apparently new evidence has put Maybrick in the dock as a Jack the Ripper suspect.

A diary has been found under his floorboards and there are claims it has been written by the Ripper. And experts have managed to authenticate it was written at the right time, this could possibly mean the diary is genuine.


Florence had married Maybrick in 1881. He was 23 years her senior and lived in a middle-class home in Liverpool with their children James and Gladys. They were just seven and three when their father died – and their mother became the most notorious woman in the country.

Florence and James both committed adultery and when she ended up in court the judge James Fitzjames Stephen, was enraged. He told the jury if she was admitting adultery, she was no better than a murderess anyway and a death sentence was handed down.

Home Secretary Henry Matthews agreed to reassess her case and argued that it couldn’t be proven she had killed Maybrick in their home in Aigburth, in the suburbs of Liverpool.

PROD-The-trial-of-Mrs-Maybrick-at-Liverpool-1889.jpgHis decision rescued her from the gallows, but she remained in prison for 15 years, first in Woking, Surrey at Woking Convict Prison, she endured solitary confinement, hard labour and frequent ill health. In a book she wrote after her release, she describes her experiences as “torture”, “hideous” and “tyrannous”.

And then in Aylesbury, Bucks.

Florence was finally released in 1904.

So did she kill Jack the Ripper?

I guess that question remains…but hopefully not for too much longer.


Newgate Prison

Newgate Prison closed in 1902.

It had been operating for about 700 years. It was notorious and had held some surprising criminals such as:

  • Daniel Defoe (Who wrote Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe
  • William Kidd (the pirate known as Captain Kidd)
  • Lord George Gordon – UK politician whom the Gordon Riots are named after
  • Sir Thomas Malory – highwayman, possible author of Le Morte d’Arthur
  • Catherine Murphy, an English counterfeiter who became the last woman to be officially executed by burning in England and Great Britain in 1789 – Ouch!

And many, many others. Reformer Elizabeth Fry had for some time been particularly concerned at the conditions in which female prisoners and their children were held (yes children went to prison or were born in prison and stayed with their parents). She presented credible evidence to the House of Commons and improvements were made. In 1858, the interior was rebuilt with individual cells.

A big draw for Newgate were public hangings (I can’t think of anything worse!) these were crowded affairs and many people would gather to see these criminals hang. In fact one of the great events in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign was a public hanging, a bit like a royal wedding in that the number of spectators might range anywhere from 20,000 up to 100,000, the number, according to The Times, attending Kirkdale Gaol in Liverpool for the mutiple hanging of four men on 11 September 1863.

In amongst the mob one found many of the labouring classes; mill-hands, factory girls and women, bricklayer’s labourers and dock workmen, either hoping for some entertainment on their way to work or enjoying St. Monday. Women and children were frequent spectators and at the last public execution in England, The Times commented on the “blue velvet hats and huge white feathers which lined the great beams which kept the mass from crushing each other in their eagerness to see a man put to death.” At any execution one might see ragged children darting to and fro to “play their usual pranks at the foot of the gallows.”

For about 60% of offences punishable by the death sentence, the magistrates recorded that it had been carried out, then gave a less serious punishment. As the century went on, the number of people who were sentenced to be hanged decreased. Between 1801 and 1837, 13 executions took place in Bedford, but between 1838 and 1878 there were only 4. Despite this, between 1800 and 1900, of the 3524 people sentenced to hang in England and Wales, only 1353 were for murder.

From 1868, public executions were discontinued and executions were carried out on gallows inside Newgate. Michael Barrett was the last man to be hanged in public outside Newgate Prison (and the last person to be publicly executed in Great Britain) on 26 May 1868. In total (publicly or otherwise), 1,169 people were executed at the prison.

The Old Bailey now stands on the site of Newgate Prison.


Arsenic and the first known British serial killer

wp6c190ac5_05_06The rhyme goes:

“Mary Ann Cotton, She’s dead and she’s rotten!
She lies in her bed with her eyes wide open.
Sing, sing! “Oh, what can I sing?
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string.
Where, where? “Up in the air
Selling black puddings a penny a pair.”

Not the best way to be remembered!

Mary Ann Cotton was born in 1832 was probably the first known British serial killer she used poison and is suspected of murdering up to twenty-one people.

She married in 1852, aged 20, and had five children, four of whom died in infancy, a high rate of infant mortality even in the Victorian era. Mary frequently argued with her husband, who died suddenly in January 1865. A few months later she was married again this husband died in October 1865 from an unexplained illness.

Then a few months later in 1866, Mary’s mother died. She married again and became a mother to her current husband four children. Two suddenly died soon after he met Mary. This husband became suspicious of Mary who was now pestering him to take out life insurance, like her other husbands. He wouldn’t and she left.

In 1870 Mary had married yet again. One Frederick Cotton even though she had yet to divorce her last husband. She had a son but strangely Frederick’s sister, two sons from his previous marriage and a number of friends died after sudden illnesses that appeared to follow Mary around. Then Frederick died in December 1871 as did Fredericks son. However Mary remarried yet again and yes her new husband quickly died after a short illness.

Then In the spring of 1872, one of Mary Cotton’s few surviving stepchildren, Charles Cotton died suddenly, this was bizarre and word got out about people dropping like flies.

Thomas Riley, a minor government official found this to be very suspicious and Mary had tried to collect on the life insurance she had taken out on Charles Cotton’s life, but the insurance company refused to pay until the body of the deceased had been investigated more thoroughly.

article-2096423-11963BE0000005DC-719_634x455Charles Cotton’s remains were exhumed and a significant trace of arsenic was found in the deceased’s stomach. Mary Cotton was eventually tried for the murder of Charles Cotton, her final victim. She was convicted and sentenced to death.

On March 24, 1873, Mary Cotton was hanged. The execution was botched with Mary failing to die from the initial drop after the gallow’s trapdoor opened. Instead, she slowly choked to death as she dangled on the end of the noose.

…But who was Jack?

ripperWell we don’t know whether it just one person or maybe even two?

Mei Trow believes it to be Robert Mann, a morgue attendant. Trow has used up to date CSI forensic techniques as well as current psychological profiling and also geographical profiling.

In 1988 the FBI took an examination of the Ripper case which led to an apparently rather comprehensive criminal personality profile:

This profile described the killer as lower class white man probably the product of a broken home, he had a menial job and would’ve had some anatomical knowledge. Maybe a butcher, mortuary assistant or possibly a hospital porter and because of the solitude of his job he may well of found it difficult to interact with others and could’ve been rather socially inept, possibly somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

Mann who I have never heard of was generally fatherless and spent much of his time a child in a workhouse, but then again that could describe many, many poor people.

“I wanted to go beyond the myth of a caped man with a top hat and knife, and get to the reality, and the reality is simply that Jack was an ordinary man.” states Trow.

He also believes that Martha Tabram was stabbed to death in Gunthorpe Street may well have been his first and an Alice Mackenzie may have been his last.

In terms of psychological profiling, Robert Mann is the one of the most credible suspects from recent years and the closest we may ever get to a plausible psychological explanation for these most infamous of Victorian murders.” explains Professor Laurence Alison, Forensic Psychologist from Liverpool University.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that with more than 100 suspects over the years, Robert Mann will be another identity to add to the been proposed one over the years.

It is a fascinating mystery but one we probably never get to the bottom of!

Jacks back!


It’s been some 125 year since Jack the Ripper and now a team of historians are bringing the killings into the 21st century to mark the anniversary of the Ripper’s murders.

Of course we still hve no idea who murdered at least five women and possibly more on

the streets of Whitechapel at tail end of the 19th century, now with twitter you too can relive the events and horror of the time through the @WChapelRealTime account. This went live live today and will give real-time updates for four months which covers the time of the murders in foggy East End in 1888.

Steven Halliday who is a ripper historian or ‘ripperologist’ as some may call him is the man behind the project.

He says “Jack the Ripper attracted more attention than any other criminal before that time. His crimes were so gruesome he disembodied his victims. But he was also never caught.His antics were horrific and a microcosm of the horrors of Victorian London. It was a lawless place, with great division in society.”

The tweets are quite raw and very detailed but may well make fascinating reading. Historian Jamie Wolfendale added ‘Social media is what young people use nowadays. We hope this will engage them in history more’ which is a fine sentiment if you ask me

Donkey rustling!

Here’s an unusual crime for you.

An 18 year old George Pill was found guilty in1894 and was given a six-week sentence as punishment, why you would want to steal a donkey…well that’s anyone’s guess!

The details of a man who was given hard labour for stealing a donkey in Dorset are among 67,000 Victorian criminal records about to go on-line at the Dorset History Centre which has just started digitising its archive.

This is good news for us as the latest collection to go on-line includes the county’s prison registers from 1782-1901 and 1854-1904 which will be fascinating reading.

Other crimes that are reported seem quite familiar, there was:

Charles Wood, an unemployed local drunk who found himself locked up for a month in 1872 for “refusing to quit the beer-house”.

Samuel Baker, 73, was sentenced to nine months hard labour after breaking into a house to steal two brushes, some vests and a pair of stockings in 1893.

James Seal was found guilty of “the wilful murder of Sarah Ann Guppy”…he was hanged.

William Parsons got 20 years in prison in 1891 for “maliciously and feloniously” setting fire to a neighbour’s barn.

The records include the criminal’s name, place and date of conviction, sentence, physical description and details of previous crimes.

The records have been digitized in partnership with Ancestry.co.uk which charges for access, but you can see them for free using the public computers at the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester.

The Marshalsea Debtors Prison

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I had a day in London with some friends yesterday and as is my want decided to go and check out the remains of The Marshalsea debtors prison.

The Marshalsea stood on the south bank of Thames in Southwark for a good three hundred years or so.

It was built to house men who had been court marshalled for crimes at sea. Also men who were accused of unnatural crimes which would’ve been homosexuals and those who had sex with animals . There would politicals  and intellectuals accused of sedition and London’s debtors.

These would be a Tory dream if they were around today. The Marshalsea was run for profit, if you had the money there was a bar, a shop and even a restaurant and of course you were allowed out during the day to earn the money to pay your debts, to get a good idea of how this works watch BBC’s Little Dorritt.

Unfortunately a small debt could land you in the prison for decades as it was the creditors who decided your fate. But it was John Dickens, Charles Dickens father who was sent there in 1824 for a debt to a baker which forced to leave school at the age of 12 for a hideous blacking job in a factory and here are the remains of the prison.