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Wednesday, September 16, 1998 Published at 00:47 GMT 01:47 UK


Ripper diary has historians stumped

Diary: "Deserves serious historical consideration"

Psychologists, historians and the police have agreed to disagree about the authenticity of the infamous Jack the Ripper diary after an exhaustive debate.

Professor David Cantor discusses the mystery of the Ripper diary
More than 100 delegates at the International Investigative Psychology Conference at Liverpool University failed to reach a consensus on whether Jack the Ripper was in fact a Liverpool cotton trader called James Maybrick.

The diary of James Maybrick, in which he takes credit for the horrific Ripper murders in the East End of London in the 1880s, was "discovered" by fitter Mike Barrett as he renovated a house in Liverpool in 1992.

Ink test

Psychologists and police officers from as far afield as South Africa and Japan met at the conference on Tuesday in an attempt to decide once and for all whether or not the Maybrick diary is a forgery.

The only conclusion they did reach was that the document was written by someone with a "disturbed mind" and it was therefore "fascinating", even if it was not genuine.

Author Shirley Harrison, who wrote the academic work The Diary of Jack the Ripper, said: "Although I have not been able to prove that it is genuine, I seriously believe the diary deserves serious historical and academic consideration."

She said tests have failed to conclusively date the ink in which the diary was written to the 1880s, but neither could they demonstrate that the ink is not Victorian.

'Enormous insight'

Head of the Liverpool University Centre for Investigative Psychology, Professor David Canter, who hosted the conference, said psychological profiling shows it is "plausible" that the diary may have been written by Jack the Ripper.

He said: "The way it's written - the style of thinking - does reveal some components that are remarkably subtle."

"This was either produced by a very skilled author or someone with detailed knowledge of the Ripper history, or someone with enormous insight into carrying out these crimes and the person most likely to have that is the person who did carry out those crimes."

Historical errors

The case of Jack the Ripper is of enduring interest to criminal psychologists, because it was the first recorded occasion that a "pyschological profile" of a criminal had been created.

Historian Keith Skinner suggested the diary was a very old forgery, but a forgery nonetheless, because of errors in historical detail.

He cites an occasion when the diary's author mentions a Liverpool pub called the Post House, but said the pub did not acquire that name until after 1888.

A show of hands at the end of the conference revealed that about 30 delegates were convinced the diary was a forgery.

Professor Canter said the Jack the Ripper debate was intended as "light relief" for international delegates attending three days of conferences on investigative psychology at the university.

Facts about Jack the Ripper:

  • Jack the Ripper carried out the horrific murder and mutilation of five prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London between August and November 1888.

  • The victims were Mary Ann Nicholls, 42, Annie Chapman, 47, Elizabeth Stride, 45, Catherine Eddowes, 25, and Mary Kelly, 25.

  • The Ripper may also have been responsible for the murder of prostitute Martha Turner, 35, who was stabbed but not subjected to the ripper's trademark mutilation.

  • The name Jack the Ripper was coined in letters sent to the press and police in which the writer claimed credit for the murders. Opinion is divided about whether or not the letters were sent by the killer himself.

  • In the disputed diary Maybrick says he carried out the murders in revenge for his wife's infidelity with an unmarried businessman called Alfred Brierley.

  • Maybrick died of poisoning in 1889 - the year after the Ripper murders - and his wife was convicted of his murder.

  • Warner Books of America cancelled plans to print 200,000 copies of the diary after speculation that it was forged.

  • In 1996, the man who found the diary, Mike Barrett, declared it a forgery, but his testimony was discounted because he was unable to prove it.

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