In his forthcoming book, Andrew Cook argues that a Star journalist named Frederick Best was responsible for the "Dear Boss" letter.
I'm not sure how much biographical research Cook has done into this Frederick Best, but I thought it might be interesting to try to find him in the 1891 census. The man in the following entry seems a likely candidate. He and his wife are occupying one room in 111 Stamford Street, St Mary, Lambeth [RG 12/387, f. 101; p. 10]. (I have included some - though not all - of the occupants of the same house, in view of their colourful occupations.)
From what has been posted elsewhere, it seems that the Star journalist Best would have been dismissed from the newspaper by this time. The census return identifies this man as an "Employer". He seems to be a reasonable match, except for the fact that he was born in Westminster, whereas apparently one of the documents discovered by Cook describes the Star journalist as a "compatriot" of the Star's proprietor, T. P. O'Connor, presumably implying he was an Irishman.
I have tried to find out more about the man in the census entry, but so far I have drawn a complete blank, both in other censuses and in the indexes of births and marriages. Perhaps someone else will have more success.
Hi, Chris. Can you please tell me why Best was 'dismissed'? I know the story of how Bulling was fired, but not Best.
If Best and his wife are living in one room at the time of the Census, it would seem to indicate rather impoverished circumstances- though I'm not sure how much he would have earned as a journalist.
THANKS for digging up all the old documents & posting them! You are very generous with your time and your resources; I want you to know that I greatly appreciate it. I especially enjoy the period newspaper illustrations that you post.
Best regards, Archaic
Yeah, Chris is pretty darn cool. We'll keep him around a bit longer. :)
Good find, Chris. It would be nice if Cook has irrefutably identified 'Best' and can offer more information on his alleged Ripper letter writing exploits.
... the strongest evidence Cook has, in my opinion, being a letter from John Brunner, a director of the Star, to Henry Massingham, who replaced T.P. O’Connor as editor. This letter refers to two journalists, Frederick Best and William O’Brien, as ‘compatriots’ of O’Connor and of having been responsible for legal actions against the newspaper. Most importantly, it says that Best should have been dismissed for an ‘attempt to mislead Central News during the Whitechapel murders’.
The date of that letter is 7 July 1890, apparently:
So I assume that the circumstances of the census entry might be explained by Best struggling to survive as a freelance journalist.
Thanks for your kind words (though I did wonder whether some of the newspaper articles you were thinking of might have been posted by Chris Scott rather than me).
Hi, Chris; thanks for your response.
I believe you are right about some of the old news illustrations being posted by Chris Scott- I will make it a point to go thank him, too! Best regards, Archaic
Here is my attempt at a summary of the information about Frederick Best in Andrew Cook's book. Some of the information clearly refers to the man in the census entry I posted above, and may have come from that entry, but Cook rarely specifies his sources.
For the launch of the Star, those recruited by T. P. O'Connor included jobbing reporters Frederick Best and Michael O'Brian.
Sources for the chapter include "T. P. O'Connor Family Papers", "Brunner Family Papers" and "Records of the Newspaper Publishing Company Ltd (Reg # 24991)".
By early September Frederick Best and Michael O'Brian had been "put on the streets of Whitechapel by Parke to seek out human interest angles and to pick up quotes and comments from anyone with a story to tell. Best's wife Henrietta was born and brought up in Whitechapel, which gave him a great advantage in being able to use her local knowledge and family connections." They picked up from prostitutes stories about a "sinister prowler by the name of 'Leather Apron' who had apparently been threatening a number of them".
Sources for the chapter include "T. P. O'Connor Family Papers", but presumably the information about Best's wife comes from elsewhere.
Pages 102, 103:
The Dear Boss letter was compared with a sample of Best's handwriting which "dates to the late 1890s when one of Best's sinecures was as a correspondent in London for a French news agency".
Sources for the chapter include "Best Family Records".
Pages 106, 107:
"Best's family were of the belief that he had spent a period of time working in the USA during the 1880s. A recent thorough search of US immigration and labour records initiated by the Channel 5 documentary revealed that Best had indeed been in America and had returned to Britain some months before the Star was launched in January 1888."
Sources for the chapter include "Best Family Records" and "US Immigration Records; 1880/1889, US Department of Labor".
A letter from John Brunner to Henry Massingham dated 7 July 1890, after Massingham had been informally offered the editorship, included this:
"Mr Stuart advises that you would be agreeable to the proposals made by the company and we are most encouraged by your undertaking with respect to the standards expected of the newspaper. I have submitted on a number of occasions that Mr O'Connor's former use of compatriots such as Messr. Best and O'Brien have not only been responsible for several potential legal
actions against the Star, but in the unfortunate case of Mr Parke, a somewhat more serious consequence in January last.
Furthermore, Mr Best's attempt to mislead Central News during the Whitechapel Murders should have led to an earlier termination
of his association with the newspaper."
Sources for the chapter include "Brunner Family Papers", "The Massingham Family Papers" and "Records of the Newspaper Publishing Company Ltd (Ref # 24991)".
The "serious consequence" for Parke in January 1890 was his libel conviction in respect of material he had printed about the Earl of Euston relating to the Cleveland Street Scandal, as editor of the North London Press.
There might be a possibility of Frederick Best being a "compatriot" of T.P.O'Connor.
This possibility is not directly connected to F.Best, but to another mr. Best; I've read, that Pete Best (the former Beatle drummer) has Irish ancestory.
How seriously one can take this statement, is naturally another question!
All the best
Chris- where did you find this census as I would like to take a closer look? From the section you have posted it appears that Frederick Best was sharing the room with two women and I would like to check this out.
I see what you mean about it appearing that Best was living with two women, but the end of each household is indicated by a diagonal stroke on the right hand side of the second column shown. So actually Elizabeth Hallett is in a separate household of one. Her relationship to the head was initially written as "Wife", and then altered to "Head and Wife". It's not clear whether she was a married woman living alone or whether her husband was just away from home on the night of the census.
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