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'The Five' by Hallie Rubenhold-a Rippercast Roundtable Review

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  • 'The Five' by Hallie Rubenhold-a Rippercast Roundtable Review

    The complete transcript of Rippercast's Review of Hallie Rubenhold's The Five.
    First published in Ripperologist Magazine #166, March 2020.

    Rippercast Reviews The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
    Originally released on 5 March, 2019

    Debra Arif: researcher of the lives of the victims and other associated personages and co-author of The New Jack the Ripper A-Z
    Paul Begg: author of Jack the Ripper-The Facts; co-author of The Forgotten Victims and of The Jack the Ripper A-Z
    Amanda Lloyd: Administrator of the popular Facebook group Ripperology Books… and More
    Robert McLaughlin: author of The First Jack the Ripper Victim Photographs
    Jon Rees: researcher, writer and lecturer
    Mark Ripper: as M.W. Oldridge, co-author of The A-Z of Victorian Crime and Murder & Crime: Whitechapel & District
    Jonathan Menges: Host

    JM: Although there has been a considerable amount of research into the victims done by Ripperologists like Neal Shelden, Debra Arif, Chris Scott and others- all of them are acknowledged as sources in the book- when it was first announced, Ripperologists were still anxious to find out if the author had made any new discoveries about the lives of the canonical five victims. So let’s start off by discussing any new information that we’ve seen and also mention what aspects of the book that our panel may have enjoyed.

    MR: I saw Hallie Rubenhold, the author of this book, give a talk in September 2018 at an event in Spitalfields(1) and it was very good. One of the things that she mentioned during that talk, and one of the things that she describes in the book, is Annie Chapman’s time in the sanatorium being treated for alcoholism. That was something of which Ripperologists were kind of cautiously aware of before the publication of this book, but she found the sanatorium records and I thought that was really great. It’s very pertinent to her subject and genuinely new information. I was really pleased to read that.

    DA: I was as well. What was definitely new to me was that Catherine Eddowes had a daughter named Harriet Eddowes who died in infancy in, I think, 1869.

    MR: Yes. And I suppose I should also mention there is some of Annie Chapman’s children who I wasn’t aware of who have been discovered. And so, they are now a part of this story. So again, I was pleased to read about that.

    AL: The selection process at the Peabody buildings was new to me. I knew about the Peabody buildings but I didn’t know about the extent of the selection process to determine who they allowed to live there. I found the chapter on the Peabody buildings a very interesting part of the book.

    MR: Another thing I think it’s worth mentioning at this point. Mary Ann Nichols’ first child was William Edward Walker Nichols, born in 1864, and the book mentions him. It says that he failed to live more than a year and nine months. I knew about that child and that was information that appeared in Neil Bell’s book(2) two or three years ago but I didn’t know about the child’s death. So presumably Hallie Rubenhold has found that, and I wasn’t able to find it. So that’s something.

    PB: Amongst the new information and new sources there is the information about the people that lived in Peabody dwellings, which also included a reference to William Nichols leaving the property to go off and live somewhere else and he got a bad mark. So that’s a source we haven’t seen which we could do with going and finding to see if it produces anything further. The sanatorium records were new to me anyway, but I wasn’t following it with that degree of depth, but that is another set of records that we should go and look at to see if it tells us anything more. Putting the lives of the victims in the context is what really brings the book alive for most people. That is where I think we get the big difficulty, because while there are small details like names of children, or deaths, and that sort of stuff, any big information about the victims- something significant and new- there is not much of that in there. But the context is new. The trouble is that what she’s done is to take the framework- the skeleton- of all the information, everything that we’ve known about the victims, and she’s put that into context. She’s added the color, the stuff that makes the book really readable. The context is great. We have no problem with that, but it’s important that people realize that the basic facts are everything that we’ve already found out and that is obviously one of the criticisms. Hallie Rubenhold claims in this book and elsewhere that this is stuff that nobody knew about(3).

    JR: She can really conjure up the world and set the scene and build the picture. It’s really good in that sense. If you have no idea what the Victorian world was like for poor people, it does conjure up the images of what it was like. That is a positive in the book.

    JM: Back to what you were saying about taking the sections she wrote about the Peabody buildings, a researcher interested in the lives of the victims can build upon that and go out and explore more. Debra pointed out a section in the book, I believe it concerns Catherine Eddowes in the workhouse with her son Frederick.

    DA: I actually looked at all of this two years ago. Catherine Eddowes in the workhouse. And that’s how I found that she had another son called Frederick(4). I followed through all the entries and found her being pregnant then being transferred to the infirmary and then having Frederick which is a child that hasn’t been mentioned before, and I also found the middle name of her other son which led me to find the birth records. But I did look at this two years ago and Hallie Rubenhold has gone down the same route and found the same thing as me. I did think at that time that the record can’t be shown that Eddowes was living the lifestyle of a vagrant. She was hawking, moving from place to place and using the casual wards. But the records only exist for one casual ward or a couple of casual wards not Whitechapel, Mile End, or any of those, but for Newington, and because Catherine came from that area and she was living in Whitechapel, it would be normal if she was traveling between those two places to use the Newington casual ward and not being someone who was a vagrant.

    JM: Right. In her book Rubenhold just mentions one of her stays, but indicates that there were more. Whereas you’ve actually produced a list of all the places and dates, and how she identified herself as a hawker or whatnot on each time she registered over a number of years(5).

    DA: Yes throughout the 1870s and even in 1888, in April, she was using the Newington casual ward at least once.

    JM: Whereas in the book we just get a couple of sentences basically covering that decade of being in and out of the workhouse.

    DA: Yes she just makes a summary of it. We are more careful with the way we write, we reference everything. We show our research whereas she just summarized it.

    JM: And that indicates how this book is aimed more for a general readership as opposed to Ripperologists. We like lists and we don’t mind so much the absence of a lot of context, but the context that she does put into the book, you all have thought it is a pretty positive thing?

    PB: Yes that is very important. It is the purpose of the book. Putting the lives of victims into a context to explain the things that they were going through and that is a way of being able to draw conclusions from the information. It used to be said that ‘raw dates without context is meaningless’, it isn’t really, but it can be. You can draw conclusions once you have to context. For right or wrong one might choose to conclude that the Nichols' were thought of being a cut above the rest of the neighborhood and they might have even seen themselves that way. Now that’s a conclusion that we can draw from the context of rigorous vetting procedure that they had to go through to be offered a tenancy in the Peabody buildings. And the rules that had to live under once they were there, and the fact that if you broke those rules you could be ejected. All of that would suggest that Peabody was a little bit above the rest. So context gives you the opportunity to draw conclusions. That’s really good stuff to know. I don’t think anybody can read about the life of Elizabeth Stride when she was in Sweden without thinking that she had a hell of a time. That’s all really down to context. All of the facts of where she was and what she was doing, that has all been known.

    JM: You were saying about raw data being so dry and clinical and boring. Debra shared with me the death certificate of Catherine Eddowes’ daughter Harriet, who we mentioned earlier, and who was apparently discovered by Hallie Rubenhold, and died in 1869 of marasmus -which is starvation- at only five weeks old. The death certificate states that Catherine was present at Harriet’s passing. We assume that the author had seen this death certificate, as it’s the only document that describes what happened to Harriet. The way that she describes the child’s death-food having ran out in the home, Kate feeling her daughter's final convulsions, she’s holding Harriet in her arms, to me that is a way of writing a pretty excellent biography(6). When the subject of your biography does not have much else besides these clinical data records about their lives, and these lists… that’s what an author has to do if they choose to go out and write a biography of some of these people. Wouldn’t you agree?

    PB: I think that it’s something that biographers do and in this particular instance I think it was basically fiction. Unless there is something to say that that is what happened, the child could’ve died anywhere else. Just because Catherine Eddowes was there, it doesn’t mean that the child died in her arms and that she felt the convulsions of the little body as the last breath was expelled. That’s almost Victorian melodrama.

    JM: But I think that it’s almost impossible to write about something like that without injecting it with that fiction because what you want to do is have your readers emotionally connect to your subjects. There really isn’t any other way to go about doing that if you want to get that emotional connection from the reader to Catherine Eddowes, right?

    PB: I agree with you entirely it’s literally just a matter of whether or not in that particular instance, the awfulness of a baby dying from starvation, it is awful any have to convey that awfulness and Hallie Rubenhold did that very well. Is it history? I don’t know. We have no idea if that is what is actually happening or not. We just know that the child died. So do you write this in a way that gets that across without introducing fictional elements? You’re perfectly able to write about how awful that must have been, you can speculate about how Catherine Eddowes must’ve felt but we don’t actually know. Therefore it points to this difference between historical facts and the color of fiction making it come alive.

    AL: It’s the one strength of the book. The context in the book is its strength and is what will draw readers and is what the readers are bound to love. I found myself getting quite into the story. I enjoyed the stories as they were. If I didn’t know anything about the subject I would’ve really enjoyed it. She can tell a story, and that’s one of the positives about the author, and I thought that she did that part of the book very well.

    MR: Can I go back to the death of Catherine Eddowes’ child for just a second? You’ve the death certificate for Harriet? And it says marasmus right? So, I’m on slightly thin ice here because I’m not a expert but my impression is that marasmus is failure to thrive. And the book draws the conclusion, or points us in the direction, that the child’s failure to thrive and death by marasmus was a result of financial hardship in the home. But I’m not sure about that. Starvation when there is no food is not the same as ‘failure to thrive’, by definition, I don’t think. So I don’t know whether you can conclude or infer from that that money was short. Do you know what I mean?

    AL: Oh, yes. The baby could’ve had some sort of heart condition or anything like that.

    MR: And this is a Victorian England and those types of things happened, sadly, very often. I think that this is an example when the author takes the raw data and makes something rather more of it. I’m not sure whether I agree, leaving the convulsions and that stuff to one side, and clearly it’s an extremely sad case-

    DA: Sorry but the convulsions are mentioned on the death certificate…

    MR: Okay that’s good. I’m not sure but that bit actually struck me as being slightly jarring when I read that. I’m not convinced by the idea that there was financial hardship at the time although I’m sure they were not well off. I’m not convinced financial hardship lead in any direct or indirect way to the death of the baby. And I don’t feel completely comfortable with turning the raw data into, as Paul described, a sort of Victorian melodrama scene. It does go more towards fiction at that point rather than history, so I have some reservations about that method.

    DA: I think that she’s trying to humanize the women and she had to fictionalize it because we don’t know anything about them really. We know the bare bones, like Paul has said already, but that’s it.

    MR: No, I agree, and even when I’m saying it I’m thinking about how clinical I sound, but I really can’t shake that feeling to be honest.

    DA: But it is fiction really because we don’t know whether marasmus could be as result of neglect, because we know Catherine Eddowes abandoned her children(7) and they were taken into the workhouse when they were found wandering around. I think that happened twice in the workhouse reports.

    AL: It’s something that we’ll never know.

    MR: But, if we don’t know, should we try to create a scenario around it? Create a scene around it? I know I sound cynical but it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable.

    PB: Yes I agree. It is very difficult line to draw between what is historical fact and what is reading into the historical fact things that might not be there. It’s fine to report that what was on the death certificate, it’s fine to possibly speculate about what that means, but if you step over the line to say, or give some impression that ‘this is what happened’ then you’re going into the realms of fiction. So it’s just the way that you handle it. If you have a death certificate, and you have the wording on the death certificate, then you can draw conclusions from that. But you shouldn’t then take that into the realms of fiction, and that is what we are seeing, basically.

    MR: I feel like one of the weaknesses of this book is that there is too little negotiation with the reader about how to interpret sources and what weight and relevance to give to them. I think sometimes the author is too tempted to make definitive statements about things. For example, ‘financial hardships lead to the death of the child’. That is a paraphrase, not directly from the book. But there’s a whole negotiation we can have there about whether financial hardship was part of it, or whether, as Deb says, there is an aspect of neglect, or whether, as Amanda said, there is an aspect of a neonatal, congenital illness… we don’t really hear those discussions. We don’t find out in this book why the author came to the conclusions that she came to. She just tells us what the conclusions are without giving us insight into her cognitive process and how she came to that assessment.

    JM: One issue that has been debated for some time-decades in fact- that the book takes as its guiding theme is that three of the five women- Nichols, Chapman and Eddowes- had never in their lives had to resort to prostitution in order to survive. She admits that Stride and Kelly had, but states that there is no evidence that any of the canonical five were reduced to selling themselves on the street on the night of their murders. Which eliminates the widespread assumption that their murderer posed as a sex client and in some cases, and by using this ruse, had lured them to the places where they were murdered. A lot of Ripperologists would say that the question about the victims being prostitutes really only matters if the writer, reader, or researcher is interested and examining the MO of the killer, his approach when carrying out the crime. And so a lot of us whose interest in the case isn’t suspect driven haven’t really cared about this question. The book on the other hand, while it attempts to remove Jack the Ripper from these women’s biographies, also seeks to remove any possibility that the women may have been so desperate that they had to, on occasion, resort to selling themselves. To do this, the author completely leaves out or misrepresents several contemporary reports and accounts that do provide some evidence that these women may have been making ends meet by working as prostitutes. So let’s inform her listeners of those sources that the book either doesn’t mention, or distorts in order to convince the reader of this claim that the victims were not prostitutes.

    PB: As you say, this is a theme running through the book and it is also taking a prominent role in the publicity surrounding ‘The Five’. And she also argues-and it is a point that I don’t think she substantiates in the book at all-that it was because of sexist police in 1888 that branded all homeless women as prostitutes(8). And also, of course, she argues that the fact that they were prostitutes has been unquestioningly accepted ever since. That’s not strictly true of course. We have questioned whether they were prostitutes, and did so in the Jack the Ripper A-Z about 20 years ago(9). There are numerous times throughout the book where is she writes that the victims were not prostitutes. On page 15 she writes, “Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes, or so it has always been believed, but there is no hard evidence to suggest that three of his five victims were prostitutes at all”. Those victims, as you say, are Nichols, Chapman and Eddowes. On 7 September 1888 a police report(10) written by Inspector Helson of J Division summarized the investigation to date and referred to the evidence of William Nichols and he said, I quote “they separated about nine years since in consequence of her drunken habits. For some time he allowed her five shillings per week, but in 1882, at having come to his knowledge that she was living the life of a prostitute, he discontinued the allowance. In consequence of this she became chargeable to the guardians of the Parish of Lambeth, by whom the husband was summoned to show cause as to why he should not be ordered to contribute towards her support, and these facts being proved, the summons was dismissed.” Here we have Inspector Helson saying that William Nichols had stated that he had stopped paying his wife’s support because he had found that she was a prostitute. I don’t know whether Hallie Rubenhold would classify a statement like that in a MEPO report as being “hard evidence”, but the book makes no mention of Helson’s report, it ignores it completely. And that is extraordinary to me because surely her readers deserve to be told what Helson had written so that they can decide for themselves whether or not this theme that runs throughout her book has legs or not. What is curious to me is that in the bibliography she includes a book called Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial Sex in London 1885 – 1960 which was published in 2011 and written by Dr. Julia Laite, a lecturer in modern British and gender history at Birkbeck University in London. Laite referred to William Nichols’ statement to the police and states “she had separated from her husband seven years before and like Tabram’s husband, he had subsequently cut off support payments to her with the court’s consent after he had proved she was earning money through prostitution.” So here is one of Hallie Rubenhold’s academic wrote sources who has read this information as well, and basically seems to agree with it, and again it’s just ignored. So she’s ignoring the sources that she cited, and she’s ignoring a MEPO report… I just find that extraordinary. There is another piece of evidence which she actually messes around with, but we can come back to that. Now, according to an early and widely published newspaper report, a number of women visited the mortuary to view the body but they were unable to identify it. But then a woman who we now know was Emily Holland came to view the body and she identified it as Polly, with whom she shared lodgings at 18 Thrawl Street. The newspaper report, as I said it was widely published but this quote comes from the Pall Mall Gazette on 1 September 1888 the report then reads “Women from that place (18 Thrawl Street) were fetched and they identified the deceased as Polly who had shared a room with three other women in the place on the usual terms of such houses. Likely paying four pence each. Each woman having a separate bed. It was gathered that the deceased had led the life of an unfortunate while lodging in the house, which is only for about three weeks past. Nothing more was known of her by them but that when she presented herself for lodging there Thursday night she was turned away by the deputy.” This statement is by women and it is perfectly consistent with what the police would’ve done at the time. They would have fetched other people from 18 Thrawl Street to confirm the identification by Emily Holland and hope to obtain other information. All they could ascertain from these women is that they knew Nichols as a prostitute. The significance of that report is utterly ignored by Hallie Rubenhold. She does include it in her book but she judiciously edits it to give it a completely different impression. But we can talk about that a bit later on. So, those are evidence that Nichols was a prostitute.

    1 The Whitechapel Society 1888’s ‘Victims’ conference held 8 September 2018 at the Hanbury Hall, London. This talk can be heard at
    2 Bell, Neil R.A. Capturing Jack the Ripper: In the Boots of a Bobby in Victorian London. Amberley Publishing, 2014. p137n49
    3 In countless press interviews, promotional blurbs, and on the back cover of the book it is claimed that the life histories of the victims has been “prevented from being told”, and that ‘The Five’ “finally sets the record straight”.
    6 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg.229
    8 On pg. 80, Rubenhold writes “However, before they had even listened to it fully…both the authorities and the press were certain of one thing: Polly Nichols was obviously out soliciting that night, because she-like every other woman, regardless of her age, who moved between the lodging houses, the casual wards, and the bed she made in a dingy corner of an alley-was a prostitute”.
    I don’t think Rubenhold supports this accusation that every homeless, destitute woman was branded a prostitute by the authorities- PB
    9 Begg, Fido & Skinner The Jack the Ripper A-Z, London: Headline, 1994, pg. 133
    10 MEPO 3/140 ff. 235-8

  • #2
    RM: And there are other reports, it’s not just with Polly Nichols. We see it with Annie Chapman as well-more evidence from the official files. In report(11) by Inspector Chandler on September 8, 1888, he says “the woman has been identified by Timothy Donovan, deputy of Crossinghams lodging house 35 Dorset St., Spitalfields. He states he has known her for about 16 months as a prostitute and for the past four months she has lodged at the above house.” Once again that’s a fairly definitive statement. It actually says the word prostitute. Now in the newspapers, Donovan is a bit more guarded about this, but understandably so. He was a deputy lodging house keeper and saying something like that in public could get him into a lot of trouble, legally. So he was very careful in his statements to the press. But in his statement to Chandler he spells it out very clearly. And this is somebody who knew Annie Chapman for a long period of time. She had lodged there at Crossinghams for the previous four months. And just that mere fact…because Rubenhold says in her introduction that she wants to use as sources the people who knew the victims which is why she disregards any of those from sources that did not know the victims, but Timothy Donovan clearly knew Annie Chapman and yet she disregards his statement to the police. This is a huge oversight.

    JM: Hasn’t she said that she examined the Met police reports? So she’s claiming to have used these reports as a source but yet- if that’s true- it appears that she’s leaving out the instances contained in those reports where they directly refer to the victims as prostitutes.

    RM: Correct. Now, if she believes that the police in these examples are wrong, or they’re acting out of some ulterior motive like misogyny or something else… she doesn’t state that in the book, but she should. She should at least put forth that evidence and explain to us why it is invalid, in her opinion.

    PB: And we have other examples. A man called Thomas Bates who was a watchmen that knew Elizabeth Stride was interviewed by a journalist working for The Star, so this is a first-hand report of what he said(12). He said that Long Liz, which was Elizabeth Stride's nickname, was “a clean and hard-working woman. Her usual occupation was that of a charwoman and it was only when driven to extremities that she walked the streets. Lord bless her, when she could get no work she had to do the best she could for a living. But a neater and cleaner woman never lived.” So here we have a man saying that she was a casual prostitute, which is what Ripperologists have been saying about the victims all the time, who walked the streets when she had to. Here is a witness who is acknowledging that Elizabeth Stride was a prostitute. He does his damndest to make it clear that she was hard-working and only went on the street when she had to but it's still stated that she was a prostitute.

    AL: And that’s an example of attitudes at the time. This is a man who sounds like he almost admired her for the way that she struggled to keep things going. He sounds like he was quite fond of her and he knew her by sight. We hear talk of attitudes towards these women… it wasn’t really true throughout their community. Men and women knew that other women struggled and I think that that is a very good example of attitudes at the time. You know, these women didn’t deserve to die the way they did. They were people. And I like that quote being from someone who knew her.

    PB: There’s somewhere in the book where Hallie Rubenhold actually says that people were quite happy to acknowledge that their friends were prostitutes(13). She doesn’t give a source for that, and I don’t believe it’s true. I think the majority of the attitudes at the time were ‘don’t speak ill of the dead’. And I think they worked very hard in some cases to avoid making those admissions. Now here is an example a man who knew Elizabeth Stride and he’s saying that yes, she was a prostitute, but also worked extremely hard and did whatever work she could get hold of to earn money. But, from time to time when things are really bad, she walked the streets. But that’s what people had to do. I think that, as you say, it’s a very personal thing. We see it again at the inquest for Annie Chapman(14). Her friend Amelia Palmer was specifically asked whether Annie Chapman earned money from prostitution and she said “I cannot say. I’m afraid she was not particular. She was out late at night at times, she told me so.” This quote shows Palmer being a little bit evasive, trying to avoid a direct answer, not giving any ‘yes or no’ answer… but “I’m afraid she is not particular” is probably about as close to an admission that she was a prostitute as somebody was prepared to give at that time. So, there are a lot of statements here, and this is just a random selection. We haven’t gone searching…these are just ones that we know about. But these are statements that show that these women were prostitutes and none of them are addressed by Hallie Rubenhold. They’re not included in her book at all.

    RM: And I think what’s important about that, Paul, is that all of these should be viewed in their totality. It’s not just one single piece of evidence. We’re not just saying there is one file that calls one victim a prostitute. There’s a totality of evidence and we’ve listed many examples of this.

    PB: An important point I think is that, given that very few of the Home Office and Scotland Yard files have survived and given that we have hardly any actual statements given to the police and so forth…we’re lucky that we can go through the MEPO profiles and at least find the references to Nichols and Chapman. That is extremely lucky. Goodness knows what other evidence are in those files had we had them all because people would’ve been more prepared to explain privately to a policeman than they would want to make public at an inquest or anywhere else. And the fact that they weren’t pushed on this at the inquest-despite the fact that Hallie Rubenhold suggests otherwise-indicates that there was no real attempt for anybody to show that the women were prostitutes.

    RM: No there doesn’t seem to be a moral agenda by the inquest or the police in that sense.

    PB: No. And I think we’re very lucky that we’ve got these various reports, I’m sure that if we go through we’d find more. I know that some 20 odd years ago when my colleagues and I on the A-to-Z looked at this question we concluded that the evidence for Nichols and Chapman was conclusive in our view. We doubted that the evidence was so strong in the case of Eddowes and we were picked up on that by Stewart Evans and Donald Rumbelow in their book ‘Scotland Yard Investigates’ and they gave their reasons why they thought Eddowes was a prostitute(15). So this is a question that has been examined and thought about in the past, and again this is something that Hallie Rubenhold seems to imply that it’s all been unquestioningly accepted by sexist researchers down through time.

    MR: I think for me it’s the disappointment of the book that the evidence about the victims use of prostitution-probably the most appropriate term I can think of is ‘subsistence prostitution’, they were not prostitutes every single day- but like Elizabeth Stride and how Thomas Bates describes her-when times are hard that’s how they made ends meet. It’s a disappointment for me that that evidence has been completely obscured in this book because actually by doing that the reader has lost the chance to understand part of these peoples vulnerabilities. I don’t understand myself why it’s necessary to do that. I think the book is doing a great job in terms of restoring people to historical record where maybe they haven’t had exposure before, and as a principle I have no problem with that at all. But it seems to fight shy of the idea that prostitutes, specifically, are worth restoring to the historical record or are worth our attention, or that they are worth our compassion. And I don’t understand quite why the book draws that line so clearly. It seems to me that whether somebody is working as a prostitute to make ends meet or not, they are entitled to our respect and our compassion. You don’t have to obscure the evidence that shows they were working as prostitutes in order to have respect and compassion for them. But the book deliberately seeks to obscure that evidence as if that’s the only way that these women can be restored to some sort of public virtue, and I don’t understand that. It seems to be very prejudicial way to treat women.

    PB: Yes it is. And just to follow along from that… The only thought that went through my mind originally, and I think it is gone through the minds of others as well, is that really it’s having a go at men. It’s having a go at the police in 1888 and it’s having a go at researchers since by trying to argue that these women weren’t prostitutes and that we should consider them as people. That thinking of them as prostitutes has somehow dehumanized them. I don’t think that that’s happened.

    MR: I don’t think that that’s happened either. By definition the police in 1888 were male, but researchers since 1888 have not always been male. This has not been a process that has been initiated and done by men, but by the evidence. It’s very difficult to feel confident about this book because a lot of people who buy the book will be people who don’t have knowledge of the MEPO files. They don’t have the knowledge of the Victorian newspapers. They don’t have those other sources so that they can make up their own minds. This book will suggest to them that there is no evidence that Nichols, Chapman and Eddowes were prostitutes. That’s not true. Therefore it is a very difficult book to recommend on that basis.

    PB: When I first heard about the book I was concerned, rather, when I first heard Hallie Rubenhold stating that three of the victims were not prostitutes… this wasn’t something that she said she was going to prove or “read my book later and see the evidence”… it was a statement of fact, and I was worried that that statement of fact would get into the public domain and infect the minds of people all over the country, and all over the world, with this wrong piece of information, if indeed it was wrong because we obviously hadn’t read the book at that time. But for 130 years it had been accepted the victims were prostitutes, we have looked at that question at various times over the last 30 or 40 years or more, so it did seem a tad worrying that somebody was now coming along saying “you’ve all been wrong”.

    MR: I feel that an argument can be made that it is an injustice to the victims of Jack the Ripper not to acknowledge parts of their lives that caused them to be extremely vulnerable. If we are going to restore -and I’m completely happy that we should-people to the historical record and to make the 2-D victims of Jack the Ripper into 3-D people, which I think is an absolutely laudable intention, we should do that by treating them as 3-D people and not blighting out parts of their lives that we don’t approve of or which don’t conform to our existing agenda. And that’s a real opportunity missed in this example. It seems to be that at their most vulnerable, that is when the book turns its back on them.

    PB: Absolutely. This is not particularly relevant, but when I first became interested in this subject rather than just casually reading stuff when I saw it, it was because of Mary Kelly. In my youthful mind at the time I was horrified that according to her story her husband was killed in a mining accident and society had no safety net for her. And so a young woman is suddenly cast adrift in the world and sinks into prostitution and ultimately onto the knife of Jack the Ripper. That struck me as a moral story, a horrible story. That if anything, what was being said about Victorian values, it made the point those Victorian values weren’t all that good to begin with.

    MR: I don’t know of any responsible Ripperologist who is completely immune to the stories of human suffering that you learn when you read about Jack the Ripper. I think people are moved by that. I think people are affected by that. Every responsible Ripperologist I know recognizes that these were real people who had real lives and they are entitled to be treated with some respect. I think that what we should avoid as Ripperologists is fetishizing the victims and making them into paragons of virtue. We know what their real lives were like. There were ups and there were downs and you know, the book does a good job of telling you about that. It tells you when things were better and it tells you a bit when things were worse. We shouldn’t fetishize them. We shouldn’t make them into examples of something. We should try to understand them and understand what happened to them. Understand their vulnerabilities. Understand their trauma. That is what we should do, it seems to me. What we cannot do is we cannot co-opt them and make them part of a wider agenda because that’s not treating them with respect, actually. That’s not restoring them to the historical record. That’s exploiting them.

    PB: A corollary to the ‘they weren’t prostitutes’ argument is Hallie Rubenhold’s argument that the victims were sleeping when attacked by Jack the Ripper. This theory seems to me to be an answer to Ripperologist’s argument that if they weren’t prostitutes, what were they doing in the dark and lonely places where they were found? Hallie Rubenhold I think basically said if I can think of a plausible explanation for what they’re doing there then that would be better. And so that they were sleeping is what she came up with. On page 13 she says “However, the police were so committed to their theories about the killers choice of victims that they failed to conclude the obvious: the ripper targeted women while they slept.” To me, I thought when I read that, that the police in H Division must’ve been very accustomed to finding women asleep or finding anybody asleep in shop doorways and alleyways and everywhere else, that perhaps that these women were sleeping would’ve been the first thought that came to mind.

    AL: I think it was the main thing the book fell down on. The stories of their lives went along and then all of a sudden there is this completely imaginary scene that these women just wanted to lie down on the cold pavement and drop off to sleep. It didn’t make any sense at all. For me the nap theory ruins the whole thing for me. I’ve gone along with the book to a certain degree and then comes this daft idea. There is no reason why any of them would’ve wanted to curl up on the pavement or in the corner of Mitre Square. No. She used it, as you say, because she had to come up with some reason why they were there.

    PB: It doesn’t conform to the facts either.

    JM: No. She leaves out even more evidence in the ‘sleeping rough’ idea in her book than she does with the ‘not prostitutes’.

    PB: Yes. An example is John Richardson(16). John Richardson’s mother ran a business from the yard of 29 Hanbury Street and he came by at about 4:45 to check the locks on the cellar door because it had been previously broken into and some tools had been stolen. He sat on the second of the three steps leading into the yard next to the door behind which Annie Chapman is supposed to be snoring gently. He said that he felt certain that if the body had been there he would’ve seen it. He said he thought the yard was light enough for that. This evidence calls into question Hallie Rubenhold’s argument that Chapman was sleeping there so she ignores it altogether. She just doesn’t include that piece of evidence in her book. And yet again, shortly before the body was found there was a Mrs. Long who thought she saw Chapman outside 29 Hanbury Street talking to a man. I can understand why Hallie Rubenhold didn’t get involved in the arguments of whether it was or wasn’t Chapman, Mrs. Long’s timing being correct and so forth. But then on the other hand Albert Cadosch lived next door to 29 Hanbury Street and came out into his yard a couple of times. On the first occasion he heard some talking coming from the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street and on the second occasion he heard somebody fall against the fence. Now that was possibly Annie Chapman being murdered. If it wasn’t then who was it, and what were they doing there? And was the dead body already there? It raises all sorts of awkward questions.

    JM: One of the ways in which he is quoted in the newspaper(17) he says he heard some words which he did not catch but “I heard a woman say ‘no’ and then I heard a kind of scuffle going on and someone seemed to fall heavily onto the ground against the wooden partition which divided the yard at the spot where the body was afterwards found. That indicates that Chapman was awake, standing up, scuffling and then falling. Now whether the perpetrator woke the victims up and had their full attention before he murdered them… I guess that’s a possibility.

    JR: It all builds up the picture that she wasn’t there for a long time previously. And if you are going to sleep rough, why would you go through this house and then go sleep in the corner of a dirty backyard instead of in the hallway? If you’re going to try your luck surely you will try your luck inside?

    AL: Instead of right by steps where people are coming in and out as well. Even if she was going to sleep in the yard why not go around the back somewhere? Why by the steps where people are going to be getting up soon and going in and out?

    JM: Rubenhold says that no sound was ever heard by anyone concerning any of these murders(18). But that is just not the case. You have Cadosch hearing a scuffle, someone saying ‘no’, and a person falling to the ground after hitting up against the fence. In the Nichols' case you have Harriet Lilly who stated that she heard gasps and a painful moan around 3:30 in the morning two doors away from where Polly Nichols was discovered in Bucks Row. Followed sometime thereafter by the sound of two men whispering to each other which could very well be hearing Mary Ann Nichols being throttled and murdered and later, soon after, being discovered by Paul and Cross. And just like in the Chapman case there is bruising on the face and it appears that she may have been punched in the jaw. There is bruising on her throat when he grabbed her throat so forcefully that his fingers- individual fingers left bruising on the neck of Polly Nichols- which may have been what Harriet Lilly heard, the painful moans followed by repeated gasps. And with Chapman of course there’s evidence that the coroner was testified to, evidence of strangulation. Her tongue was protruding and she had been suffocated, according to the coroner. If they were sleeping it would’ve been just prior to their murder and the murderer would’ve woken them up first. That’s the only way I can make sense of the sound witnesses and the eyewitnesses and the coroner's statements.

    PB: It’s interesting the points that you’ve drawn there because you get the feeling that Hallie Rubenhold drew a line under her research when it came to anything that involved the death or aftermath, or anything associated with the death of the victims that she had no interest in it. I don’t know about the rest of you but it interested me that her knowledge of the police and how the police worked and how the police were set up at the time, anything to do with crime… all of that stuff is really where she makes a lot of mistakes. They just leap off of the page. They’re tiny things of no significance but they are mistakes. Israel Lipski she calls Moses Lipski. Adolph Beck she gets wrong, of course, it’s Alfred Beck. She describes the Ratcliff highway murders as “one of England’s first serial killings”(19). And she even makes mistakes with names of Ripperologists and their book titles. There are some bigger errors that she makes as well. On page 6-again it’s nothing big but just suggest that she is not familiar with the police set up. She says about Nichols “She was to become the first of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper, or those whose deaths the police determined were committed by the same hand in the East End District of Whitechapel.” Well of course, not all of the victims were murdered in Whitechapel. Eddowes was murdered in the city of London, which is in the jurisdiction of a completely different police force. The police didn’t determine that the canonicals were murdered by the same perpetrator. That was Macnaghten, as we know. People like Sir Robert Anderson actually included Martha Tabram and other policemen included or excluded some of the canonicals. There are examples here where she doesn’t seem to understand the crime set up and the police set up.

    AL: She talks about Scotland Yard assisting with the City of London police.

    PB: Yes she says that about H division. She’s visualizing H division almost as a separate investigative body and says something along the lines of ‘even with the assistance from Scotland Yard and the City of London police nothing useful was found’(20). She sort of is imagining that Scotland Yard and the City of London police were helping H division investigate all five crimes. It may be a nitpicking point perhaps, but I would’ve thought that it might have been a good idea to have a basic understanding of the Metropolitan police and the City of London police and who was responsible for investigating what.

    11 MEPO 3/140 ff. 9-11
    12 The Star 1 October 1888
    13 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg.125
    “In impoverished areas like Whitechapel, where little stigma was attached to the sale of sex, a woman’s friends, family and associates were not bashful about openly identifying her as a prostitute when she genuinely was one.”
    14 HO 144/221/A49301C, f 13
    15 Evans & Rumbelow, Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates. Sutton Publishing, 2006 p.259
    Catherine Eddowes was clearly a casual prostitute although it has now become popular to suggest that she was not. The influential Jack the Ripper A-Z states: ‘we have no direct evidence that she did prostitute herself: only the suggestive facts that shortly before she died she was talking to a strange man at a dark corner in a direction leading away from the lodging house where she was staying; she had, apparently, no money at 2.00 p.m. on 29 September, but had acquired enough to make a drunken scene six hours later.’
    This idea has been taken up by some other students of the case, but it is not, in the opinion of the authors, a very likely suggestion. The facts are that she was murdered in an area frequented by casual prostitutes, away from where she lived, in the early hours of the morning and this surely points as to what she was doing when she was killed. We also have the remarks made by her partner Kelly at the inquest and the statement made by Inspector McWilliam of the City of London Police that she had lived with a man named Thomas Conway, a pensioner for about twenty years & had three children by him — two sons & a daughter, but Conway was eventually compelled to leave her on account of her drunken and immoral habits.’
    We had considered whether the victims were prostitutes or not and that by at least 2006 Evans & Rumbelow were saying that it was “popular” to say that Eddowes was not one. As said earlier, we’d said that at least as far back as 1994, which is depressingly a quarter century ago! Rubenhold’s idea that she is presenting a new argument is therefore untrue. - PB
    16 HO 144/221/A49301C, ff. 14-15
    17 Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 9 September 1888
    18 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg.12
    19 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg. 270
    20 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg. 6
    Last edited by jmenges; 03-22-2020, 12:00 PM.


    • #3
      JR: Just to go very quickly back to the unmentioned victims… I think that by including them, even saying that there had been earlier murders in Whitechapel that are now not believed to have been committed by Jack the Ripper… I know she doesn’t want to focus on Jack the Ripper, but it would’ve given context as to why, when Polly Nichols was murdered, the newspapers were obsessed almost immediately. Because in her book this obsession goes towards her argument that it was a judgmental thing on the lives of prostitutes, and it was not. It’s because there was this epidemic murders. That’s why the papers were concerned, and they were building up the story. The press were inflating it in a way, but the context is important here and it would have been useful- even if there was one sentence in the introduction- that as far as the press and the general public was concerned it was not the first murder.

      MR: I want to return to something that Paul described earlier which relates to why the police came to the conclusion that Polly Nichols was a prostitute and part of that was the information they were given by some women from 18 Thrawl Street who knew Mary Ann Nichols and identified her body. Paul read out a quote from the newspaper from the Pall Mall Gazette on 1 September 1888 and I’m just going to read that bit again because I think that this is really worth going through in detail so apologies for the repetition. The report reads “Women from that place (18 Thrawl Street) were fetched and they identified the deceased as Polly, who had shared a room with three other women in the place on the usual terms of such houses, nightly payment of four pence each. Each woman having a separate bed. It was gathered that deceased had led the life of an unfortunate while lodging in the house, which was only for about three weeks past. Nothing more was known of her by them, but when she presented herself for her lodging on Thursday night she was turned away by the deputy because she had not the money.” The way that that report is used in Hallie Rubenhold's book is, in my view, very misleading. This is what Hallie Rubenhold says on page 83 “when the story first broke, before anything substantial was known about Polly’s life, almost every major newspaper in the country carried a piece stating ‘it was gathered that the deceased had lived the life of an unfortunate’”. Now that’s just not the newspaper speak, that report- as Paul quoted earlier - from the Pall Mall Gazette makes completely clear that that was the information given by the women from 18 Thrawl Street. It’s not the newspapers making assumptions about the victim, that was information that came from people who knew the victim. So Hallie Rubenhold goes on to say “it was gathered that the deceased led the life of an unfortunate and in spite of also reporting that ‘nothing… was known of her’”. “That nothing… was known of her”. That’s not what the quote actually says. The quote from the newspaper says “It was gathered that deceased had led the life of an unfortunate while lodging in the house, which was only for about three weeks past. Nothing more was known of her by them”. “Nothing more was known of her by them” but that she was refused a place on the previous Thursday. So it’s not saying that nothing was known of her, and that they filled the gaps with an assumption about her using prostitution to make ends meet. What the women said, who knew her, was that she had lead the life of an unfortunate while she was lodging in that house for the last three weeks and they knew nothing more about her apart from she had been refused entry the previous Thursday. It’s completely different to say that ‘nothing was known of her’ or ‘nothing more was known of her’. There is a qualitative difference between those two things. I think it’s very unfortunate that the book does resort to that- misquoting and slightly tricky and slippery treatment of sources. That is not the only example.

      PB: No that’s not the only example. There’s one example where she says “following inquiries made amongst the women of the same class… at public houses in the locality the police could find not a single witness to confirm that she had been among the ranks of those who sold sex”(21), she being Chapman, of course. And then there’s a footnote #13. If you go there, there’s a source for a Home Office file and this consists of an index and a fairly long report by Inspector Swanson dated 19 October 1888, which enumerates the investigation to that date. And what the report actually says is “inquiries were also made amongst women of the same class as the deceased, and the public houses in the locality”. The report does not make any mention of the police having been unable to find anyone who could confirm that Chapman was a prostitute. In fact, no mention is made of the police having even looked for anyone who could confirm that Chapman was a prostitute. It simply says that inquiries were also made amongst the women of the same class as the deceased and at pubs. What Hallie Rubenhold has done is take from Swanson’s report a statement that inquiries had been made among women and at the pubs and then added her statement that they hadn’t found anybody to confirm that Chapman was a prostitute, giving the impression that the search amongst the women and the pubs had been in an effort to find that information out. To find out whether there was anybody to confirm that Chapman was a prostitute. And that isn’t, in fact, what this report says. She puts the footnote number at the end of her bit that said ‘they could not find a single witness’, which gives the impression that the Home Office file actually said that. As you say it just seems to me that doing something like that is manipulating the source to try to make it look like it’s saying something that it isn’t.

      MR: Yes and that brings me back to this quote that I want to read out, and whether it makes the podcast or not I don’t really mind. This is a quote from Richard J Evans, a British historian of significant reputation. This is from page 257 of his book ‘Telling Lies About Hitler’ which was discussing the misrepresentation of the Holocaust by David Irving.
      Prof. Evan says this “Reputable and professional historians do not suppress parts of quotations from documents that go against their own case, but take them into account, and, if necessary, amend their own case, accordingly. They do not present, as genuine, documents which they know to be forged, just because these forgeries happen to back up what they are saying. They do not invent ingenious, but implausible, and utterly unsupported reasons for distrusting genuine documents, because these documents run counter to their arguments; again, they amend their arguments, if this is the case, or, indeed, abandon them altogether. They do not consciously attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources, which, in fact, on closer inspection, actually say the opposite. They do not eagerly seek out the highest possible figures in a series of statistics, independently of their reliability, or otherwise, simply because they want, for whatever reason, to maximize the figure in question, but rather, they assess all the available figures, as impartially as possible, in order to arrive at a number that will withstand the critical scrutiny of others. They do not knowingly mistranslate sources in foreign languages in order to make them more serviceable to themselves. They do not willfully invent words, phrases, quotations, incidents and events, for which there is no historical evidence, in order to make their arguments more plausible. At least, they do not do any of these things if they wish to retain any kind of reputable status as a historian.”

      So…comparisons with David Irving. I am not comparing Hallie Rubenhold to David Irving at all. David Irving is a completely separate level of historical misconduct. When people have recourse to flawed methodologies which are like those adopted by people who seek to deny the Holocaust, we are below the threshold for historical responsibility at that point. And clearly denying the Holocaust is a whole different level of wrong compared to talking about Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper does not bring this into anything like the domain of significance which you might encounter if you want to discuss the Holocaust. But we should treat historical events according to the social conventions and social contracts between historians and society. Not everyone in society is a historian but society trusts historians to treat sources respectfully and according to certain conditions so that the conclusions they draw can be relied upon by people who haven’t consulted those sources. When historians dip below that standard the public is misled. And unfortunately in this book ‘The Five’, the public is sometimes misled.

      PB: That’s a very good and slightly complicated argument. Hallie Rubenhold looks at the statements that Mary Ann Nichols told to Ellen Holland. Basically what she is saying is Nichols told Holland that she didn’t want to stay at a mixed sex establishment but wanted to come back to the single-sex women only common lodging house that was 18 Thrawl Street, which was called Wilmott’s. ‘The Five’ says “the comment was made in contrast to the lodgings available at Wilmott’s and which she (Nichols) preferred(22).” In reference to the White House which is the one that Nichols had been staying out for the last few days Polly stated that “she didn’t like to go there and that there were too many men and women.” Now, there’s some misrepresentation here to give the impression that Mary Ann Nichols preferred the single-sex Wilmott’s lodging house to the mixed sex White House. It not so subtly implies that by preferring the single-sex establishment that Nichols wasn’t a prostitute. In fact, the source which Hallie Rubenhold gives is The East London Observer for 8 September 1888. And that newspaper reported two references by Holland about the White House she said “she told me that she was living in another house together with a lot of men and women” and the second reference is “she said there were too many men and women at the place she was staying at and she didn’t like to go there.” Now the first thing to note is that nothing Nichols said about the White House was in contrast to the single-sex lodging at Wilmott’s. Nichols' complaint was not that it was mixed sex but that a lot of people stayed there. “There were too many men and women at the place.” And the White House was indeed a very large establishment in comparison to Wilmott’s. So, by twisting what Nichols actually said to Holland we get a misrepresentation of what Nichols was saying and by implication that she was not a prostitute. So as you said there are a number of these examples of misuse of sources.

      MR: It falls below an accepted standard.

      PB: Yes. I was trying to think of a nice way of putting it.

      MR: I want to also talk about where Hallie Rubenhold says that one of Annie Chapman’s children, Annie Georgina Chapman, was born in 1873 with fetal alcohol syndrome. And she bases that diagnosis on the picture of Annie Georgina Chapman and what she identifies as the physical characteristics. The book says “small wide set eyes, thin upper lip and a smooth ridge that runs below the nose to the top lip.(23)” Now the book is absolutely right about those characteristics, in fact the space between the eyes is not a diagnostic criterion for fetal alcohol syndrome but the width of the eyes is. We’re on slightly thin ice with diagnostics of this sort because you also need things like neurodevelopmental markers for a complete diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome, but I understand that as a historian she’s not trying to attempt a real diagnosis in the way a clinician would attempt it. I can’t tell from this picture whether Annie Georgina’s eyes are actually two or more standard deviations below the mean and no one can. But on the whole, looking at the picture and looking at the diagnostics, I think that there is every chance that Annie Georgina Chapman might well have had fetal alcohol syndrome and I also think, on the same basis, that if you look at the picture of Annie Georgina Chapman’s older sister, who is called Emily Ruth Chapman, she might also have had fetal alcohol syndrome. I say on the whole that’s a pretty good spot by Hallie Rubenhold and I’m kind of happy with it. What I’m not happy with is where it goes from there. There is a footnote that follows shortly after this description about fetal alcohol syndrome and this is what the footnote says. “Phillips (George Baxter Phillips, the police surgeon for H Division) was brief about the nature of Annie’s illness because it played no role in her death. His entire (paraphrased) statement was that she displayed a ‘Disease of the lungs (which) was long standing, and there was disease of the membranes of the brain.’ Recently, a number of authors have, without any evidence, stated that Annie suffered from syphilis, because of this mention of damage to the brain. The type of damage that Phillips reported is known to occur in cases of tuberculosis, as the bacteria spread to various parts of the body. If Annie had been exposed to syphilis, signs of brain degeneration, or the neurosyphilis that occurs in the tertiary phase of the illness, would not have appeared for at least ten to thirty years after the initial exposure. There is no evidence whatsoever that Annie engaged in prostitution as a teen or through her married years, or that she was ever exposed to syphilis.”
      My comment about that is, I don’t know who she means by “a number of authors have, without any evidence, stated that Annie suffered from syphilis” but I might be one of them. In Ripperologist No. 149, two or three years ago, I wrote an article about Annie Chapman and syphilis and it was published under the name ‘Team Syphilis’(24) and I had done some research with a number of other people and through this research the result was this article. I wrote the article and they all saw the article before it went into publication. The article talks about Kassowitz’ law and Kassowitz was an Austrian pediatrician who had noticed, and this is a quote from his 1876 book Die Vererbung der Syphilis “there is a gradual diminution in the severity of congenital transmission of syphilis between a mother and fetus. It is a pattern beginning with miscarriages, followed by stillbirths, neonatal deaths, unhealthy but living children and finally the birth healthy children.” So syphilis works its way out through repeated cycles of pregnancy and childbirth. This is what Kassowitz noted. And actually research that Hallie Rubenhold has done in finding children of Annie Chapman that Ripperologists weren’t aware of before, actually substantiates the suggestion I’m making in that article that she might’ve contracted syphilis and about 1874 and it might have worked its way out through the subsequent maternal cycles. There appears to be one child we don’t know of possibly stillborn around 1874-1875, and then there is Georgina, whom I discussed in the article, who lived for about 10 days in 1876, then there is George William Henry whom Hallie Rubenhold discovers who lived for 11 weeks in 1877-1878 and then there was Miriam Lilly and then there was John Alfred Chapman, born with disabilities, but survived, in 1880. And this is absolutely typical, this sequence is absolutely typical of Kassowitz’ Law. Now there’s some ways in which you can catch syphilis which don’t include commercial sex. So I say in this article- I speculate -that Annie Chapman may have been exposed to syphilis in around 1874 and maybe she caught it through casual prostitution to support and alcohol habit, or maybe she got it because her husband had slept with someone else who had syphilis and passed it on to her. We don’t know how she contracted syphilis, but the birth patterns does exactly what you would expect from someone who did have syphilis. Also in terms of the objection in ‘The Five’ to the brain degeneration-if, in late 1873 to early 1874 was when Annie Chapman was exposed to syphilis then we are talking 14 years later, and the point made in the book is that the brain degeneration would not have appeared until at least 10 to 30 years after the initial exposure. So that kind of meets the criteria as well. I’m not talking about Annie Chapman being exposed to syphilis in the 1880s, I’m talking about it in the early to mid 1870s. So I think it’s… I don’t know whether she is referring to me or that article, she doesn’t cite the article, I think there is some evidence there. It’s not conclusive evidence. It’s inferential evidence. But I think there is some evidence that Annie Chapman contracted syphilis in the early to mid 1870s and I think therefore it’s misleading to say there is absolutely no evidence of it. What I would’ve preferred to have seen in the book is the author engaging with that evidence and saying why she thinks it’s not reliable. Saying why she thinks it’s wrong. I don’t have a problem if the author considers that Annie Chapman in fact didn’t have syphilis as I can’t prove absolutely that she did. But I want to know why that evidence has been excluded. I want to know why that evidence has been obscured. And that is my criticism of the book overall. We never find out, or we very rarely find out, what kind of historical process the author has gone through to decide what is reliable evidence and what is not. She doesn’t present her reasoning in this case, she just says that there’s no evidence. That is not by itself a true statement. I would’ve preferred if she had engaged with the evidence and explained why, if she thinks that it’s not reliable -why not?

      21 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg. 125
      22 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg. 69
      23 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg.108
      24 Team Syphilis. Fermat’s Last Theorem and Annie Chapman’s Missing Children. Ripperologist Magazine No. 149, April 2016.
      Last edited by jmenges; 03-22-2020, 12:00 PM.


      • #4
        PB: Throughout the book she does present it as a bit of the novel. She doesn’t get involved in arguing whys and wherefores of things. She just gives her conclusion of whatever it might be. So in her view there is no evidence of syphilis and so that’s it. And that sort of understandable in the context of the book but if you want to write a book on a subject that’s basically new to you then you should try to explain why it is that you disagree with the opinions of people who have studied the subject for a long time, or disagree with their interpretations of the evidence. In this case you’re making a very good case for there being syphilis.

        AL: It’s easier to say that there’s absolutely no evidence than to try to explain…

        MR: That’s irresponsible. I think that if the book wanted to make the point and thought it could substantiate it, that three of Jack the Ripper’s victims were never prostitutes you could still say one of them has syphilis in the 1870s and we don’t know how she got it. Maybe she got it through noncommercial sex maybe she slept with someone who had syphilis already. Maybe that was her husband, maybe it was somebody else. It doesn’t imply that she’s a prostitute. The argument-that conclusion- is still available to you. The conclusion that Annie Chapman was not a prostitute is still available to you, even if you decide that you can accept, or that you can at least argue with, the case for her having syphilis. You don’t have to say she doesn’t have syphilis or that she never had syphilis in order to make that argument. You can still make it. I think the problem is that if you do look at the birth patterns and Kassowitz’ Law and the very unfortunate fates of the children from 1874 on, there is a very strong case there for maternal syphilis, and then you have to deal with the argument after that. Maybe she was funding her alcohol addiction by engaging in prostitution? That argument can be made at that point and you have to address. What she has done is shied away from addressing those more tricky parts of the story. That is the irresponsible approach. That’s not a good historical approach to just say the evidence does not exist. That’s not truthful. The evidence is there, it may not be completely conclusive, but she needs to engage with it and tell us if she feels that it can’t be relied upon, why not?

        JM: It is one of the rare instances of her actually acknowledging information that she thinks is incorrect.

        PB: I was about to say the same thing. I want to make it plain that it’s not something I would personally do in a book, but if she wanted to she should really have avoided mentioning that authors think that she had syphilis. If she hadn’t acknowledged it then she wouldn’t have had to answer it.

        MR: I just like to say again that I don’t know that she’s looked at this particular article. I only know of this article because I wrote this article. She could be referring to other authors I do not know. I just feel that as Robert spoke earlier of the totality of the evidence… this is again more evidence that needed to be taken into account.

        PB: To extend on from that, there are a couple examples in the book that I noticed where she brings up some non-sequiturs. One that I noted in particular was “as soon as each body was discovered in a dark yard or street the police assumed that the woman was a prostitute killed by maniac who had lured her to the location for sex. There is, and never was, any proof of this either. To the contrary, over the course of the coroner’s inquest it became known that Jack the Ripper never had sex with a single victim.(25)” Basically what she’s doing here is saying that the police assumption that they were dealing with I maniac whose killing prostitutes who had lured his victims to where they were killed for sex, that that is negated by the statement that Jack the Ripper never had sex with a single victim. She misses the whole point which is that the murderer lured the victims to where they were found for sex and then killed them. He never had any intention of having sex with them, his thing was to kill them. And there are several instances. She writes at Mary Kelly’s father’s attempt to find her when she is living in Pennington Street and she says “whatever his identity, he was almost certainly not Mary Jane Kelly’s father. Mrs. Felix insisted that Mary Jane Kelly had no contact with her family, who had discarded her. And Barnett too stated that she saw none of her relations.(26)” Well we know that when this man came looking for her Mary Kelly hid and never met him. And therefore what Mrs. Felix and Joseph Barnett said was perfectly true. But that doesn’t mean that the man wasn’t Kelly’s father. So these are little problems of logic that you get when going through the book.

        AL: She was supposed to have changed her name, according to the author, when she arrived in Radcliffe and so, whoever was looking for her, would he have known about this name? Or was it her real name?

        PB: There’re all sorts of questions, aren’t there?

        AL: It doesn’t make any sense does it? She says that she changed her name to Mary Kelly and yet somebody’s looking for her. Well, who would’ve known what name she was using to look for her?

        JM: She also says about Kelly that the stories that she told about herself likely contains some truth and some fiction “but no one has ever been able to ascertain which parts were which” and then on the immediate page following she says “the only likely conclusion is that the tale of Mary Jane Kelly’s life, including her name, was entirely fabricated(27).” Well, which is it?

        AL: She doesn’t follow her logic through, does she?

        PB: It’s almost as if she had written those two pages, gone on holiday in between and forgotten what she had written.

        MR: Should we do the summing up and recommendation?

        AL: When you talk about recommending it, I think that the biographies of the woman are really good but as we’ve been discussing it tonight, and Mark has made it very clear, and so no, I don’t think we should recommend it really as a serious study of the women’s lives because there’s too much misinformation in it. If someone really wants a story or something to read and that someone isn’t necessarily interested in Jack the Ripper they might enjoy the book as almost a novel. And they can learn quite a bit from that as a social history exercise. The women’s lives were actually pretty typical of the lives of a lot of women across the country. The poverty and the struggles that they had. And so in that sense I would recommend it to somebody who just wanted a book to read. But as a serious study? No I wouldn’t recommend it.

        JM: I waffled back and forth for the past couple of months as to whether I would recommend it. I used to believe that since Neal Shelden’s book is so difficult find and when it is found I can be pretty expensive. And that not everybody follows the discussions on a daily basis on the message boards and people might not be subscribing to Ripperologist magazine. For those types of readers that she’s trying to reach as a general audience, I used to believe that, yes, I would’ve recommended it if you can set aside the amount of biased theorizing that goes into the book. But ultimately I reach the decision that there’s too many ‘ifs’ in my recommendation. If you can’t get Shelden’s book. If you don’t follow the case and all of the new discoveries. If you can overlook the agenda that she has based her entire book around. So I don’t think that bigger necessarily means better. Yes, it has more pages than Neal Shelden’s book but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a better quality of a book. So I don’t think I would recommend it.

        DA: I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who’s interested in Ripperology. I don’t understand the book to be honest. I don’t understand what she’s coming from with this. She started off with an idea to prove that these women weren't prostitutes, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference anyway. I don’t understand why she would want to prove that. It didn’t make a difference to the investigation or the police handled it. She’s put the lives of the women back in context but she’s taken away a big part of it as well. A big part of the context, by taking away Jack the Ripper.

        AL: I totally agree with you Debs. Has she done what she set out to do? Just trying to prove that these women weren’t prostitutes and I don’t think she actually did it. I don’t think at the end of the book I came to that conclusion at all. I think you’re right. She set off on an idea but it didn’t really make sense as the book went on.

        PB: I personally don’t think that she set out to prove that they weren’t prostitutes. I think she arrived at that conclusion probably before she even sat pen to paper. I get that feeling, or at least it came very soon after she started writing, because the theme that at least three of them weren’t prostitutes is something that runs through the whole of the book. It’s not something that Ripperologists want to prove- that the victims were prostitutes- but she wants to prove that they weren’t. She’s arrived at that conclusion and throughout she’s telling you one way or another there’s no evidence that these people are prostitutes. And that frankly is wrong because there is evidence that they were prostitutes. It may not be particularly good evidence. It may not be strong evidence. It may not be conclusive in anyway. But it’s there and it should be discussed. But in fact she just ignores it totally. So I think that throughout the book she wanted to start off by saying ‘Look, these three women weren’t prostitutes. They were branded prostitutes by sexist policemen in 1888 and they have been branded that way ever since by sexist researchers’.

        AL: I sense that that was her agenda when she sat down. She’d already kind of decided on this. In the book right at the beginning she says that these women were not prostitutes and presumably she’d been looking into their lives before she sat down. But I think her purpose was a feminist agenda, a feminist angle and I don’t feel myself that it was through any real sense that history was wrong. It was a misogynist society, this awful society that Victorian life was like at that time, and in how women were treated, that they immediately came to the conclusion that they were prostitutes because they were found where they were. The book itself has that theme all the way through it and that was her intention from the beginning.

        MR: I think the serious weakness of this book is that rather than engaging with the evidence of the victims of Jack the Ripper were working as prostitutes at or near the time of their deaths, actually this book just obscures that evidence and states openly that the evidence doesn’t exist. But it does exist. And I feel like that’s a failure of the historical method at that point which, when the method fails, you can’t even get as far as considering whether the conclusions are viable because the method has gone down in the first place. I think in terms of whether the author had an established intention before she started to write the book, I’m not sure whether she did or not. I don’t think I can speculate about it. I don’t blame feminism, for example, for the way that this book looks. I think that if you’re writing feminist history, history from a feminist point of view, your responsibility to the sources is the same as everybody else's, and obscuring the sources and saying that those sources don’t exist… that’s not a methodology which feminist history accommodates anymore than any other form of history. There is a problem there. I feel like a better book would’ve been more of a negotiation. That evidence would’ve been included in the discussion. And if the author considers that the evidence isn’t good evidence and should be discarded for another interpretation we should know why. The problem is, in this book, we don’t know why. I don’t know why the lodging house women talking about Mary Ann Nichols, for example, were treated as reliable in one part of what they said but unreliable in the other parts. And we’re not told why part of what they told the newspapers that doesn’t seem to conform to the author's thesis has been obscured. We’re not told why that’s been omitted. We don’t know what her reasoning was for doing that. The worry I have there is that when you don’t know what reasoning process the author has gone through then you have to look at the quality of the mistakes the author makes. My analogy is- if I work for a bank, and Robert’s money ended up in Debra’s account and Debra’s money ended up in Paul’s account and Paul’s money ended up in Jonathan’s account, you would all come to me and say “You’re an incompetent bank worker. You’re making mistakes all the time.” And I would be making mistakes. Historians make mistakes because they are human beings. But I’d be making mistakes in all random directions because I wouldn’t know that they were mistakes. If my methodology was so poor that I couldn’t use it properly, those mistakes would be made in all directions. But, if Robert’s money and Debra’s money and Paul’s money and Amanda’s money ended up in my bank account, you wouldn’t come to me and say “You’re an incompetent bank worker.” You’d come to me and say “You’ve done something wrong. You’ve cheated the system.” And in this book if the evidence for the victims being prostitutes has been obscured, that doesn’t look like a simple mistake. That looks like the reader has been deprived of the opportunity to consider the evidence, and that to me is a significant problem. I feel that I’m hesitant to recommend. I think at the very best bits of it are really good, I think that where she has contributed to the fund of knowledge by finding out new information through archival research is great. I’m really pleased with those parts of the book. What I’m not pleased with is the methodology adopted. We’ve considered a number of different cases where sources have been mishandled and they all tend to err in the same direction, which is towards the authors thesis, and that’s a problem for me. And I feel like unfortunately the victims of Jack the Ripper have been done a slight disservice by this book. They are 3-D people. They are real people. They are entitled to being considered seriously by historians. Unfortunately this book doesn’t do that in the way that it could. So, a slightly missed opportunity.

        PB: I worried when the book was first announced. Some of the things that were being said, I kind of worried about how the general public perceived us. I’m perfectly well aware that the general public perceives Ripperology as something akin to people who study UFOs and things of that nature. Flat Earth Society, perhaps. And I’d like to have seen what we do respected a little bit more. Particularly as pretty much all of the information that people would consider to be new like that Elizabeth Stride was born in Sweden and Catherine Eddowes came from Wolverhampton… all that stuff we’ve known for years and years and years. And we have asked all the questions that Hallie Rubenhold seems to think that we haven’t asked.
        So, the book itself- I love the contextualization. I think that is excellent in a really don’t think that Ripperologists do enough of that. We tend to stick with the genealogical data and stories that we can get from the newspapers or from the appropriate websites, but we don’t do the contextualization very much, and I think that that was great. And I hope that it really shows people the potential that’s there to give this event a bigger meaning. But I agree with everybody else and was seriously letdown by all of this stuff where the sources were manipulated and so forth. The story that they weren’t all prostitutes just doesn’t stack up. We’ve got plenty of evidence that they were. And that theme runs to the whole the book. I think that if Hallie Rubenhold had actually just stuck to telling the stories of the victims then, as I said, I think we would be saying really nice things about the book. Unfortunately she didn’t, and that’s really what has let the book down and I suspect that that is what most people, when they come to read it, will comment on.

        JM: As I said in my introduction, when the book was first announced we were all anxious to find out if she was going to be discovering anything majorly new. In particular people were excited about Mary Kelly, but in general, everyone that I knew of in the Ripperology community were very curious and really looking forward to the book. We welcome outside researchers taking a fresh look at the case and we welcome historians digging through archives that maybe haven’t been searched before, and finding something new. That’s our lifeblood in the field. We’ve been characterized as being ‘gatekeepers’: that somehow no one is allowed to research the Whitechapel murders unless they get our approval. It doesn’t work that way. People are free to research all they want and we welcome new researchers. But, the product at the end is going to be critiqued, and that’s what we’ve been doing on the show today. So thank you for participating in this round table book review of Hallie Rubenhold’s ‘The Five’.

        25 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg.12
        26 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg.276
        27 Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 ARC pg.256-7


        • #5
          Thanks, Jon.

          For comparison, this is how HR characterised the podcast:

          ’Perhaps the lowest point was the two-hour podcast recorded by a group of Ripperologists who tore apart The Five chapter by chapter, before finally comparing me to the Holocaust denier David Irving.’


          • #6
            Thanks for publishing this!

            Best wishes,



            • #7
              Very interesting, I also thank you. One thing that nags at me about some presumptions made,....that a woman with no other alternative for survival on a given night other than to sell herself is a "prostitute". I suppose engaging in any sexual acts for money makes it a reasonable moniker, but isn't there a line between a woman who does this willingly as the sole means of her income and one that becomes desperate enough to consider it? Isnt the term Unfortunate intended to cover the desperate one?

              There are to me a great deal of differences between the 2 types of women, and if one or more of the victims was seen out on the streets by the killer previously, maybe regularly, might we consider her as then possibly being targeted? If a woman is only on the streets at her moment of darkest despair, then the killer cannot use a pattern of behaviors as a means to find her. She may be out there, maybe not. Does this one killer hunt specific victims and random ones? Maybe.
              Michael Richards


              • #8
                Originally posted by MrBarnett View Post
                Thanks, Jon.

                For comparison, this is how HR characterised the podcast:

                ’Perhaps the lowest point was the two-hour podcast recorded by a group of Ripperologists who tore apart The Five chapter by chapter, before finally comparing me to the Holocaust denier David Irving.’
                I have been scouring the Sourcebook and I have come across the official police descriptive forms relating to Nichols and Chapman in which both are shown as prostitutes. I wanted to bring this to the attention of Ms Smarty Pants but i am one of a number who are now blocked

                Chapman page 77
                Nicholls page 33