Jack the Ripper

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Feb 1, 2010.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member


    By Jay Kinney

    Efforts to link the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 to Freemasonry are nothing new. A four-part "docutainment" on British television in the early '70s first floated the notion, which was then turned into a sensationalist book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, by author Stephen Knight in 1976. This was followed by the 1978 movie, Murder Bv Decree, starring Christopher Plummer and lames Mason as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, where Masonic connections to the killings were also alleged.

    Now a new movie in the genre is upon us: From Hell, starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. The trailer for the film has already hit the theatres, raising concerns among Masons. As you read this, the film may well be at your local theatre.

    In this short article I hope to provide sufficient information for brethren to put the movie in context and to address questions that may be raised by worried friends or relatives.

    As unlikely as it may seem, From Hell is not simply a product of Hollywood greed or opportunism. It is based on a remarkable graphic novel of the same name, by writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell. Graphic novels, in case you've been unaware of the phenomenon, are novel-length comics, most often published in quality paperback format and usually aimed at an adult audience. From Hell, which is an engrossing retelling of the Jack the Ripper chronology, is possibly the greatest graphic novel yet published. It clocks in at over 500 pages of finely rendered story, with an additional 42 pages of notes and annotations, where Moore explains some of the more obscure details of the Ripper history and gives reasons for choosing among the dozens of competing theories of who did what and when.

    This is important to note, because, despite the reputation of comic books for shallow plots and characters, From Hell - the graphic novel - is a multi-layered story that is more akin to Thomas Pynchon than to Donald Duck. Moore conducted exhaustive research on the Ripper mystery, as the annotations indicate, and then proceeded to construct a dramatic and fantastic tale, which he is careful to distinguish as speculative fiction.

    Unfortunately, the Ripper theory which Moore found most inspiring, for dramatic purposes, was that put forth in Stephen Knights book Jack the Ripper:The Final Solution. In brief, Knight alleges that the Ripper killings were performed by one William Gull, ordinary physician to Queen Victoria, and supposedly a Mason. Victorias dissolute son, Prince Edward Albert (or "Eddie") supposedly fell in love with a Whitechapel prostitute, secretly married her, and sired a son. In order to avoid Royal scandal and political turmoil, Gull was dispatched to quiet the mother and eliminate any leaks. The Ripper killings, supposedly, were directed at a small circle of prostitutes who knew of the Princes doings, and engaged in petty blackmail over the fact.

    But where, one might ask, does Masonry come into this? Connections are suggested by the nature of the killings, which at first glance bear some resemblance to certain traditional Masonic penalties. Dr. Gull, so the theory goes, went off the deep end in the course of his tasks, and enacted them as a mad, drawn out, Masonic ritual. Highly placed Masons in the government and police, in order to avoid their own scandal, engaged in a cover-up of the killers identity.

    Moore and Campbell took this theory and embellished it further with meditations on London architecture, magical rituals, and British class conflicts. The result was a gripping historical fantasy which, in due course, found its way to Hollywood, as gripping fantasies sometimes do. Which brings us back to the present and the challenge presented by From Hell the movie.

    The last decade has seen British Freemasonry increasingly under accusations of favoritism among Masons in the courts and police. Calls for the registration, public listing, and even banning of Masons from certain positions, have caused the United Grand Lodge of England to reverse its decades-old policy of meeting all attacks with silence. A greater openness and efforts at better helping the public understand what the Craft stands for have begun to turn the tide, But given this context of widespread suspicion and Masonic defensiveness, From Hell may pack a bigger punch than would otherwise be the ease.

    American and Canadian Masons, who pride themselves on a relatively classless society, may have trouble grasping the position that Masonry occupied in 19th century Britain, where a largely upper-middleclass membership and Royal patronage contributed to a perception of Masonic elitism - a perception that is still evident in current attacks. Whitechapel, the London slum where the Ripper killings took place, was mere blocks from the corridors of power in The City. but the social gulf between a respectable Mason and the Rippers victims was vast indeed. Unsolved murders breed suspicions of cover-ups, and who better to blame cover-ups on than those with the perceived power to order them.

    Still, the fact remains that the Knight theory of Masonic involvement hangs on the allegations of one man. Joseph Sickert, who claimed that hed learned the "truth" from his father, Walter Sickert, a well-known painter of the late Victorian era. Joseph Sicken later recanted his allegations, but a good conspiracy theory is hard to kill. Almost all serious Ripper researchers have repudiated or disproven the Knight theory, yet it remains the most beguiling because it purports to tie together motive, means, perpetrators, and victims in a neat package. Actual history is rarely so tidy.

    What is the best response to the movie From Hell? Some early suggestions, such as an organized boycott of the film, might well he counterproductive and merely play into the hands of those who already believe that Masonry is throwing undue weight around. Authors and artists have the right to fashion fantasies, even out of flawed premises, and film directors have the right to turn such fantasies into movies. A better response is for Masons to establish at least some familiarity with the Ripper story, however unsavory, and if faced with suspicions from acquaintances, to speak honestly from ones own experience of the benign effects of Masonry in the world. Not everyone has the time or capacity to become an expert on the intricacies of Ripper history, but every Mason has the resource of his own familiarity with Masonic reality.

    Perhaps the single best resource on the various Ripper theores (including ones that posit Masonic involvement) is easily available on the Web at www.casehook.org. This excellent site surveys all of the major theories on the murders, profiles the victims and alleged criminals, and maintains an admirable objectivity throughout. The graphic novel, From Hell (available in the U.S. from Top Shelf Productions, P0 Box 1282, Marietta GA 20061) is inevitably far more ambiguous than the movie, and the copious annotations help clarify fact from fantasy. Finally, as reluctant as I am to encourage seeing a movie that may present offensive allegations, one needs to know what is being said in order to make a judicious response.

    Jack The Ripper Case Summary

    In 1888, London, England was thrown into a panic by a series of vicious murders spread over an li-week period beginning on Sept. 1st. The victims were five women, all prostitutes living a hand to mouth existence in the Whitechapel area of Londons East End.

    The killings ceased as suddenly as they began and no culprit was ever brought to trial, despite a massive manhunt and a cacophony of leads, accusations, theories, and suspects. The murderer was popularly referred to as 'Jack the Ripper," based on the name signed to two taunting missives sent to the Central News Agency in the midst of the mayhem.

    Although Whitechapel was no stranger to violence, the vicious nature of these murders - marked by multiple stabbings slashed throats, and mutilation - was particularly disturbing. The crimes were committed late at night, under cover of darkness, adding to Londoners fears of the unknown assailant.

    Once the Ripper case was closed, Scotland Yards Ripper files were sealed for one hundred years, encouraging suspicions of a cover-up, as well as speculations on who the Ripper really was. The tiles unsealing in 1987 proved anticlimactic: little in the way of previously unknown clues or suspects, and no evidence of any Masonic involvement in either the murders or the investigation was found within.

    Jack the Ripper is often cited as the first of the modern phenomenon of serial killers. Dozens of books have probed into the famous case, but no single theory of the Rippers identity has found acceptance among researchers.

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