Montague John Druitt was suspected of being Jack the Ripper — a serial killer who murdered five women in the 1888. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Montague John Druitt was suspected of being Jack the Ripper — a serial killer who murdered five women in the 1888. Source: Wikimedia Commons

December 1, 1888. Most probably the day on which Montague John Druitt, an opening bowler of considerable talent, drowned himself in the Thames. With his death the infamous Whitechapel murders also came to an end. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and death of a cricketer who was suspected of being Jack the Ripper.

London, 1888

The fog rendered eerie by the dim glow of the gaslights. The dark alleys around the impoverished slums of the Whitechapel area were seedy by the day, and after nightfall turned sinister.

And towards the end of summer, the murky streets of the area saw gruesome murders of five prostitutes who lived and worked in that East London district. In each case, the demise was caused by a sharp cut inflicted on the throat. In all but one occasion, the stomach was grotesquely mutilated — presumably after death. On three occasions the murderer walked away with one or more internal organs of the victim’s body.

The dread of Jack the Ripper spread across the city, especially from the Greenwich foot tunnel to the East End.

And somehow a cricketer emerged as one of the prime suspects of the serial killing.

The Whitechapel Murders

On August 31, the body of 43-year-old Mary Ann Nichols was discovered in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel.  There were cuts in the throat and the lower part of the abdomen had been ripped open by a jagged wound.

Eight days later, in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, the similarly mutilated body of 47-year-old Annie Chapman was found at dawn. Her uterus had been removed. One witness had supposedly seen Chapman with a dark-haired man of ‘shabby-genteel’ appearance about half an hour before the murder took place.

September 30 saw the murder of two more women in different regions of the Whitechapel area. While the death of Elizabeth Stride had been caused by a similar incision to the main artery on the left side of the neck, her body was not mangled like the others. Perhaps the murderer had been disturbed in the act, and hence had to find another victim to complete his ritual. That same night, Catherine Eddowes was also murdered. Her stomach was ripped open and her uterus and kidney were removed.

On November 9, the last of this series of murders took place. The victim was 25-year-old Mary Jane Kelly, found in the single room where she lived at 13 Miller’s Court. Her throat had been severed down to the spine, and the abdomen almost emptied of its organs. The heart was missing.

All five women had been prostitutes.

Due to similarity of modus operandi, the Whitechapel Murders were generally attributed to the same serial killer — and the legend of Jack the Ripper was born. There was another woman, Martha Tabram, who died of multiple stab wounds on August 7.However,her death is generally not linked to the same killer.

Kelly is considered to be the last of the Ripper’s victims. The crimes came to an end after November, 1888. It is normally assumed that the murders stopped because of the death, imprisonment or emigration of the serial killer.

Later similar murders did take place in the locality, but they are generally agreed to have been the work of copycats.

The Ripper was never caught, and to this day there remain many theories about his identity. Over hundred probable names have been proposed, by contemporary police of those days, the press, the public as well as later researchers and pseudo-researchers.

And generally, the name of Montague John Druitt tops the list of the most popular suspects.

Barrister, school-teacher, cricketer … murderer?

In 1888, Druitt was 31 and as unlikely a murder suspect as any. He was the image of a successful and happy young man, excelling in physical and cerebral pursuits.

He had studied at Winchester College and the University of Oxford. He worked as a barrister and schoolmaster and spent his free hours playing cricket.

For Winchester, he had played against Marylebone Cricket Club in 1876 as a nippy opening bowler. He continued to play the game during his days in Oxford, although not quite making it to the University team.

While at Winchester, Druitt was also passionately involved in the debating society. Often his speeches were political — mostly denouncing the Liberal Party as well as Bismark’s influence as “morally and socially a curse to the world.”

After graduating with a third class honours degree in classics, Druitt preferred employment as an assistant schoolmaster at a boarding school in Blackheath. He also continued his efforts to qualify as a barrister.

At the same time, he spent a lot of time in his flannels. With Incogniti, a gentleman’s touring team, he travelled in the West Country in 1882 and 1883.In his native Dorset, Druitt played in the Kinston Park Cricket Club and the Dorset County Cricket Club. One of his fellow local cricketers was Francis Lacey, the first man to be knighted for his services to the game.

In 1883, Druitt turned out for another wandering team, the Butterflies. The side included several First-Class cricketers of repute like AJ Webbe, JG Crowdy, John Frederick and Charles Seymour.

While working at Blackheath, Druitt turned out for Blackheath Morden, and also became the club’s treasurer.One of his teammates at Blackheath Morden was the Kent and England fast-medium bowler Stanley Christopherson. On the cricket ground, Druitt also crossed path with other famous cricketers. He once dismissed England batsman John Shuter for a duck and also got the wicket of Bobby Abel.

In 1884, Druitt was elected to MCC on the recommendation of Seymour, his name seconded by the famed fielder Vernon Royle. He also played a few minor matches for MCC. Just a few months before the Ripper murders started, he also played under the captaincy of Lord Harris.

In addition to cricket, Druitt also played field hockey. He qualified as a barrister in 1885 and set up chambers in King’s Bench Walk.

All in all, Druitt looked a contented young man, educated, successful and happy playing the game he loved.

In early August 1888, a few weeks before the series of murders, Druitt turned out for Bournemouth against the visiting Parsees led by Pestonji. With Mehallasha Pavri taking six wickets in the first innings, and DC Pandole claiming seven in the second, the Parsees won by a comfortable six wicket margin. But Druitt excelled in the match, dismissing five first visiting batsmen in the first innings.

The last major match he played was a single innings game against the Christopherson brothers, in which he took 3 for 38 in a 22-run win. In this game, Stanley Christopherson dismissed him and later Druitt returned the compliments. Significantly, the match was played on September 8, and started a few hours after the second Whitechapel murder.

The suicide

After the end of the 1888 cricket season, things turned sour. He lost his job at the school for unknown reasons. Some later authors have suggested that Druitt was dismissed because of his homosexual tendencies, after he had molested some his students. This is, however, pure conjecture. Brother William Druitt later said that ‘he had got into serious trouble’ but did not elaborate any further.

In early December, Druitt drowned himself in the icy waters of Thames. The body was found floating off Thornycroft’s torpedo works, Chiswick, on December 31.

The exact date of suicide remains uncertain, but evidences suggest that it is likely to have been on December 1. The date of his dismissal from the school, November 30, was a Friday. In his suicide note left for his brother, Druitt stated, “Since Friday I felt I was going to be like mother and the best thing for me was to die.” His mother had been in the Manor House Lunatic Asylum since the last six months and would die there two years down the line.

Two cheques of £50 and £16 were found on Druitt’s person. These could have been the settlement salary from the school. There was also an unused return ticket from Hammersmith to Charing Cross dated December 1.

The reasons for the suicide remain tinged with many doubts. The job at the school was not Druitt’s only source of income. He was still a successful barrister. Hence, his dismissal from the school was not a crippling blow to his livelihood.

There are however two possibilities that suggest themselves — the stigma of homosexuality and that of impending madness. The strain of depression existed in the family genes. His mother had already attempted suicide once by taking an overdose of laudanum. Her mother had committed suicide as well. Later, his older sister would kill herself by jumping out of an attic window.

The inquest was held on January 2, 1889, and Dr Thomas Diplock pronounced suicide ‘whilst of unsound mind’.

The Ripper?

True, after the death of Druitt, the Ripper murders were discontinued. However, there remain more suggestions that Druitt could indeed have been the serial killer.

It was Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten who named Druitt as a suspect in the case. In a private handwritten memorandum dated February 23, 1894, Macnaghten highlighted the coincidence between Druitt’s disappearance and death shortly after the last of the five murders. He also claimed “From private information I have little doubt that his own family suspected this man of being the Whitechapel murderer; it was alleged that he was sexually insane.”

The memorandum also said: “I have always held strong opinions regarding him, and the more I think the matter over, the stronger do these opinions become. The truth, however, will never be known, and did indeed, at one time lie at the bottom of the Thames, if my conjections be correct!”

However, in Scotland Yard files, Druitt is referred to as a 41-year-old doctor rather than a 31-year-old solicitor. The murder method of slitting the arteries hinted at medical knowledge, and a doctor being the killer made sense. Was Macnaghten misinformed about his profession and thereby reached the wrong conclusion?

Macnaghten’s memo was discovered in his personal papers by his daughter, Lady Aberconway, who showed them to British broadcaster Dan Farson. A slightly different abridged copy of the memo found in the Metropolitan Police archive was released to the public in 1966.

Druitt’s full name as a Ripper suspect was revealed by journalist Tom Cullen in his 1965 book Autumn of Terror. This was followed by Dan Farson’s book Jack the Ripper released in 1972.

Obvious conclusions were drawn with insanity and the serial murders.

However, evidence supporting Druitt’s being the Ripper is rather flimsy and strained. The only link to support the allegation perhaps lies in his appearance which was rather close to some witness accounts. The estimates of age were quite near to his 31 years. The moustache, which three major witnesses swore to have seen, was also another cause for suspicion.  However, most witnesses described the murderer to be of medium to heavy build, stout and broad shouldered. Druitt, in contrast, was a slender man.

The other problem with the allegation is that there was no night-train service between London and Blackheath at that time. In 1888, the last train left Blackheath at 12:25 AM and the earliest leaving London for Blackheath was at 5:10 AM.

During that period, Druitt had been living at 9 Eliot Place, Blackheath. In case of most of the murders, it would have been impossible for him to make a quick getaway to his home at the dead of night. The logistics do present a major problem for the theories that try to implicate him.

However, Cullen argued that Druitt had chambers at 9 King’s Bench Walk and it was within walking distance of East End. Even with this explanation, there still remain issues surrounding movement and getaway, especially on the night of the double murder.

At this stage, cricket comes to the aid of Druitt. On September 1, the day after the Nichols murder, he played for Canford, Dorset, against Wimborne at Canford. On September 8, the day of the Chapman murder, Druitt was there at the Rectory Field at Blackheath that 11.30 AM for the match against the Christopherson brothers. It is rather unlikely that he killed Chapman at 5:30 AM, caught a train to Blackheath, removed his bloodstained clothes, had his rest and breakfast and managed to reach the ground at 11:30. As mentioned earlier, he took three wickets in the game. It would have been quite difficult to produce such a performance if he had been up all night walking the streets of London.

Macnaghten did not give reasons for his conviction that Druitt was indeed the Ripper. The only thing that he said was that he was convinced from private information that Druitt’s family believed him to be the murderer. He did not reveal who in the family held this view. There seems to be a lack of genuine, verifiable information.

Yet, another source suggests that there might have been more men than just Macnaghten who believed in the theory. Dr. Thomas Dutton, who collected notes about crimes of that period and analysed handwriting related to the Ripper case under microscopes, did provide some additional information that again seems to implicate Druitt.

According to Dutton, in March 1889, a high-standing member of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee named Albert Backert complained to the police that “there seemed to be too much complacency in the force simply because there had been no more murders for some months.”

The senior police officers responded to his complaint. Backert and was told that if he were to swear to secrecy he would be given information about the case. In Backert’s own words, “Foolishly, I agreed. It was then suggested to me that the Vigilance Committee and its patrols might be disbanded as the police were quite certain that the Ripper was dead. I protested that, as I had been sworn to secrecy, I really ought to be given more information than this. ‘It isn’t necessary for you to know any more,’ I was told. ‘The man in question is dead. He was fished out of the Thames two months ago and it would only cause pain to relatives if we said any more than that.”’

If Dutton’s account is true, then it will imply that the police might have suspected Druitt even before Macnaghten joined the force in the summer of 1889.

Chief Inspector Frederick George Abberline, however, never acknowledged that the death of the Ripper was confirmed. In his interview with the Pall Mall Gazette in 1903, he said: “You can state most emphatically that Scotland Yard is really no wiser on the subject than it was fifteen years ago. It is simple nonsense to talk of the police having proof that the man is dead. I am, and always have been, in the closest touch with Scotland Yard, and it would have been next to impossible for me not to have known all about it. Besides, the authorities would have been only too glad to make an end of such a mystery, if only for their own credit.”

Perhaps it will never be ascertained whether Druitt was the Ripper or not. He continues to enjoy the dubious distinction of being cricket’s only known connection to serial killing.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)