It’s been more than 130 years since Whitechapel, London, witnessed a disturbing string of five murders between 1888 to 1891 and historians and interested observers still argue about the true identity of Jack the Ripper. In the intervening years accusations have been levelled against a wide variety of characters – both infamous and not – who may have been the serial killer. The royal family was even dragged into the fray in the 1960s when a theory gained traction that the murderer was none other than Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward.
But why would a member of the royal family commit such crimes? The theory was that it may have been done to keep silent those who knew about the prince’s supposed secret marriage to Annie Elizabeth Crook, a shop assistant and commoner. Though “Eddy,” as he was known to friends and family, had the necessary knowledge to kill and mutilate the victims, the simple fact was that he was not in London on any of the dates on which the murders were committed.
But many were not content to face defeat and so a second, alterative theory emerged that the murderer was someone close to the royal family. This alternative version of events originates with Joseph Sickert, a man who claimed to be the son of painter Walter Sickert. Sickert junior maintained that his father had been the one to introduce Eddy and Annie and that their union resulted in a pregnancy.
According to Sickert senior, Queen Victoria learned of the scandal and called on Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to cover it up. Salisbury, in turn, passed the problem on to royal doctor Sir William Gull who then kidnapped Annie and tried to erase her memory, driving her insane in the process.
Here is where the tale starts to get complicated. According to the Sickerts, Mary Kelly was nanny to the child – in addition to being a prostitute – and managed to hide the baby girl from Dr Gull. She then shared the baby’s identity with fellow prostitutes, Polly Nichols, Elizabeth Stride, and Annie Chapman and they began blackmailing the government, making it necessary for Gull to hire someone to silence the women.
Or was Sickert senior’s tale an elaborate cover-up for his own misdeeds? Yet another group suspect Walter of being Jack the Ripper, citing later paintings he produced as potential death portraits of the victims. There is also his infamous painting titled ‘Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom’, which was, in fact, a picture of his own rooms in the East End.
Though the many threads and possibilities in these overlapping theories are intriguing, they lack concrete evidence and rely heavily on rumour and second-hand accounts. But convinced conspiracy theorists maintain that it’s only natural there is no proof because the Salisbury government would have been careful to cover their tracks and expunge all records…