Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer
Stewart P. Evans & Paul Gainey
The discovery of the "Littlechild letter" that named the first new contemporary police suspect in the Ripper murders in over a century sparked a scramble among researchers to uncover more about the mysterious 'Dr. Tumblety' in the letter.
Dr. Francis Tumblety emerges as an astounding character. A flamboyant homosexual, unrepentant fraudster and quack doctor who who aroused public admonition and admiration throughout his life wherever he went. The authors do a great job of building up a picture of this strange man and the times in which he lived - although a decidedly less convincing picture of Tumblety as a serial killer.
Thus, Gainey and Evans' book remains the stand-out tome published in regards to Tumblety. The wealth of information they collected about Tumblety's colourful life is an impressive piece of research in itself.
Drawing on a wealth of hitherto-unmined press reports from the US, the authors also demonstrate the seriousness with which Scotland Yard treated Tumblety as a suspect. A detective Andrews was dispatched from Scotland Yard to trail Tumblety in the US, a fact treated with much mirth by contemporary US newspaper reports.
Where Evans and Gainey fall down is in their efforts to shoehorn what is known about Tumblety into what is known about the Ripper. They identify him as 'the Batty Street lodger' - a mysterious suspect that surfaced in newspaper reports of the time - but cannot produce proof that he was actually that suspect. Statements from acquaintances of Tumblety that were circulated in the US media are quoted as fact, despite the lack of verifiable facts contained and the often sensationalist nature of the media of the time.
Tumblety's alleged "collection of uteruses" for example could be a critical piece of evidence if it didn't exist only the dark recollections, recounted in the press, by someone who Tumblety had clearly wronged.
Like all the best books on the Ripper, it is easy to let oneself become persuaded by the case as presented. In fact, somewhere between little and nothing exists to connect Tumblety to the crimes Jack The Ripper - and plenty that counts against his involvement.
The quibbles notwithstanding, this book deserves a place on the bookshelf (or Kindle) of any student of the Autumn of Terror. Evans himself is a police historian, and thus he handles his source material well and offers interesting insight into police procedures and the investigative methods of the time even if, ultimately, he cannot persuade the reader that the Ripper has truly been identified.
Paul Carpenter: 2014-09-16