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Jack the Ripper The Facts

Edition: Paperback 2006

Author: Paul Begg

ISBN: 10 - 1 86105 870 5 ISBN 13 - 9 781861 058706

Publishers: Robson Books Anova Books Company Ltd

Price £8.99

Publication Date: 2006 PB Edition

Publisher’s Title Information


In the autumn of 1888 a series of prostitute murders in London's poverty-ridden East End caused a sensation around the world. The killer was never caught, perhaps never identified, but became known to posterity by the chilling nickname ‘Jack the Ripper'. This book is the story of those murders, free of theories and speculation, by one of the world's most respected authorities' on the subject.

Paul Begg's fascinatingly detailed history makes extensive use of contemporary sources to reconstruct the murders and police investigation, what is known of the lives of the tragic victims, and the reactions of the press and the people. He examines the crimes' social background, the growing terror, what was happening on the streets, the pressures on the police and the political crisis the crimes nearly caused. Taking an objective look at leading police suspects, his book includes a great deal of new information and assessments of `popular' theories such as the Royal conspiracy and the so-called Maybrick diary - making this the most insightful and most complete account: a genuine history of one of Britain's most gruesome series of murders.

Using contemporary documents, police files, Home Office papers and newspaper reports, 'Jack the Ripper: The Facts' recreates the notorious crimes and police investigation of 1888 to provide the best available overview of the 'Great Victorian Mystery', the greatest unsolved, true crime story of all time.
Written by one of the world's foremost authorities on the case, this is a completely rewritten and fully updated edition of Begg's classic title Jack the Ripper. It follows the crimes chronologically and records the most significant events, witness testimonies and aspects of the police investigation. As well as objectively examining the primary police suspects, Begg provides a fascinating and authoritative insight into related political issues and background events.

The Author

Paul Begg is acknowledged worldwide as one of the leading authorities on the Jack the Ripper mystery. He is co-author of the 'Ripper Bible', 'The Jack the Ripper A to Z', and has written 'Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History'. He lives in Kent.


REVIEW

‘Not another book on Jack the Ripper!’  Well, this is not just another book but a thoroughly revised and completely rewritten edition of Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts by the same author.  That was published during the centenary of the murders in 1988 and began with those very words!

After the centenary of the murders one might have expected that interest in the subject would gradually wane.  Nothing could be further from the truth as writers put their word processors to use in producing yet more, and occasionally rather dubious versions.  At the same time, at no expense at all, it has become possible to access thousands of  internet  pages on the subject.

Comparatively little that is substantially new has come to light since the late 1980s.  In the main, the presently known facts do not differ greatly from those in the public domain eighteen years ago.  That there may be some gems of information waiting to be discovered in documents yet to come to light in future years cannot be denied.  But at the moment we must patiently make do with books by authors who visit and re-visit the subject, looking again at what is already known.  They labour in the hope of finding some issue, the significance of which they might not have been appreciated the first time round, which might further their understanding of certain aspects of the story.  Such books may capture the imagination of those who have not previously been introduced to the story, but one suspects that most new books tend to find their way onto the bookshelves of already committed Ripperologists. 

Writers on the Whitechapel Murders are confronted with a particular dilemma.  Having examined the limited facts available from official sources, they are left with considerable gaps in the story.  Of necessity they must have recourse to unofficial versions in autobiographies, privately held documents and, of course, newspaper articles.  While the latter seem to accurately reflect most of what is said in inquest proceedings a good deal of their commentary leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of objectivity.  Nonetheless, if such articles plug a leaking gap in the story, their use is understandable.  However, unless a writer can analyse the strengths and weaknesses of those articles the value of the resulting book is diminished.  It is here that Paul Begg is outstanding, for a considerable amount of newspaper based and other comment, is subjected to comparison with other known facts or writings resulting in an excellent objective analysis.

What is the name of Mr Begg’s best suspect?  To his credit he doesn’t put one forward but confines himself to an examination of all the evidence currently available.  He suggests that the murders were probably the work of some, as yet unknown, individual of no account.  That said, he does look at Aaron Kosminksi in some detail, devoting a chapter of over forty pages to an examination of just about everything known about him.  We are treated to the clues provided shortly after the event by Major Griffiths, HL Adam and Sir Robert Anderson in their writings, each pointing to a similar individual without naming him.   The Macnaghten notes available in the public domain much later, which incorporated the name Kosminski amongst the top three contenders are considered in detail.  Finally the Swanson Marginalia, which identified Kosminski as the man who went from police custody to care in an asylum.  These, plus other commentators’ contributions are examined in detail.   Mr Begg observes that a source can be tested, by looking for similar statements that can be verified or tested against known or accepted history.  This is precisely the sort of testing which he subjects the ‘evidence’ to.

By contrast, all his ‘other suspects’ are, probably quite rightly confined to a Chapter of only a little over thirty pages.  These include the so-called suspects where writers have tended to name their suspect at the outset and then build up a case against him.  The author puts the arguments in their correct perspective.

One disappointment is the amount of space given to the Frances Coles’ murder in 1891.  While not one of the canonical five, the police report did share the same ‘box’ in the early archives.  A Thomas Sadler was strongly suspected, arrested, charged with Coles’ murder and brought before a magistrates’ court.  The case was dropped, although there was strong circumstantial evidence against him, which clearly placed him within yards and minutes of the murder site.  The police remained sufficiently suspicious to follow him up for a number of years adding progress reports to the file.

 But readers may feel, at the end of some four hundred plus pages, followed by almost another hundred of Notes and References, that Aaron Kosminski comes out as the currently ‘best suspect’ albeit on circumstantial, rather than direct evidence.  The author does not press the reader to accept this, but that is the conclusion many are likely to come to.

Perhaps the identity of the murders may not really be what is important.  Mr Begg concludes by noting that it is the story of those crimes, of the women who died, and of the society and times in which they lived that matters and which holds the enduring fascination.  He certainly brings these issues to life and in so doing, produces what must be the leading book on the subject to date. 

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