In Jack the Ripper: The Forgotten Victims, Paul Begg and John Bennett recover the stories of murdered women not considered official victims of the Ripper. We spoke with John Bennett about the case and the writing process.
When did you first become interested in the Ripper case?
Probably around the mid-1970s as a young boy. My family is from East London and I guess Jack the Ripper was always something that was “around.” I remember being at my aunt’s and seeing a TV program with a man standing in front of an old building talking about the subject. When I asked who the Ripper was, my older cousin mischievously tried to scare me by describing him as a murderer who stalked the shadows and that he was coming to get me! I found that creepy and being already interested in things like ghosts and monsters, it hooked my curiosity.
What distinguishes this from other books on the case?
We have sidestepped the usual account of the murders to discuss and examine other murders from the time, which have long been associated with Jack the Ripper. Some of these victims may well have been killed by him, others less likely, however they have all been associated with the Whitechapel murders at some point in time, either for being potential Ripper crimes, or showing the influence of them. These victims are considered “forgotten” in the sense that most studies concentrate on only a select number of women—Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Kelly. We know much about their lives, but those other women who died in similar circumstances around that time have remained relatively neglected.
What are the most significant discoveries that you and Mr. Begg made in preparing it?
Not discoveries as such, but there is material that is rarely seen or has not been published before. There really has not been a close study of the murder of Jane Beadmore by William Waddell. The other major feature is an examination of the circumstances surrounding the arrest of James Sadler for the murder of Frances Coles in 1891. It’s a lengthy chapter which reveals the little mentioned fact that it was, to all intents and purposes, a police set-up with Sadler as a scapegoat. It suggests that the police may not have always been playing by the book and that by fitting Sadler up for the Coles murder, they could tell everybody that the Ripper had been caught. It obviously didn’t work.
What are the biggest misconceptions about the case?
There are so many of them and usually they are created by the media. The major one is that Jack the Ripper walked around the narrow alleyways in his top hat and cape, holding his little black bag and hidden by the swirling London fog. Nobody was seen with the victims dressed like that and none of the murders took place on a foggy night. Another is that the murders had something to do with royalty and that there was some grand conspiracy to protect “the highest in the land”—it’s a theory that has been around since the 1970s and has been the subject of a number of high profile movies, so it is always in the public eye and refuses to go away, despite the theory having no real facts to back it up.