Between August and November 1888, Jack the Ripper struck Whitechapel and brutally killed five prostitutes. Was he a lone nutjob? Or was he part of an elaborate conspiracy involving the police, the Prime Minister and Queen Victoria?
Sounds nuts, doesn’t it. But this is the conspiracy theory that’s at the centre of the Johnny Depp-starring 2001 movie From Hell (and the graphic novel it’s based on). And it originates in a 1976 book by Stephen Knight called Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution.
The secret marriage of Prince Albert Victor
The story goes that Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, met and fell in love with Annie Elizabeth Crook, a working class Catholic girl who was one of the models for famous painter Walter Sickert. They married in a secret ceremony where the witnesses were Walter Sickert and Annie’s friend Mary Jane Kelly (who later became the fifth and final victim of Jack the Ripper). Prince Albert Victor and Annie Crook had a daughter together – Alice Crook – who was an heir to the British throne.
In 1888, Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Robert Cecil discovered Prince Albert Victor’s secret. Not only was the prince’s secret marriage to a working class girl scandalous for the Royal Family, but the heir produced by the marriage was Catholic, and Catholics were forbidden from the throne.
Basically, this needed sorting.
So Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister ordered the kidnapping of Annie and Alice. A raid of Annie’s apartment on Cleveland Street, London, was arranged, and Annie was placed into the custody of Sir William Gull, Queen Victoria’s physician. He certified her as insane, with some versions of the story contending that Queen Victoria instructed Gull to make her insane by impairing her brain functions, so she could never reveal the secret.
However, Alice Crook was not in the apartment when it was raided. She was being looked after by Mary Jane Kelly, who – along with her prostitute friends Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes – decided to blackmail the government.
At this point Queen Victoria, the Prime Minister and his fellow Freemasons, including senior London Met Police officers, are said to have conspired to put an end to the scandal once and for all. They decided to stage the murders of Mary Jane Kelly and her friends and retrieve Alice. Sir William Gull was given the task of murdering the women. With the assistance of coachman and accomplice John Netley, Gull became Jack the Ripper. And he clearly got a taste for murder and mutilation. The final victim was Mary Jane Kelly herself; she was basically torn to bits, her face carved off and her internal organs spread around her bedroom.
Still, Gull never got his hands on Alice, and it’s said that she lived well into old age and became Walter Sickert’s mistress.
All seems quite sensational, but could any of it be true?
The evidence for the conspiracy
There were already theories that Jack the Ripper might’ve been a physician or a surgeon because of the anatomical knowledge he displayed when he committed the murders. But the story I’ve detailed above pretty much all came from one man – Joseph Gorman, aka Joseph Sickert and allegedly the son of Walter Sickert and Alice. He was told the story about the secret royal baby, the conspiracy and Sir William Gull being the Ripper by his parents. Joseph Gorman revealed all of this as part of a BBC documentary series on Jack the Ripper in 1973.
Stephen Knight, when he heard about all this, conducted his own investigation and found a number of facts and coincidences supporting Gorman’s claims. Among these were the following:
- It’s a fact that Annie Elizabeth Crook was institutionalised.
- There really was a man called John Netley.
- A woman named Elizabeth Cook – who Knight thought might be “Annie Elizabeth Crook” misspelt – did live on Cleveland Street.
- Both Prince Albert Victor’s mother and Alice Crook were deaf. An inherited disability?
- Knight identified similarities between the Ripper murders and alleged Masonic ritual killings, supporting the claim that Freemasons were involved in the conspiracy.
- Clairvoyant Robert James Lees claimed to have identified Jack the Ripper using his psychic powers; his description of the Ripper matched Sir William Gull.
While none of it was concrete, it was enough to convince Knight that Gorman’s story was true. He believed that the lack of any tangible evidence was because of the government cover-up and the police destroying evidence. This led to him publishing Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution.
After this, Sir William Gull became one of the prime Ripper suspects.
Nail in the coffin
While it’s a truly fascinating tale, most modern historians reject the royal conspiracy theory, and with it, the idea of Sir William Gull being the Ripper. Why? It’s because, regardless of the coincidences, the main source of this conspiracy theory is Joseph Gorman. And Gorman retracted his story in 1978, telling The Sunday Times, “It was a hoax. I made it all up. It was a whopping fib.”
So that’s that then!
The mystery persists. I wonder if we’ll ever know the true identity of this infamous killer…
Next week: Queen Elizabeth I was a man!