They All Love Jack: The Ripper as Conspiracy Theory, Not Mystery

Book review: They All Love Jack, by Bruce Robinson (Amazon / Book Depository)

… there was nothing illaudable about being a Victorian Mason, any more than it was improper to enjoy membership of a tricycle club. But … this narrative is about the bad guys, and about one in particular who went rotten, and what that did to the rest of the barrel. Beyond that, I have no opinion on Freemasonry, no animosity towards it … My interest in Masonry is only inasmuch as it relates to ‘the mystery of Jack the Ripper’.

Perhaps you know Bruce Robinson from his early acting career, playing Benvolio in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet. He went on to become a successful, cult classic writer and director. Recently, he spent a decade obsessively researching Jack the Ripper, claiming to have conclusively unmasked the culprit.

They All Love Jack is Robinson’s dense yet page-turning, rambling yet intelligent study of what he believes to be at the heart of the Jack the Ripper story. In exhaustive detail, he dismantles previously accepted narratives, theories, and official linesHis obsession is not that of other ‘Ripperologists’ – those devoted to the study of the Ripper mystery. This is because Robinson claims it’s not much of a mystery at all, rather a conspiracy – that the investigation was purposely obfuscated to hide the Ripper’s identity. The hefty but surprisingly fast-reading book is his rebuttal to Ripperology, and makes his case for composer and singer Michael Maybrick, brother of another Ripper suspect, James Maybrick.

The stories he tells are odd to the point of surreal and require some suspension of disbelief. I love a good conspiracy theory, especially one backed by heaps of suspicious evidence, and even more so when the indisputable history around it is strange going on stranger. For example, James Maybrick’s wife Florence was convicted of murdering her husband, who was an arsenic (!) addict. Just one of many bizarre details and side stories told here in Robinson’s singular, profanity-laced voice.

I’ve never read anything quite like it – both in tone and structure. It’s haphazard but smart, almost like listening to someone you know is a mad genius, but worrisome in their intensity, lead you through their meticulously documented and catalogued research, and punctuating their diatribes frequently with swearing. It’s equally exhilarating, intriguing, and confusing, but undeniably entertaining.

I’m not quite sure what’s given Jack the Ripper his staying power, even while I also feel drawn to it when I encounter it. It’s not necessarily more horrifying or vicious than other murders that inspire morbid fascination; he wasn’t especially prolific (five ‘canonical’ murders over the span of a few months, though Robinson disputes this low number); and as far as unsolved cases go, it lacks the kind of curiosities or spookiness that make other stories unforgettable. Not to dismiss the severity of any of it, but I wonder why this story in particular has held our fascination when it’s not necessarily unique. Robinson’s study reveals the complexity around what seems deceptively simple, and he’s successful at dragging the reader down the rabbit hole with him.

Fundamentally, Robinson’s belief is that Jack was a Mason, and the Masonic Order dictates that members protect one another, apparently at any cost. He identifies Masons involved in the case, including among the police. The book’s backbone is his thoroughly researched account of the investigation being purposely bungled and pushed in wrong directions to protect someone. He analyzes Masonic symbols, stories and history and how those elements are present in the crime scenes – like in the removal of money and any metal from the body – and in Jack’s prolific correspondence with police.

When the Victorian police declared all the Ripper letters a ‘hoax’, Ripperology jumped on it like free money. It was a birthday present for the ‘experts’, and it gave a leg-up to every daft candidate in the book. If you didn’t have to worry about the letters, you didn’t have to worry about much at all.

This use of the letters was fascinating. I remembered from The Cases That Haunt Us that most were deemed hoaxes aside from the few frequently quoted (like the “from hell” letter). Robinson uses them to illustrate that there’s so much available material in this case if you try to piece it together instead of unquestioningly accepting previous theory and dismissals. He sifts through which letters seem likely to have actually come from the Ripper, and in addition to supporting his narrative, they contain some quotable gems. “They’ll never catch me at this rate you donkeys, you double faced asses,” was a favorite.

Robinson makes short work of the theory that most often links Freemasonry to the Ripper, as he isn’t the first to allege this connection. Masonry comes up in the gonzo theory that Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, had gotten a prostitute pregnant, who then told several of her colleagues and enlisted their medical help. One of Robinson’s strengths is showing through historical evidence and common sense how bunk previous Ripper theories are: “This had the potential of a cataclysmic scandal, and obviously required careful handling from the authorities, who decided the best way to deal with it was with a spree of ritualistic disembowelling.”

Another tidbit that’s sparked much speculation in Ripperology was the writing on the wall near one scene on the night of the “double event” when two women were killed. The graffiti (“The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing“) was taken as an antisemitic slur, though its interpretation is dicey given its ungrammatical structure and misspelling. Robinson uses it to highlight investigators’ strange behavior: “Would today’s Commissioner fire up the Jag at four in the morning to expunge the words ‘Fuck Islam’ written on an East End wall? He might, in certain circumstances, want it secured, but with two cut throats on the slate, it wouldn’t exactly be the place he visited first.”

He makes his points effectively.

And really, his sense of humor is delightful sometimes, like describing one particularly bizarre detail of witness statements about Elizabeth Stride’s hands and whether she held grapes (the vendor who sold them to her may have seen her murderer):

“Did you examine her hands?’ Lamb replied: ‘I did not. But I saw that her right arm was across her breast, and her left arm was lying under her.’
These dead hands will shortly start dancing around like an Italian describing a car crash. They will be open, closed, hidden, exposed, each new witness proffering a new untruth to try to make them fit the required point of view.

The elements of Masonic stories, primarily that of the murdered Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum that Robinson fits to the details of the murders weren’t always convincing. Not because he doesn’t make a strong, detailed case for them, but because I could still always see them as being coincidental. In this story, Jubelo was cut open with entrails thrown over his shoulder, as at Ripper scenes, but it seems a stretch to make some of it fit.

Ripperology and its devotees earn a whopping amount of Robinson’s ample ire, particularly as he criticizes their forest-for-the-trees shortcomings: “It’s always peering through a microscope, but blind to the bigger picture … the question isn’t where he slung the flesh, but why the authorities wanted to cover it up.”

That was Robinson’s guiding principle: follow what the police had denied and disregarded: “It had become almost a maxim of my research to go after whatever the authorities tried to dismiss.” It led him to the very strange Maybrick family and a compelling, if not definitively convincing theory.

There are two theories of history, the ‘cock-up’ and the ‘conspiracy’. This was both. It was a conspiracy that cocked up. A majority of Ripperologists don’t care much for the word ‘conspiracy’, fearing, I suspect, mission-creep into the unfathomable purity of ‘the mystery of Jack the Ripper’. But one day, even if it takes a thousand tomorrows, they’re going to have to come to terms with ‘the Conspiracy of Jack the Ripper’.

He wasn’t a criminal genius. He was a psychopath shielded by servants of the Victorian state. Had Warren really wanted to nail this miscreation, he could have done so in short order.

This isn’t the book to read to get a primer on Jack the Ripper, as it’s laser-focused on illuminating where things went wrong and why, but not always the clear details of what happened. Robinson expects you to keep up with him, so if you’re not overly familiar with the Ripper story (me) or Masonry in general (also me) expect to do a lot of googling.

It’s a compelling, funny, historically rich and curious read, but not a light or easy one. Still, for a long, dense book, it flies by even with its sometimes messy structure, meandering segues, and onslaughts of information. I kind of loved it, despite not always understanding his complex and many-layered case, and I think some cultural/historical and Masonry-specific bits went over my head.

He’s thorough in his explanations and in laying the groundwork so a reader can follow, but there’s just so much to take in. And to caution, he doesn’t mince words or care much for political correctness, so there are slings and arrows that will offend just about everyone at some point. If you’re not bothered, it’s a wild, engrossing tour through Robinson’s dedicated research.

They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper
by Bruce Robinson
published September 2015

Amazon / Book Depository

 

26 thoughts on “They All Love Jack: The Ripper as Conspiracy Theory, Not Mystery

    1. Thank you! I hadn’t read much about him either (only that behavioral profiling chapter I mentioned in The Cases that Haunt Us and what’s kind of common knowledge) although according to this author that’s fine because most of what’s theorized about him is irrelevant. It’s an interesting take for sure although I’m still on the fence about whether I agree with him or not!

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  1. When I was younger, I was fascinated with the Jack the Ripper story. It brewed from this being my first serial killer story, which was possibly true for most people. That it was unsolved just added another layer of intense interest. Over the years, I evolved into believing many new his identity and had reason to protect him. As I learn more about the historical and societal norms of that period, I’m even more convinced he wasn’t a mystery back then.

    This book seems to follow my path of thinking, though I’m much less intrigued by the who than by the why. The author seems to build a compelling theory and I like his narrow scope. Your review is equally so and you don’t seem to have been distracted by his intensities! Thanks for featuring this book.

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    1. I think you hit the nail on the head about this being many people’s first serial killer story, it was for me too. It makes so much sense to consider its longtime infamy based on that. I guess it just seems strange to me, the more I read and learn, why this particular series of events became a household name case as opposed to others. I think the atmospheric Victorian era is part of it, and that there’s something darker lingering around it. He does such excellent work in exploring what was so strange and captivating about it, and like you I have a hard time believing that his identity was unknown to police back then.

      He also isn’t that interested in who Maybrick (his suspect) was and why he was that way, beyond presenting the evidence that backs up his assertions. It’s all about the why, and in his telling of it that’s where the Masonic beliefs and rituals come in. He makes some excellent points and a few that I think are difficult to explain alternatively. Even back then they were fanatically obsessed with the Ripper so it’s just a stretch to assume this was truly a mystery, that really no one knew anything, but if it’s a brother in a secret society that swears loyalty and protection to each other, sure explains a lot…plus he taunted the investigators so openly with symbolism they had to recognize…I don’t know, I go back and forth, I can see him being right but some skeptic part of me balks at conspiracy theories no matter how much I love them!

      You really should read this one, especially since you’re better versed in the story than I was, I think you’d get a lot out of it.

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  2. What a great review! It’s interesting to see you review this, as I’d never heard of the author or of this point of view. It definitely seems like an interesting exploration of the case, though not so much up my alley. Nonetheless, fab review!

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  3. Fascinating! The idea that a conspiracy is at the heart of the “mystery” is so interesting. I’ve never had a strong interest in Jack the Ripper, and, like you, I’ve often wondered why his story’s inspired countless films and novels. But the author’s approach—focusing on what’s been ignored or dismissed, and why—is one I’m a big fan of in general, and I might have to give this a read sometime. Detailed and thorough review, as always!

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    1. I really recommend it, as long as you’re prepared for something non-traditional. At times I had trouble following his line of thought, just because it was so detailed and drew on so many different elements and factors and a wealth of information, but the book is just so surprisingly fun to read and his idea is intriguing. I’d also always wondered how this could’ve gone unsolved, it just seems so unlikely with how much attention was focused on it even during the time it was happening. It does seem like something bigger had to be afoot in some form and he makes an exhaustive case for it being a cover-up conspiracy. It’s a wonderful read when you’re in the mood for it!

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  4. This was such a great review. I’ve watched a few documentaries read some articles on the Jack the Ripper case. It’s such a fascinating mystery. Adding this to my TBR list. It sounds very intriguing. A conspiracy theory? It has my attention.

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    1. Thanks so much! I had only read a few articles as well, I don’t have such a wide knowledge of it but I understood more of how fascinating it actually is, especially if there’s truth to this and there was cover-up somewhere along the line. And I’m exactly the same, if it’s a conspiracy theory with hard evidence to back it up, I’m listening!! Are there any documentaries about it you can recommend?

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    1. I do think it helps to have some background on the case, as I said he just expects you to keep up with him! He mentions a lot of what’s considered official narrative around it in order to poke holes in it with his theory, so that’s helpful in a way, but I still had to google a lot. I don’t really know what’s another good nonfiction on it though, especially because he’s so dismissive of everything ‘Ripperology’. You’ll have to keep me posted if you find something you like! This one is really a trip though 🤣

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  5. Sounds like a must-read. I was never obsessed with Jack the Ripper, but I’ve read a fair bit about him over the years. I think he’s so mythical for me because he’s the first serial killer I ever heard about when I bought a book through a school book program when I was nine — I think it was called Strange But True and one of the entries was about who Jack the Ripper probably was (I think it pinned the crimes on a member of the Royal family).

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    1. That’s so true, I don’t know why it never occurred to me that it’s so popular as a story because it’s one of the first serial killer stories many people learn of (especially if it was through one of those school book programs, I used to love those and I still remember so many of the books so well!) He mentions the theory I think you read of, of it being a member of the royal family. That was also why there was originally a Masonic connection, as that guy was supposedly one. And would’ve made sense for why they’d want to cover it up, of course, but the rest of it is pretty bogus. I do think this is a must-read, it’s such an interesting theory and just a trip of a book!

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  6. This sounds like a fun read, but it doesn’t seem conclusive enough for me to want to read about a possible conspiracy theory. I don’t mind uncertain endings if an author is clear that no one knows the answer, but I think it would bother me more if the author is claiming only they have figured out the true answer!

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