I recently DVR'd a show on the National Geographic Channel called Finding Jack the Ripper, where a retired British police detective investigates the case and attempts to see if he can discover anything new. His name was Trevor Marriott, and apparently this show was actually based on a book he published in 2005 outlining his theories.
I didn't expect to be particularly impressed - it was just a reality docudrama, after all. As it turns out, he made an incredibly well-reasoned and convincing argument for a suspect that - as far as I know - has never been involved in any Jack the Ripper investigations in the past.
Most people, of course, are at least vaguely familiar with the story of Jack the Ripper. To give a brief overview, the story begins on balmy London night in late August, 1888, when a prostitute named Mary Ann Nichols was brutally murdered with a knife. A week later, another prostitute - Annie Chapman - was killed, and her uterus was removed by the murderer.
About three weeks after that, by now the end of September, two more prostitutes were killed on the same night - Elizabeth Stride and Catharine Eddowes. Virtually since the night it happened, there has been disagreement as to whether Elizabeth Stride was actually murdered by Jack the Ripper. Unlike his other victims, she had no mutilations to her body - only her throat was cut. Those who believe she was indeed Jack the Ripper's victim argue that he was interrupted as he went about his deed, and therefore had to find another victim - Catharine Eddowes - whom he killed about 45 minutes later. Others, however, doubt that the murderer could have pulled both murders off in the period of time necessary. Together with the lack of mutilation or other telltale Ripper signs, this leads them to the conclusion that Stride, in fact, was the victim of some other person.
Jack the Ripper's murder spree ended about a month after the double murder of Stride and Eddowes. In the first week of November, 1888, a fifth prostitute - Mary Kelly - was murdered, and her body was mutilated to such a degree as to be hardly recognizable as human. The black and white photograph of her body is, to say the least, highly disturbing.
Following the murder of Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper disappeared, apparently never to be heard from again. Theories have abounded as to why the murders suddenly stopped, with the most obvious being that the Ripper himself died before he was able to kill again (the Whitechapel district of London, where the murders took place, was NOT a place you wanted to be in the late 1800's - people died there every day from murders and fights and all manner of violent causes).
Over the years, there have been literally hundreds of suspects identified, mostly by amateur enthusiasts and the occasional independent investigator. None has ever garnered widespread support, and I doubt this latest suspect will either. But the argument is an interesting one.
THE NEW THEORY
Trevor Marriott, the police detective who has put forth this new suspect, has always believed that Jack the Ripper was most likely a merchant seaman - that is, someone who was frequently coming and going from the nearby shipyards. This would help explain the sudden start to the crimes, the periods of time between murders, and the subsequent abrupt ending to the killing spree. It is also true that many of Whitechapel's prostitutes made their living largely by serving sailors who were temporarily in port. It's not a stretch to imagine that the murderer might have been a sailor, and this has been a popular theory almost since the time of the original investigation.
Starting from this point, Marriott began investigating possible suspects. He eventually centered on a German sailor named Carl Feigenbaum.
Who is Carl Feigenbaum?
Well, nobody, really. He was executed in 1896 for murdering a woman in New York City, and while his lawyer claimed in an interview on the day of the execution that he believed Feigenbaum was Jack the Ripper, no one took him seriously and Feigenbaum was more or less forgotten as a suspect. Until Trevor Marriott came along, anyway.
Marriott discovered that Feigenbaum had, in fact, worked for a German merchant shipping company in the 1880's, ending his stint there in the early 1890's before settling in the U.S.A.
Combing through the records of this shipping company, Marriott was able to determine the exact dates in which Feigenbaum had been employed - and the dates included the late summer and early autumn of 1888.
He was further able to comb the shipping records of the port in London where he believes the Ripper would have been based. His first goal was to find out if any one ship - of any nationality - was in port on each of the days the Ripper struck. He found only one ship that met this criteria, but it was only in port on 3 of the 4 murder days (recall that two murders took place on the same day, resulting in 5 victims killed on 4 different days).
This ship, as it turns out, was a ship owned and operated by the company Feigenbaum was employed by, and it was a ship that he was known to have worked on.
Furthermore, on the 4th day in question - the day in which the first ship was not in port - there was ANOTHER ship of the same company that was in port.
This means that the shipping company which Feigenbaum worked for in late 1888 had ships in port on each of the days of the Ripper murders. Furthermore, there were other Ripper-like murders around Europe and North America in the few years following the Whitechapel murders, and in each of those cases, Marriott was able to confirm that a ship of this German merchant company had been in port at the time. Ultimately, he identified something like 20 different Ripper-like murders (including the 5 in London) that occurred in large cities around the world, beginning in 1888 with the Ripper murders and going up through 1892, in which ships of this German shipping line were in dock at the time of the murder.
I don't know about you, but that's a pretty amazing discovery, particularly considering that it seems to be exactly this period - about 1888 to 1892 - that Feigenbaum was working for the shipping company in question.
Marriott's next step was to see if he could actually confirm that Feigenbaum was on these ships when they were in port. Finding those records could conceivably prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Feigenbaum was, in fact, Jack the Ripper. The coincidence would be too great.
Fortunately, the company in question kept very detailed records of the men who worked on their London-bound ships. However, the company's records from the three months in which the Ripper murders took place in London were mysteriously absent from the archives. This was true despite the fact that, apparently, the records before and after that stretch were relatively complete. Marriott has theorized that perhaps Feigenbaum's lawyer got possession of them, although that's purely speculation. What is not speculation is that the records which could conclusively confirm or deny whether Feigenbaum was in London on the days of the murders have been lost.
After Feigenbaum's stint as a merchant seaman, he seems to have settled in the U.S. and worked as a florist in Wisconsin before ultimately moving, about 1894, to New York City. It was there that he eventually murdered a woman and was sentenced to death for it. The murder was very much "Ripper style," with a long-bladed knife used to slit the woman's throat with a double slash. The long-bladed knife and the double slash throat cut are two of the hallmarks of the Ripper murders. The woman's body was not mutilated, but that could be because Feigenbaum was caught in the act by her son and forced to run. He was later caught by police.
As noted above, Feigenbaum's lawyers told newspapers on the day of Feigenbaum's execution that he believed Feigenbaum could be connected to Jack the Ripper. He went on to say that he would "stake [his] professional reputation" that a proper investigation would tie Feigenbaum to London and Whitechapel in late 1888.
He also told the press that Feigenbaum had confided to him that he had "suffered for years" from an "all absorbing passion" that caused him to want to brutally murder and mutilate women. When this "passion" came on him, Feigenbaum apparently said, he was "unable to control" himself.
This, of course, is perfectly consistent with what criminal psychologists would now recognize as the hallmark of a serial killer - the uncontrollable urge to kill.
Feigenbaum's lawyer went on to say that he had looked up some of the dates of the Ripper murders, and then asked Feigenbaum about where he was on those dates, without telling him why he wanted to know. Feigenbaum, said his lawyer, confirmed that he was in London on the days in question.
This story apparently made a minor sensation at the time, and was reported in many newspapers around the country, but the theory never caught on, and within a few years, Carl Feigenbaum had basically passed out of the consciousness of Ripper investigators and enthusiasts.
Marriott finalized his theory by asserting that the Ripper-like murders which had been taking place in various places around the world during the late 1880's and early 1890's pretty much ended after the arrest and execution of Carl Feigenbaum. As a final piece to the puzzle, that certainly seems to seal the deal.
However, as one can imagine, many experts are still not convinced. I found a website devoted to the case where the author analyzed Marriott's conclusions extensively and ultimately stated that he thought Marriott was wrong.
Without those all important records that actually show Feigenbaum's name as part of the crew of a ship that was actually in port during these various murders, it is difficult to say that the "case is closed."
I personally have always found it odd that so many Ripper enthusiasts seem to assume that the murderer must have moved on to some other place and kept on murdering. Invariably, this "other place" always ends up being America, and it's not an accident that the enthusiasts who tend to support these theories are American. The case is so fascinating to so many people that it almost seems as though American enthusiasts resent that the murders happened in London and want desperately to be able to claim Jack the Ripper as their own.
In all likelihood, Jack the Ripper was some tramp who lived on the streets of Whitechapel, snapped one day and started murdering, then ended up dead himself in a bar fight or a mugging, or was perhaps arrested and put in jail for some other unrelated crime, and thus passed out of history without anyone ever knowing any better. That's the simplest answer, anyway, and the simplest answer is usually the right one.
Still, this newest theory about Carl Feigenbaum is noteworthy simply because it seems, on the surface anyway, to have some solid evidence behind it, even if that evidence is only circumstantial.