Jack The Ripper, Dr John Hewitt & Granddad

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During the 1980’s my grandfather Steward Jackson HICKS was a Jack the Ripper researcher, or “Ripperologist” as they are known in the trade. I knew nothing of his grisly hobby until after his death in 1993, a topic which my grandma refused to discuss even after his death. My mum knew a little of it at the time, having been literally bored to sleep one evening with his theories on the subject, but sadly none of his work now survives.

When I first started researching my family in 2005 tree I came across my granddad’s name as a Ripperologist on the internet, but little detail was added. On looking for this same information again sixteen years later I found much more about his research, including the name of the man he had framed for the Ripper murders; a Manchester doctor called John HEWITT. This sparked my own investigative mind at work and set about discovering more.

In the Easter of 1986, granddad visited my aunt for a few days, who was living in the Wirral at the time. He travelled over to Manchester and back on the train each day looking for more information on his doctor suspect, visiting where he lived and the hospital he worked in. It was shortly after this that he contacted true crime historian Colin Wilson (whom he was already acquainted with), believing he had now found enough evidence to support his case again HEWITT. It was well received by Wilson, who wrote a little about it in his book “The Mammoth Book of True Crime 2” in 1990, shortly before my granddad died (the book was later revised in 2000 and republished as “The Mammoth Book of Murder“):

“In the year of the Ripper centenary, I was more than half convinced that the mystery had finally been solved by a Norwich accountant named Steward Hicks. Mr Hicks had first written to me some time in December 1985, telling me that he was at that time unwilling even to hint at the identity of his suspect. We kept in touch, and in June of the following year, he intimated that he had now written enough of his book to look for a publisher.”

My aunt had left home by the time my granddad became interested in Jack The Ripper so was unable to recall what sparked his hobby, but in Wilson’s book, he went on to say how my granddad first became intrigued with finding the identity of Jack the Ripper after reading about Thomas STOWELL’s royal conspiracy theory regarding the Duke of Clarence, which was first published in 1970. The BBC ran a six part drama in 1973 called “Barlow and Watt: Jack The Ripper“, followed shortly after by a book based on the series in 1975 and then a movie based on the book in 1979. The 100 year anniversary of the Jack The Ripper murders was looming in 1988, so there was most likely a resurgence of interest by the mid-eighties which fuelled many an investigative mind.

Sadly for my granddad, and as you’ve probably already guessed, his suspicions about Dr John HEWITT were disproved. He was left disappointed but did a little more work on his hobby, although his heart was no longer in it and his health was declining by this time. After granddad died in 1993 some of his research files remained with my grandmother until she moved out in 2009 to go into a nursing home (age 93), and my aunt took them in case they were of interest to a friend of hers. There was also a set of rusty old Victorian surgical implements which my grandfather believed were the very ones used by Dr John HEWITT in his guise as Jack the Ripper! My grandmother refused to have them in the house and had remained in the garage ever since he brought them home.

The file itself was full of handwritten notes, copies from old microfiche machines, newspaper clippings, birth and death certificates etc., but nothing was kept in a structured way and was more of a scrapbook of ideas rather than academic research, filling in gaps with theories rather than evidence. Interestingly, Wilson suggested my grandfather was in the process of writing a book, but my aunt never found anything like that in the house and seems to think my granddad was actually hoping Wilson might use his material to write it on his behalf. I always thought my grandma disposed of a majority of his work after granddad died (a conversation my mum no longer recalls), so perhaps there was much more to his research than found by my aunt.

How did my granddad come up with Dr John HEWITT as a suspect? I decided to follow in his research footsteps using the clues described by Colin Wilson, not to uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper as my granddad had been, but to try to understand how he came upon his own Ripper theory and why it captivated him so. The first place this took me was to the story of the unnamed veterinary student, and I soon discovered that my granddad was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to researchers “filling in” evidence with their own theories.

The Unnamed Veterinary Student

In his 1990 book The Mammoth Book of True Crime 2, Colin Wilson stated my grandfather was looking for the identity of the unnamed veterinary student supposedly mentioned to artist Walter Richard SICKERT by his landlady in c.1906 about a previous boarder who aroused her suspicions during the time of the murders. SICKERT himself has also been in the frame as a Ripper suspect for some years now, most notably backed by the crime fiction writer Patricia Cornwall.

Walter SICKERT retold his story to Sir Osbert SITWELL (and no doubt many others) who later published it in his book “Nobel Essences: A Book of Characters” in 1947/1950. The story is third-hand by this point and no doubt embroidered, but intriguing nonetheless to many a Ripper researcher:

Noble Essences: A Book of Characters by Osbert Sitwell

[…] the mystery of Jack the Ripper […] interested him because he thought he knew the identity of the murderer. He told me — and, no doubt, many others — how this was. . . . Some years after the murders, he had taken a room in a London suburb. An old couple looked after the house, and when he had been there some months, the woman, with whom he used often to talk, asked him one day as she was dusting the room if he knew who had occupied it before him. When he said “No” she had waited a moment, and then replied, “Jack the Ripper!” . . . Her story was that his predecessor had been a veterinary student. After he had been a month or two in London, this delicate-looking young manhe was consumptive — took to staying out occasionally all night. His landlord and landlady would hear him come in at about six in the morning, and then walk about in his room for an hour or two until the first edition of the morning paper was on sale, when he would creep lightly downstairs and run to the corner to buy one. Quietly he would return and go to bed; but an hour later, when the old man called him, he would notice, by the traces in the fireplace, that his lodger had burned the suit he had been wearing the previous evening. For the rest of the day, the millions of people in London would be discussing the terrible new murder, plainly belonging to the same series, that had been committed in the small hours. Only the student seemed never to mention it: but then, he knew no one and talked to no one, though he did not seem lonely. . . . The old couple did not know what to make of the matter: week by week his health grew worse, and it seemed improbable that this gentle, ailing, silent youth should be responsible for such crimes. They could hardly credit their own senses — and then, before they could make up their minds whether to warn the police or not, the lodger’s health had suddenly failed alarmingly, and his mother — a widow who was devoted to him – had come to fetch him back to Bournemouth, where she lived. . . . From that moment the murders had stopped. . . . He died three months later.
Before leaving the subject, I may add that, while I was engaged in writing this account of Sickert, my brother reminded me that the painter had told us that when his landlady had confided in him that morning, in the course of her dusting, the name of Jack the Ripper, he had scribbled it down in pencil on the margin of a French edition of Casanova Memoirs which he happened to be reading at the time, and that subsequently he had given the book away — we thought he had said to Sir William Rothenstein. Sickert had added, “And there it will be now, if you want to know the name.” Accordingly, I wrote to Lady Rothenstein: but neither she nor Sir William remembered the book. On my consulting Mrs. Sickert, she maintained that her husband had told her that he had given the volume to Sir William’s brother, Mr. Albert Rutherston. And this proved to have been the case. My friend Mr. Rutherston informed me that he lost the book only during the bombing of London, and that there had been several pencil notes entered in the margin, in Sickert’s handwriting, always so difficult to decipher.

In 1970, another Ripper researcher caller Donald McCormick republished his 1959 book entitled “The Identity of Jack The Ripper” where he revealed the name of the unknown student was something like Druitt, Drewett or Drewery. The name was apparently told to him by a doctor who knew SICKERT and whose father had gone to school with another suspect at the time called Montague John DREWITT. McCormick was later accused of trying to eliminate Drewitt from consideration as a suspect by throwing doubt on Drewitt’s evidence and thereby making his own suspect more viable (Vassily KONOALOV).

The basic clues given are:

  • Young veterinary student
  • Moved in “some months” before the murders started, so before well before Aug 1888
  • Suffering from consumption, and health worsening week by week
  • Taken to Bournemouth by his widowed mother at some point after 8th Nov 1888
  • Died three months later, so after Feb/Mar 1889

There was only one veterinary school in England in 1888, and that was The Royal Veterinary College in Camden Town, London. According to various sources, “Ripperana” editor Nick Warren discovered there were 131 students either enrolled there during 1888 or who cut their studies short that year (both versions are quoted throughout the internet and no source material is available to confirm which one is correct but I suspect the former). Of the said 131 students, Joseph RIDE (not Joseph REID as commonly misspelt online) was either the only one to cut his studies short that year or the only one from Bournemouth (again both versions are quoted).

Joseph RIDE was born in Leicester, Leicestershire in 1861 (where the family lived until at least 1881). His father (also called Joseph) was an Engineer employing over 50 people and died in 1879 aged 42. In 1881 Joseph’s occupation was “Civil Engineer (Articled Pupil)” and aged 20. At some point after this he changed career path, moved to London and enrolled in the Royal Veterinary College as when he married Amy Augusta BROWNE in 1886 in Bloomsbury, their marriage record shows he was a 25 years old veterinary student, living at 68 Torrington Square, Bloomsbury. Their first son was born on 16th Dec 1887 in Stoke Newington and baptised on 26th Jan 1888. The baptism record shows they were then living at 8 Martaban Road in Stoke Newington at the time and his occupation was “Veterinary Surgeon”. However, the 1891 census states his occupation to be “Veterinary Student” again, so perhaps he inflated his occupation for his son’s baptismal record. Joseph may have taken leave of his studies after his son was born in order to get a job but took had taken them back up again by 1891 (records from the college would confirm this). There is no baptismal record for their second son, who was born in 1890 to compare this to. So what was Joseph’s connection to Bournemouth? Joseph had three brothers and one sister, and in 1891 his sister Mary was lodging in Bournemouth, and his widowed mother and brother Thomas were visiting her there. Perhaps Joseph and his family moved to Bournemouth after he qualified (if indeed he did) because in 1898 he died there at age 37 (registered in the Christchurch district of Hampshire, which includes Bournemouth). By 1901 his widow was living back up in Leicestershire with her brother and sister, and her two sons were at grammar school in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. There are some similarities to the Sickert/Sitwell story (veterinary student, widowed mother, died in Bournemouth), but by no means enough to consider him a suspect.

There was also a George Aylwin HEWETT (again, misspelt George Ailwyn HEWITT when quoted) who was studying to be a vet in 1888, noted by Warren only because of the similarity in surname to Drewett. George was born in 1871 in Ash, Surrey, and his father Charles Burtt HEWETT was a Farmer. In 1891, George was boarding at 29 Lyme Street in Camden Town with another student called Thomas H LLOYD. George finished his studies and became a veterinary surgeon, and married Grace CUMMINGS in 1897 in Aldershot, Hampshire. He died in 1908 in Aldershot age 37 with no children (his mother died in 1894, his father in 1895 and his widow in 1942). He has no connections to Bournemouth and it was his father who was widowed first.

6 Mornington Crescent

It is understood that the property Sickert referred to was 6 Mornington Crescent in the St Pancras/Camden Town area, where he painted “Jack The Ripper’s Bedroom” in 1907 (below). Sickert lived there between 1905-1907, and his landlady was a Mrs Louisa Mary JONES (nee HANCHET). Mornington Crescent was (and still is) quite close to the Royal Veterinary College.

Sickert “Jack The Ripper’s Bedroom” (1907)

Louisa HANCHET married George John JONES in 1884 and the parish register shows they were both living at 11 Mornington Crescent at the time. George was a 43-year-old widower working as a clerk for an artist’s colour maker, whilst Louisa was a 38-year-old spinster. George was registered to vote at 22 Torriano Avenue in 1887 & 1888 (not far from Mornington Crescent). Neither 22 Torriano Avenue nor 6 Mornington Crescent is listed in 1889 with the other eligible residents in either street, but I believe the Jones’s moved into 6 Mornington Crescent during 1888, and as George wasn’t eligible to vote again until he’d lived there for 12 months he must have just missed out on the 1889 register. Rates books for the area may show more detail, which are held at the National Archives. I also looked into some of the other addresses Sickert lived at after 1900 and this is the only property with owners going back to 1888, so at least this part of the lodger story can be corroborated with facts.

Thomas Frances PEACOCK (a solicitor) and his family lived at 6 Mornington Crescent between 1875-1888 and were likely the last residents before the Jones’s moved in. Although number six is not listed with the other houses on Mornington Crescent in 1889, further digging found it listed as the abode of Henry HELMORE (coal merchant). His qualifying property were stables at Ashburnham Mews in the Stanley district of Chelsea and was registered as such in 1890 too, so presumable he was a boarder (and possibly the Jones’s first). He was no longer living there in 1891.

The 1891 census shows George and Louisa living at 6 Morning Crescent along with two visitors and a servant. There were also three boarders listed as the heads of their own rooms, including R. E. WULLER, a 20-year-old medical student born in Egypt, and two sisters. In 1893 a John G JONES is listed at number six in the periodical “Members Of The Royal College Of Physicians“.

George JONES died on 30th Dec 1899, and Louisa continued to rent rooms. In 1901 there was another medical student living in number six (Thomas LLEWELLYN). Sickert boarded there between 19061907 (as shown by letters sent from this address during this time), and Louisa lived there until she died in 1917 aged 71. Louisa and George never had children (nor did he have any with his first wife), but they seem to have taken in a child called Ellen ANDERSON. She’s listed as a visitor in 1891 and 1901, then adopted in 1911, and she’s also listed on Louisa’s probate record. Ellen continued to live at number six up to 1920 and looks like she died in 1921 aged 37.

Sadly there is no way to confirm who was boarding/lodging with the Jones’s in 1888 during the time of the Ripper murders, at least via online resources. The author Collin Wilson stated the unknown student veterinarian as described by Sickert/Sitwell was named John HEWITT (in at least three different publications), but if my grandfather actually found out his name I have no idea how as Wilson never mentions it.

Coton Hill Asylum

Back to my grandfather, whose research for new clues took him to the Minutes of the Lunacy Commissioners in Chancery Lane, where he found a letter written by a J HEWITT sent from the Coton Hill Asylum in Staffordshire in Dec 1888. The minutes noted he was a doctor as well as a patient, and as many early researchers have assumed the killer was a medical man who was later incarcerated this letter must have sent a tingle up my grandfather’s neck.

My grandfather discovered HEWITT’s first name was John, that he’d practised in Manchester (where some “ripper letters” had been sent from, although now taken to be fake), had married a nurse from the Asylum and moved to Bournemouth after his discharge, then finally died in Feb 1892 age 42 back up north in Staffordshire. His cause of death was General Paralysis of the Insane (syphilis). I guess there were enough similarities with the unknown veterinary student story for my grandfather to continue with his research into Hewitt, with the most pressing fact to confirm being the date Hewitt was admitted to Coton Hill Asylum.

The last murder linked to Jack The Ripper took place on 8th November 1888, and the date of Dr HEWITT’s letter was c.17th December 1888. My grandfather soon found out that records of this sort were kept private for 100 years (and still are), and would have to wait until another two years to Dec 1988 in order to confirm these dates.

  1. 31 Aug 1888 – Mary Ann Nichols
  2. 8 Sep 1888 – Annie Chapman
  3. 30 Sep 1888 – Elizabeth Stride
  4. 30 Sept 1888 – Catherine Eddowes
  5. 9 Nov 1888 – Mary Jane Kelly

This was where Colin Wilson came into play, as by using a few of his own contacts he managed to persuade the head of the Health Authority to search the records for Hewitt’s date of admission and let them know whether this was before or after the 8th Nov 1888. This was the outcome:

“A few days later I rang him again. I must admit that I felt a slight sinking of the heart as he told me that John Hewitt had been committed to the asylum before November 1888. “In other words, he couldn’t possibly be Jack the Ripper?” There was a long pause, then Mr Elliott replied: “I wouldn’t go that far”. I was baffled. “But surely . . . ” Then it dawned on me. “Are you saying that he was able to leave the asylum periodically?” There was another pause. “I am unable to confirm that. Let me just say this. Hewitt was a very badly disturbed man. And when you get access to the records, I think you will find something that will greatly interest you”. “

Wilson understood this to mean that HEWITT had been committed voluntarily, and was thus able to leave the asylum of his own accord offering up the possibility that he travelled to London during this time. I guess my grandfather theorised that HEWITT left the asylum before the date of the first Ripper murder (31 Aug) and took rooms at 6 Mornington Crescent, telling the landlady he was a veterinary student (if the Sitwell/Sickert story is to be taken at face value).

Finally, 1988 arrived, and with it the conclusive evidence that although HEWITT was indeed a voluntary patient, he had not been absent from Coton Hill Asylum on the dates of the Ripper murders. There was no way he could have been Jack The Ripper, and all the similarities my grandfather spotted were coincidental.

Wilson had promised my grandfather he would continue to keep his research private (as he had requested all along) but went back on his word in 1990 and included HEWITT and my grandfather’s research in his book “The Mammoth Book of True Crime 2“. Soon after, Wilson “received an angry phone call from Mr Hicks, reproaching me for breaking my word. I pointed out that his theory had been disproved when the papers were placed in the Public Record Office, and was staggered when he refused to admit that. And I realised, with a certain rueful perplexity, that Mr Hicks was so obsessed with his theory that he simply refused to admit that it could be untrue.”

Not quite the same story my aunt has about my grandfather’s reaction to his theory being disproved, I suspect the truth is somewhere in between. The last step in my research was to discover more about Dr John HEWITT.

Doctor John HEWITT

John HEWITT was born on 22nd July 1849 in Pendleton (near Salford), Lancashire. He was the fourth of ten children born to John HEWITT, a solicitor, and Jane Ann ARMITAGE. His parents married in 1842 when his father was age 40 (and recently widowed) and his mother was age 22. John Snr’s first marriage was to Sarah Pope LOWNDES in 1839, but she sadly died just two years later of “childbed fever” at age 37. There is no evidence the baby survived or was even born alive. John’s father was also one of ten children and his grandfather Thomas HEWITT was an attorney at law. John’s maternal grandfather was Sir Elkanah ARMITAGE, a cotton manufacturer, Mayor of Manchester from 1846, and Salford Police Commissioner. He was also a Liberal, and a noted dissenter, opposing the dominance of the Church, Tory politics and the landed gentry.

John Snr & Jane’s first child was born in 1843 (Mary), second in 1846 (Edward) and third in early 1848 (Eliza). Then in early May, Thomas died at age 2 from hooping cough. Their fourth child (John) was born in mid-1849. Jane was living with her mother-in-law in the 1851 census (at Bucklow Hill, Millington, Cheshire), along with two of their three children surviving children (Mary was living with an aunt and John Snr wasn’t present, nor have I found him elsewhere). Their fifth child was born in late 1851 (Ellen), their sixth in late 1853 (Thomas), and their seventh in mid-1855 (Edward). Sadly Edward died one week after his birth due to an obstruction in his bowel. Their eighth child was born mid-1856 (Elkanah), their ninth in late 1857 (Edward), and their tenth and final child in mid-1860 (Frank).

John Snr was living at 11 Shawberry Road, Pendleton, Lancashire in the 1861 census with a cook and housemaid, whilst Jane and all eight children were living at 14 New Bath Street, Southport, Lancashire. The family had a housemaid and a nurse.

In the 1871 census, the family were living at 2 Leaf Square, Salford, Lancashire (finally John Snr was at home!). Only Mary was not present, having just got married. John Jnr was now 21 and working as an “assistant to a yarn agent”. There were also three servants living with them (a domestic, housemaid and cook).

John undertook his medical training during the 1870s, following in the footsteps of his uncle Septimus Hope ARMITAGE who was a general practitioner in Cheshire. Two of John’s brothers followed in their father’s footsteps to become solicitors (Thomas and Elkanah), whilst Edward became an architect and Frank a surveyor.

On 6th July 1880 John Snr died aged 77 of “old age“. His probate record shows he was of 2 Leaf Square but died at Hope Villas, Kersal, Lancashire which was the address of his son John, now a surgeon. By 1881, John Jnr was living at 246 Bury New Road, Higher Broughton, Lancashire with his occupation listed as “Surgeon (LRSP Edin, LRCS Edin, LRC Medic Edin, LSC Apoth Lond)”. He was aged 31, unmarried, with a housekeeper and kitchen maid.

The Medical Directory of 1885/1890 lists John’s medical credentials, which show he was a highly educated and qualified doctor:

  • M.R.C.P. Edinburg 1881, L. and L.M. 1879
  • L.R.C.S. Edinburg and L.M. 1879
  • L.S.A. London 1879
  • (Owens College Manchester, St. Bartholomew London, Royal Infirmary Edinburg and Rot. Hospital Dublin)
  • Member British Medical Association
  • Fellowship British Gynaecology Society
  • Member Manchester Medico-Ethical Society
  • Central Medical Society
  • Certificate Fact Surgeon
  • late Assistant Med Officer Convalesce Hospital Cheadle

Initials stand for:

  • L = Licentiate (in surgery?)
  • LM = Licentiate in Midwifery
  • LRCS = Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  • LSA = The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London
  • MRCP = Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians

John contracted syphilis at some point during this decade, and as a doctor must have known his prognosis all too well. He was admitted to Coton Hill Asylum in September 1888, a facility designed as a private asylum for upper and middle-class patients, and situated about 80 miles away from his home and family. The Coton Hill Asylum records are held in Staffordshire and not digitised, but a little more information can be gleaned from Medical misadventure in an age of professionalisation, 1780–1890 (2017) by Alannah Tomkins:

John HEWITT was admitted to the Staffordshire asylum in September 1888, at some distance from his home and practice in Manchester. He was discharged the following March “in a perfect state of health both mentally and bodily”, but when his illness recurred in July his family acted again on the same policy; by then living at Parkstone in Dorset, he was admitted to Wonford House in Devon.”

A few weeks after being discharged from Coton Hill, John married Lily Louise WHITEHOUSE in Christ Church, Coseley, Staffordshire on 27th April 1889. The banns were read in St Peter, Parkstone, Dorset (near Bournemouth) and a newspaper notice shows John was living in The Limes, Parkstone at the time, and late of Kersal, Manchester. The parish records state he was age 39 and Lily 24, both unmarried and that he was a physician (it also lists his father as John HEWITT, a deceased solicitor). Lily had no occupation listed, so nothing to suggest she was a nurse as mentioned on the Coton Hill website but getting married so quickly after being discharged suggests there may be some truth to it. Her father was listed as Isaac WHITEHOUSE, a deceased collier proprietor. John and Lily were married only a few weeks when he was readmitted to the Wonford House asylum.

The Medical Directory of 1890 included John HEWITT, although he was no longer practising. The address given was different from that of 1885 and had moved to 18 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester.

The 1891 census finds John and Lily living with her widowed mother and her sister at 42 South Road, Smethwick, Staffordshire (in the Kings Norton district). All four are simply described as “living on own means“. John’s own widowed mother was living at 21 Leaf Square, Salford, Lancashire with her eldest daughter Mary (now also widowed) and architect son Edward (plus three servants).

Just under a year later, on 27th Feb 1892, John died aged 42 (no children were born from his marriage) from the effects of syphilis, then described as “general paralysis of the insane“. He was buried on 2nd March at All Saints, Sedgley, Staffordshire and his probate record reads “HEWITT John of 42 South Road Smethwick Staffordshire physician and surgeon died 27 February 1892 Probate Lichfield 30 August to Joseph Trubshaw Whitehouse mining engineer Effects £300“. Six weeks later, on 10th April 1892, his mother Jane died of heart disease at age 72. She was buried on 13th April 1892 at Rusholme Road Cemetery, Chorlton Upon Medlock, Lancashire and her probate record lists her effects as £790 3s 11d. I suspect her son’s deteriorating mental health and then death contributed to her own death.

In early 1901, Lily remarried a lamp manufacturer called Alfred Ernest PURROTT and lived in Wake Green, Worcestershire with a cook and two housemaids. In 1911 the couple were still in Wake Green, but living with Alfred’s uncle and cousin Thomas James DANIEL (plus a cook and two housemaids). Alfred died 7th Feb 1931 in Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire age 63 and Lily swiftly remarried to his architect cousin Thomas James DANIEL the following year. They were still living in Stratford upon Avon in 1939, where Lily died on 25th July 1950 at age 85 and Thomas on 18 Aug 1968 age 95.

After Thoughts

There are several similarities between Dr John HEWITT’s sad fate, the story of the unnamed veterinary student and other Ripper theories, which ultimately lead my grandfather to believe he had, at last, identified Jack The Ripper. However, to even get to this point you would first need to believe that Sitwell’s rendition of Sickert’s story as told to him by his landlady was true in the first place. Did my grandfather confirm the whereabouts of Sickert’s landlady in 1888 during the Whitechapel murders and discover the names of her boarders, or did he overlook this fact as he began researching Hewitt believing that circumstantial evidence was enough to convict the man? Why did my grandfather think HEWITT travelled from Manchester to London during the time he was a voluntary patient at Coton Hill Asylum? And lastly, after discovering the dates of HEWITT’s time out of Coton Hill Asylum didn’t match up to the dates of the Whitechapel murders why did my grandfather refuse to believe it (if indeed that was the case)? Possibly after several years of work, he had gone from scouring for facts to making the facts fit the story and became somewhat blind to the holes it left. I was able to do most of my research over one weekend from the comfort of my own armchair. My grandfather had no such luxury and must have spent much time travelling from Norwich to London as well as up to Manchester in order to look through fiches and files in many an old library. Regardless of the outcome, his work was regarded by fellow researcher Colin Wilson as a brilliant bit of investigation, so much so that Wilson was convinced himself by it until 1988.

One final coincidence that I noticed just as I was finishing up; the story of the unknown veterinary student has often been likened to that as told by Mrs Belloc LOWNDES and subsequently turned into the screenplay for Hitchcock‘s film The Lodger. And the coincidence? LOWNDES was the surname of John HEWITT’s father’s first wife (although no relation).

So, has this given me the bug to identify Jack the Ripper myself? No! But it has got me interested to know more about the truth behind the theories and have since bought a couple of good books on the subject (The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugen, and The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold). I’ll probably leave it there though!

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