Jack the Ripper

views updated May 18 2018

Jack the Ripper

Epithet of a brutal murderer in Whitechapel, London's east side. Over a period of some ten weeks during 1888 five prostitutes were murdered and mutilated, apparently by the same psychopath. The victims were Mary Anne Nicholls, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stridge, Catharine Eddowes, and Mary Jeannette Kelly. Some commentators have extended the list to seven victims, others to ten. In spite of police vigilance, the murderer was never discovered.

The sensational nature of the crimes (the victims were raped and mutilated) and the fact that they remained unsolved has generated hundreds of books, articles, and stories propounding various theories about the identity of the Ripper. Some of the more bizarre involve the Russian secret police, Masonic conspiracies, or members of the royal family. In their enthusiasm to validate a cherished theory, many otherwise reputable writers falsified evidence. One of the most persistent myths is that the Spiritualist and clairvoyant Robert James Lees had given the police advance knowledge of the crimes and identified the murderer through clairvoyant powers. This continuing story stemmed from a hoax article in the Chicago Sunday Times-Herald (April 28, 1895) and was repeated in London newspapers. One constant theme throughout the speculative volumes, however, is that the murderer was someone with medical knowledge, because of the skillful mutilations.

Among the many books, that by British author Melvin Harris, Jack the Ripper: The Bloody Truth (1987), has particular interest because of the occult connections it draws. Harris advances a convincing case that the Ripper was Dr. Roslyn D'Onston (born Robert Donston Stephenson), a journalist and medical man obsessed with the occult. D'Onston himself wrote articles claiming to know the true identity of Jack the Ripper. He also claimed to know exactly how the crimes were committed and stated that they were part of a black magic ritual. In his writings, D'Onston used the pseudonym Tautriadelta.

One of these articles was published in the April 1896 issue of the journal Borderland, edited by Spiritualist W. T. Stead. In a foreword to the article, Stead writes that the author "prefers to be known by his Hermetic name of Tautriadelta" and also states:

"The writer has been known to me for many years. He is one of the most remarkable persons I ever met. For more than a year I was under the impression that he was the veritable Jack the Ripper, an impression which I believe was shared by the police, who, at least once, had him under arrest; although as he completely satisfied them, they liberated him without bringing him into court."

In the article itself Tautriadelta claims to have studied occultism under the novelist Bulwer Lytton, celebrated for his occult stories, and to have witnessed or taken part in extraordinary occult phenomena in France, Italy, India, and Africa.

D'Onston lived in London's Whitechapel, where the Ripper murders took place, in the same lodginghouse were Theosophist Mabel Collins and her occultist friend Vittoria Cremers lived. Collins became infatuated with D'Onston, but subsequently experienced fear and revulsion around him. She once told Cremers about something D'Onston said to her and showed her, and said "I believe D'Onston is Jack the Ripper." Cremers had noticed a large black box in D'Onston's room, and one day, while the doctor was out, she looked inside the box. She found some books and also some black ties that had dried, dull stains at the back. She thought the stains might be blood.

Later, commenting on a newspaper report that the Ripper would kill again, D'Onston laughed and said, "There will be no more murders. Did I ever tell you that I knew Jack the Ripper?" He went on to describe in detail how the Ripper had carried out the murders, said they were "for a very special reason," and related how he had concealed the organs cut from the victims in the space between his shirt and tie.

The story of the discovery by Cremers is retold in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1969) without naming D'Onston. Aleister Crowley also writes:

"At this time London was agog with the exploits of Jack the Ripper. One theory of the motive of the murderer was that he was performing an Operation to obtain the Supreme Black Magical Power. The seven women had to be killed so that their seven bodies formed a 'Calvary cross of seven points' with its head to the west."

All these references are detailed by Melvin Harris in his book, and he also cites an unsigned article by D'Onston that reinforces Crowley's claim that the murders were a black magic operation. The article is titled "Who Is the Whitechapel Demon? (By One Who Thinks He Knows)" and propounds in detail a black magic theory about the murders, stemming from occultist Éliphas Lévi 's work Le Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magic. D'Onston's precise knowledge of the methods and intentions of the murders, impudently combined with false clues while posing as an investigator of the crimes, makes a strong case that he was Jack the Ripper, as W. T. Stead, Vittoria Cremers, and Mabel Collins suspected.


Crowley, Aleister. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. Edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant. New York: Hill & Wang, 1969.

Tautriadelta [Roslyn D'Onston]. "A Modern Magician: An Autobiography. By a Pupil of Lord Lytton." Borderland 3, no. 2 (April 1896).