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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Cricket and law: Montague John Druitt

Montague John Druitt

Recently in the Ask Steven column on Cricinfo, the question was asked as to whether Jack the Ripper was a cricketer.  The answer is of course that no-one knows who the Ripper was, so no-one can say whether he was a cricketer, or even a "he", or otherwise very much about him at all.  (Personally I have always thought FrancisTumbletee ticked more boxes than any other suspect, and cannot be definitively ruled out for any reason, but we are not exactly in the realms of beyond reasonable doubt.) As Steven observed, the reader presumably had in mind the journeyman Victorian cricketer Montague John Druitt.  Druitt was for many years one of the leading Ripper suspects.  Had space permitted I would have said something more about him in my book Court and Bowled (he has a passing mention as it is), because he was also a journeyman Victorian barrister, and thus nicely fits within the theme of cricket and the law.

A basic requirement for any Ripper theory is to be able to place the suspect in Whitechapel on the nights of the murders. It also helps if they had some familiarity with the area, since that would partially explain how they were able to evade justice. Druitt’s barrister’s chambers were in the Temple, a short distance with good travel links to Whitechapel, although given his upper class status he would have been rather conspicuous in the squalid East End had he spent any time there. But it is in fact his cricketing career which has enabled historians to examine his movements more closely, for he was involved in recorded matches on some of the days in question.

Druitt played a match at Canford in Dorset the day after the murder of Polly Nichols. On the morning of the murder of Annie Chapman, he turned out at 11:30am in a match near his home at Blackheath. The second occasion would have involved the more unlikely journey. Since Chapman was killed at 5:30am, Druitt would have had only a short time to return home, dispose of all the evidence and turn up for the start of play without arousing any suspicion (one also imagines getting through the day’s play after an all-night murderous rampage would have presented some difficulty).

It would therefore have been possible, but only just, for Druitt to have moved between Whitechapel and the match venues on the days in question. Matters are complicated though if one moves beyond the canonical five murders.  If, for example, one accepts that Martha Tabram was another victim, then one has to explain why Druitt would have returned mid-week from Bournemouth, where he was playing a cricket match on consecutive weekends, in order to commit the murder. I suppose he might have returned anonymously precisely so he would have an alibi concerning his whereabouts, though if so it is strange he did not bother going to the same lengths with all the other murders. Then again, Tabram was before the canonical five, so perhaps Druitt (if he was the killer) felt more confident after getting away with it and less need to bother with an alibi.

The main reason for Druitt becoming a suspect was that he was mentioned in the “McNaughten Memorandum”, a piece written by a police officer not long after the killings. McNaughten seized on the point that Druitt committed suicide shortly after the last of the five canonical murders. That point certainly satisfies another Ripper requirement, which is to provide an explanation about why the killings suddenly stopped. There was also a history of mental illness in Druitt’s family, which goes to the next Ripper requirement of a reason to believe that the suspect could have been a crazed and depraved murderer, though there is a world of difference between the mental health issues in his family and being a psychotic killer.  If Druitt ever displayed any of the latter tendencies it was never recorded.  

Either way there is nothing definitive on the point: other serial killers, such as Ted Bundy (whose misogyny and depravity certainly equalled that of the Ripper), have been quite able to keep up the pretense of normality away from their crimes.

The weakness of the case against Druitt is that McNaughtan was not working in the East End at the time of the murders, and so was not an officer with first-hand knowledge of the case. And apart from his memorandum, there is nothing of substance to connect Druitt with the murders.  

Thus, as with so many of the popular suspects, we are left concluding that while there is no evidence that definitively rules Druitt out, there is equally precious little that rules him in. 

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