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