Does the island have a link with Whitechapel murderer Jack the Ripper?
That is the question posed by author Andrew Struthers who has recently completed a book about the background and inspiration for the Dracula novel. He emailed the Isle of Man Examiner to explain his theory.
He told us: ‘Thanks to Bram Stoker himself, I have uncovered startling new evidence which conclusively proves that Stoker was indeed, very familiar with the infamous shadowy figure known as the Ripper.’
He endorses the theory that the true identity of Jack the Ripper was American quack doctor Francis Tumblety – and the Manx link is his friendship with Manx author Hall Caine. Archivist Wendy Thirkettle of the Manx Museum confirmed they have a significant collection of letters written by Tumblety to Hall Caine in the 1870s.
‘We hold several letters from a Francis Tumblety to Hall Caine in Hall Caine’s papers at deposit MS 09542,’ she said.
‘Tumblety has been mentioned as a possible Ripper suspect and these letters have been referenced in at least two books we hold: ‘Something in the Blood. The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the man who wrote Dracula’, by David J. Skal, 2016; and ‘The Dracula Secrets: Jack the Ripper and the Darkest Sources of Bram Stoker’, by Neil Storey, 2012.’
According to Mr Skal’s book, while working as a journalist and critic, Hall Caine was friends with Tumblety, as well as both Bram Stoker and the famous Victorian actor manager Henry Irving during the 1870s and 1880s.
Meanwhile, Francis Tumblety, described as a ‘Mark Twain-type character’, made a living touring Canada, America and England selling quack remedies and ‘cure all’ elixirs.
He is described in Mr Skal’s book as ‘predatory’, ‘mysogynistic’, and as ‘an unhealthy controlling presence’ in Hall Caine’s early life.
The museum’s bundle of letters to Caine from Tumblety are from the mid-1870s, after which their relationship deteriorated. The collection, slightly yellow and faded, is written in precise, neat handwriting that varies curiously in style. The tone is similarly inconsistent. Some are signed ‘affectionately yours...’, while others are hectoring and petulent. One from August 1875 demands money, saying: ‘Don’t trifle with my patience. I need £2...’ – a significant sum in 1875.
The Whitechapel murders, later known as the Jack the Ripper murders, began in 1888. The same year, Mr Skal says, as the London premiere of the stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with American actor Richard Mansfield in the title role. Some commentators have suggested this story inspired the murderer. A total of 11 murders was committed between 1888 and 1891, though later investigations have suggested only five of those may have been perpetrated by the ‘Ripper’. The murderer targeted prostitutes in dark alleyways and cut their throats before mutilating their bodies. The perpetrator was never caught.
Mr Skal tells us Tumblety was living in lodgings in Whitechapel around the time of the murders in 1888 and was on bail in connection with indecency charges when he was arrested on suspicion of committing the Ripper killings. He was never actually charged with the murders and absconded, fleeing the country.
Historian Neil Storey’s book looks at possible sources of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous novel, saying it emerged from the ‘climate of fear created by the Whitechapel murders of 1888’.
According to his book’s introduction: ‘He asks, did Bram Stoker know Jack the Ripper personally and did he hide the clues to this knowledge in his book?’
In fact, Stoker was not only a friend and fan of Henry Irving, but also his business manager, and many have also suggested the famous actor himself was the model for Count Dracula.
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897 and was dedicated to Hall Caine.