Ripperology, A Term
(from the April 2003
issue of Ripper Notes)
Editor's note: Stewart
Evans has long been a good friend and helpmeet both to RN
and myself, and I am very pleased to present the first in a regular
series of columns by this legendary Ripperologist. 'Walking the
Beat' will answer questions from readers about any general interest
in Ripperology, from suspects to etymology.
by Stewart P. Evans
Question: 'Since I first began reading about Jack the Ripper,
I've seen the terms 'Ripperology' and 'Ripperologist' used when
describing people who study the subject. Did these terms just
happen to pop out of thin air, or did somebody invent them?
M.C., Massachusetts, USA'
There is an entry in the Jack
the Ripper A-Z as follows:
'Ripperology and Ripperologists
Terms coined by Colin Wilson for expertise on Jack the
Ripper. . .'
I have never located an earlier
use of this term than Wilson's use of it in April 1972. This
is to be found in the last paragraph of introduction that he
contributed to Jack the Ripper: A Bibliography and Review
of the Literature by Alexander Kelly (London, Association
of Assistant Librarians, S.E.D., 1972): 'If investigation of
Michael Harrison's [author of 'Clarence,' a biography of the
eldest son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII)]
theory proved that J.K. Stephen was Jack the Ripper, then the
present bibliography of works on the Ripper would be, I assume,
complete and the Ripper file would finally be closed. A sad but
exciting day for Ripperologists, and a personal triumph for the
compiler of the volume you are now holding in your hand.'
It may seem easy to add '-ology'
to any word to denote the study of a subject, and it is. However,
Wilson has fair claim to be the first to use this one, and the
word has become widely accepted. It is probably only a matter
of time before it finds its way into a dictionary.
In the Ripper world, many attempt
to establish themselves with some sort of claim to fame with
a 'new' suspect or unique idea. These claims usually involve
primacy by being the first into print with them. With the example
of proposing a 'new' suspect, the writer who first publishes
the idea, rather than the one who has merely talked about it
for many years, gains the recognition.
The late Stephen Wright typifies
this strange phenomenon. He had a great interest in the Whitechapel
Murders and Jack the Ripper, and first came to the notice of
Ripper enthusiasts with the publication of The Whitechapel
Journal, which first saw the light of day in the autumn of
1996. His interest, however, dated back to around 1986, a year
or two before the Ripper centenary madness. In issue two of his
publication (Spring 1997), Wright wrote an interesting piece
on how he first became interested in 'Jack the Ripper and his
doings.' The second paragraph ran thus: 'Two books, Jack the
Ripper: Summing Up and Verdict by Colin Wilson and Robin
Odell; and Jack the Ripper: The Complete Casebook by Donald
Rumbelow made me what I am today (and I hope these authors are
satisfied): a true Ripperphile (yes, it is a new word and I have
just coined it).'
It seems pretty obvious that
Stephen Wright was modeling this claim on the entry in the 'A-Z'
about Colin Wilson and 'Ripperology / Ripperologists.' It seemed,
to me, an odd thing to do. The word 'Ripperphile' rang a bell
with me; I had read it somewhere before, and some time ago at
that. Wright was staking a claim to fame, and I was not sure
that he was right. And it was not long before I located a published
use of the word as far back as 1987.
I had been in correspondence
with Stephen Wright on an amiable basis since January 1994, and
each of us always took an interest in what the other was doing.
As with most students of the case, we did not always agree with
each other, but this did not spoil what I considered to be a
nice friendship. Stephen was well read and very keen, and I did
not consider it necessary to correct him on his claim regarding
the term 'Ripperphile' as it seemed a pretty innocent and minor
However, a few years later, Stephen
published his own book on the Ripper case, Jack the Ripper
: An American View (New York, Mystery Notebook Editions,
1999) in a limited 150 copy edition. It gave him a higher profile
and received mixed reviews and some criticism. He proposed George
Hutchinson as his suspect for the Ripper; unfortunately for Stephen,
he was pipped to the post in bringing out the first book on Hutchinson
as a suspect, as Bob Hinton published a similar conclusion in
his own From Hell. . .The Jack the Ripper Mystery (Abertillery,
Old Bakehouse Publications) in June 1998.
I know that Stephen was very
disappointed by this, as he had been playing his cards close
to his chest for several years in order to keep his suspect's
identity a secret prior to publication. His had achieved the
accolade of being the first Ripper book of 1999, but not the
first about Hutchinson as a suspect. It was a well-written and
generally accurate overview of the case, although it did digress
rather too much at times from its central theme. Unfortunately,
Stephen had made the claim to have written the first book to
introduce George Hutchinson as a viable Ripper suspect. It should
be noted that in 1996, Brian Marriner had also introduced Hutchinson
as a suspect in a piece in Murder Most Foul.
On page 34 of Wright's book is
the following paragraph: 'Maybrick or whoever posed as
Maybrick in putting together the diary knew only what he
had read in the press about Jack the Ripper and the murders
information available to anyone and indeed rehashed the
occurrences to some extent in telling about them. Yet most of
what he set down is so boring that it is an effort for this writer,
and also as a Ripperphile (n. 5) to get through these unliterary
and hateful ramblings.'
On page 146 of his book, 'Notes
and References,' Wright included the reference number 5 above
referred to: '5 - Ripperphile: An expression coined by Stephen
Having read Stephen's book, I
listed various errors and sent him a copy of my critique, which
I felt might prove useful to him in any reprint he might consider
in the future. I am not too sure how well this went down with
Stephen, but I did point out the following to him: 'Page 146
(Notes and References), note 5 "Ripperphile: An expression
coined by Stephen Wright." (Refers to the use of the word
on page 34 of the book). Sorry, but this word has already been
coined. See Jack the Ripper: The Bloody Truth by Melvin
Harris (Columbus Books, London, 1987) "This strange
frolicsome club [the Whitechapel Club in Chicago] was not only
the foca point for knowledgeable Ripperphiles, but it was also
a tall story workshop. . ."'
Stephen wrote back to me: 'I
have read your critique of my work with much interest. I must
say it is thorough, well worded, and at times scholarly. As you
know, I won't discuss it in any way, but thank you for the time
and effort spent in writing your paper.'
A gentlemanly response, and one
which indicated, I believe, that Stephen did not entirely disagree
with me. Early in the year 2000, I sent Stephen some reference
material that he had asked for; many months later, my package
was returned unopened. Stephen had died in New York on 18 April
2000. He had written his last letter to me just over six weeks
earlier. His contributions to the world of 'Ripperology' will
not be forgotten; both the Whitechapel Journal and his
book remain to remind us of a keen and scholarly friend.
The issue of published primacy
may seem a trifling point to write an essay about, but I would
demur. For Stephen's actions in attempting to establish these
claims to fame seem to exemplify a particular quirk of Ripper
enthusiasts that is often to be encountered. But there is very
little new in Ripper lore, and anyone wishing to establish a
published first should scour the historical record thoroughly
So there you have it. But may
I finish by asking you a couple of questions? Just who first
called the East End 'the abyss' and the Ripper murders 'the great
Victorian mystery?' A little puzzle game for readers!
Reprinted online at
www.RipperNotes.com/ripperology-ripperphile.html as a sample
article from the April 2003 issue of Ripper Notes. This
article is copyrighted 2003, all rights reserved.
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