Now, if you thought the spiders were creepy, then this is positively chilling! It seems that Jack the Ripper himself may have walked the same pavements as you and I, back in the 1880s. Indeed, if Montague John Druitt was the true Ripper, then he probably drank in The Princess of Wales (he was in the hockey team that was based there), and definitely trudged up and down the hill to catch trains from the station to Charing Cross… Although he traveled First Class, unlike the lowly Bugle…
I’d never made the connection with Blackheath before, but the interweb is positively packed to the gills with Ripper info, supposition, and conspiracy. Now, it is quite possible that this man had nothing to do with the murders in Whitechapel, but either way, a fascinating picture develops of a rather tragic, short life spent in Blackheath.
It seems that Druitt (a lawyer by education) decided to embark upon a teaching career, and joined a boarding school in Blackheath in 1880. When I discovered this, I was certain that the school in question just had to be the gothic missionary school that towers over Blackheath station… But no, the school was at 9 Eliot Place, (just past the Hare and Billet pub, see googlemap). The road is now residential, but then was home to several schools.
Druitt’s father died of a heart attack in 1885, and three years later his mother committed suicide. He was dismissed from the school for some “serious trouble”, but it exactly what remains a mystery. His body was found floating in the Thames on December 31st 1888.
One of the police reports implied that there was additional evidence against him that could not be brought to light, and that he was “sexually insane”, which (apparently) was a Victorian euphemism for homosexuality.
There is a far better account of the whole story here, including this rather grim list of items discovered with his body:
- Four large stones in each pocket
- £2.17s.2d cash
- A cheque for £50 and another for £16
- Silver watch on a gold chain with a spade guinea as a seal
- Pair of kid gloves
- White handkerchief
- First-class half-season rail ticket from Blackheath to London
- Second-half return ticket from Hammersmith to Charing Cross dated December 1, 1888
I was surprised to find little or nothing about the case in “Blackheath Village and Environs Volume 1” by Neil Rhind, but then I discovered another page on the same site, which talks about Druitt’s school in more detail.
It explains that the case is covered in depth in Volume 2 Update: It will actually be covered in the forthcoming Volume 3. I only have Volume 1, and I don’t have volume 2 – yet…
Volume 2 is tricky to get hold of, as it is currently out of print. The Bookshop on the Heath have it, but for £40. The Clarendon Hotel (who sell volume 1) didn’t have it. Blackheath Library have a copy, and I hope to get my hands on it tomorrow – I’ll update this post tomorrow having done some more reading.
And the other thing I’d love to get hold of is the unpublished lecture manuscript by Neil Rhind titled “Jack the Ripper — The Blackheath Connection”… Now that would be worth a look! If you happen across this blog Neil, please consider putting it online somewhere!
The thing I find so odd about this is – what did happen at 9 Eliot Place? Interest in Druitt as a possible subject rose with the publication of a couple of books in the 1960s – at which point surely some of the children who attended the school would have still been alive? Was this man an unfortunate victim of an age incapable of understanding a gay school teacher, or did the deaths of his parents tip this man over the edge towards murder? I guess we’ll never know. But I can’t help wondering if there might be a yellowing scrap of paper tucked away somewhere in Blackheath that might shine a light upon the whole gruesome business…
- Excellent info on the suspect and the school at casebook.org
- Rambling American podcast about Druitt here.
- Lots of discussion about his innocence or otherwise here.
- Main photo by flickr user Debs_uk.
- Other black and white photos from wikipedia.
- Boring looking photo of 9 Eliot Place taken with the Bugle’s lousy camera-phone.
- Rhind, Neil. Blackheath Village and Environs 1790-1970 Vol II (Blackheath: Bookshop Blackheath, 1983)
- Rhind, Neil. “Jack the Ripper — The Blackheath Connection” (unpublished lecture transcript, 1989)
- Rhind, Neil. Letter to the author (5 September 2000)