We'll bet that you didn't know Jack The Ripper, the serial murderer who killed 5 (perhaps 1-2 more) women (reportedly all prostitutes) in London in 1888 was a Mason, did you? That the famous quotation scrawled on the wall after one of them was simply a Mason advertising his dastardly deed....
Well, we didn't either. In fact, we didn't know who Jack The Ripper really was! No one else does either, beyond their conjecture and speculation, but that doesn't stop fanciful claims that he was a Freemason and/or being protected by the Masonic fraternity! We get e-mail from folks from time to time who are cock-sure that they know who this dastardly criminal was but, of course, they just can't prove it. Over 100 years later, it would be a tad difficult to do. Now, with the advent of a new movie - "From Hell" - more interest in this claim arises.
One of the best sites on the web dealing with this subject is the Ripper Casebook which you can find at www.casebook.org . They have an EXCELLENT page devoted to the supposed connection with Freemasonry right here . Written by a British Freemason along with some reader responses and replies to them, it's an awful lot to read but if you're really interested in the Ripper case, it's well worth the investment in time. Parenthetically, there's also a detailed rebut of Stephen Knight's similar claim in his book, Inside the Brotherhood which brought much of this to light for present-day readers.
In July, 2001, moviegoers began seeing a 'trailer' advertising the then upcoming movie "From Hell" starring Johnny Depp. It showed the Masonic square and compass emblem clearly. The movie was based on a graphic novel written by Allen Moore and Eddie Campbell. In writing about Jack the Ripper, Moore found Stephen Knight's previously debunked claims and incorporated them into his story. The comic book from which the movie was made was far less accepting of Knight's premise and was one of the 'starting points' for the fantasy that would eventually become the film. One of our correspondents points out this reference as a more complete description of the book and the thought process behind it. Thanks, Destin!
This is not, of course, the first time that Hollywood has created a movie which sensationalizes things which have no relation to reality. Because of the popularity of Mr. Depp and the large advertising budget for this film, questions were raised about the supposed 'Masonic connection' which Messrs. Moore and Knight have made. For a discussion about the novel on which the movie is based, we refer readers once again to casebook.org and specifically this page which addresses it. Sex and death sell movies and here's the combination - although not a winning one in the case of "From Hell".
The Story line of the film
The origin of the story line
Knight was 'sold' the story by one Joseph Sickert who claimed to be the son of the artist Walter Sickert by the 'daughter' of the Duke of Clarence and the shop girl. Within two month's of the publication of Knight's book Joseph Sickert, in an interview in the Times, said that the whole story was a figment of his imagination, that Knight was the most 'gullible' reporter he had met and that he had had great fun in 'gulling' him.
The production company which produced the film "From Hell" approached the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) for assistance in getting the 'Masonic bits' correct. When it was realized what they were filming, it was pointed out to them by UGLE that the film was based on lies. Their response was that it was too good a story not to film it! UGLE refused to give any assistance to a project that was perpetuating known lies and could damage the reputation of Freemasonry.
As for whether Freemasons are bothered by this - the answer is yes and no. Yes, in that a fictional film is yet again being portrayed (to an extent at least) as "faction": i.e. a mix of fiction and fact, but without any indication which parts are fictitious and which are factual. Yes also, in that some people seem to believe the story line, and apply the principles of it to Freemasonry in general today. No, in that it's just another Hollywood film: a distortion of reality into an adventure, which Hollywood has done before in many other cases and will do many times again in the future. No also, because in a few years time the novelty of the film will have worn off, and hardly anybody will remember it.
Thanks to Mason Richard White of the U.K. for the information above. In addition, Mason Steven M. Hudson of Connecticut, USA has written the following:
A full 'backgrounder' also appears in the Journal of the Scottish Rite and is available online here. Additionally, the Masonic Service Association of North America has some comments which you will find here. Even if you are not a movie-goer (and I'm not!), this movie did manage to raise a few questions which, it seemed, were quickly forgotten after the initial advertising blitz. When the film was released in the UK, there seemed to be an even more mundane attitude and the release to video caused barely a ripple (I got one message....) Clearly, folks seem to have recognized that there's only the barest of scant circumstantial evidence on which to claim any connection to Masons or Masonry and that movies like "From Hell" and "Matrix" are simply not fact. We trust that the information above addresses any questions or concerns you may have had.
Theories abound in the Ripper case. In 1999, a book written by crime investigator Robert Graysmith, author of the best-selling 'Zodiac' has "proven" that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, a Baptist pastor - a concept which will surely be dismissed out of hand by religious intolerants intent on blaming Freemasonry (without proof) for these heinous crimes. Of course, with this work, Graysmith has not "solved" the Ripper mystery any more than hundreds of other would-be sleuths who made similar claims before him. Nevertheless, we found it interesting that the claim of connection can just as easily wind up with those who make it!
Graphic on left is from p. 517 of The Bell Tower by Robert Graysmith. 1999 in the US by Regency Publishing Co.
There are a number of 'Ripper' pages on the web. We also recommend that readers check out the page by attorney and Masonic author Paul Bessel as he examines the issues from a legal point of view. It's a very interesting read. Click here.
(And thanks to Bro. Dr. Neal Martin of South Dakota for providing us with a readable graphic to replace the one we had here earlier!)
More Ripperology: In 2002, famous US crime novelist Patricia Cornwell wrote a book titled "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed". In it, she names Walter Sickert, an important British post-impressionist painter as the 'Ripper'. You can follow the UK story on this at the BBC site here. We also found another site by a student at the University of Texas at Arlington whose campus I've had the pleasure of visiting once upon a time. A bit gory so beware - but good for the researcher looking for more details.
And we wouldn't want you leaving thinking that this was the final word on "Jack".... In a scathing review of her book, professional debunker Joe Nickell writing in the March/April 2003 Skeptical Inquirer magazine refers to Ms. Cornwell having targeted her suspect, Sickert, and hacked away at him "...like a veritable Pat the Ripper." He agrees with the New York Times review of the work which noted its many inconsistencies. In effect, he explains how Ms. Cornwell has drawn the target and then shot the arrow - not unlike SO many of our anti-Masonic friends do when trying to prove that Freemasonry is somehow awful.
And in 2007, we found the epitome of a 'shoot the arrow then draw the target' with the works of Karen Trenouth. This is just SO hilarious, we've put it on its own page!
So, folks, the plot remains ever thick but one thing is for certain: if someone asserts that they KNOW that Jack the Ripper was a Mason, they're flat out wrong! Why? Because no one knows who Jack the Ripper really was....
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