This week I started rereading Melvyn Fairclough’s The Ripper and the Royals, as part of ongoing research into the identity of Jack the Ripper’s final victim. It takes me back to a time when conspiracy theories were popular and non-fiction books were distinguished from novels. Fairclough has since disowned the theory that a group of aristocrats, led by Winston Churchill’s father, committed the Ripper murders as part of a masonic plot. It is fiction disguised as fact and that has become the norm.
The boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are clear. One tells new stories and one tells real stories. Fiction can be based on fact, as many successful novels and movies demonstrate. The process does not work in reverse. Non-fiction writers have an obligation to the truth. Indeed, the objective of good research is to ascertain what really happened. This means beginning with an open mind, not a preconceived idea. Many modern Jack the Ripper books, such as They all Love Jack, the Real Mary Kelly and Portrait of a Killer tell us more about the author’s obsession than they do about the topic.
When I first read The Ripper and The Royals, I was almost convinced. Others were. An ongoing poll on the Jack the Ripper casebook website lists the royal conspiracy as the 4th most popular suspect, with 4380 votes. The book is out of print so may not mislead any more but others that revive the conspiracy theory are still selling and guiding readers further away from the truth.