Experts are not always right

I have missed a few editions of my weekly blog due to commuting between Cairns and Brisbane and a lack of interesting things to say. When stuck for inspiration, I sometimes look at historical events on the current date. On 12 March 1985, The Times published a short article saying that a handwriting expert believed he had identified Jack the Ripper. This was seven years before various handwriting experts debated the merits of a diary purported written by James Maybrick as the infamous murderer.

The 1985 suspect was Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, executed in 1892, four years after the Ripper murders, for poisoning prostitutes. The handwriting analysis compared letters which cannot be proven to be written by the murderer with samples from Cream, whose letters about his own crimes led to his conviction. After the death of his executioner in 1902 the press claimed that Cream confessed to being “Jack the Ripper”, whilst on the gallows.

Various other suspects have been linked to the same letters by different handwriting experts. Whilst everyone is entitled to their opinion on the value of graphology as evidence, opinions are not facts. The relevant fact is that Cream was in jail in Illinois for another murder in 1888 and could not have been killing women in London at that time.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction best known for his Jack the Ripper Suspects: The Definitive Guide and Encyclopedia.

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