Jack the Ripper was the name given to possibly the most notorious serial killer in history, even though he was far from being posterity’s most prolific or eccentric murderer. In September of 1888, the killer methodically murdered five women, all prostitutes, in the Whitechapel neighborhood of London. He slit their throats, then dismembered them, in some cases removing portions of their inner organs. The killings stopped suddenly two months later, and the case has never been solved.
This curious little story appeared in Sunday's Daily Mirror in the UK, "Secret files on Jack the Ripper will not be released to the public" by Nick Owens:
Secret files which name four new Jack the Ripper suspects will not be released to the public.
Retired murder detective Trevor Marriott has fought to have a 900-page dossier on the 1888 Whitechapel murders released. But a tribunal last week ruled they must be kept hidden. Scotland Yard said living relatives of the suspects could be attacked.
It added that releasing the papers which name “grasses” would jeopardise the recruitment of modern-day informants.
Yesterday Mr Marriott, who is writing a book about the Ripper, who was never caught, said: “To censor the documents is absurd.
“They could help solve the mystery after all this time.”
So what does this have to do with Freemasons? (And what are "grasses", while we're at it.)
In 1976, Stephen Knight published Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution, in which he theorized that the killer was Dr. William Gull, private physician to Victoria, Queen of England. Knight alleged that Gull was a Freemason, and had been ordered by the Queen (or the Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury) to kill the prostitutes because they knew of a secret marriage between the Queen's grandson, Prince Albert Edward, and a prostitute named Annie Crook. Eddy, as he was known, was in line to the throne after his father, the Prince of Wales, and being married to a hooker was bad enough. Worse was that she was Catholic, and compounding the scandal, she supposedly gave birth to a daughter. This would have been earth-shattering stuff if Eddy ever became king, because his successor would be his firstborn child, whether mom was working girl with a mattress on her back or not. And a Catholic heir was not exactly kosher for the Protestant English royalty.
The theory goes on that Masonic Dr. Gull went about killing all the women who knew about the marriage and the child. He cut them from ear to ear. He tore open a left breast or two. He cut open a torso and removed the organs, and even burned them.
Other supposed Masonic “evidence” was a message scrawled in chalk on a wall near one of the murder scenes: “The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing.” Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and a Freemason, ordered the message destroyed, because he was afraid that anti-Jewish sentiment would be inflamed and Jews would be blamed for the killings (there had already been several near-riots). Knight’s version is that Warren erased the words before they could even be photographed to protect Freemasons. Knight believed that the Juwes were actually a reference to the attackers of Hiram Abiff in the Master Mason degree, Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum. Never mind that no one besides Knight has ever referred to the three ruffians in Masonic ritual as Juwes.
The final victim, Mary Kelly, was murdered on the same evening as the quarterly meeting of Quatuor Coronati Lodge #2076, London's premiere research lodge. The first Worshipful Master of that Lodge, who may have attended that meeting not far from the murder scene, was Sir Charles Warren, who resigned as Police Commissioner that very night. Of course, records of the lodge show that he wasn't at the meeting that evening, but pesky details never stop a good conspiracy theory.
Knight’s theory hangs on the allegations of Joseph Sickert, who claimed he had learned the "truth" from his father, Walter Sickert, a well-known eccentric and painter of the period. Walter claimed to have been a friend of Prince Eddy and had supposedly witnessed the marriage. In fact, claimed Sickert, Eddy and Annie had met in his father's art studio, where they became besotted with each other. In later years Joseph Sickert retracted the entire yarn, gleefully calling it “a whopping fib” and a hoax. Mystery author Patricia Cornwell’s book Jack the Ripper: Portrait of a Killer-Case Closed, actually makes a fairly compelling case that the Ripper was, in fact, none other than Walter Sickert himself, who put clues to the killings in his own paintings.
Nevertheless, with his new-found success based on the lurid book, in 1984 Knight went on to write another anti-Masonic book, "The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Freemasons," attempting to smear the fraternity even more. His wild allegations led to a flurry of anti-Masonic coverage in the British press. When he died in 1985 of a brain tumor, a fellow anti-Mason named Martin Short (not the comedian) went on the radio and implied that the Masons used an ultrasound death ray to kill him.
I didn’t make this stuff up. I’m not that good. Amazingly, Short quickly became the BBC's go-to guy for many years whenever an anti-Masonic story hit the headlines.
Regardless, no one seriously believes the William Gull/Freemason theory. The names of the three attackers of Hiram Abiff had been removed from English Masonic ritual 70 years before the Ripper murders took place, and no one ever called them Juwes anyway. The women’s bodies were horribly mutilated, but there was no pattern to them to really suggest any connection to Masonic ritual. Sir William Gull was 72 years old with a heart condition and had recently suffered a stroke—hardly a likely man to run down dark alleys after young girls, much less engage in the grueling act of carving them up while they struggled. Oh, there's also the sticky problem that Gull wasn't a Mason. And the English public would hardly have needed to be protected from the scandals of philandering princes, as they were as common as ragweed. English law forbade a Catholic from ascending to the throne, and it turned out that the real Annie Crook wasn’t even a Catholic to begin with. There remains zero evidence of any secret marriage between her and Prince Albert Edward. And for the pregnancy and birth dates of Annie's child to work out properly, there's the little problem that Prince Eddy was swanning about in Germany when the child was conceived.
This whole cockamamie theory would have died out in the 1980s after Joseph Sickert had blown the whistle on himself if it hadn’t been for a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. From Hell is considered to be a masterpiece of the graphic novel genre (we used to call them comic books, back when the world was young and dinosaurs ruled the Earth). In 2001 it was made into a film starring Johnny Depp. In many ways, a better telling of the story was made in 1978. Murder By Decree dramatized the same story as a Sherlock Holmes case, starring Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Dr. Watson. Completely untrue, it is an entertaining yarn (and when I was in college, it was one of the first references I had ever seen to Freemasonry).
Which brings us back to the story in Sunday's Daily Mirror.
Just what are those four suspects' names that Scotland Yard still hides from the public?
Odd Fellows, perhaps?
As for "grasses", there's this explanation from The Phrase Finder:
Informers are variously known as squealers, noses, moles, snouts and stool pigeons. These terms invoke imagery of covert snooping around and of talking. Grass is less intuitive. It could just have arisen from 'snake in the grass', which derives from the writings of Virgil (in Latin, as 'latet anguis in herba') and has been known in English, meaning traitor, since the late 17th century.
There is another route to the word and this is via rhyming slang. Farmer and Henley's 1893 Dictionary of Slang defines 'grasshopper' as 'copper', i.e. policeman. The theory is that a 'grass' is someone who works for the police and so has become a surrogate 'copper'. The rhyming slang link was certainly believed in 1950 by the lexicographer Paul Tempest, when he wrote Lag's lexicon: a comprehensive dictionary and encyclopaedia of the English prison to-day:"Grasser. One who gives information. A 'squealer’ or ‘squeaker'. The origin derives from rhyming slang: grasshopper - copper; a 'grass' or 'grasser' tells the 'copper' or policeman."
That comes only a few years after the term grass was coined and there seems little reason to doubt it as the derivation. The original users of the term 'grass up' were from the London underworld and would have certainly been better acquainted with rhyming slang than the works of Virgil.