The psychiatrist suspected as being Jack Ripper
Picture this: England 1888. A country engrossed by the murders of women in Whitechapel, London. Every public house and drawing room consumed with speculation. The press — local, national, international — ravenous for details. Police under the most unimaginable pressure to get results. Suspects being identified, followed up and dropped from enquiries like fools gold found and discarded by prospectors.
Into this maelstrom of investigative activities came a doctor, a mad-doctor as he might have been called. Dr Forbes Winslow was, by the 1880’s a man of mixed reputation and experience. He might also, at the time, be regarded as a man of knowledge and authority having written at some length about madness. He also managed to come under suspicion as being none other than Jack the Ripper.
Lyttleton Forbes Winslow was the son of well known psychiatrist Forbes Benignus Winslow. Winslow senior had been born in England after the family moved from America where they had lost property in the War of Independence. He had owned and run lunatic asylums, published extensively on medical and psychiatric subjects and earned well enough for his son to be privately educated at Rugby School and Cambridge University. There the younger Winslow developed a love of cricket and as a member of Marylebone Cricket Club played matches alongside W.G.Grace. He proceeded into professional life by following in his fathers’ footsteps as a practitioner and writer on lunacy. He published lengthy texts such as that entitled “Obscure Diseases of the Mind” which have a flavour of great authority spliced with additional information from Greek and Roman histories and legends.
Ten years before the Whitechapel murders Forbes Winslow had gained a notoriety from involvement in the Weldon case which he never entirely escaped. Sir William Henry Weldon, estranged from and weary of his wife Georgina, attempted to have her certified and detained to a madhouse with assistance from two doctors as legally required. Forbes Winslow was one. Georgina was not informed what was going on but became suspicious. She was certainly eccentric but no lunatic. She disguised herself as a nun and made good her escape from the back of the house, evading the attendants who had arrived to remove her. Georgina then went on to publicise her case through the courts, various newspapers and pamphlets and by organising her own concerts at which — as an accomplished soprano, she sang and spoke. Winslows’ role in what was regarded as a shameful affair was not ignored.
Notwithstanding this setback to his reputation Winslow continued to devote himself to the study of insanity and in particular to the workings of the criminal mind. Perhaps criminality was the result of insanity and the criminal should be treated rather than punished. He attended and commented upon various criminal trials including those that aroused huge public interest such as that of the British railway murderer, Percy Lefroy Mapleton, in 1881.
Little wonder then, that Winslow should be interested in the Whitechapel murders. He certainly became involved. First, he took to frequenting the area where the murders took place and became a familiar (and he said trusted) figure to many of the local residents and landlords. He then encouraged anyone who had ideas or knowledge about the murders to talk to him. This led him to believe, following information from a Mr and Mrs Callaghan, that a lodger of theirs was none other than Jack the Ripper. This claim, which Winslow stated he would be able to substantiate through the assistance of six police officers to arrest the man at a pre-designated location, was reported in the press. It prompted Scotland Yard to have Winslow interviewed about exactly what he knew. At this interview Winslow changed his story, claimed that he had not spoken to the press, and that in any event his views had been misrepresented. The police in their turn began to regard Winslow as a possible suspect himself. As a theory this was not entirely fanciful because the gruesome murders appeared to be connected to the same person: The victims of the Ripper were disembowelled, leading police to suspect that the perpetrator not only had local knowledge but was possibly a person with a medical or surgical background.
Winslow never gave up his interest in the Jack the Ripper case. Indeed, among other actions, he later made an application to the courts to assist a medical student to clear the reputation he had gained through association with the murders. The somewhat troubled reputation Winslow had acquired never stopped him from involvement in other “murder or insanity” cases both in England and in New York. He also continued to promote other ideas about insanity such as his claim that it could be caused by spiritualism. All of which brought him into a certain disrepute among the establishment figures in his profession.
In spite of flirting with the speculative and dubious areas of his profession and gaining a tarnished reputation Forbes Winslow remained nothing if not active until his death in 1913 at the age of 69 from a heart attack. He had continued to publish and to lecture and retained his love of cricket. He was also a dog lover and for a time the owner of a famous dog, Champion Crown Prince, an English Mastiff, from which came the pedigree descendants of English Mastiffs. The breed standard was established and approved by the Old English Mastiff Body of which Forbes Winslow was a founder member.