Robert James Lees - What Lees Really Said

Robert James Lees


Jack the Ripper - What Lees really said

The larger number of references to Robert James Lees' alleged involvement in the Whitechapel Murders investigation, in books and newspapers, would lead one to believe that Lees spoke freely of his experiences. Yet the opposite is true. The only reference in Lees' own hand to even a passing interest in Jack the Ripper is in his own diary for the week of the double murders. Here, in just a few one-line statements, Lees reveals that he `sensed' the perpetrator of the crimes at the murder scene in Berner Street, offered his assistance to the police, both locally and at Scotland Yard, and was turned down, being called a fool and a madmen.

The only other `evidence' of Lee's interest or involvement in the Whitechapel Murders' investigation was a letter purported to be in the hand of Jack the Ripper himself. Yet recent research has proved that an incorrect reading of one vital word in the letter led writer Stephen Knight to the wrong conclusions

The letter, allegedly from Jack the Ripper and dated 25 July 1889, which Stephen Knight claimed referred to Robert James Lees, is a red herring. Researcher and author Stewart Evans has recently shown that the apparent reference to `with all your 'lees'' actually reads `with all your `tecs'' as in `detectives'.

The first known published article linking Lees with the Ripper murders was the now largely discredited Chicago Sunday Times-Herald feature of 1895, and it is this article that is the source for almost all the subsequent references to the medium's alleged involvement. Even when a number of English national newspapers reprinted the Chicago story soon after its publication, Lees did not make any public utterance, and there remained a profound silence regarding the events until shortly before Lees' death in 1931. It is still to be proven, but it remains a possibility that the source for Lees references in the Chicago article may have been his fellow-spiritualist and journalist William Stead, who visited Chicago in 1894.

It is important to emphasise that neither Lees nor any member of his family, nor any police officer involved in the Ripper investigation, nor any Spiritualist organisation, made any public statement linking Lees to the Whitechapel Murders. Various newspapers covered Lees' other activities, such as his fight on behalf of the Temperance Movement in St Ives, Cornwall, and the dramatic healing of a young girl in Ilfracombe, yet no journalist in any of the subsequent published material made any reference to Jack the Ripper. Not even Lees' own autobiographical account of his time in London, covering the period 1878 to 1895, makes any reference, no matter how oblique, to the events.

Then in 1928, shortly after Lees and his daughter Eva returned to his native Leicestershire, the Leicester Illustrated Chronicle published a feature in which Lees stated that he had been instrumental in the apprehension of Jack the Ripper. The article was written by Hugh Mogford, a convert to Spiritualism, who had encountered Lees some years earlier in Ilfracombe.

After Lees' death in 1931, two English national newspapers, `The People' and the `Daily Express' ran major articles which were straightforward re-writes of the old Chicago story. From family papers of the time that have survived, it is obvious that neither Eva, nor Claude Lees, who were both living in Leicester at the time of their father's death, contributed to these articles. In fact, Claude wrote to the `Daily Express', demanding to know the source of the story, a request that was politely but firmly refused. Eva, in an interview with `Le Matin', insisted that she had no knowledge of the identity of Jack the Ripper, and did not wish to talk to any journalist about such a distasteful episode. When pressed, she would only state that it was true that her father `played some part'.

It is also apparent that the major spiritualist organisations had no additional knowledge of any association between Lees and the Whitechapel Murders. Shortly after Lees' death, the Society for Psychical research despatched an investigator to Leicester, who, after a long dialogue with Eva Lees, came up with no evidence, and no facts relating to the story.


Robert James Lees' diary entries for the first week of October 1888 relating to the double murders.


With the later resurgence of public interest in the Jack the Ripper case, it would be expected that researchers and authors would have uncovered firm evidence of Lees' involvement. Yet, with the exception of the spiritualist press (and in particular, an item published in `Light', the journal of the College of Psychic Studies' in 1970 which offered a simplified version of the Chicago tale), no writer developed that line of research until Stephen Knight and his revolutionary theory expounded in `Jack the Ripper - The Final Solution', published in 1976. However, Knight `cherry-picked' at the old Chicago story in order to support aspects of his own theory, and provided no substantive evidence. His broad theory is also now discredited, yet became the basis for the 2002 film on the subject, `From Hell'.

Do we therefore discount the story in its entirety? Before doing so, researchers will need to investigate more fully the source of Lees' wealth in the 1890s and following decades. Did he receive a Royal pension because of his work on the Ripper case, as his daughter claimed? We must also discover, if it is possible at this distance from the events, who provided the source material for the Chicago article - not the details of the Whitechapel Murders, which were of course freely available, But the more intimate facts about Lees and his family which could only have come from a close friend or a member of the family. And we must pare down the whole Lees/Ripper saga to reveal it in its most basic and original form. Then, and only then, we may be in a position to reject the entire hypothesis - or launch ourselves into a new era of research into the identity of Jack the Ripper.

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2003 Stephen Butt