Robert James Lees

Capture of Jack the Ripper - The Chicago article

The earliest known reference to the alleged involvement of Robert James Lees in the Jack the Ripper police investigations of 1888 is this article, published on 28 April 1895 seven years after the Whitechapel Murders. It was the source of the various articles that appeared in the English press after Lees' death in January 1931, which deeply offended Eva Lees. A letter from Claude Lees to the editor of The Daily Express, written in 1931 indicates that Eva and Claude were unaware of the existence of the Chicago article.

The significance of this article in terms of how it has influenced researchers cannot be under-estimated, but this is possibly the first time it has been published in its entirety on the web.



The story recently told by Dr Howard, a well-known London physician to William Greer Harrison, of the Bohemian Club, in San Francisco, in regard to the fate of Jack the Ripper, and which is at last given to the world, unseals the lips of a gentleman of this city, who is thus enabled to give the Times-Herald a full and exclusive account of that exhaustive search by London detectives, which at the conclusion of years of unremitting labor, has resulted in fixing the identity of the famous Whitechapel murderer beyond the shadow of a doubt.

The Dr Howard referred to was one of a dozen London physicians who sat at a court of medical enquiry or as a commission in lunacy upon their brother physician, for at last it was definitely proved that the dreaded 'Jack the Ripper' was no less a person than a physician in high standing, and in fact was a man enjoying the patronage of the best society in the west end of London. When it was absolutely proved beyond peradventure that the physician in question was the murderer, and his insanity fully established by a commission de lunatico inquirendo, all parties having knowledge of the facts were sworn to secrecy. Up to this time of Dr Howard's disclosure this oath had been rigidly adhered to.

A London clubman, now in Chicago, who is acquainted with Dr Howard, is of the opinion that, being in a foreign country and perhaps under the influence of wine, Dr Howard has permitted his tongue to wag too freely. Coupled with this conjecture he said yesterday to a reporter of the Times-Herald:

'I notice that Dr Howard has not revealed the name of the physician who committed the murders. For this he has reason to be thankful, as such an act would have resulted in the total destruction of his London practice. As it is, he will doubtless be privately reprimanded by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, as an oath administered under such circumstances is considered of the most sacred and binding nature.'

The story of Dr Howard is substantially correct, as far as it goes. When 'Jack the Ripper' was finally run to earth it was discovered that he was a physician in good standing, with an extensive practice. He had been ever since he was a student at Guy's Hospital, an ardent and enthusiastic vivisectionist. Through some extraordinary natural contradiction, instead of the sight of pain softening him, as is the case with most devotees of scientific experiments, it had an opposite effect. This so grew upon him that he experienced the keenest delight in inflicting tortures upon defenceless animals. One of his favourite pastimes was to remove the eyelids from a rabbit and expose it for hours, in a fixed position, to a blinding sun. He would take a seat near it, totally forgetful of meals, of the passage of time and of everything except the exquisite sensations he experienced in watching the agonized contortions of his victim.

This passion for inflicting pain so grew upon the man, who was afterwards to rank as a disciple of cruelty with Nero or Ghengis Khan, that as he approached manhood and his softer nature impelled him to seek a wife he could hardly restrain himself from an indulgence in his barbaric pursuits long enough to woo and win her. He had scarcely been married a month before his wife discovered that he had a mania for inflicting pain. In testifying before the commission she gave the following extraordinary evidence:

'One night we were sitting in the drawing room. It was quite late. I arose to go to bed. When I arrived upstairs I remembered that I had left my watch upon the drawing room mantelpiece. I descended the stairs. As I approached the drawing room I heard the sounds of a cat mewing piteously. Looking through the door, which happened to be open, I was horrified to see my husband holding a cat over the flame of the moderator lamp. I was too frightened to do anything but retreat upstairs. When my husband came to bed along toward daylight I felt that I was occupying the same couch with a monster. I discovered later that he had spent almost the whole night in burning the cat to death.

The next day he was as kind and loving as possible. I discovered later that he was subject to an unconquerable mania for inflicting pain. It was quite possible for me, as I studied him closely, to tell when these moods were coming on. On such occasions some apparently trivial act would put me on my guard. He was apt at such times to begin by catching a fly and twirling it impaled upon a pin. He was a strange contradiction. When our little boy, only four years old, imitated him once in this respect the father was actually shocked and was so indignant that he gave the child a sound whipping. As the boy screamed with the pain of the punishment the ferocious side of my husband's nature asserted itself. He would in all probability have beaten the child to death if I had not interfered. In his normal moods he was an excellent husband and father and one of the gentlest and most tractable of men. I have frequently heard him express sincere sympathy with persons in misfortune.'

The circumstances which led to the detection of this inhuman monster with a dual nature are extraordinary and altogether unparalleled in the history of crime. As the fact of the arrest and imprisonment of Jack the Ripper has now been divulged by Dr Howard, it is only right that proper credit should be given to the man who put the London police upon his track. He himself has sacredly observed his promise - he refused to take any oath on the ground of religious scruples - not to divulge the identity of the Ripper.

Robert James Lees, the gentleman to whom the unfortunate of the east end of London owe their present immunity from the attacks of a monster who for long years made every one of them venture out at night literally with her life in her hands, is the person entitled to the credit of tracking Jack the Ripper. Mr Lees is at present the proprietor of a novel institution for the higher education of the workingmen at Peckham, a suburb of London. Over 1,800 workmen attend his classes and he has invested a large sum of money in the enterprise which is now on a paying basis. Mr Lees is recognised today as one of the most advanced labor leaders in England and is an intimate friend of Kier Hardy, the leader of an independent labor party. He at present resides at 26 The Gardens, Peckham Rye, London S.E.

In his early years Mr Lees developed an extraordinary clairvoyant power, which enabled him to discern, as with the eyes of a seer, things hidden from the comprehension of ordinary men born without this singular gift. At the age of 19 he was summoned before the Queen at Birmingham, and he gave evidence of his powers as a clairvoyant which excited her majesty's utmost astonishment. Having considerable means of his own, however, he devoted himself to literary pursuits, became a profound theologian and ultimately took up the study of spiritualism and theosophy. He is at present the recognised leader of the Christian Spiritualists in Great Britain.

At the time of the first three murders by the ripper, Mr Lees was in the height of his clairvoyant powers. One day he was writing in his study when he became convinced that the ripper was about to commit another murder. He tried in vain to dispel the feeling. As he sat at his table the whole scene arose before him. He seemed to see two persons, a man and a woman, walking down the length of a mean street. He followed them in his mind's eye and saw them enter a narrow court. He looked and read the name of the court. There was a gin palace near this court, ablaze with light. Looking through the windows he saw that the hands of the clock in the bar pointed to 12.40, the hour at which the public houses are closed for the night in London.

As he looked he saw the man and the woman enter a dark corner of the court. The woman was half drunk. The man was perfectly sober. He was dressed in a dark suit of Scotch tweed, carried a light overcoat on his arm, and his light blue eyes glittered in the rays of the lamplight which dimly illuminated the dingy retreat the pair had chosen.

The woman leaned against the wall and the man put one hand over her mouth. She struggled in a feeble manner, as if too much overcome by liquor to make any effectual resistance. The man then drew a knife from his inside vest pocket and cut the woman's throat. The blood streamed out from the wound, some of it spurting over his shirt-front. He held his hand over the woman's mouth until she fell to the ground. Then divesting the lower limbs of his victim of their apparel, the butcher inflicted sundry gashes upon her with his long knife. These were delivered in a scientific manner, and resulted in the ripper's laying certain organs beside the body of his victim. He then deliberately wiped his knife upon the clothes of the woman, sheathed it and, putting on his light overcoat deliberately buttoned it up so as to hide the blood stains on his shirt front, after which he walked calmly away from the scene of the murder.

Such was the extraordinary clairvoyant vision presented to the second sight of Mr Lees. So impressed was he by what he had thus miraculously witnessed, that he at once went to Scotland Yard and detailed the whole matter to the detectives. As they regarded him as nothing short of a lunatic, and had been for some months visited by all sorts and conditions of cranks with Jack-the-Ripper theories, he naturally received little attention.

By way of humouring one whom they considered a harmless lunatic, the sergeant on duty took down the name of the place where Mr Lees said the crime would be committed and also noted that the hands of the clock in the mythical public house had pointed to 12.40. at the moment when the Ripper and his victim had entered the court.

At 12.30. on the following night a woman entered the public house facing onto the court in question. She was quite under the influence of liquor, and the bar keeper refused to serve her. She left the place swearing and using vile language. She was seen by another witness to enter the court again at 12.30. in company with a man dressed in a dark suit and carrying a light overcoat upon his arm. Witness thought the man was an American because he wore a soft felt hat, and added that 'he looked like a gentleman'

This was the evidence given before the deputy coroner, who held an inquest on the body of a woman who had been found on the very spot described by Mr Lees 'with her throat cut from ear to ear and otherwise indecently and horribly mutilated' - to quote the coroner's records. Mr Lees himself was indescribably shocked when he learned of the murder the next day. Taking with him a trusted man-servant he visited the scene of the outrage. To use his own language - 'I felt almost as if I was an accessory before the fact. It made such an impression upon me that my whole nervous system was seriously shaken. I could not sleep at night and under the advice of a physician I removed with my family to the continent.'

During his visit abroad Mr Lees was no longer troubled by these strange hallucinations, notwithstanding the fact that while he was absent the 'ripper' had added to his list of crimes no less than four additional atrocious murders. It then became necessary for Mr Lees to return to London.

One day, while riding in an omnibus from Shepherd's Bush in company with his wife, he experienced a renewal of the strange sensations which had preceded his former clairvoyant condition. The omnibus ascended Notting Hill. It stopped at the top, and a man entered the interior of the vehicle. Mr Lees at once experienced a singular sensation. Looking up he perceived that the new passenger was a man of medium size. He noticed that he was dressed in a dark suit of Scotch tweed, over which he wore a light overcoat. He had a soft felt hat on his head.

Over a year had elapsed since Mr Lees' clairvoyant vision, but the picture of the murderer had been indelibly impressed upon his mind. Leaning over to his wife he remarked earnestly, 'That is Jack the Ripper,' his wife laughed at this, and told him not to be foolish. 'I am not mistaken,' replied Mr Lees, 'I feel it.' The omnibus traversed the entire length of the Edgware road, turning into Oxford street at the marble arch. At this point the man in the light overcoat got out.

Mr Lees determined to follow him. Bidding his wife continue on her journey in the direction of home, he followed the man down Park lane. About half way down the thoroughfare he met a constable, to whom he pointed out the man in the light overcoat informing him that he was the dreaded 'ripper' and asking that he be arrested. The constable laughed at him, and threatened to 'run him in.' It seems that the 'ripper' must have entertained some apprehension that he was in danger, for on reaching Apsley House he jumped into a cab and was driven rapidly down Piccadilly. A minute later Mr Lees met a police sergeant to whom he confided his suspicions. 'Show me the constable who refused to arrest him!' exclaimed the sergeant. 'Why it was only this morning that we received news at the Bow Street station that the 'ripper' was coming in this direction.'

That night Mr Lees again received premonitions that the 'ripper' was about to commit another murder. The scene of this outrage was not so distinct as on the former occasion, but the face of the murdered woman was clearly defined. Mr Lees noted with great particularity the aspect of the 'ripper's' victim. A peculiarity of the mutilations, which were somewhat similar to the first, was that one ear was completely severed from the face and the other remained hanging by a mere shred of flesh.

As soon as he recovered from his trance and the consequent shock he experienced in witnessing this dreamlike tragedy, Mr Lees hastened to Scotland Yard, where he insisted on having an immediate audience with the head inspector of police. The functionary listened with a smile of incredulity to the first portion of his visitor's story, which died away at once, however, upon his reaching that portion of his narrative, which spoke of the victim's ears being severed from her head.

With a trembling hand and a face which plainly betokened the effect of Mr Lees' communication, the officer drew a postal card forth from his desk and laid it before his visitor. It was an ordinary postal card, written in red ink. In addition it bore the marks of two bloody fingers, which had been impressed upon it by the writer, and which remained as a kind of bloody sign manual upon its calendared surface. This postal card read as follows:

Tomorrow night I shall again take my revenge, claiming from a class of women who have made themselves most obnoxious to me my ninth victim.
Jack the Ripper.

P.S. To prove that I am really 'Jack the Ripper' I will cut off the ears of this ninth victim.

Dr Lees was no sooner confronted with this awful confirmation of his second vision than he fainted dead away and remained as one absolutely insensible to what was going on around him.

It must be recollected that at this time the entire British metropolis, comprising within a radius of twenty miles of Charing Cross a population of nearly 7,000,000 souls, was completely terrorised by this awful series of murders, which shocked indeed the whole of christendom by their unparalleled barbarity, the frequency of their occurrence and the apparent complete immunity enjoyed by their human perpetrator.

The inspector himself, who was a religious man, looked upon the extraordinary coincidence of the receipt of the post card - with the contents of which he alone was familiar - and the story of Mr Lees, as a warning sent from heaven, and as a divine intimation that he must leave no stone unturned to bring this monster to justice. All that day he concentrated his entire energies upon the problem of how best to cover the intricate territory known as 'the Whitechapel district'. He had at his command a force of nearly 10,000 constables. By dusk of the next day no less than 3,000 of these in citizens' clothes, in addition to 1,500 detectives, disguised as mechanics and dock labourers, were patrolling the courts and alleys of Whitechapel.

Notwithstanding these precautions 'Jack the Ripper' penetrated the cordon, slew his victim and made his escape. The inspector, when told that this victim had been discovered with one ear completely severed from her body and the other hanging from her head by a mere shred of flesh, turned deathly pale and it was some time before he recovered his usual self possession.

Mr Lees was so affected by this last tragedy that he at once removed to the continent. While he was thus abroad, the 'ripper' completed his sixteenth murder, and had coolly informed the Scotland Yard authorities that he 'intended to kill twenty and then cease'

Shortly after this Mr Lees returned to England where he made the acquaintance of Roland B. Shaw, a mining stockbroker, of New York and Fred C. Beckwith, of Broadhead, Wis. who was then the financial promoter of an American syndicate in London. These three gentlemen were dining one day in the Criterion when Mr Lees turned to his two companions suddenly and exclaimed: 'Great God! Jack the Ripper has committed another murder.' Mr Shaw looked at his watch and found it was eleven minutes to eight. At ten minutes past eight a policeman discovered the body of a woman in Crown court, in the Whitechapel district, with her throat cut from ear to ear and her body bearing all the marks of the Ripper's handiwork. Mr Lees and his companions at once went to Scotland Yard. The news of the murder had not yet reached the inspector, but while Mr Lees was relating his story, a telegram arrived giving full details of the outrage.

The inspector, taking with him two men in plain clothes, at once drove to Crown court in company with Mr Lees and the two Americans. As they entered the court Mr Lees exclaimed: 'Look in the angle of the wall. There is something written there.'

The inspector ran forward, and not having a dark lantern with him struck a match. As the tiny flame flared up the words 'Seventeen, Jack the Ripper' done in chalk upon the wall were distinctly visible. The inspector by this time was in a condition closely bordering on insanity. It must be borne in mind that this madman had for years baffled all the resources of the greatest police force in the world - that rendered desperate at last, the British authorities had summoned to their assistance the most experienced detectives in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and America, that they had lavished immense sums in an endeavour to trace the fiend, that there was then pending an aggregate reward of 30,000 together with a life pension of 1,500 per annum, all to go to the man who should first deliver to justice the terrible 'Ripper

As before stated, the inspector seemed to recognise in Mr Lees an instrument of providence - and he determined then and there to avail himself of his marvellous, though altogether incomprehensible powers.

After an earnest appeal from the inspector, Mr Lees consented to try and track the 'Ripper' - much in the same way as a bloodhound pursues a criminal. There seemed to be some magnetic wave connecting an impalpable sense he possessed with the fugitive. All that night Mr Lees submitted himself to his strange magnetic influence and traversed swiftly the streets of London. The inspector and his aids followed a few feet behind him. At last, at 4 o'clock in the morning, with pale face and bloodshot eyes, the human bloodhound halted at the gates of a west end mansion, gasping with cracked and swollen lips, as he pointed to an upper chamber where a faint light yet gleamed.

'There is the murderer - the man you are looking for.'

'It is impossible,' returned the inspector. That is the residence of one of the most celebrated physicians in the west end.'

The most extraordinary part of this well nigh incredible narrative is now to come. The inspector had been so strongly impressed with the clairvoyant powers of Mr Lees that he determined to put them to the crowning proof.

'If you will describe to me,' he said, 'the interior of the doctor's hall I will arrest him, but I shall do so at the risk of losing my position, which I have won by over twenty years' faithful service.'

'The hall has a high porter's chair of black oak on the right hand, as you enter it, a stained glass window at the extreme end, and a large mastiff is at this moment asleep at the foot of the stairs,' replied Mr Lees without any hesitation. They waited until 7 o'clock, the hour at which the servants begin to stir in a fashionable London residence. They then entered the house and learned that the doctor was still in bed. They requested to be allowed to see his wife. The servant left them standing in the hall, and Mr Lees called the inspector's attention to the fact that there was no mastiff visible as he had described, though his description of the hall in all other respects tallied exactly. Upon questioning the servant as to the whereabouts of the dog she informed Mr Lees that it generally slept at the foot of the stairs, and that she let it out into the back garden every morning. When the inspector heard this he exclaimed: 'Great Heavens!' adding in and undertone to his companion, 'It is the hand of God.'

In the course of half an hour's searching examination the doctor's wife, who was a beautiful woman, confessed that she did not believe her husband was of sound mind. There had been moments when he had threatened herself and her children. At such times she had been accustomed to lock herself up. She had noted with heart-breaking dread that whenever a Whitechapel murder occurred her husband was absent from home.

An hour later the inspector had completed his arrangements for the examination of the doctor, and had summoned to his aid, two of the greatest experts on insanity in the metropolis. When accused, the doctor admitted that his mind had been unbalanced for some years and that of late there had been intervals of time during which he had no recollection of what he had been doing. When told that they believed he had been guilty of the Whitechapel murders during these intervals, he expressed the greatest repugnance and horror of such deeds, speaking as if the murderer was quite a different person to himself, and expressing great willingness to bring him to justice. He told the physicians that he had on one or two occasions found himself sitting in his rooms as if suddenly aroused from a long stupor, and in one instance he had found blood upon his shirt front, which he attributed to nosebleed. On another occasion his face had been all scratched up.

On hearing this the inspector caused a thorough search of the house to be made, when ample proofs were found that the doctor was the murderer. Among others the detectives brought to light the famous Scotch tweed suit and soft felt hat, together with the light overcoat. When convinced of his guilt, the unfortunate physician begged them to kill him at once, as he 'could not live under the same roof with such a monster.'

As stated in the early part of this article, an exhaustive enquiry before a commission in lunacy developed the fact that while in one mood the doctor was a most worthy man, in the other he was a terrible monster. He was at once removed to a private insane asylum in Islington, and he is now the most intractable and dangerous madman confined in that establishment.

In order to account for the disappearance of the doctor from society a sham death and burial were gone through, and an empty coffin, which now reposes in the family vaults in Kensal Green, is supposed to contain the mortal remains of a great west end physician, whose untimely death all London mourned.

None of the keepers know that the desperate maniac who flings himself from side to side in his padded cell and makes the long watches of the night hideous with his piercing cries is the famous 'Jack the Ripper'. To them and to the visiting inspectors he is simply known as Thomas Mason, alias No. 124.

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2003 Stephen Butt

Robert James Lees - The Chicago Story/title> </head> <div align="center"> </div> <span lang="en-gb"> <p align="center"></p> </span> <div align="center"> <center> <table border="1" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" style="border-collapse: collapse; border-wi