Robert James Lees
The Ripper and The Medium
In his book The Final
Solution, Stephen Knight recounted the Lees - Ripper story to support
his claim that William Withney Gull, physician to the Queen, was part of
a Ripper conspiracy. Elsewhere (in M.J.Trow’s The Many Faces Of Jack The
Ripper), Jacque mine Charot-Ludwige claimed the Lees story pointed to a
house where Leopold II, King of the Belgiums, resided whilst in London.
However, there is little real evidence that either of these committed
the Ripper murders that took place in the Whitechapel are of London in
the autumn of 1888. These articles and this evidence appear to be
The story first appeared in print in a newspaper article published by the Chicago Sunday Times-Herald on 28th April, 1895. The body of this story claimed that over a number of years Lees was seized by visions of the Ripper and his murders. They each came true. Lees went abroad and briefly was not troubled by such visions. He returned to London and when on an omnibus with his wife, saw a man get on the bus at Notting Hill. Lees told his wife that he believed the man to be the Ripper. Lees' wife laughed at him. When the man got off the bus at Marble Arch, Lees followed him, informing a constable en route. The constable laughed at Lees. The next day after another vision Lees went Scotland Yard. Lees remembered a postcard from his vision, and the police received one that morning which read as Lees stated. They then took him seriously. Eventually, after more murders, Lees was able to lead the police to the house of the Ripper. The Ripper was a doctor who lived in a fashionable house in London. The Ripper was placed in an asylum under the name Thomas Mason No.124 in place of a pauper, and a mock funeral held. It claims that a Dr Howard recounted the tale whilst drunk to a man who then informed the newspaper.
In most regards it is clear that the article is based on little truth. Its outline of the Ripper events is basically wrong. Melvin Harris in his book Jack The Ripper - The Bloody Truth provides convincing evidence for this. The article suggests the time span of the Ripper events is a number of years and that the number of victims can be placed as high as seventeen. In fact the Ripper murders took place in just a few months in autumn 1888 and the number of Ripper victims is as low as five. Melvin Harris provides convincing evidence that the Whitechapel Club, Chicago, hoaxed this story, their offices being located behind those of the newspaper.
The other major newspaper article to appear on the subject was in the Sunday Express in early 1931; a series of three linked articles appeared after Lees' death, but these did not originate from either Lees or members of his family. Lees’ daughter Eva is said privately to have been offended by the article as it portrayed her father in a sensationalist light so soon after his death.
In 1970, thirty years after Lees’ death, an article appeared in Light (the quarterly journal of the College of Psychic Studies) written by Cynthia Legh. She claimed to have known Lees and to have had various versions of the story recounted to her by him. However, this article still does not provide any proof that Lees helped to capture the Ripper.
A Ripper letter, cited by Stephen Knight as mentioning Lees, has now been found and re-examined by author and researcher Stewart Evans. He claims the word ‘Lees’ on this letter actually reads ‘tecs’, which is London slang for police. This new reading of the letter makes more sense and would appear to be accurate.
Many who regard the Ripper – Lees story as true point out that whilst Dr Benjamin Howard furiously denied the Chicago Sunday Times-Herald article, Lees never publicly denied it. Various versions of the story claims Lees promised Queen Victoria that he would never reveal the identity of the Ripper, and that he received a Royal pension for his pains. However, there could be many reasons why Lees never denied the story, not the least being that it did not harm his reputation by not doing so. Although the Chicago article was reproduced in this country in The People, Lees may not even have known about the article as he was in fact living in St Ives in Cornwall by this time, having moved from London because of poor health. He may also not have been well enough to combat the claim made about him. His exact reasons cannot be clearly ascertained.
The only actual evidence that Lees had any involvement with the police and their enquiries that comes from either his family or himself is his own diary entries for October 1888, a month when no murders took place, but in the weeks following the double event. One entry reads “offered services to police to follow up East End murders, called a fool and a lunatic”. According to his own diary then, the only involvement he had in the investigation amounted to being rejected by the police on three occasions. There is no evidence that the police ever took his claims seriously. However, those who believe the story to be true point out that Lees would hardly have written such highly confidential information down. In my opinion theirs is a problematic view.
Various aspects of versions of this story can be proved to be untrue. The idea that Lees received a Royal pension from 1888 for example. In fact, in 1890 Lees was living in relative poverty. Also, the idea that Lees was forced to leave London for five years by Queen Victoria also rings untrue as Lees did not leave Peckham (London) until 1895, when he moved to St Ives. His diaries for 1890 and 1891 show he was still living and working in London as a tourist guide, preacher and (struggling) author.
I believe that the proposal that Lees solved the Jack The Ripper case is problematic. It is based on little actual hard evidence. In my opinion it is less interesting than any other single part of Lees extraordinary life, all of which is more interesting than any rumours could make it. The Jack The Ripper murders can never conclusively be solved, but I feel the Lees - Ripper story should be taken as I take it, cynically.
Jennifer D. Pegg
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© 2003 Stephen Butt