TAPS paraMagazine, Part 2: TAPS the Ripper

May 30, 2011

Yesterday, I began my review of TAPS paraMagazine. Today, I am going to discuss an article that has nothing to do with the paranormal but which illustrates why competent writing is so important.

The article on Jack the Ripper is credited to Rev. Jonathan Tapsell. The only information about the author is that he is from “London, England, Great Britain” (oh, that London, England). There is no other biographical information and no explanation of his title of “Rev.” My investigoogling turned up no more information, except that he is the author of Porn-Again Christian: One Englishman’s Startling Adventures in the UK Sex Trade! Having read the product description, I can’t figure out what the “Christian” part has to do with anything. Oh well.

The article’s description (which, to be fair, may not have been written by Tapsell) begins, “Jack the Ripper was the world’s first media serial killer.” Wow. Wait, what’s a “media serial killer”? Does he kill media? “Oh my God, stop stabbing that newspaper!” Is it media with a penchant for homicide? “Oh my God, that newspaper is stabbing prostitutes!” The blurb goes on to describe Jack the Ripper as a “shadowy figure whose scarlet tracings wreaked terror in Victorian London, and whose name conjures up dark, fear-filled foggy streets.” Nice alliteration. The phrase “scarlet tracings” may be borrowed from the book White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings by Iain Sinclair.

The article proper begins,

To this day experts on the Whitechapel murders (Ripperologists) disagree on the number of victims, but generally it is seen as five women, although according to some theories this figure could be higher. (p. 25)

This is a weak, awkwardly-worded opening that lacks context, but the problems with the writing are just beginning. When he begins considering suspects, Tapsell says,

From his official notes kept at the Public Records Office, Sir Melville Macnaughten [sic*] was quoted in the press during a later interview in 1894, stating that one suspect was a man called Cutbush….” (p. 26)

I’ve read and reread that sentence and still can’t make sense of it. Does the information come from Macnaghten’s notes or an interview? I assume it must have been from the report he wrote in 1894. According to Wikipedia, this report wasn’t publicly available until 1959; however, it seems that Frank Abberline, the detective who led the investigation, may have mentioned Macnaghten’s report in an interview. You’d never guess this from what Tapsell actually says. Tapsell then mentions that Macnaghten thought the most likely suspect was a man named Druitt:

Mr. M. J. Druitt, a doctor of about 41 years of age from a fairly good family, disappeared at the time of the Miller’s Court murder. His body was found floating in the Thames on 31st December….

Montague Druitt is one of the classic suspects. He was born in 1857, and would have been thirty-one at the time of the murders. Educated at Oxford, he soon went into teaching, and also practiced law as a barrister. (p. 26)

Are these two Druitts the same guy? On the one hand, their ages are different, they have different professions, and their names are not identical (M. J. versus Montague). On the other, could there have been two M. Druitt’s who were suspected of the murders and who both drowned in the Thames in 1888? The confusion over profession apparently came from Macnaghten, but Tapsell does nothing to clarify. The information he gives is very confusing.

He also mentions the work of “Laura Richards, a ‘pretty blonde’ who is the former Head of analysis for Scotland Yard’s Violent Crime Command.” I have no idea why “pretty blonde” is in quotation marks nor why her hair color and level of attractiveness are relevant to her position with Scotland yard or the validity of her work.

Tapsell’s own favored candidate is Francis Tumblety. After four whole paragraphs of discussion, Tapsell feels confident in concluding “Jack the Ripper died in St. Louis, Missouri in 1903 and is buried in Rochester, New York.” Case closed.

Or maybe not, as there is an “Editor’s Addendum,” five more paragraphs discussing another suspect. Presumably based on the Discovery Channel’s documentary “Jack the Ripper in America” (part 1 available here; critique of the show here), the addendum presents the investigative work of Ed Norris, radio host, former police officer and convicted felon, who believes that James Kelly was Jack the Ripper. The addendum doesn’t actually mention the Discovery program, but it seems fairly clear this where the information comes from. For instance, Roberts mentions that Kelly, after returning to Broadmore Asylum after a long absence, said he disliked “skanks.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “skank,” meaning “A person (esp. a woman) regarded as unattractive, sleazy,sexually promiscuous, or immoral,” is slang of American origin which first appeared in 1967. However, in the documentary, Norris does say the notes on Kelly mentioned “sqanks,” although he does not provide a full context. It seems that “skank” may come from “skag,” which first appeared in the 1920s (Kelly returned to Broadmore in 1927). While no credit is given to the documentary, readers are invited to “Learn more about James Kelly on the web: http//www.casebook.org/suspects/jameskelly.html.” That site (minus the “www”) gives an unsourced but detailed timeline of the events of Kelly’s life; however, it does not include some of the information mentioned in the TAPS article (such as the “skank” reference).

So, there you have it: a poorly-written, confusing, badly-sourced article that makes a bold claim which the editor undercuts in a poorly written, badly-sourced addendum.

*Tapsell mispells the names of Macnaghten, Frank Abberline (he adds an extra “b”) and Patricia Cornwell (he also calls Cornwell an “author and pathologist.” Although she worked as a technical writer and computer analyst with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, she was never a pathologist: her degree is in English). The proofreading in the magazine is quite appalling. Aside from spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, some information is simply missing. When discussing the man he believes committed the murders, Tapsell says, “Tumblety was arrested for–what was then punishable as misdemeanor–and prosecuted.” He doesn’t actually say what crime it was (it was “gross indecency“). In another article, a “Demonology F.A.Q.,” a sentence begins at the bottom of one column, but never concludes: “My functions include…investigating claims of paranormal activity, speaking to” That’s it. The next column begins a new paragraph: “I am on a committee that put on a conference for clergy and laity….”