One of my favorite TV shows back in the 70’s was In Search Of…, a series that delved into strange phenomena such as aliens visiting the Earth in ancient times, as well as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. It also studied mysteries of history like the origins of Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle and other elements cryptohistory. The series was initially hosted by Leonard Nimoy.
The show never really presented a concrete theory behind anything. Instead it presented varied theories and let the viewer draw their own conclusions. As the opening voiceover stated:
“This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producers’ purpose is to suggest some possible explanations but not necessarily the only ones to the mysteries we will examine.”
Anything that had an element of mystery was fair game, thus in the third season of the series, the show delved into the mystery of the identity of Jack the Ripper, a figure whose identity still remains a mystery even today.
In Search Of…Jack the Ripper (Episode 5; Season 3: Original Airdate: Oct. 12, 1978)
With the help of “Ripperologists” such as Wendy Sturgess, Donald Rumbelow and Stephen Knight, this episode delves into the mystery surrounding the murders of five women in Whitechapel area of East End London, ones that are agreed upon as having all been committed by the mysterious murderer known only as “Jack the Ripper.”
Anybody with only a smattering of knowledge about Jack the Ripper knows at least that Jack killed five women during his reign of terror (some sources claim a few other murders committed around the same time were also done by Jack, but the series episode only acknowledges the “canonical five” that are accepted by the majority of the public), and then basically vanished from the theater of the world. Although the press at the time claimed he was a threat to all of London, it appears he centered his activities only within a mile and a half square of one area of London.
Beginning with a woman named Mary Ann Nichols, Jack haunted the streets of London’s East End. The victims that followed, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes (both killed on the same night), and Mary Kelly were all brutally cut up with even parts of the bodies cut off.
Two major theories resulted from the clues. One was that Jack was a doctor. This is disputed by one of the interviewees because he feels that, based on the evidence that is in the records, that if Jack was a doctor, he must have been a very incompetent one, due to his technique. (Author’s note: I’m not sure that necessarily discredits the doctor theory. Jack wasn’t working in a hospital operating room, and didn’t have the necessary tools on hand, unless, like the movie Time After Time, in which Jack was a doctor and roamed the streets with his doctor bag).
The other theory is that he would have to have been a member of the elite in order to get away with wandering around with blood on his clothes. Thus, one of the modern day theories about suspects is that it may have been the Duke of Clarence. Prince Albert Victor was supposedly slowly going insane due from the effects of syphilis. This is further enhanced by the fact that the royal family doctor was seen in the East End on nights when the murders were committed. (Although how the doctor himself didn’t end up a suspect is a mystery to me).
The theory that the Duke may have been Jack is further enhanced by the fact that, a hundred years later, Dr. Thomas Stowell published a paper that claimed he had evidence from the royal doctor’s papers that implicated the Duke as Jack. But Dr. Stowell later recanted, and (can you say conspiracy?) died shortly thereafter.
Conspiracy also crops up in that favorite bugaboo of conspiracy theorists, the Freemasons. Apparently Jack left a message chalked on the wall near one of his victims. The chief of the police force, a Freemason himself, personally went down to the murder site and erased the message. Conspiracy theorists immediately lock on to that detail and deduce that Jack was probably a Freemason.
One other detail that comes up is the idea that a mysterious man, who had been seen in the vicinity wearing a deerstalker cap and cape, may have been the murderer. Because the Duke was a moneyed man and loved hunting, this is used to further fortify the theory that Jack was the Duke. (Of course, it also could implicate Sherlock Holmes…)
I loved the In Search Of… series when I was a kid. These shows, although not necessarily convincing in retrospect, fired my imagination as a teenager. The fact that some of the shows covered phenomena that are now discredited, such as The Loch Ness Monster, notwithstanding.
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.
This article originally ran earlier this year, we are reprinting it today as part of our 31 Days of Halloween celebrations