Was Claude Reignier Conder Jack The Ripper?

By Colin Veacock

A Critical Analysis of a Theory put forward by Merseyside author, Tom Slemen.

When I first heard that Liverpool writer, Tom Slemen, knew the identity of Jack the Ripper I allowed myself a wry smile. How many times had I heard that since I became interested in the Whitechapel murders way back in the early 1980s. Names like Joseph Barnett, Lewis Carroll, Dr Francis Tumblety, and of course, James Maybrick immediately sprang to mind. Therefore it came as a pleasant surprise when I, along with thousands of other avid listeners, tuned into Radio Merseyside to hear who Tom was going to finally unmask as the Ripper. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Claude Reignier Conder before Tom’s programme, “Jack the Ripper-The French Connection”, but the tale I listened to was well thought out and for a while had me convinced that Mr Slemen had achieved what scores of other researchers, historians and criminologists had failed to do. In my, On The Trail Of Jack The Ripper (see the full article at mara.org.uk) I even wrote that the idea looked promising but needed more investigating. Unfortunately the “more investigating” revealed some fatal flaws and inaccuracies in Tom’s Ripper theory.

First of all I thought it was incredibly arrogant and conceited for Tom to announce that he, and he alone, knew who the Ripper was. It struck me as odd because having met Tom twice I have found him to be quiet, unassuming and likable, and not the type of man who would make such bold claims. I can only think that he had bowed to some outside pressure in order to hype the programme in an effort to increase listening figures. There was no need; we were all listening…

There are a number of points I wish to make before I go any further. For all I know Claude Reignier Conder could be Jack the Ripper, but so could James Maybrick, Francis Tumblety, or some, as of yet unnamed suspect who will be unearthed next year or decades from now. The problem is writers, me included, have to resist the urge to manipulate the known facts in order to make various aspects of a theory fit, while, at the same time, attempting to stay within the bounds of possibility.

The points I have to make are not intended to try and disprove Conders involvement  in the Whitechapel murders, but to show that the Ripper wasn’t necessarily the super human he is made out to be by Tom Slemen for the following reasons.

(1) Besides what Tom implies in “The French Connection”, there is not one single scrap of evidence which adequately shows that Colonel Cook and Claude Reignier Conder were practising Satanists. There is also nothing to prove that they were involved with either the West Ham disappearances or the Whitechapel killings. Tom makes a connection between the buttons which were missing from Eliza Carter’s little blue dress, found during the West Ham mystery, and the buttons which were missing from Catherine Eddowes coat, and comes to the rather startling conclusion that the same killer committed both crimes. This raises the obvious question as to why the killer didn’t remove the buttons from the other Ripper victims? This idea doesn’t make sense.

(2)”The Too’s Are The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing”. The Goulston Street chalk message, which was prematurely erased on the orders of Sir Charles Warren is, as all Ripperologists readily agree, a huge mystery. Jews in the message was spelt, J.U.W.E.S, exactly as the word is spelt in the Masonic texts which describe the untimely murder of master mason Hiram Abiff. I don’t think you can come to any conclusion other than, that the murderer, (if indeed it was the murderer wrote the chalk message), was a mason or had knowledge of the Masonic Lodge. Tom’s theory that the word is Manchoo (sorry if this isn’t spelt right) for too’s doesn’t sound quite right to me, but the idea that the cuts and scratches on Catherine Eddowes face were Mowerbite symbols should be thoroughly investigated.

In my article, On The Trail Of Jack The Ripper, I argue that the killings were carried out by a band of Freemasons who were hunting down those East End prostitutes who knew of Prince Albert Victors homosexuality and involvement in the Cleveland Street scandal. It is quite feasible that Conder could have been one of those men. He was obviously a mason, after all, he was an Altaic scholar who wrote “Syrian Stone Law” in 1886, and his brother, Edward wrote “The Hole Craft And Fellowship Of Masonry” in 1894. The Conder family were very obviously devout masons. The celebrated Victorian painter, Walter Sickert, who lived at number 6 Cleveland Street virtually opposite the homosexual brothel frequented by Prince Albert Victor, was actually taught how to paint by none other than Claude Reignier’s brother, Charles. Is it a coincidence that Charles, just like Prince Eddie and J.K. Stephens, died of syphilis…  Could that be the reason why Claude Reignier Conder became involved?

(3)This misguided theory that the Ripper was an agile athletic man who climbed over fences and scrambled up and over rooftops…Tom says the killer left the rear of 29 Hanbury Street after butchering Annie Chapman, by climbing two, five foot high fences into the rear of number 25, but this argument is flawed in several points. If he had climbed into the rear of 27 he would have virtually fell over a Mr Albert Cadosh who heard something hit the fence next door at the time the Ripper was savagely carving up Nichols body. Cadosh reported no such encounter… And anyway, you don’t have to be overly fit or agile to climb a five foot high fence. My Grandmother could do that and she’s been dead thirty years!

As for the Ripper leaving Dutfield Yard on Berner Street by clambering over a stable roof… It’s a good idea let down by one obvious fact; There was no need to climb out when he could so easily stroll out and off into the night. Tom says that if he had left the yard via the gate, Louis Diemschultz wife, who was working in the kitchens of the working mens club opposite, with the door ajar, would have seen him. You stand in your kitchen at night with the light on, open the back door and see just how much of your garden you can make out! You will see absolutely nothing, and neither did Mrs Diemschultz. The human eye cannot compensate for such rapidly changing conditions. It can cope with extreme light, and after awhile can cope with very dark conditions, but not both at the same time. And remember, the door was only ajar… Even her husband, Louis Diemschultz who was standing right above the body which lay at his feet, couldn’t see what it was until he bent down and lit a match… There is no mystery as to how the killer walked away from the slain body of Elizabeth Stride.

(4)Quite how one can say that nobody saw the killer is beyond me. Mere seconds, yes, “seconds” before Nichols was murdered in the rear of 29 Hanbury Street, an Elizabeth Lang passed her at the front of twenty nine talking to a gentleman who was almost certainly Jack the Ripper. There where also witnesses at 13 Millers Court who described the fifth victim, Mary Kelly, entering her lodgings with a man. Okay, it’s not certain that this man was Jack the Ripper but as the last person to be seen with her alive, he is more than a suspect.

(5)The most preposterous theory of “The French Connection” is that  Mary Kelly knew the identity of the Ripper due to the breath sweets which Liz Stride had clasped tightly in her hand. A man she had once accompanied to Paris had also used the same cachou breath fresheners… Using the same logic my ex girlfriend was responsible for the Yorkshire Ripper murders because she loved Polo mints and a half eaten pack of Polo’s was found at the scene of one of the crimes!

At the end of the day we’ll never know who Jack was. All we can do is pick over the crime scene reports, newspaper articles and witness statements and try to work out why the Ripper, or was it Rippers? went on a terrifying murder spree during the Autumn of 1888. Tom Slemen and Keith Andrews should be applauded for attempting to shed new light on an old mystery, but at the same time they should not discount, or in some cases, openly ignore, well acknowledged and established facts concerning the Whitechapel murders.

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