Murder in Verse - James Kenneth Stephen (S1E5)
Updated: Jan 31
When the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, hired the brilliant James Kenneth Stephen to tutor his eldest son, Prince Eddy, Stephen and his student became fast friends. Some believe they were more than friends. After publishing two volumes of poetry, Stephen suffered a mental breakdown in 1891. Based on what happened next, Stephen’s tantalizing relationship with Eddy, and violent themes in his writing, several commentators have named the poet as the Ripper. Show notes and full transcript below.
Above: Illustration of James Kenneth Stephen as the title character of Sophocles' Ajax in a Cambridge University production.
A photograph of Stephen taken at his mother's request, possibly by Henry H. Cameron. An inscription reads, "Done at the command of she who must be obeyed [i.e. Stephen's mother]." Plate 30 of Leslie Stephen's Photograph Album, housed in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College Special Collections.
1878 photograph of Prince George and Prince Eddy onboard the HMS Britannia. The brothers spent much of their childhood and adolescence by each other's side, forging an enduring bond.
Sheet music for "The Great Comic Song of Ka-Foozle-Um," first published in 1866 by S. Oxon and Frederick Blume. It inspired a profusion of obscene ballads in the decades following its composition.
Photograph of Judge James Fitzjames Stephen taken sometime in the 1870s at the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company. Fitzjames Stephen presided over the disastrous trial of Israel Lipski in 1887, as well another covered in a later episode.
Plate 4 of A Rake's Progress by English artist William Hogarth, titled In Bedlam and created in 1735. Paying the price for his dissolute lifestyle, the titular rake lies naked on the floor in the foreground. Note the titillated ladies in the background, come to the insane asylum for the express purpose of ogling the inmates. Held by Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. Accession No. B1981.25.1418.
LINKS TO LYRICS AND PERFORMANCES OF "KAPHOOZALUM"
Titled "The Harlot of Jerusalem," the lyrics to this version contain passages nearly identical to those cited by Michael Harrison. One noticeable difference is the spelling of the central character's name, which differs from variant to variant. In this one, she answers to "Cathusalem" instead of "Kaphoozelum," which appears in the version Harrison cites.
Modern performance of "Kathusalem" by Ron and the Rude Boys.
---Abrahamsen, David. Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper. New York: D.I. Fine, 1992.
---Begg, Paul, Martin Fido, and Keith Skinner. The Jack the Ripper A-Z, Third Edition. London: Headline, 1996.
---Harrison, Michael. Clarence: The Life of H.R.H. Clarence and Avondale. London: W.H. Allen, 1972.
---Kipling, Rudyard. Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1937.
---McDonald, Deborah. The Prince, His Tutor, and the Ripper: The Evidence Linking James Kenneth Stephen to the Whitechapel Murders. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2007.
---Stephen, James Kenneth. Lapsus Calami. Cambridge: Cambridge Macmillan and Bowes, 1891.
---Stephen, James Kenneth. Quo Musa Tendis? Cambridge: Cambridge Macmillan and Bowes, 1891.
---Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994.
Shards of a looking glass lay in the street. The date was November 21, 1891, and university fellow and recently published poet James Kenneth Stephen stood naked in his Cambridge apartment, its floor littered with clothing and overturned furniture. He sang to himself as he cast his belongings out an open window, including his mirror. Stephen’s landlady found him like this and lost no time in fetching his general physician, Dr. Humphrey, who happened to live a few doors down, as well as Stephen’s friend, Walter Headlam. The two men accompanied her back to the building and managed to calm Stephen down and coax the portly, brown-haired man of thirty-two years away from the window. His family was telegrammed, whereupon his brothers, Harry and Herbert, rushed off to Cambridge. James’s psychiatrist, Dr. Savage, was duly notified and recommended his patient be taken to St. Andrew’s Hospital, a private asylum in Northamptonshire. Harry made the trip there with a high-strung James, keeping him in the dark as to where they were headed. At the institution, Harry gave a description of what had transpired. James had a history of mental illness, his brother reported, but Harry had never witnessed an episode like this one. Beyond his alarmingly erratic behavior, James was suffering a bout of paranoia. He was convinced that police had issued a warrant for his arrest. Later, as he paced up and down in his chamber, James came forward with a vague confession: the authorities wanted him for a crime he’d committed. More he wouldn’t say.
Before this tragic turn of events, Stephen had shown extraordinary promise as an intellectual and poet. He had graduated from two of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions and by his mid-twenties secured a fellowship at Cambridge University. So exceptional were Stephen’s scholarly abilities, that the Prince of Wales, later to rule as King Edward VII, hired him to tutor his eldest son, Eddy, second-in-line to the throne. Today, we’ll hear about how Stephen and Eddy’s lives have become inextricably entwined in Ripper lore. Their friendship, which many have suspected was more than a friendship, has served as the bedrock for theories naming Stephen as the Whitechapel murderer.
Not unlike Richard Wallace in the case of Lewis Carroll, more than one Ripper writer has turned to Stephen’s art in search of incriminating evidence. Today, we’ll hear how they’ve used his own poetry against him in making their case. This is The Art of Crime, and I’m your host, Gavin Whitehead. Welcome to episode 5 of The Unusual Suspects . . .
Murder in Verse: James Kenneth Stephen
Born February 25, 1859, James Kenneth Stephen hailed from a family of tremendous talent and ambition. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen presided over the household, and he would go on to win fame—and infamy—as a judge who ruled on sensational criminal trials. Remember his name because Fitzjames Stephen will make another cameo in this episode and another later on. Two of James’s cousins, Virginia and Vanessa Stephen, known to history as Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, rose to prominence as artists in their own right.
James didn’t grow up in his father’s household. Like many of Britain’s brightest minds, he spent his adolescence and early manhood housed at various academic environments. He graduated from Eton, the elite public school, and went on to study at King’s College, Cambridge.
Scholar, poet, and essayist A.C. Benson provides by far the most vibrant account of Stephen at Eton. Benson started there a few years after Stephen and always looked up to him. The older boy stood out from other pupils, partly by virtue of his striking features. He had “rather large and terrific eyes” and often wore a solemn expression that would have gone well with a wig and a gavel (“it was eminently a judicial face,” Benson recalls). Yet appearances were deceiving in this respect, for Stephen possessed a winning sense of humor, and he loved to act the buffoon in public. On one occasion, probably in celebration of a football victory, beer was flowing at supper, as sometimes happened in these more permissive days. In the middle of the repast, Stephen rose and belted out a song. According to Benson, he did so “with great dignity,” producing “a louder volume of continuous sound than I have ever heard from a human throat” and singing with “intense and majestic solemnity.” Put another way, Stephen went for it—and just kept going. Stephen may not have meant to have his friends in stitches with this solo, but that’s what happened. Benson remembers “boys with their hands on their heads in uncontrollable convulsions; others rising from the table and leaning against the wall entirely overcome.” Whatever his intentions, antics like this made Stephen popular at school, and his friends affectionately nicknamed him Jean.
As much as he enjoyed playing the fool, Stephen was anything but. For almost as long as he’d gone to school, he had dazzled classmates with his dagger-sharp intellect, literary talents, and rousing public speaking. He showed a special affinity for—and aptitude in—the history of England. Oscar Browning, Stephen’s housemaster, remarked that Stephen had gone to Eton with “a brilliant set.” All the same, his cohort “acknowledged ‘Jean’ Stephen as their chief; others might be clever, but ‘Jean’ was a genius.”
Eton has long had a reputation for fostering homoerotic relationships. For example, in 1868, a sixteen-year-old Reginald Brett, the future 2nd Viscount of Esher, journaled about canoodling with two of his schoolmates after supper one evening. He and his friend Eliot lay stretched out on a long morocco couch. Eliot had wrapped his “strong arms” around him, pressing his face against Reginald’s own. Leaving his seat near the fireplace, another schoolboy, Chat, nestled in between the pair. The boy on either side of him slowly exhaled into his ears. “We kept on repeating this,” Brett writes, in rapture, before adding with an air of wistfulness, “All things must end.”
Ripper theorists have made much of Eton’s homoerotic culture while building their case against Stephen, who they believe was gay. In her thoroughly researched and thoughtful book, The Prince, His Tutor and the Ripper, Deborah McDonald asks whether Stephen and Benson may have explored a physical relationship. When Jean graduated, he bequeathed his rooms to the younger Benson, who reminisces about them in a diary entry written years later, warmed by fond memories even as he shivers at others undisclosed: “It was in these rooms that I passed my darkest hours—it hardly does to think of now—and yet it was all so fantastic and unreal.” Viewed from a certain vantage point, this elliptical remark perhaps evokes the exhilaration and shame that often attend early sexual experimentation, especially of what today we call the queer variety. As McDonald appreciates, however, it’s impossible to know what Benson had in mind, and it may or may not have related to his—or Stephen’s—sexuality.
When Stephen wasn’t reviewing lectures or polishing term papers as a student at Cambridge, he was filling his free time with spirited discussion—of literature and music, history and politics. Outgoing as ever, he joined multiple clubs and even founded one of his own. On Sundays, he went to the TAF, short for “Twice a Fortnight,” which he had formed himself near the start of his first term. Members got together for a cold supper, followed by chitchat, reading, drawing, or musical performances. On Mondays, Stephen took part in debates at the Political Society, an exclusive body comprised of twelve excellent thinkers. Whenever a spot opened up, they closely vetted new initiates, a unanimous vote necessary to offer admission. Participants locked horns over some of the most contentious topics of the day. Stephen’s easy eloquence and radiant intellect shone through as always, as did some of his conservative views, notably regarding women’s rights. When female suffrage came up for debate, the Society took a progressive stance overall, with eight of twelve speakers arguing in favor. Stephen numbered among the opponents. Saturdays marked the highlight of each week. This was when the highly selective and no less secretive club, the Apostles, convened. Little is known about what unfolded at these assemblies. However, Ripper writer Deborah McDonald notes that the society often opened its ranks to gay men, bringing them together in a tolerant environment and perhaps facilitating liaisons among them.
Stephen’s academic career soared toward an impressive climax in 1881, when a superlative essay earned him first place in the first class in History—he was officially the best of the best. Added to this distinction was the top prize for reading aloud as well as a scholarship for intellectual distinction in International Law. “Jean” was as much a genius as ever, and it was this reputation that would bring him into the orbit of the royal family.
An Unpromising Prince
Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward had one purpose in life: as the eldest son of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, he would reign as king one day—if he lived long enough. The grim possibility of premature death had cast a pall over his family almost as soon as he’d drawn his first breath. Born on January 8, 1864, the heir apparent, nicknamed Eddy, arrived two months ahead of schedule, weighing a worrisome three-and-a-half pounds. Despite this inauspicious beginning, the baby survived.
Eddy was on track to become the most powerful monarch in the world, but that didn’t mean his parents saw any pressing need to instill in him a sense of discipline or duty. Nor did they make a high priority of his education. Eddy and his siblings ran wild in the royal residences of Marlborough House in central London and Sandringham in Norfolk. The law of the land was leisure, with the royal couple hosting extravagant luncheons and balls on a regular basis. Celebrities such as French actress Sarah Bernhardt even put in the occasional appearance at one of the Prince and Princess of Wales’s high-society soirees.
Still, Bertie and Alexandra—Eddy’s father and mother—couldn’t neglect their son’s schooling forever. They eventually employed a tutor by the name of John Neale Dalton. It was his responsibility to supply the knowledge their son would need to understand Britain’s role in global affairs. Much to his instructor’s dismay, however, Eddy didn’t thrive at lesson time. In a surprisingly biting progress report, Dalton complained that the prince “sits listless and vacant… and wastes as much time in doing nothing as he ever wasted.” Part of the problem was down to his upbringing. Bertie and Alexandra had spoiled him from the outset, and by the time Dalton had entered the picture, he was more than lacking in the work ethic department. He’d also grown accustomed to doing as he pleased, never taking kindly to authority figures who barked orders at him. Yet issues beyond Eddy—or even his parents’—control may have underlain his poor performance. At the time, one state official attributed Eddy’s troubles to partial deafness inherited from his mother, while historians looking back on the prince’s formative years have speculated that he may have had a learning disability such as dyslexia. Whatever the case, Dalton was a stiff, uninventive, just-do-as-I-say kind of educator, making little effort to identify his student’s individual needs and adapt his pedagogy to meet them.
If Dalton represented something of an adversary, Eddy had a steadfast friend in his younger brother, George. In fact, George had joined Eddy for instruction with Dalton, and the two had done virtually everything else together as they grew up, cultivating a deep and mutual devotion. Early in George’s life, it was decided that he would pursue a career in the navy. Boys on this path would typically leave home in adolescence so they could learn the ropes aboard a ship. When it came time for George to pack his bags and bid farewell to Marlborough House, his parents chose not to separate the brothers. So, in 1877, Eddy and George became royal cadets onboard the Britannia, Dalton coming along to act as their tutor. Two years later, the princes joined the crew of the HMS Bacchante, embarking on a three-year cruise, which took them to many of the British colonies in South and East Asia.
By the first half of 1883, Eddy had returned to British soil, having attained the rank of major. Aged nineteen, he stood at the beginning of a new chapter in life. Like others in line to the throne, he would go to university. Eddy welcomed this idea on the whole, even if part of it broke his heart. While he would hit the books at Trinity College, Cambridge, George would train as a midshipman at sea. For the first time in his life, Eddy would not have his younger brother by his side. He lamented his absence in a letter to George: “I can’t tell you how strange it seems to be without you and how much I miss you in everything all day long!”
Tutor and Pupil
There was another—in some ways bigger—dilemma than Eddy’s loneliness. After nearly a decade of tutelage under the oppressive and no less ineffective Dalton, the prince had learned very little, and he was woefully unprepared for Cambridge. Princess Alexandra voiced her frustration: “It is indeed a bitter disappointment that … he should have relapsed into his old habits of indolence and inattention.”
Enter the brilliant James Kenneth Stephen. Looking for an instructor to bring Eddy up to speed, the Prince of Wales consulted his own sometime tutor, Frederick Gibbs. Gibbs was a friend of the Stephen family and well aware of James’s smarts. It was Gibbs who recommended Bertie hire him as a tutor. Stephen made a strong candidate for more than one reason. Eddy required a crash-course in English history (a king should know a thing or two about the country he rules, it was reasoned), and you couldn’t make higher marks in that subject than Stephen had. Perhaps more important, Stephen was friendly, well-liked, and near to Eddy in years. He’d become a stand-in for the brother Eddy had lost to shipboards and sails.
The summer of 1883 saw the prince adopt a laborious daily regimen. At nine o’clock sharp, he sat down for four hours of instruction with Stephen, breaking for a total of sixty minutes throughout, followed by lunch at 2 p.m. From 3:00-4:30, Eddy spent an hour and a half learning French with a separate tutor, after which he exercised outdoors until dinner at 8:00.
After ten days, Stephen offered a candid though light-hearted assessment of where Eddy stood: “We are at present some way on the wrong side of Magna Carta. To start with he knew about as much history as an average Eton boy who had not taken up history as a special subject—i.e. not perceptibly more than none, except that Henry VIII had a good many wives and that Henry II had difficulties with Thomas a Beckett.” Happily, Stephen was both more patient and adaptive than Dalton, and soon he realized that reading aloud helped Eddy stay on task and absorb information. As the days grew longer and then began to shorten, they spent hundreds of hours in each other’s company, and Stephen did his best to ensure that his student could keep all the Henrys, Edwards, Williams, Richards, and Georges of English history straight.
The two had meshed as tutor and pupil, and like many who got to know the reserved king-to-be, Stephen took a shine to him, praising him as a “good-natured, unaffected youth.” They remained friends after the summer of pre-Cambridge cramming, staying in touch with each other by letter. When Eddy departed for university, Stephen went with him in a manner of speaking. When he wasn’t quizzing Eddy on wars and treaties, Stephen had been working on a dissertation, and the finished product earned him a coveted fellowship at Cambridge. He spent much of the rest of his professional life there, even publishing his poetry at one of the university’s presses.
The Cleveland Street Scandal
Several Ripper theorists have assumed that Stephen was more than a tutor to Eddy, the prince a willing partner in a sexual relationship. The two had grown close before Eddy went to Cambridge. Stephen was probably attracted to men, and the prince may have favored members of his own sex as well. He had been implicated in the Cleveland Street Scandal, a veritable firestorm that had started as a spark at a male brothel.
Police had stumbled upon this criminal enterprise quite by accident. While investigating a theft at the London Central Telegraph Office in July 1889, PC Luke Hanks became aware of a fifteen-year-old messenger boy, Thomas Swinscow—a possible culprit, it was thought, because he’d been seen in possession of fourteen shillings, a large sum equivalent to several weeks’ wages. Brought in for questioning, Swinscow admitted that he’d earned the money as a prostitute in a West End male brothel at 19 Cleveland Street, run by a man named Charles Hammond. Swinscow’s co-worker, the eighteen-year-old Henry Newlove, had recruited him for the job. Police promptly trained their crosshairs on Cleveland Street. While they couldn’t apprehend the brothel master, Hammond, they were able to detain Newlove, who provided the fuel and flammables that ignited the scandal. Newlove named aristocrat Henry FitzRoy, Earl of Euston, and Lord Arthur Somerset, equerry to the Prince of Wales, as patrons at 19 Cleveland Street. As far as much of the establishment was concerned, the problem was not the sexual exploitation of adolescent boys but rather the idea of noblemen having their dirty linens hung out for the nation to see. A cover-up ensued, in which various state officials suppressed the involvement of Euston and Somerset, while Newlove and another working-class sex worker went to prison with lenient sentences. The youths’ light punishments looked fishy to journalist Ernest Parke, editor of the radical North London Press. He and other newspapermen conducted inquiries into Cleveland Street’s clientele, and by early January 1890, the litany of sex offenders had grown to include some sixty names. Fearing arrest, thirty-two of these men had absconded from England.
Rumors circulated that Eddy himself had frequented Cleveland Street. It did look suspect that not long before news of the scandal broke, he had left England for Greece and from there traveled to India. Eddy was reportedly riding elephants and hunting tigers when the public first learned about the outrage. Likely to avoid a libel suit, British periodicals kept his name out of coverage of the controversy, yet the American press did no such thing. Hardly mincing words, a reporter for the New York Times asserted, “it is obvious to everybody that there has come to be within the past few days a general conviction that this long-necked, narrow-headed young dullard was mixed up in the scandal.” This “general conviction” has led modern observers to suspect the prince was gay.
Injury and Illness
The exact nature of Eddy and Stephen’s relationship remains unknowable. In the years leading up to the Whitechapel homicides, however, Stephen’s friends and family certainly looked on with concern as signs of mental illness began to show themselves.
In 1881, A.C. Benson followed Stephen to Cambridge, where the two resumed the habit of breakfasting together. One morning, Benson showed up at Stephen’s gloomy, wood-paneled rooms and found him asleep. Awakened by his guest, Stephen sprang to his feet, stripped off his bedclothes, and jumped in a cold bath. Benson watched all the while, nonplussed. Having bathed, Stephen slipped into his shirt and trousers without drying off, his sodden clothing clinging to his skin, and took a seat at the table, ready to dig in. Stephen chowed down and caught up with Benson as if none of this behavior were out of the ordinary.
Five years later, on December 29, 1886, Stephen sustained an injury that looked minor in the moment but major in hindsight. He was riding with friends near Felixstowe, Suffolk, when a windmill used for pumping water appears to have piqued his curiosity. Stephen drew closer to the structure, wishing to have a look at how it operated, when he took a blow to the head—delivered, it would seem, by one of the mechanism’s rotating blades. According to his uncle, Leslie Stephen, James resumed work shortly after, and for a time, he appeared to have lost his knack for swift and lucid composition. Before long, however, it’d come back to him.
By the end of 1887 and the beginning of 1888, Stephen was showing symptoms of what today we recognize as bipolar disorder. In what appears to have been a manic state, he had courted a widow named Eleanor Tennyson while also launching his own journal, titled The Reflector. Both the romance and his periodical ended in disaster. Later that year, he sank into a depression, confining himself to bed for hours at a time and often refusing to speak with others. Stephen had not exhibited violent behavior, and while his condition frightened onlookers, he was never known to have harmed anyone physically. Nevertheless, Ripper investigators have implicated Stephen partly because his mental health worsened substantially in the months before the Whitechapel murders.
James the Ripper
Historian and novelist Michael Harrison pointed the finger at James Kenneth Stephen in 1972. His work builds on that of another Ripperologist, Dr. Thomas Stowell. Two years earlier, in 1970, Stowell had published a paper titled “Jack the Ripper: A Solution,” which ran in The Criminologist. Stowell provides a detailed profile of his suspect yet never discloses his name. Doing so, Stowell worried, would cause a scandal. Instead, he refers to his candidate “S.” Unfortunately for Stowell, his biographical sketch of the alleged culprit had given the public all it needed to work out “S”’s true identity. No wonder Stowell had feared controversy. His suspect could hardly have had higher social standing. This murderous “S” was none other than Prince Eddy.
There was no shortage of salaciousness in Stowell’s allegations. He had on good authority that Eddy was gay and had even contracted syphilis from another man. Driven to distraction by his mind-eating ailment, the prince carried out the Whitechapel homicides, receiving intermittent treatment from a doctor of unmatched stature: Sir William Gull, Physician in Ordinary to Queen Victoria. Hold onto Gull’s name as best you can, because it’s coming back in the following episode. Supposedly, Gull had somehow documented Eddy’s bloody misdeeds in his papers, where Stowell claimed to have learned of them.
It’d make a fine thriller, but Prince Eddy wasn’t Jack the Ripper. To begin with, he was never known to have suffered from mental illness. Nor did he have syphilis, as far as we know. More significantly, court circulars published in The Times place Eddy in Scotland on the night of Elisabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes’ murders. A later one puts him at Sandringham the night of Mary Jane Kelly’s slaying on November 9. Needless to say, you can’t commit a murder in London when you’re miles away from London.
Two years later, Michael Harrison gave us James the Ripper. In the middle of his biography about Prince Eddy, titled Clarence, he ditches his subject for twenty or thirty pages so he can unlock the mystery of the Whitechapel Murders. To cut a long story short, he proposes that the “S” in Stowell’s article actually stands for Stephen, as in James Kenneth.
From there, Harrison spins a sensational yarn of heartbreak and rage. Stephen fell in love with Eddy while the prince was at Cambridge, assuming a dominant role in what became a sexual relationship. After graduating, Eddy managed to “wriggle free” from his controlling former tutor. Furious with jealousy and mentally ill, Stephen committed the Whitechapel atrocities. Having consulted the Cambridge academic calendar, Harrison maintains that Stephen could have slipped away from campus to commit the killings without issue.
Murder in Verse: The Prosecution
Still, a prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that an alleged serial murderer had motive, means, and opportunity to convict him in court. In the absence of hard evidence indicating any of these, Harrison goes rummaging around in the poetry of the accused.
In 1891, Stephen published two volumes of verse, Lapsus Calami (A Slip of the Pen) and Quo Musa Tendis (Where Are You Going, Muse?), both of them printed by a Cambridge press. Before his mental health deteriorated, Stephen had desired a literary life. If the opinion of Poet Laureate and author of The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling is any indication, he may well have distinguished himself as a man of letters. After all, in Something of Myself, Kipling lionizes Stephen as “that genius.” That being said, Kipling is clearly trading compliments with a fan. Stephen had written a poem in praise of Kipling., and in response the Laureate gushed that Stephen had “dealt with Haggard and me in some stanzas which I would have given much to have written myself.” Shabbier laurels have been worn with pride.
At any rate, having surveyed both volumes of Stephen’s poetry, Michael Harrison makes a case for the author’s misogyny and homicidal tendencies. Without further ado, let’s have a look at what the prosecution argues.
Exhibit A is a poem entitled “A Thought.” It reads as follows: “If all the harm that women have done / Were put in a bundle and rolled into one, / Earth would not hold it / The sky could not enfold it, / It could not be lighted nor warmed by the sun; / Such masses of evil / Would puzzle the devil / And keep in fuel while Time’s wheels run. / But if all the harm that’s been done by men / Were doubled and doubled and doubled again, / And melted and fused into vapour and then / Were squared and raised to the power of ten, / There wouldn’t be nearly enough, not near, / To keep a small girl for the tenth of a year.” The sexism is obvious: compared to men, Stephen avers, members of the fairer sex are responsible for a disproportionate share of the world’s ills. For all the harm women are said to have done, these lines stop short of expressing a wish to visit harm on them.
Exhibit B comes closer. It’s a poem called “In the Backs,” in which Stephen gives voice to more violent strain of misogyny. The speaker is out for a walk in a scenic patch of land where several Cambridge colleges back onto the banks of the River Cam—hence, the area’s nickname, ‘The Backs.” Here’s how the poem starts: “As I was strolling in the Backs, / I met a woman whom I did not like, / I did not like the way the woman walked: / Loose-hipped, big- boned, disjointed, angular. / If her anatomy comprised a waist, / I did not notice it.” From here, the speaker rattles off more reasons as to why he “did not like” this woman, faulting virtually every aspect of her physical appearance, from the hat on her head to the boots on her feet. Just by looking at her, he writes her off as an empty-headed gossip. After the speaker catalogues her flaws, the poem comes to a disturbing conclusion: “I did not want to see that girl again: / I did not like her: and I should not mind / If she were done away with, killed or ploughed. / She did not seem to serve a useful end: / And certainly she was not beautiful.” Without question, these lines point to a deep-seated hatred of women, especially when the speaker casually remarks, “I would not mind / If she were done away with, killed or ploughed.” Depending on context, the verb “to plough” carried sexual connotations in the Victorian period. Coming right on the heels of the word, “killed,” it appears to refer to sexual assault. Simply put, the speaker wouldn’t bat an eye if this stranger were raped.
In addition to evidence of misogyny, Harrison uncovers the groundwork for Stephen’s master plan to murder not five but ten women in Whitechapel—all for the sake of spiting Prince Eddy along with other members of the royal family. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this allegation requires some interpretive acrobatics.
To begin with, Harrison calls attention to a set of song lyrics that Stepehen authored in 1880. Published more than a decade later in Lapsus Calami, the ditty is titled “The Littlego.” It’s an insider anthem written for insiders. In Cambridge slang, “the Littlego” referred to a preliminary exam that undergraduates took to obtain their BA. The sobriquet, “Littlego,” may appear to downplay the process, but the lyrics build it up to be a trial by fire. One verse dwells on the intensive preparation involved in the ordeal as well as the torment of taking the test: “I too, like other men was coached, / Was duly packed with fact on fact, / And when the awful hell approached, / Where all who live by victual go: / They ploughed me once, they ploughed me twice, / I won’t say when those cruel men / Desisted but let this suffice / I did get through the Littlego.”
Harrison sees the makings of a murderous plot not so much in “The Littlego” as in the song that inspired it. Stephen has set his lyrics to the tune of an obscene ballad frequently sung after rugby matches, titled “Kaphoozelum.” Its roots reach back at least as far as 1866. That year, S. Oxon and Frederick Blume published “The Great Comic Songs of Ka-Foozle-Um,” “played and sung everywhere,” according to the cover of the sheet music, which I’ve linked to on the website. It’s more or less benign in terms of sexual content, but it does wrap up with an overbearing father strangling his daughter as well as her paramour with a bowstring before dumping their bodies in a river, so it’s hardly the light comedy you might expect given the title. At any rate, this ballad spawned innumerable variants, many of them pornographic, giving rise to the kind of scurrilous ditties that teenaged boys have sung for ages and will continue to sing for the foreseeable future. As far as I can tell, they always revolve around the titular figure, introduced as follows in the version Harrison cites: “In days of old there lived a maid; / She was the mistress of her trade; / A prostitute of high repute— / The Harlot of Jerusalem. / Hi ho, Kaphoozelum, / Kaphoozelum, Kaphoozelum, / Hi ho, Kaphoozelum, / Harlot of Jerusalem.” In this rendition, Kaphoozelum does business with a syphilitic student. In others I’ve read, she instead goes to bed with a randy priest. You get the idea.
Back to Harrison and his ornate allegation. When I say “ornate,” I mean ornate. Harrison singles out a verse in “Kaphoozelum,” which refers to the student: “For though he paid his women well, / This syphilitic spawn of hell, / Struck down each year and tolled the bell / For ten harlots of Jerusalem.” Each year, in other words, this student gives syphilis to exactly ten lovers, the disease eventually claiming their lives. Here's what Harrison argues. In hideous imitation of the student who fornicated his way through Jerusalem, the Ripper murdered ten women in Whitechapel, home to a sizeable Jewish population, Harrison reminds us, surely no coincidence. He tallies up all ten of them, listing the names of the five canonical victims as well as those of six others Harrison believes the Ripper to have killed. Five plus six makes eleven, you might object, but Harrison treats the homicides of Elisabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, both of which occurred on September 30, as “double, obviously counted as one.” Here’s where things get really complicated. According to Harrison, the date of a homicide was never random. Most of the ten murders coincide with red-letter days for the royal family—usually birthdays or some other anniversary. To give an example, Mary Jane Kelly died on November 9, the date of the Prince of Wales’s birth. Significantly, however, two of the ten killings line up with holidays on the Roman calendar. These are the first and last of the series, the final one being of greater significance. It fell on the 13th of February, 1891, the Feast of Terminalia. This ceremony honored Terminus, patron god of endings, among other things. In other words, Harrison suggests that, by design, the Ripper’s killing spree came to an end on a holiday celebrating the god of endings. But there’s more to it than that. The Feast of Terminalia often entailed a blood offering in the form of a slaughtered lamb or pig.
Here’s how the pieces all fit together. When Prince Eddy left Cambridge, he effectively jilted his erstwhile tutor, filling him with monstrous, jealous rage. Moreover, Harrison intimates, Stephen believed that other members of the royal family were concertedly keeping the two of them apart. In response, largely inspired by “Kapphozelum” and with a nod to the Feast of Terminalia, the poet slaughtered ten women in a witting, I mean completely intentional perversion of ancient Roman ritual sacrifice. Taking care to coordinate these slayings with royal birthdays and other anniversaries, Stephen put a ghastly damper on their parties, shocking the would-be celebrants with news of another grisly homicide. Thus, Stephen took his awful revenge. Is it just me, or have we come a long way from an oversexed student spreading syphilis in Jerusalem? Anyway, that’s Harrison’s argument, and this won’t be the last time we hear about the Ripper supposedly performing ritualistic slaughter.
And with that, the prosecution rests. To recap, Harrison has exposed the poet’s misogyny and shined a light on his astrological killing spree.
Murder in Verse: The Defense
No homicide trial would be complete—or fair—without a defense. Using Stephen’s poetry, Stephen’s legal team will rebut these allegations as best it can. Ripper author Deborah McDonald will act as primary attorney, and I’ll come in for an assist at the end.
In The Prince, His Tutor, and the Ripper, McDonald does what many Ripper writers who cite Harrison’s argument appear not to have done: she read the rest of Stephen’s poetry. For this reason, she can place “A Thought,” the prosecution’s exhibit A, within a broader context. Stephen revisits—and effectively revises—this poem in another one called “An Afterthought,” published in his second volume, Quo Musa Tendis. The title of “An Afterthought” clearly harkens back to the earlier work, and the poet even appends a note to the text directing readers back to it. In the first two stanzas, Stephen waxes rhapsodic about the many great men who have done great deeds and are variously commemorated by all the great poets, painters, sculptors, and so forth. Then, in the final two, he shifts to the relative merits of women: “But for all the good that was ever done, / Or even tried for, or longed and sighed for, / By all the great men under the sun, / Since men were invented, or genius glowed, / Or the world was furnished for our abode: / Is worth far less than the merest smile, / Or touch of finger, or sighs that linger, / When cheeks grow dimpled and lips lack guile, / On the face of the women whom God gives grace / To...” By no means has Stephen penned a feminist manifesto. It leaves the impression that history is for men—not for women—to make, and like many of his contemporaries, Stephen envisions the ideal female as little more than a charming paragon of virtue. Despite holding fast to the Victorian era’s patriarchal gender politics, Stephen at least appears to admit that he went too hard on the opposite sex in “A Thought.”
The defense has to admit that it’s harder to dismiss the misogyny of “In the Backs.” It could be argued that the author of a lyric poem such as this one is not necessarily the speaker, even when the speaker makes use of the first person—as, for example, in the opening line: “As I was strolling in the Backs.” Who’s to say the speaker isn’t somebody else, a creation of Stephen’s? Then again, it might be countered that given the Cambridge setting and Stephen’s habit of versifying based on personal experience, it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude he is the speaker. Assuming this were the case, Deborah McDonald nevertheless qualifies the extent of Stephen’s sexism, opining that while he no doubt displays “strong negative feelings toward women,” his poem pertains to “a specific type of woman and may actually illuminate more about Stephen’s snobbish attitudes rather than his misogynist ones.” So much for exhibit B.
As for “Kaphoozelum,” the court may not be clamoring for evidence to refute Harrison’s theory of serial blood sacrifice (or at least my gut tells me so), but I went down a rabbit hole putting together this episode, so I’m just going to share what I turned up. Harrison’s argument depends entirely on that line about the syphilitic student striking down ten “harlots” in Jerusalem, right? But there’s a problem with that. As I mentioned, there’s more than one version of “Kaphoozelum” out there, and that line isn’t in all of them. I know this for a fact because I found several without it online. It occurred to me that Stephen may not have even known the variant that Harrison quotes. If this were so, the argument that Stephen was imitating the disease-ridden student would fall apart. Regrettably, Harrison never says where he found his text or when it was published. I hunted down what appears to be an almost identical rendition online, but the website doesn’t include a date of publication. There’s a link in the show notes. I was about to abandon the line of inquiry—I was wasting my time and I knew it—until for some reason I stopped and contemplated a joke near the end of the version quoted in Harrison’s book. Here’s the last verse: “As for the student and his lass, / Many a playful night they’d pass, / Until she joined the V.D. class, / For harlots of Jerusalem.” In joining the “V.D. class,” Kaphoozelum has contracted syphilis from her lad—that’s clear enough—but would a Victorian like Stephen have said “V.D.” for “venereal disease”? It sounded like a question for the Oxford English Dictionary, and I couldn’t resist asking. As it turns out, the earliest known use of that acronym in the context of sexually transmitted diseases was in 1920, more than three decades after the Whitechapel murders. There’s a possibility that Stephen and his chums were using the term thirty or forty years before its first recorded use. But I would argue there’s a better chance that Harrison based his entire theory on a version of “Kaphoozelum” that was written decades after the Ripper struck down his victims.
Setting aside the courtroom conceit, let’s sum up. Stephen almost certainly had problems with women. At the same time, the Kaphoozelum killer theory is looking mighty unlikely.
In 1992, twenty years after Harrison wrote his book, Norwegian psychoanalyst David Abrahamsen announced that the Ripper was neither Stephen nor Eddy. According to Abrahamsen, both of them did it. The pair teamed up to commit the murders, and thus two Rippers—not one—committed these most notorious of crimes. Abrahamsen lays out his argument in a book entitled Murder and Madness. Like Harrison, he assumes that Stephen and Eddy were having sex with each other, the pupil taking a submissive role. Also like Harrison, Abrahamsen submits some—though not all—of the same excerpts from Stephen’s poetry as ancillary evidence of his hatred for women and violent fantasies, though he makes no mention of the bit about blood sacrifice.
That’s all well and good, but let’s step back and think about a broader question: Given what we know about the Whitechapel homicides, why would anyone held two men responsible rather than just one? And, more specifically, why would they think Stephen of all people took the lead in such a double act?
One way of answering both these questions is to look at the murder of Miriam Angel—a locked-room mystery of the highest order and one to which Stephen had a personal connection. The victim resided at 16 Batty Street, Whitechapel, and routinely ate breakfast with her mother-in-law at 9 in the morning. When Miriam hadn’t shown up at the appointed hour on June 28, 1887, the elder Mrs. Angel went looking for her at home. She found the front door locked, apparently from inside. Peering through a window, she could see her daughter-in-law, motionless in bed. Worry overtook her, and she alerted Miriam’s landlady along with a neighbor to the situation. Together, the three of them forced the door open and found Miriam dead, a yellowish lather oozing from the corner of her mouth. A doctor was summoned without delay. He was taken aback less by what lay on top of the bed than what he discovered hiding underneath. Casting a glance down below, he met the glazed-over eyes of a man named Israel Lipski, only barely clinging to consciousness, the same lemony froth on his face and clothes. It was determined that Miriam’s murderer had poisoned her with nitric acid. Lipski had ingested the same toxin, though not at lethal levels. Police couldn’t make heads or tails of the crime scene. How had Lipski come to consume the poison and what had brought him to 16 Batty Street in the first place? There was no evidence of sexual assault, making rape an unlikely motive. Burglary struck them as equally far-fetched. If he had filched anything, he certainly hadn’t made it out of the house with it. Still, the authorities charged Lipski with the murder of Miriam Angel, despite his impassioned professions of innocence.
Lipski’s fate could hardly have been placed in less capable hands. His primary attorney was an alcoholic who came to the courtroom fully tanked. Too intoxicated to defend his own client, he foisted that task on Mr. McIntyre, an older lawyer versed in commercial law yet woefully inexperienced in criminal trials. They botched the proceedings, the jury delivering a guilty verdict after just eight minutes of deliberation. Lipski would hang.
Here’s where the link to Stephen comes in. His father, Judge Fitzjames, presided over the debacle. Lipski’s solicitor filed an appeal, turning the case into a cause célèbre. Convinced of Lipski’s innocence and appalled by the anti-Semitism the trial had brought out of the public, the Jewish Chronicle gathered thousands of outraged citizens’ signatures. Meanwhile, the Pall Mall Gazette launched a crusade against Judge Fitzjames. In a letter to his wife, Fitzjames predicted that “a great deal of anxiety and worry” lay around the corner for him. To make matters worse, he knew his court had done wrong by Lipski. “The man was not quite properly defended,” he conceded before assuming his own share of the blame, “and I myself did not exactly hit the right point in summing up.” He granted Lipski a reprieve of one week, during which time he pledged to review the case, aided by Home Secretary Henry Matthews. Seven days passed, the Pall Mall Gazette firing salvo after salvo at the judge. While Fitzjames had become more confident in his ruling over time, he could not shake a lingering doubt. At 5 p.m. on the final day of Lipski’s one-week reprieve, he was pacing up and down in Matthews’ office, waffling over his final decision. Then came a sudden knock at the door, followed by a courier with a handwritten message: “I Lipski, hereby confess.” Commentators past and present have questioned the legitimacy of this confession, but according to an official present at the moment, Matthews leapt out of his chair with a sigh of relief. Within twenty-four hours, Lipski had mounted the gallows.
The case of Israel Lipski bears a tenuous yet tantalizing link to the Ripper killings. On the night of Elisabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes’ murders, Israel Schwartz turned onto Berner Street at about 12:45 a.m., walking in the direction of the International Working Men’s Educational Club. He spotted a boisterous man accosting a woman who stood outside the gateway to Dutfield’s Yard, where in some twenty minutes, a steward for the Working Men’s Club would find Stride dead, with a gash in her throat. Trying at first to pull the woman into the street, the man proceeded to spin her round and throw her to the pavement. She let out three screams, quiet and quick, none of them loud enough to carry very far. Assuming that he had stumbled upon a domestic dispute he preferred to avoid, Schwartz crossed to the opposite side of the road. Now, for the first time, he took note of another fellow, watching the altercation and smoking a pipe. The poor woman’s attacker turned toward Schwartz and shouted two syllables, a surname that wasn’t Schwartz’s but certainly was one that everyone knew: “Lipski.” Bewildered, Schwartz continued on his way. “Was the assailant addressing the smoker by name?” he wondered to himself. Casting a circumspect look over his shoulder, Schwartz grew frightened at what he saw behind him: the man with the pipe had started to follow him. He broke into a sprint, stopping at a railway arch further down Berner Street when he felt certain his pursuer had turned back. After he came forward with this story, police escorted Schwartz to the mortuary, asking him to view Elisabeth Stride’s body. No doubt about it—she was the woman he had seen getting manhandled. Perhaps unsurprisingly, since so many aspects of the Ripper case have come under question, several researchers have cast doubt on Schwartz’s statement.
However, if indeed he’d seen the Ripper attacking Stride, then Schwartz had come closer than any other witness to catching the killer in the act. If accurate, his testimony begs a number of questions. Why had the attacker yelled “Lipski”? Did it have anything to do with the murder of Miriam Angel? The house where she had perished was just one street over. Or, as some have intimated, was the brute hurling an anti-Semitic epithet at Schwartz? The tarnished name of Lipski had become one in the neighborhood. And who was that other guy smoking a pipe? If the assailant had been the Ripper, was the smoker in league with him? Might the Whitechapel murderer have had an accomplice?
David Abrahamsen thinks so. James Kenneth Stephen loved his pipe more than Eton and Cambridge put together, often taking it with him when he left the house, and Abrahamsen conjectures that Stephen may have been the intimidating smoker who chased after Schwartz. Obviously, countless Londoners partook of tobacco in this fashion, so it’s hardly proof of Stephen’s guilt. Playing devil’s advocate, or at least that’s my impression, McDonald acknowledges that the two-killer solution might make sense of Schwartz’s experience. With regard to Stephen, she also suggests that he may have visited the area out of curiosity about the Lipski case, the trial that had given his father such grief and sullied the family name in the press. These connections are rickety at best, to be sure, but this will not be the last time that the Whitechapel murders intersect with an electrifying murder trial at which Judge Stephen passed a death sentence. More on that in a couple of weeks.
Decline and Death
That about does it for the Stephen theory. The evidence for a sexual relationship between him and Eddy may seem slim, and there’s even less proof that the two conspired to carry out serial murder. Yet if there’s one indication that Stephen may have harbored extraordinary feelings for his former pupil, erotic or otherwise, it’s the tragic story of how the poet died.
Which brings us back to Stephen’s admission at St. Andrew’s Hospital after his breakdown. Founded in 1838, this institution operated according to the principle of moral management, which sought to preserve the dignity of psychiatric patients. In previous centuries, madhouses such as London’s Bedlam had thrown open their doors to morbidly curious visitors who wanted nothing more than to gawk at the mentally ill. William Hogarth depicts such an outing in A Rake’s Progress, painted from 1732-34 and featured on the website. Like other more enlightened asylums, St. Andrew’s abolished this dehumanizing practice, just as it dispensed with the whipping, beating, and other cruel punishments earlier doctors had meted out. Here, Stephen enjoyed the privacy of his own rooms, complete with a soft bed and an open fireplace. Patients were encouraged to stay active outdoors, which helped them keep their minds at ease. When the weather was fair, they divided into teams to play cricket or football, with tennis courts also available for use. Residents could further volunteer to perform tasks around the premises, and by the time of Stephen’s arrival, the majority of male patients were doing so. They might have tended to the gardens—planting, pruning, and watering as needed—or reaped the harvest of the St. Andrew’s farm, which supplied the asylum with all its fresh vegetables.
For a time, Stephen did show signs of improvement, settling into a routine after a shaky start. He kept to himself and read in his room, venturing outside once a day for a stroll around the grounds or a longer jaunt into the countryside, accompanied by an attendant. By the first week of January, he had become more sociable, playing billiards with others, and reports back to Cambridge struck an optimistic tone.
On January 9, he suddenly reversed course. His mood darkened, and his appetite waned. Irritable and listless, he paced around his room with his hands in his pockets. At the time, nobody could account for his abrupt backsliding, and while modern commentators will never come up with a definitive explanation, they’re quick to point out that Stephen’s decline coincided eerily with that of another.
Prince Eddy was ill, gravely so. It seemed harmless in the beginning, an inconvenience more than anything else. He spent Christmas at Sandringham in Norfolk, shooting with his father and skating on the pond, its frozen surface marvelously technicolor with the reflections of tinted lanterns that had been lit for the holidays. The ballrooms pulsed nightly with music and dance. Under normal circumstances, the household would have looked forward to a fresh burst of festivities on January 8, which this year marked Eddy’s twenty-eighth birthday. But a nasty cold was going around, and the man of the hour had come down with it. He retired early on January 7, running a fever, and the following morning it became clear that he’d also contracted influenza. It was not what anybody wanted for his birthday, but there was no cause for immediate concern. While dangerous to the very young and elderly, influenza posed comparatively little threat to a man of Eddy’s age. He took to bed while the revels continued, including performances by a banjo player and a ventriloquist. The next day, the air thickened, as if pressing down upon the family, friends, and other visitors still at Sandringham. Eddy had pneumonia. With three doctors on call, he slept in fits and starts over the ensuing nights, and on January 11, the family deemed it prudent to send a bulletin to the newspapers. The day after brought an alarming development: Eddy had sunk into a state of delirium, and as a stifling sense of helplessness slowly suffocated Sandringham, the Princess of Wales confided to one of the physicians that she was “very frightened.” The thirteenth passed without hope of recovery, and at 2 in the morning, one of Eddy’s doctors roused another from sleep, shouting that their patient was about to die. They hurried to his bedside and found him chalk-white, ghastly, cold to the touch. Seven hours later, Eddy was dead. His younger brother, George, would reign as king instead.
Eddy’s demise did not so much foreshadow Stephen’s as bring it about. When the poet heard word of it, he wrote letters of condolence from his hospital bed, too unwell to attend the funeral. He confined himself to his room, no longer inclined to exercise or read. Notwithstanding the winter temperatures, Stephen took to sitting on the side of his bed or standing on the cold, hard floor in nothing but his nightclothes, seeing no point in dressing himself. More alarming still, he refused to take meals. By January 18, the hospital staff were feeding him through a tube. Stephen resisted with all his might, biting the device with such ferocity his attendants were worried he would break his teeth. His mother sent letters, but they went unread. By February 2, it became evident that Stephen had a mind to die. That evening, a staff member proffered him a glass of water as he languished in bed, urging him to drink as much as he could. “It is too late” came the feeble reply, repeated over and over. The next day, the asylum sent word to his family that the end was imminent. Stephen’s brothers, Harry and Herbert, arrived at approximately 2 p.m. to say their goodbyes. Their mother joined within an hour or so, by which time her son had already slipped into unconsciousness. Stephen was pronounced dead at 4:22, the cause of death given as a combination of mania, exhaustion, and refusal to eat. His thirty-third birthday was just three weeks away.
Next episode, we meet a controversial painter and true crime enthusiast who liked to tell stories about Jack the Ripper. Then one day, long after his death, he became a suspect in the Whitechapel homicides when another painter told a story about him.