If you believed that your ancestor was the most famous serial killer in history, would you keep it a secret? Tell someone? Publish a book?
Many of these family confessionals have been dismissed as attempts at “infamy by association.” Other writers seem to be trying to exorcise the demons from their bloodline. Whatever the motivation, more than one author has tried to convince readers that their forefather is none other than Jack the Ripper.
Jeff Mudgett published Bloodstains in 2011. In it, he laid out his arguments that his American great-great-grandfather, Herman Webster Mudgett, was the Whitechapel slayer. Not that the elder Mudgett needed any more bad publicity. Better known as H. H. Holmes, he is one of the most prolific killers in history and his countless murders in Chicago (particularly during the 1893 World’s Fair) are the subject of Erik Larson’s mega-best-seller The Devil in the White City. Jeff Mudgett, who admits his work is half true and half fiction, bases his conclusions on, among other disputed evidence, handwriting analysis and comparisons of eyewitness descriptions against a known photo of Holmes.
In 2005, Tony Williams threw his great-great-uncle, Dr. John Williams, under the Ripperologist bus. Tony’s work started innocuously enough: he was simply researching his family history. But the discovery of detailed diaries raised flags. In an 1885 entry, Dr. Williams noted that he performed an abortion on a woman named Mary Anne Nichols. Tony Williams wondered if this was actually Polly Nichols, the Ripper’s first recognized victim. Adding to this interesting morsel was family gossip that the doctor had a relationship with a Welsh girl named Mary. In Uncle Jack, the author ponders if this is the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, whom he says he found in the Welsh census married to a man named Davies. It is around her matrimonial status that the most recent Ripper theory is built.
Like Tony Williams, Wynne Weston-Davies set out to learn more about his family history, not to solve the greatest open murder case in history. In fact, even when he felt there may be a connection, he deliberately worked to disprove it. “Several years of my trying to do so and, more recently, concerted efforts by many Ripperologists, have been unsuccessful,” says Weston-Davies. “I absolutely did not set out to discover the identity of Jack the Ripper and only very reluctantly accepted the possibility.”
Briefly stated, Weston-Davies’ believes that Mary Kelly is actually Elizabeth Weston, his great aunt, whose first husband, Davies, reportedly died in a mine accident. Contrarians are adamant that there is no proof of such a union. Nonetheless, Weston-Davies postulates that Jack the Ripper is the widowed Elizabeth’s second husband, Francis Craig, whom she left and evaded by creating a new name and life. Jilted and obsessed, it is Craig, says Weston-Davies, who committed the four murders leading up to Mary Kelly’s savage killing as smokescreens to obscure his true target: his unfaithful, prostitute wife. In 2015, Weston-Davies presented his findings in The Real Mary Kelly, subtitled “Jack the Ripper’s fifth victim and the identity of the man that killed her.”