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Old May 20th, 2009, 03:46 AM   #170
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Apologies for such a long post but it may be that I have given the wrong impression about the strength of Andrew Cook’s case that Frederick Best wrote ‘Dear Boss’. Let me lay before thee the salient arguments as I currently see them.

Andrew Cook’s argument is that the Star and its editor T.P. O’Connor invented the idea of a lone killer and worked-up the story about Leather Apron, that this sensationalism led to increased circulation figures and that when the circulation figures declined following Pizer’s release, the Star and O’Connor sent ‘Dear Boss’ to Central News and in so doing gave posterity the lone serial killer Jack the Ripper. That’s the primary claim of Cook’s book.

Running through the book is the figure of penny-a-liner Frederick Best who, according to Cook, was the journalist who picked up the Leather Apron story from the Whitechapel postitutes – which was then worked-up by the Star’s chief sub-editor Ernest Parke - and who also wrote ‘Dear Boss’, possibly at the behest of someone higher up the Star’s food chain, either T.P. O’Connor or Ernest Parke.

There is nothing new or original or necessarilly wrong in this argument. The Star's coverage of the murders admittedly boosted circulation, The Star pushed the Leather Apron story and Lincoln Springfield intimated that it was a iStar journalist who worked-up and possibly invented the Leather Apron story, and a Star penny-a-liner named 'Best' has long been known to have claimed authorship of Jack the Ripper letters (albeit that the claim has been largely dismissed by Ripperologists). Cook's only new and original claim, therefore, is that the whole thing was a knowing and witting circulation creating plan masterminded by T.P. O'Connor.

So let's turn to Frederick Best. That he authored 'Dear Boss' is largely conjectural, the strongest evidence Cook has, in my opinion, being a letter from John Brunner, a director of the Star, to Henry Massingham, who replaced T.P. O’Connor as editor. This letter refers to two journalists, Frederick Best and William O’Brien, as ‘compatriots’ of O’Connor and of having been responsible for legal actions against the newspaper. Most importantly, it says that Best should have been dismissed for an ‘attempt to mislead Central News during the Whitechapel murders’.

There is no evidence that this reference to an attempt to mislead Central News meant the authorship of ‘Dear Boss’ and Cook, in fact, makes little use of this letter other than using it to show that Best was a 'compatriot' of T.P. O’Connor (whatever that meant; presumably that he was Irish, but perhaps meant in the broader sense of co-conspirator or something like that).

However, a handwriting expert, Elaine Quigley, has compared the handwriting of ‘Dear Boss’ with the handwriting of various journalists and decisively concluded that ‘Dear Boss’ was written by Best. If Quigley is correct then her conclusion is not only very strong support for Best being the author of ‘Dear Boss’, it makes it highly likely that Brunner was referring to ‘Dear Boss’ when he wrote about Best’s attempt to mislead Central News.

Unfortunately, it appears that Elaine Quigley is a graphologist and this will cause some to question the worth of her conclusions.

If Quigley is wrong then all Cook has is the Brunner letter and it could be argued that the reference to Best’s attempt to mislead Central News did not refer to ‘Dear Boss’. Indeed, some may consider that to describe ‘Dear Boss’ as a mere ‘attempt to mislead’ is such a whopping understatement that Brunner must have been referring to something else.

A small further point made by Cook are the Americanisms in ‘Dear Boss’, Cook having established that Frederick Best had returned from America early in 1888 and was the only suspected ‘Dear Boss’ author to have been to America before the Whitechapel murders.

This is untrue, of course, because Harry Dam, also suspected of having authored ‘Dear Boss’, was a born and bred American

So Cook’s case isn’t particularly strong. But it gathers some strength from the article in the August 1966 issue of Crime and Detection which concerns the admission by a Star penny-a-liner named ‘Best’ to have written the Jack the Ripper correspondence.

Cook doesn’t mention this ‘Best’ anywhere in his book. Cook's bibliography lists books which refer to ‘Best’, so one can only suppose that he either never read them or that somehow the references to 'Best' escaped his attention. Or he knows that ‘Best’ is not the same person as Frederick Best and quietly airbrushed ‘Best’ from the picture as an unnecessary complication. I am reluctant to suggest that this last is what Cook has done, but his response to my question on the podcast was to direct my attention to Letters From Hell. In that book the authors rather scathingly dismiss the claims of ‘Best’ and Cook said he fully endorsed what they had written.

It also needs to be observed that ‘Best’ claimed ‘the pen used was called a ‘Waverly Nib’ and was deliberately battered to achieve the impression of semi-literacy and ‘National School’ training!’ This doesn’t suggest that he was talking about ‘Dear Boss’.

So, were Frederick Best and ‘Best’ one and the same man? If the 'Best' story has no legs, as the authors of Letters From Hell suggest and as Cook apparently endorses, then obviously it lends no support to Cook's thesis. If, on the other hand,the 'Best' and Frederick Best were the same person then we’ve got an admission by ‘Best’ that he wrote Jack the Ripper correspondence, we have a letter from Brunner that Frederick Best attempted to mislead Central News at the time of the Whitechapel Murders, and we have Elaine Quigley’s conclusion that Frederick Best definitely wrote ‘Dear Boss’.

If ‘Best’ did write ‘Dear Boss’ then Cook has got a Ripperological feather in his cap that’s akin to those awaiting the finder of a photograph of Abberline or the identification of Mary Kelly. In fact, given the impact ‘Dear Boss’ had in giving the world ‘Jack the Ripper’, it’s arguably far more important.

But is the case made?
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