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5 Q With Garry Wroe

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  • 5 Q With Garry Wroe

    Many thanks to Garry for the time and effort...and of course, answers !

    Over the last decade, has there been any significant change in the direction of research in Ripperology that you've noticed...and is it a positive one, a negative one, or one that was inevitable, regardless of whether it was positive or negative ?

    It’s not so much a change in direction I’ve noticed rather than the nature in which research is undertaken. When I first became actively involved with the case in the Eighties there was little option but to physically dig through various London archives in search of information. At the time even the 1881 census returns had yet to be indexed. Thus, in an attempt to find George Hutchinson, I devoted months of free time to a systematic street-by-street search that eventually turned up little, only to repeat the exercise when the 1891 data became available. I also spent the better part of a decade looking for a reference to Hutchinson’s date or place of birth at the Colindale newspaper archive. Again, it all came to nothing.

    Nowadays, much of the physical research I undertook would be unnecessary. The internet has provided a vast reservoir of information that may be accessed almost instantaneously, enabling enthusiasts from all over the world to conduct the kind of research that not so long ago would have been impossible due to geographic, economic or temporal considerations. On top of this it has provided the means by which ideas may be discussed in real time on websites such Casebook and the Forums. So traditional research has to a large extent been supplanted by ‘e-search’, and with this transition new information is coming to light at an extraordinary pace. The times really are a-changing – and most definitely for the better as far as case-related progress is concerned.

    Is there any advice you would like to share with fledgling researchers based on your experience ?

    Assuming that our neophyte intends to place a piece of written work in the public domain, I would recommend that (s)he scrupulously checks all source information and identifies any intellectual weaknesses in their work by looking for alternate explanations. If an author doesn’t bother to seek out such flaws, they may be confident that their readership most surely will.

    If the Whitechapel Murders had occurred in America in 1888....would you have as much interest in researching the crimes as you do now ?

    The HH Holmes case is undoubtedly intriguing – in certain respects perhaps more so than the Whitechapel Murders. But the events of 1888 are considerably greater than the sum of their parts. They have about them a mystique that transcends what in reality was a somewhat tawdry series of murders. Part of the enigma is of course related to the questions surrounding the killer’s identity. Another significant factor, however, is the location in which these crimes were committed. Victorian London exuded atmosphere like no city before or since. This atmosphere was there in the novels of Dickens, and was a quintessential element of the Sherlock Holmes stories too. Neither would have had the same resonance had they been placed in an American setting. And nor would the Whitechapel Murders.

    Biggest personal thrill you've had since you began researching ?

    For some years the main enjoyment I’ve derived from the Ripper case has come from interacting with fellow enthusiasts. Naturally, I enjoy the cut and thrust of debate, but even this has a tendency to become repetitive. There are only so many times one can discuss the meteorological conditions on the night of Mary Kelly’s death before tedium sets in.

    Still, in view of how I came to become involved in the case, I was pleasantly surprised when last year a central character in the Whitechapel TV mini-series expressed his belief that George Hutchinson was Jack the Ripper. Whereas this means absolutely nothing from an evidential perspective, it does perhaps signify that a change in the public perception of the traditional Ripper ‘suspects’ may not be too far away. If and when such a change does occur, it will certainly qualify as a thrill as far as I’m concerned.

    Is there one newspaper which you feel stands out as more reliable than the others ? We often hear about how unreliable the contemporary press was.

    Whilst I have never found any newspaper that had a monopoly on exactitude, common sense dictates that those papers with the greatest circulation would have been both better financed and more generously staffed. This in principle ought to mean that the larger newspapers had sufficient resources to investigate their stories in greater depth. In reality, though, the majors were only marginally more reliable than their lesser counterparts. Hence the advice I would give to any budding researcher is that they avoid wherever possible using newspapers as primary sources, especially when dealing with the immediate aftermath of a murder when misinformation was rife. I would also caution against the overseas newspapers, the accuracy of which was woeful at the best of times. Another common mistake relates to the overreliance placed on stories which featured simultaneously a number of newspapers. More often than not, such a piece had not been investigated by the newspapers carrying it, but had instead emanated from a single agency source. Thus if the original was inaccurate, so were the second-generation repetitions. A prime example of how agency feeding could go wrong may be found in what later became a profoundly embarrassing series of reports detailing Annie Farmer’s gruesome death at the hands of Jack the Ripper. It turned out not to be gruesome, nor a death, and neither was it Ripper-related.

    This is not to say that the newspapers always got it wrong. They didn’t. But they didn’t always get it right either. Yet if they did nothing else, the journalists of the day handed down to posterity a fascinating and vivid overview of the Victorian East End. And they did so with a flair that few modern authors have even come close to equaling.
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