They All Love Jack is a song by one Stephen Adams, one of the most celebrated songwriters of Victorian England. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Victorian London’s most celebrated serial killer, Jack The Ripper. Or does it?
Improbably, the director of Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson, has delivered the definitive work on the case, or the most recent definitive-ish work. It’s a gripping read. Stephen Adams did not exist. It is the pen-name, or legal writing name, of one Michael Maybrick. Even now, experts cannot agree on which Maybrick brother, if either, was the Ripper. This summer’s news is about the diary of James Maybrick, who was murdered in May of 1889. Robinson’s book instead fingers his brother Michael, the songwriter, who mysteriously disappeared to the Isle of Wight in March 1893.
Modern serial killer wisdom has it that such men never stop, unless they are forced to. If the killer was James, his violent death by poison in 1889 would provide a good excuse for him not killing anyone afterwards. The last of the ‘canonical’ five Ripper victims died in November 1888. However other murders carried out as late as 1891 have been deemed Ripper killings. If these later murders were done by the original Jack, then James Maybrick cannot be Jack.
Some say that the brothers killed a few each, a theory that doesn’t really stack up under the weight of information provided by Robinson. Incredibly, an otherwise thorough Wikipedia article, naming the many men who have been suspected either then or since, omits the name Michael Maybrick completely.
This book is not an easy read. Even for Bruce Robinson fans, and his other films include the Rum Diary with Johnny Depp, it is long and dense. His argumentative style, while refreshing in a nonfiction work of this type, can frustrate. However the ends justify the means. Anyone who has heard of Jack The Ripper should read a little of this book: Robinson unpicks the lies and deceit, and approaches the Victorian police as cynically as they tried to conceal the identity of Jack The Ripper.
The book being reviewed is They All Love Jack by Bruce Robinson, Fourth Estate, 2015-16.