Isaiah Lees vs Jack the Ripper

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 29, 2013

As noted in an earlier post, the infamous Whitechapel murders of 125 years ago this autumn took place within a curious hole right in the middle of what was otherwise the golden age of extraordinary real-life detectives. Every one was either retired, deceased, or practicing far from London in 1888.

Out of all the Brilliant Deduction cast, the most fascinating might-have-been with regards to the Ripper crimes is the career of Isaiah W. Lees. Born in England, Lees grew up to become a police detective with an impressive record for solving mysterious crimes, including many violent murders, and in 1888 was in his prime. But he was also several thousand miles away from Whitechapel, having emigrated to America with his family while still an infant and decamped for San Francisco while a young man.

And yet, reading about Lees one finds that repeated, odd connections to the case of Jack the Ripper seem to have followed him across the ocean.

In July of 1889, the San Francisco Examiner made note of Lees’s enthusiasm for book collecting, and chose to illustrate it with the suggestion that

If Captain Lees tomorrow were to collar the Whitechapel fiend, and be able to establish his identity by the clearest of proofs, he would make no mention of the circumstance in the upper office, and treat it as an everday occurrence. When he runs down and scoops in a rare specimen of criminal literature the case is different. He glories in his success, brags of his achievement and will spend hours telling his friends how he was enabled to make the capture.

At the same time, the (many) legends associated with the actual Ripper crimes include a story that a man named “Lees” did play some role in the investigation. Which does not mean it happened, but it is a real story associating the name “Lees” and the Whitechapel mythology…

Much the same might be said of The Bell Tower, by Robert Graysmith. This is a strange book, of which I will write more some other time, but its central thesis implies that Lees actually met Jack the Ripper in San Francisco, and investigated murders the latter committed there after leaving London. (Though, per Graysmith, Lees then wrongly assigned the crimes to another man.) Short take: I’m unconvinced, but, once again we have the idea of some association between Lees and the Ripper case even if no substantive connection exists. At any rate, not in our reality…

For practical purposes, I don’t see anything here other than coincidence; odd, interesting, but otherwise meaningless. That said…

For those that enjoy indulging play-pretend speculation, one can at least imagine that this is a kind of evidence of something more. The science fiction concept of “parallel realities” is by now familiar to the average person (and, many scientists believe, may even in some sense be real). Combining that concept with our modern understanding of gravity, as well as our everyday understanding of how events play out in time, I think one could speculate a bit further that certain events in one reality could warp adjacent realities. We’re all familiar with how a typical “event” ripples out across time, forward and backward, in the form of causes and effects. If we think of these ripples as bubbles in “solid” spacetime though, akin to the warping of space itself by matter (which prevailing theory views as the model for gravity), then might not events also ripple out sideways, across nearby parallel realities?

Imagine that in some parallel history, a terrific clash between Isaiah Lees (perhaps having grown up in England and joined the Metropolitan police) and Jack the Ripper constituted a major event. (e.g., After exhaustive investigation, Lees identifies the Ripper as a famous person and apprehends him/her in the act, following a major struggle, and subsequently wins a conviction in the Trial of the Century.) Ripples from that event spread forward in that timeline, with society still remembering and shaped by it long afterward. They also spread outward into other timelines, however. Close-by timelines get similar, if somewhat less significant versions of the same event (e.g., Lees investigates the crimes, but fails to solve them, or perhaps solves them sooner and thereby prevents Jack the Ripper from ever attaining lasting notoriety).

Out at the faintest edge of this rippling, meanwhile, the force of the central event is so weak that it cannot shape actual events, and indeed there is no discernible corresponding “event” at all; Graysmith aside, Isaiah lees presumably never had anything to do the actual Whitechapel investigation. But our reality is just close enough to the central event that gossamer ideas, lighter and more easily stirred, still display a faint influence from that powerful spacetime event in the form of a persistent concept of some connection between “Lees” and Jack the Ripper.

Maybe. I would not advise taking the idea seriously, though!

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