Pollaky, Tumblety and Jack the Ripper

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 1, 2013

My quiet adviser on Ignatius “Paddington” Pollaky has provided another curious little footnote to his history, and that of London’s most notorious unsolved crimes, i.e. the Whitechapel murders.

Research has apparently placed Pollaky at 10 Devonshire Place in 1861 (some years before he relocated to the Paddington Green address thereafter associated so closely with him). One of his next-door neighbors at 8 Devonshire Place was a very young Henry Carr

And this is where I had to do some research, myself, because my informant pointed out that Carr was later an associate of Francis Tumblety… which name I may have come across before, but apparently forgot. Perhaps not entirely unreasonably, though, given the enormous number of names associated with the mystery of Jack the Ripper… <dramatic piano chords>

Still, it seems that the grounds for suspicion of Mr. Tumblety are actually rather interesting, and probably more solid than is the case for a number of other suspects. The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion: An Illustrated Encyclopedia notes that Tumblety was actually subject of considerable police interest in 1888, which, considering the numberless leads offered Scotland Yard, may say something.

Tumblety, also named as “Kumblety” or “Twomblety” in various newspaper reports, was apparently an American “quack” doctor. He was also apparently markedly misogynistic, even for the 1880s, and accused more than once of other forms of “sexual deviancy” (including homosexual relationships, of which Victorian society could of course be less than tolerant).

Allegedly, though (according to the head of Special Branch during the 1880s in fact), Scotland Yard assembled “a large dossier” on Tumblety. Certainly, they expended considerable effort pursuing him. Read more…

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Paddington Green neighbors

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 1, 2013

Further developing the theme of “kind correspondents send me images relating to Ignatius Pollaky and/or of significant locations in detective history that I failed to visit myself when recently in London…” I recently received a pointer to this interesting image.

19th century illustration of Paddington Green

It says “Preissnitz House, Paddington Green, London, W”

Why is this interesting? Well, apparently the address of Richard Metcalfe’s public baths was 11 Paddington Green…

So presumably we know now a little more about the scenery which would have greeted a notable neighbor of Mr. Metcalfe’s as he came and went pursuing discreet inquiries…

Thanks to my (also discreet) correspondent for the tip!

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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…

Read more…

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Scotland Yard, version x

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 25, 2013

Spent a week in London, earlier this month. Good time, mostly, though I think even Dr. Johnson might find the modern city can be legitimately tiring even if one has not lost all interest in life. Unfortunately, the only detective-related sightseeing I fit in was this (which I found delightful); didn’t make it to Paddington Green or the Met Police Heritage Museum. Perhaps next time.

But I do have a photo of Scotland Yard, acquired through a photo exchange with a friend who also visited London this spring.

Scotland Yard of a sort

NOT the modern Scotland Yard, note.

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Brilliant Deduction beer tour, part 1

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 12, 2013

A while ago I had the idea of proposing a suggested “soundtrack” for Brilliant Deduction. I may yet come up with one, too, but it’s hard, at least when one has little detailed knowledge of music history. (Suggestions are welcome.) Meanwhile, however, I’ve had another idea inspired by a recent visit to Winking Lizard Tavern: a beer tour. I’m not quite an expert on beer, but I do feel (ironically perhaps) on steadier ground with this subject. Therefore, I offer up the following suggested beer pairings for the first four chapters of Brilliant Deduction.

Disclaimer: the author does not condone underage or unsafe drinking, please do not attempt this or any “beer tour” in part or in whole or even visit the following links unless you have obtained the age necessary for responsible judgments about alcohol as defined by your local laws and statutes; please enjoy alcoholic beverages and alcohol-related writing only in moderation.


This was a tough one. Vidocq was from Arras, and spent most of his career in and closely associated with Paris. And while France does engage in more brewing than one might first assume, searching around the internet doesn’t turn up much of a brewing scene in either of these cities. What breweries Paris does host, meanwhile, seem to trade on decidedly non-French character: the (admittedly charming) Frog et Rosbif, and Brasserie O’Neil.

Honestly, it’s tempting to just recommend “any French beer,” as this will be novel enough for most of my readership, but I’ll pick one as an official selection. Jenlain Ambrée is the first item on a much-linked Top Ten French beers list, and that seems reasonable. As an alternative, the second item, Kronenbourg 1664 is relatively accessible these days; I’ve had it here and en France, and find it quite satisfactory.

Read more…

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The Civil War and the great detectives

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 9, 2013

I read once that “There will never be anything more interesting in America than that Civil War.” Apparently this is a Gertrude Stein quote. I would say that it also, if arguable as a hard fact, certainly expresses a real truth. One hundred fifty years later the Civil War continues to fascinate us.

It was, also, kind of a big deal at the time.

Which probably doesn’t need illustration, though just how big it was may, perhaps, escape some people. I recall years ago, a friend returning from South Carolina where it seemed to her like a cease-fire had only been declared the week before, and then during our conversation remarking “well, that wasn’t a big deal for people up here [Iowa], was it?” In response I suggested that, actually, it was a very big deal, even up in Iowa. (Wikipedia suggests that it was, indeed, a proportionately bigger deal in Iowa than in any other state by one measure.) Still, I can see how one might think that the Civil War was a very regional phenomenon. Nearly all of the big set-piece battles that define a basic course of study were in the southeastern states, compared with which the total area of the “lower 48” states seems awfully big.

Nonetheless, the phenomenon of The Civil War was in fact even bigger, and it’s possible that the history of the great detectives examined in Brilliant Deduction constitutes as effective an illustration of this as anything.

Read more…

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Footsteps of Paddington Pollaky

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 20, 2013

Though Ignatius Paul “Paddington” Pollaky, once one of the most remarked-upon detectives in the English-speaking world, is mostly forgotten there are a few people still taking an interest, beyond my own humble efforts.

One such chronicler has thoughtfully posted a photo of the great detective’s one-time headquarters (and perhaps the third-most famous address in detective history), 13 Paddington Green, at flickr. This is particularly considerate as, per the notes on the photo, Number 13 was pulled down just in the past few years after standing proudly for at least a century and a half.

A correspondent of this blog has kindly supplied another image of the site, post-demolition:

Fare thee well, old friend

Fare thee well, old friend

A bit sad. (Though time does move on, and in fairness much of central London strikes me as almost a Monument Valley, so I can’t get too worked up about the past being carelessly discarded.)

Pollaky’s final address, meanwhile, has also been photographed and shared on the interweb, for those interested. Though IPP actually spent more time in Brighton, during his long retirement, than at Paddington Green, he apparently returned to the general area for his last rest at Kensal Green Cemetery.

I can’t help recalling one of the many memorable lines in a story of certain other much-remarked figures in Victorian London criminology, Moore and Campbell’s From Hell. “That’s all done with though. That’s all gone. All that’s left is what people can read about. Chapbooks and tombstones… chapbooks and tombstones.”

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Jack the Ripper at 125

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Feb 1, 2013

The autumn of 2013 will mark 125 years since London’s infamous Whitechapel murders, i.e. the crimes of Jack the Ripper. (Do I really need to provide a link to explain this?)

As the crimes were never officially solved, they have remained fertile soil for speculation ranging from serious to fanciful. One perennial favorite, nearer to the latter category, is the intersection of the Ripper’s debut with that of another product of late-1880s England, i.e. Sherlock Holmes. Based on my own observations of the Sherlockian world and its post-Doyle extensions to The Canon, there are three themes to which pseudo-Watsons are repeatedly drawn: 1) that Holmes had further involvement with The Woman, Irene Adler, after “A Scandal in Bohemia,” 2) that Holmes lived to great old age, surviving even into the 1940s, and 3) that Holmes investigated the Ripper crimes.

I’ve actually considered making a study of examples of this third theme; I don’t think I’m actually going to get around to it but I’ve counted at least a dozen formally-published Holmes-vs-Ripper stories, not counting works in other media. (There is apparently a video game based on the concept, now.) It isn’t particularly mysterious why this theme should intrigue writers, so many times over. The Whitechapel murders are one of the best-remembered crimes of relatively modern times, they were never officially solved in reality, but in fiction the greatest and (even in reality) best-remembered detective of all time was right there in London, practicing at the time. It was close; had Doyle waited a couple of more years the “what if” of Holmes and the Ripper might have required a double re-imagining. As it happened, though, the great detective was there, conceptually, even though he didn’t actually physically exist. It seems absolutely inescapable that Sherlock Holmes would thus have been drawn to investigate the most notorious mystery of his whole era.

The curious thing, though, is that this is much less a product of Holmes’ subsequent eclipse of his various real contemporaries in the realm of “great detective” as it might seem. Sherlock Holmes, though only introduced a couple of years before, was already notable enough by 1888 that Doyle was even asked at the time about how his character would solve the murders. Meanwhile, even though nearly half of the real investigators highlighted in Brilliant Deduction might be called “British detectives” in some sense or other—and even though the Whitechapel murders fell right in the middle of the real-life great detectives’ golden age—every one of them seems to have managed to miss the Autumn of Terror.

Read more…

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The Butcher of Wapping

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 5, 2013

File this one under “I get no respect,” perhaps. A little while ago I picked up a cute little volume at the Lakewood Library titled I Never Knew That About London. (The cover is delightfully restrained.)

Christopher Winn’s geographically organized tour of relatively little-noted features and historical associations of the London landscape includes, among tidbits like “where London’s first nude statue is” and “the house where Handel and Jimi Hendrix both lived,” a small connection to one of the city’s great real-life detectives—kind of.

In strolling through Wapping, Winn notes its connection to the Tichborne Claimant case., which held the British public spellbound for years in the 1870s and which detective Jonathan Whicher played a key role in resolving. (Skeptics of The Claimant to the Tichborne fortune accused him, in time, of being in fact an ordinary butcher originally from Wapping.) In a double-dissing, however, Winn not only makes no mention of Whicher, but also trivializes his achievement itself by suggesting that the Claimant’s alleged imposture was obviously ludicrous the entire time. This verdict is, I will note, considerably at variance with both the case’s proceedings themselves and with most of those who have looked back upon it, since, including recent works such as Kate Summerscale’s.

On the other hand, however, overlooking Whicher is (with occasional exceptions like Ms. Summerscale) much more in keeping with tradition. Neither the link I’ve posted above nor the Wikipedia article on the case include any mention of Mr. Whicher.

Ah well. There is a silver lining, at least: if everyone were already giving the great detectives their due, I would have much less of a story to tell…

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