For this month’s mystery, we are heading into a place where the literary world and the true crime world intersect. This is by far one of the most absurd and baffling theories concerning one of the biggest mysteries in the history of true crime. Many have come to terms with the fact that we may never know who Jack the Ripper was, despite the fact that they (and I say they deliberately) are perhaps the most infamous serial killer of all time. So, how did Lewis Carrol, who is best known for penning the whimsical tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, get thrown into the litany of Jack the Ripper suspects? Let’s explore.
Who Was Lewis Carroll?
Lewis Carrol is the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Dodgson was born in January of 1832. He had a rough childhood by all accounts, which included likely being sexually abused during his time away at a strict Anglican school. He kept good grades, however, and spent most of his life as a teacher in Christ Church, Oxford, England. He wrote mainly poetry and a few longer narratives, most of which are fantastical and of the genre of “literary nonsense.”
Who Was Jack the Ripper?
If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need a primer on who Jack the Ripper was, but as I provided one on Carroll, I’ll provide one on Jack the Ripper as well. Jack the Ripper is the name given to an as-yet unknown serial killer who targeted sex workers in the Whitechapel District of London in 1888, though is often linked to murders up to 1891. It is generally accepted that one murderer killed five women in 1888 – these victims are known as the “Canonical Five.” The murderer mutilated the victims, hinting at an underlying prejudice or disdain for sex workers. Though there have been dozens (if not hundreds) of suspects considered in the 133 years since the murdered, the killer’s true identity remains unknown to this day.
The theory that Dodgson was Jack the Ripper was put forth by a man named Richard Wallace in 1996. I have been unable to find what, if any, credentials Wallace has in regards to either writing or criminal investigations. The book, which is titled Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Fiend, claims that coded messages in Dodgson’s literary works translate to confessions of the Whitechapel murders. I was unable to find the method Wallace used to translate these complicated and inexplicable anagrams. It seems that some words were moved around and the rest were rearranged to make the message that Wallace wanted to see – and that method could be used with any piece of writing written in English. An example from casebook.com:
‘So she wondered away, through the wood, carrying the ugly little thing with her. And a great job it was to keep hold of it, it wriggled about so. But at last she found out that the proper way was to keep tight hold of itself foot and its right ear’.
and turns it into:
‘She wriggled about so! But at last Dodgson and Bayne found a way to keep hold of the fat little whore. I got a tight hold of her and slit her throat, left ear to right. It was tough, wet, disgusting, too. So weary of it, they threw up – jack the Ripper.’
Wallace claims that a colleague of Dodgson’s, named Thomas Bayne, was involved in the murders as well, though there seems to be no true basis for this. Perhaps the only aspect of this theory solidly rooted in truth is proximity: Dodgson was well-connected to Oxford, which is not terribly far from the Whitechapel district of London.
Now, I don’t tend to dismiss theories outright, but…absolutely not. There is absolutely no basis for Dodgson to be a suspect. Wallace’s method was flawed from the outset, and could be applied to any number of works. The only thing that even remotely linked Dodgson to the murders was proximity – and even that is tenuous. Today, it takes more than an hour and a half by car to get from Oxford to Whitechapel. It’s not impossible, of course. We can’t rule Dodgson out based on any of this. But in my mind, at least, there is absolutely no evidence on which to consider him a suspect here, either.