James Maybrick

Florence and James Maybrick

James Maybrick (25 October 1838 – 11 May 1889) was a Liverpool cotton merchant. After his death, his wife, Florence Maybrick, was convicted of his murder by poisoning in a sensational trial. The "Aigburth Poisoning" case was widely reported in the press on both sides of the Atlantic. More than a century after his death, Maybrick was named as a suspect in the notorious Jack the Ripper murders, but critics countered that such claims were hoaxed.



Maybrick was born in Liverpool, the son of William Maybrick, an engineer, and his wife, Susanna. He was christened on 12 November 1838, at St Peter's Church in the city. He was named after a brother who had died the year before and was the Maybricks' third of seven sons.

Maybrick's cotton trading business required him to travel regularly to the United States and in 1871 he settled in Norfolk, Virginia, to establish a branch office of his company. While there in 1874 he contracted malaria, which was then treated with a medication containing arsenic and the result was that he became addicted to the drug for the rest of his life. In 1880, Maybrick returned to the company's offices in England. Sailing from New York on 12 March 1880, he arrived in Liverpool six days later. During the journey he was introduced to Florence (Florie) Elizabeth Chandler, the daughter of a banker from Mobile, Alabama, and their relationship quickly blossomed. Despite the difference in their ages – he was 42 to her 18 – they began to plan their wedding immediately.

The wedding was delayed until 27 July 1881, when it took place at St James Church, Piccadilly, London. The couple moved to Liverpool to live at the family home "Battlecrease House" in Aigburth, a suburb in the south of the city.

They had two children: a son, James Chandler ("Bobo"), born in 1882 and a daughter, Gladys Evelyn, born in 1886.

Maybrick continued to divide his time between the American and the English offices of his company and this may have caused difficulties within his marriage. He also resumed his relationships with his many mistresses, while his wife conducted an affair with an Alfred Brierley, a cotton broker. It is possible Florence embarked upon this on learning of her husband's infidelity.

In Maybrick's case a common-law wife, Sarah Ann Robertson, was identified. Sarah Ann is mentioned in her stepfather's will as "Sarah Ann Maybrick, wife of James".


Maybrick's health deteriorated suddenly on 27 April 1889, and he died fifteen days later. The circumstances of his death were deemed suspicious by his brothers and an inquest, held in a local hotel, came to the verdict that arsenical poisoning was the most likely cause, administered by persons unknown.

Suspicion immediately fell on Florence and she was arrested some days later. She stood trial at Liverpool Crown Court and, after a lengthy hearing, the fairness of which was the subject of some debate at the time, she was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The way in which the judge conducted her trial was questioned and this was probably the reason her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, some of which she served in a prison in Woking, Surrey, and then at the "House of Detention" at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

A re-examination of her case resulted in her release in 1904. She supported herself through various occupations until her death on 23 October 1941. From her initial incarceration until her death, she did not ever get to see her children.


James Maybrick Jr. and Gladys Evelyn were taken in by a Dr. Charles Chinner Fuller and his wife Gertrude after their father died and their mother was convicted.

James Jr. changed his name to Fuller before he died in Canada in 1911. He was a mining engineer in British Columbia, Canada. While at the Le Roi Gold Mine he died when he drank some cyanide apparently thinking it was just a glass of water. He was 29. Gladys eventually lived in Ryde, Isle of Wight, with her uncle and aunt Michael and Laura (née Withers) Maybrick before marrying Frederick James Corbyn in Hampstead, London, in 1912. She died in South Wales in 1971, where the couple lived in their later years.[1]

James Maybrick's brother, Michael Maybrick, was a composer who published many pieces and songs under the name "Stephen Adams". "Good Company" is one such example, but by far his best known work was the hymn "The Holy City".

Jack the Ripper Diary

In 1992, a document presented as James Maybrick's diary surfaced, which claimed that he was Jack the Ripper. The diary's author does not mention his own name, but offers enough hints and references consistent with Maybrick's established life and habits that it is obvious readers are expected to believe it is him. The author of the document details alleged actions and crimes over a period of several months, taking credit for slaying the five victims most commonly credited to Jack the Ripper as well as two other murders which have to date not been historically identified.

The diary was first introduced to the world by Michael Barrett, an unemployed former Liverpool scrap metal dealer, who claimed at the time that it had been given to him by a friend, Tony Devereux, in a pub. When this was queried, the story changed. Barrett's wife Ann, formerly Graham, said that the diary had been in her family for as long as she could remember. She had asked Devereux to give it to her husband because he had literary aspirations and she thought he might write a book about it. She had not wanted to tell him her family owned it because she thought he would ask her father about it and relations between the two men were strained. It was published as The Diary of Jack the Ripper in 1993 to great controversy. Few experts gave it any credence from the outset, and most immediately dismissed it as a hoax, though some were open to the possibility it might be genuine. Debate was often heated, and one writer notes that the "saga of the Maybrick diary is confusing, complicated and inescapably tortuous."[2]

Tests carried out on the ink used in the diary produced contradictory findings. The first test, using thin layer chromatography (TLC) revealed the ink contained no iron, and was based on a synthetic dye called nigrosine,[3] patented and commercially available in 1867, and in general use in writing inks by the 1870s.[4][5] The second TLC test found nothing in the ink inconsistent with the date of 1888, and that the ink contained iron and sodium, but no nigrosine.[6] The third TLC test found nothing inconsistent with the Victorian period.[7] A fourth TLC test was attempted, but could not be carried out.[7]

Several tests were carried out to find out whether the ink contained chloroacetamide, a preservative, in an effort to definitively date the ink. According to one source, chloroacetamide was introduced into the Merck Index in 1857, but not used commercially in ink until 1972.[8] In 1995, Dr Earl Morris of the Dow Chemical Company stated that chloroacetamide has been found in preparations as early as 1857.[9] A fourth test, this time using gas chromatography, found chloroacetamide present, at 6.5 parts per million.[10] A fifth TLC test found traces of chloroacetamide, but this was attributed to contamination from the control.[11] The test was carried out again, and no chloroacetamide was found.[12]

Among the investigators were sceptic Joe Nickell and document expert Kenneth W. Rendell. In Rendell's analysis, he was struck that the handwriting style seemed more 20th century than Victorian. He also noted factual contradictions and handwriting inconsistencies. Written in a genuine Victorian scrapbook, but with 20 pages at the front end torn out, he also found this suspect as there was no logical explanation for the purported author to use such a book.[13]

In June 1993, a pocket watch was presented by Albert Johnson of Wallasey, Cheshire. The watch has "J. Maybrick" scratched on the inside cover, along with the words "I am Jack", as well as the initials of the five canonical Ripper victims.[14] The watch was examined in 1993 by Dr Stephen Turgoose of the Corrosion and Protection Centre at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, using an electron microscope. He stated:

"On the basis of the evidence...especially the order in which the markings were made, it is clear that the engravings pre-date the vast majority of superficial surface scratch marks...the wear apparent on the engravings, evidenced by the rounded edges of the markings and 'polishing out' in places, would indicate a substantial age...whilst there is no evidence which would indicate a recent (last few years) origin...it must be emphasised that there are no features observed which conclusively prove the age of the engravings. They could have been produced recently, and deliberately artificially aged by polishing, but this would have been a complex multi-stage process...many of the features are only resolved by the scanning electron microscope, not being readily apparent in optical microscopy, and so, if they were of recent origin, the engraver would have to be aware of the potential evidence available from this technique, indicating a considerable skill and scientific awareness."[15]

In 1994, the watch was taken to the Interface Analysis Centre at Bristol University and studied by Dr Robert Wild using an electron microscope and Auger electron spectroscopy. Dr Wild found that:

"Provided the watch has remained in a normal environment, it would seem likely that the engravings were at least several tens of years age...in my opinion it is unlikely that anyone would have sufficient expertise to implant aged, brass particles into the base of the engravings."[16]

In January 1995, Michael Barrett swore in two separate affidavits that he was "the author of the Manuscript written by my wife Anne Barrett at my dictation which is known as The Jack the Ripper Diary."[17] Adding to the confusion, however, was Barrett's solicitor's subsequent repudiation of his affidavit, then Barrett's withdrawal of the repudiation.

Some people, including Robert Smith, the present owner of the diary and original publisher of the associated book by Shirley Harrison, insist it may be genuine. They argue that scientific dating methods have established that the book and ink used to write in it are from the nineteenth century; that the symptoms of arsenic addiction, claimed to be described accurately in the book, are known to very few persons; that some details of the murders provided in it were known only to police and the Ripper himself before the book's publication; and that one of the original crime scene photographs shows the initials "F. M." written on a wall behind the victim's body in what appears to be blood. These, they claim, refer to Florence Maybrick, James's wife, whose possible infidelities were the purported motivation for the murders. These claims are dismissed by the majority of experts.[18]


  1. ^ was he Jack The Ripper?. James Maybrick. Retrieved on 2011-08-27.
  2. ^ Jack the Ripper – The Ripper Diary: The Inside Story. Casebook. Retrieved on 2011-08-27.
  3. ^ Baxendale, D. 1992. Report by David Baxendale, Birmingham, Document Evidence
  4. ^ Nickell, J. 1990. Pen, Ink and Evidence, 978-0813117195
  5. ^ Harrison
  6. ^ Eastaugh, N. 1992. A report on the analysis of samples from a diary purporting to be by James Maybrick – Conducted by Dr Nicholas Eastaugh – 2nd October 1992. Middlesex
  7. ^ a b Harrison, p. 341
  8. ^ Harrison, p. 339
  9. ^ Harrison, p. 340
  10. ^ Harrison, p. 342
  11. ^ Leeds University, Department of Colour Chemistry. 1994. "Report for The Word Team on the Analysis of the Ink used to write the “Jack the Ripper” Diaries – 24th November 1994." Leeds, Leeds University
  12. ^ Leeds University, Department of Colour Chemistry. 1994. "Presence of Chlorocetamide in ink used in diary attributed to “Jack the Ripper” – 1st December 1994." Leeds, Leeds University
  13. ^ Kenneth W. Rendell. Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents
  14. ^ Harrison, p. 24
  15. ^ Harrison, p. 28
  16. ^ Harrison, p. 29
  17. ^ Jack the Ripper – Michael Barrett's Confessions – January 5 1995. Casebook. Retrieved on 2011-08-27.
  18. ^ Jack the Ripper – Maybrick Diary Dissertations. Casebook. Retrieved on 2011-08-27.


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