Chasing the Shadow of Jack The Ripper

Jack The Ripper
Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane

Yesterday I found myself wandering through Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane, a beautiful place located only a few kilometres from the city. The cemetery contains lots of trees and grassy hills that roll handsomely into shaded pathways. The place is also home to the quintessential graveyard inhabitant, the black crow, which, at least on this day, lurched, cawed and jeered on the tips of tombstones. Toowong Cemetery is a place with plenty of atmosphere.

Why was I here? I was searching for the grave of a man who many believe was Jack The Ripper, the killer held accountable for at least five murders in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. All five victims were female prostitutes, and all but one victim had been horribly mutilated, their throats deeply cut, typically to the spine, while their innards had been removed.

Jack The Ripper was never caught. And after the year 1888, it’s believed he never murdered again.

Not surprisingly, the chilling nature of the crimes and mystery surrounding them has continued to horrify and fascinate, giving rise to multiple theories as to whodunit. Well, in 2008, Jack The Ripper once again grabbed world headlines after keen Ripperologists made the claim that he was a man known by the name of Walter Thomas Porriott, a man who made his way to Australia and is now buried in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery.

Jack The Ripper
Searching for the grave

While the claim is based on a lot of supposition, there are a few factors which cannot rule out the possibility that he was indeed Jack The Ripper. These are:

  • Walter Thomas Porriott lived in London at the time of the murders. He was believed to have set sail for Brisbane on November 9, 1888, the same day the fifth prostitute was murdered.
  • Although now desecrated, Porriott’s headstone contained a grainy image of a caped-man raising a dagger.
  • Porriott was a known misogynist who particularly hated prostitutes. He was also a fraudster who assumed many identities, marrying at least 20 women only to fleece them of their assets.
  • Porriott was also a convicted murderer, having spent 10 years in jail for killing a woman while posing as a gynaecologist.
  • In 1997, Porriott’s great-grandson, Steve Wilson, publicly stated that he believed his great-grandfather was Jack The Ripper.

Possessing this knowledge, that it was a possibility, however slight, I lived not far from the grave of Jack The Ripper, I decided to take a look.

I enjoyed the experience on all accounts. Firstly, Toowong Cemetery is surprisingly beautiful, the most alluring cemetery I have ever visited. There’s also something fascinating about cemeteries. They’re the ultimate traveller’s depository, the final (physical) destination towards which we are all inevitably bound. They also contain many stories of the way the world was, is and could be, with each and every step.

Furthermore, I was ill-prepared to find the grave of Walter Thomas Porriott. I had forgotten his surname and my iPhone wasn’t connecting to the internet. I had just the words engraved on his tombstone and my dogged sense of adventure to go by, which made the afternoon that bit more interesting.

Luckily, I found two tombstone engravers on a hill, who soon located the surname on the internet, gave me a map of the cemetery and a rough location of the plot. I admit to feeling greatly relieved at this point, as I was a three-hour drive from home and Toowong Cemetery is 44 hectares in size and contains over 120,000 graves.

Jack The Ripper
The tombstone of Walter Thomas Porriott, believed by many to have been Jack The Ripper

Even still, with the location fairly certain, it took me another hour and a half to find the grave. It’s a curious one at that, a humble, unsurprisingly desecrated headstone, marked only by the words:

“BESSIE”
DIED 25TH JUNE 1957
AND HER HUSBAND

I had wandered up and down a grassy hill numerous times, past the forlorn, splintered graves of 18-year-old men, babies and old souls marked with the sweet words that only the torment of swift departure can bring, just to find the grave of this fraudster. And, like many destinations, the journey had been the most enjoyable part. Not a skerrick of the image depicting a caped-man raising a dagger now remains on his headstone.

Just three vague words mark the memory of Walter Thomas Porriott. They trail his wife’s headstone like a shameful afterthought, a dim reminder that she remained faithfully by his side to the last.

As for Jack The Ripper, perhaps we’ll never know.

Only a shadow remains.

7 thoughts on “Chasing the Shadow of Jack The Ripper”

  1. I too have visited :the Porriott grave a few years ago, before it was vandalised. I believe his birth name to be Richard John Gibson. Gibson was 18 at the times of the Whitechapel murders. I believe he helped out at a mortuary, were he became acquainted with one Robert Lane, who worked at the Whitechapel mortuary. In the spring of 1988 there is solid evidence that an American quack doctor was lodging in Batty Street Whitechapel. This man I believe to be Francis Tumblety, who was busy trying to purchase body parts. I believe that Lane and Gibson AKA Porriott killed prostitutes and removed their organs in order to sell them on to Tumblety. Lane was said to have gone insane and was sent to an asylum. No-one knows what became of him. Tumbety returned to America, where he lived near the Canadian border and dodged the law for the rest of his life. Lane’s young friend Gibson AKA Porriott, travelled to South Africa and Australia, where I believe he committed further murders, as well as being a bigamist, who murdered many of his wives. On the occasion of his death he was an Octegenarian, who managed to convince the authorities in Australia that he was much younger. I hope this is of interest.

    1. Interesting research Mark. Just wondering, where did you find this out? And it sounds like you believe Porriott was the ripper then?

      Thanks Mark.

      Andy.

      1. Hi Andy. Yes I believe that lane and Gibson aka porriott committed the Whitechapel murders. Tumblety approach the Whitechapel mortuarist asking to purchase body parts. He refused. Tumblety then approached lane. I believe that lane and 18 year old friend Gibson aka porriott then committed the murders and tumblety completed the transaction when organs were removed. This would also explain the night of the double incident when the ripper/rippers were disturbed before managing to do further damage to long Liz stride. The pair needed something to dell to tumblety.

        1. After further research, I have discovered that the Mortuarists assistant ( Robert lane) was in fact Robert Mann, an inmate of the local workhouse. His friend called himself John Scofield. I believe this to be Porriott aka Gibson. After the Mary Kelly murder in November 1888, Mann was committed to an asylum. Nothing of known after this ( so far). Scofield AKA Porriott, who was almost certainly 18 year old Andrew John Gibson boarded a ship bound for Australia. I am surmising that he may have earned the money for his passage by selling body parts to Tumblety, who himself fled to America soon after.

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