Madman's notes throw new light on Ripper case

The medical records of a key suspect finally go public, 117 years after he was locked up

After years of secrecy, the Broadmoor authorities have released the medical records of a Victorian madman who was suspected of being the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.

Thomas Hayne Cutbush was a strange, disturbed and violent youth who was diagnosed as insane in 1891 and remained in Broadmoor until his death in 1903. During the period when the Ripper was on the rampage in Whitechapel, east London, Cutbush was wandering the area's streets. And the Ripper, whoever he was, did not kill again after Cutbush was locked up.

Visitors to the Berkshire Records Office in Reading can inspect the 26 documents that make up the records Broadmoor kept about Cutbush, as well as the letters from Ripper investigators pleading to see the documents.

Disappointingly, the documents do not prove that Cutbush and Jack the Ripper were the same man. There is not even evidence that the Broadmoor attendants or medical staff believed he was a murderer. But there is enough to keep Cutbush on the suspect list.

He was – to quote an entry on his medical records – "very insane", a danger to the staff, other patients and even to his adoring mother. He was convinced that others were plotting to harm him and fantasised aloud about getting his hands on a knife so that he could "rip" the staff and patients.

Until he was arrested and diagnosed, Cutbush had lived his whole life in Kennington, south London, within walking distance of the scene of the Ripper murders. He was born on 29 June 1864, which would mean that he was 24 when Jack the Ripper started killing. His father died when he was young and he was brought up by his mother, Kate, and her sister, who evidently adored him.

He worked as a clerk but in 1888, about the time the Ripper killings began, he went insane. It has been assumed that he contracted syphilis. His death certificate says that he died from "cronic [sic] kidney disease" – although the document attributes his insanity to "heredity and overstudy".

There was certainly madness in the family. His uncle, a superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, shot himself in 1896 in front of his daughter. The reference to "overstudy" refers to the evenings young Thomas spent poring over medical textbooks after he came home from work, until madness took hold. He took to wandering the streets at night, returning sometimes covered in mud or – according to one report – in blood.

He also became convinced that his doctor, Dr Brooks, or Brookes, was trying to poison him. He wrote to Lord Grimthorpe, one of London's leading lawyers, demanding action, but then concluded that Grimthorpe was in on the conspiracy. He was taken to a Lambeth clinic but escaped. While on the loose, a girl was stabbed nearby and another threatened. A memo in his medical notes says: "Through the carelessness of the attendant he escaped. Smeared his face with mud so as to avoid detection. Came home at midnight. Man at Cottons Wharf says he was there when assault alledged [sic] was committed."

Cutbush was never convicted of a crime because the jury at his trial in April 1891 concluded that he was insane. His mother protested that he had done nothing. But the medical notes accompanying his arrival in Broadmoor suggest that he was dangerous: "Is dazed and at times incoherent, strange and shifty in appearance. Has ideas of persecution, specially against Lord Grimthorpe".

"His aunt, Clara Hayne, says at times he has been violent or destructive, breaking glass and chandeliers. He has at times said he is poisoned and has refused all food except what she would prepare for him."

In May 1891, an attendant wrote: "At 8.20, I was talking to Gilbert Cooper in the gallery. Cutbush came up and without a word struck Cooper a violent blow in the face." Another report warned: "Thomas Cutbush told Att. [attendant] Slater at dinner twice that he would stick a knife into any of us if he had one."

A few days later, Mr Bailey, the night attendant, reported: "[Cutbush] was using some very disgusting and threatening language: said that if he had a knife suitable for the job he would rip up the Atts or anyone else that upset him as soon as look at them."

He also threatened his mother, who visited him in April 1903, two months before he died. As they left, "Mrs Cutbush tried to kiss her son. He tried to bite her face and then commenced to swear at them".

The finger of suspicion was first pointed at Cutbush in 1894, by a tabloid newspaper, The Sun, which was no relation to its modern-day successor. The report claimed that despite the popular supposition that the Ripper was dead, he was in fact a mental patient. The Sun's detailed description was clearly that of Cutbush. The suspicion was that the Met covered up his guilt to avoid the embarrassing outcry that might have followed the revelation that the country's most feared serial killer was Superintendent Henry Cutbush's nephew.

One book has named Cutbush as the No 1 Ripper suspect but others have poured cold water on this theory. Its main weakness is that the last known Ripper victim died in November 1888, at the end of a killing spree that lasted 11 weeks. If Cutbush was the killer, it seems odd that he should commit five murders over so short a period and then stop for more than two years before committing one more assault, which his victim survived. But there is almost no chance that the case can ever be solved and so for as long as the 120-year-old myths persist, Thomas Hayne Cutbush remains on the suspect list.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness