Michael Holroyd: Yes, Shaw was Jack the Ripper

From a speech given by the biographer of George Bernard Shaw, at Tate Britain

Tuesday 02 December 2003 01:00

In her book identifying the painter Walter Sickert as Jack the Ripper, Patricia Cornwell has got it all wrong - everything, that is, except the first letter of the Ripper's name. Using her methods of detection, I can conclusively prove that Bernard Shaw was Jack the Ripper.

Shaw came from Ireland - an enemy country - not long before the notorious killings began. He made no secret of his intention to get revenge on England. Soon after his arrival he disguised himself with a beard. It hid certain marks on his face, said by him to have been caused by smallpox. This was unlikely since he had been vaccinated against smallpox. I suggest - indeed I am certain - that these marks were made by his first victim. The colour of his beard, I should add, was red: blood red! Hardly, I think, a coincidence.

Shaw wrote under many pseudonyms to throw people off the scent. And he actually wrote about Jack the Ripper. Did he point the finger of accusation at him? Did he even criticise him? Not at all. He praised him as a super-socialist who had succeeded in drawing attention to the East End of London and its terrible conditions as no other activist had done. It was obviously a boast by one of the greatest attention-seekers of his time. GBS, the great publicist, praised the man who dominated the police news of the day. In later years, when he had retired from the profession of murder, his beard turned symbolically white. This was no accident.

Shaw's sexuality has long been a matter of conjecture. His plays show that he was extremely familiar with the East End of London - and with the prostitutes, such as Mrs Warren, who had worked there. Critics have debated for many years whether he was homosexual, whether he was the father of Lawrence of Arabia or even Granville-Barker. All these rumours and speculations, which he himself encouraged, have obscured the essential truth, which I can at last reveal. Bernard Shaw was Jack the Ripper.

I left out this detail from my short, three-volume biography of him from a desire to avoid the vulgarity of being a best-seller. Would that Patricia Cornwell had shown similar restraint.

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