Meet the Theologian Who (almost) Caught Jack the Ripper
In the year 1888, a vicious serial killer preyed upon young women living in London. The crimes were unmatched in their brutality and gripped the city in terror. Two different police forces, including Scotland Yard, were on the case and employed the best investigators and technology available to catch the murderer. The media provided daily coverage of the case and dubbed the villain Jack the Ripper. However, every lead soon ran cold and because of the limitations of the legal system (a criminal had to either be witnessed in the act or admit to the crimes in order to be convicted), a conviction was never made. The case was officially closed in 1892 and remains unsolved.
The crimes of Jack the Ripper continue to capture popular imagination to this day, and theories abound as to who the culprit might have been. Since the murders over 500 potential suspects, including Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, have been put forward as the true identity of Jack the Ripper. The majority of these individuals are accused based on fanciful or non-existent evidence.
While the crimes will go on as one of London's greatest mysteries, the lead investigator on the case actually thought it had been satisfactorily solved. Furthermore, the man he thought to be responsible had even been apprehended and committed to an asylum.
Sir Robert Anderson
The most senior officer investigating Jack the Ripper was a man by the name of Robert Anderson. Anderson had taken the post of assistant police commissioner to the Metropolitan Police Station, also known as Scotland Yard, just before Jack the Ripper's killing spree began. Anderson was certainly qualified for the job, but he entered his new position suffering from exhaustion. Prior to becoming the assistant police commissioner, he had worked a career in counter-terrorism. He advised the Home Office in matters relating to political crime and was a spy controller. While performing these duties, Anderson neglected to take any adequate time off for several years. Stress had taken its toll on the man.
On September 8, 1888, Robert Anderson left London for a vacation on his doctor's orders. The body of Jack the Ripper's second victim was discovered on the morning of Robert Anderson's departure.
Robert Anderson would return from his holiday to a media frenzy. The murders had turned stalwart Londoners into insensible citizens. He later had this to say about the attitude in London upon his return:
"When the stolid English go in for a scare, they take leave of all moderation and common sense. If nonsense were solid, the nonsense that was talked and written about those murders would sink a Dreadnought.”
Having been away on holiday, Anderson brought himself up to speed at a feverish rate. His superiority gave him access to all evidence related to the case. He held himself personally responsible for apprehending the murderer.
The events surrounding the investigation of Jack the Ripper are difficult to follow, and much we read today is more myth than fact. The final victim of Jack the Ripper was discovered in November 1888. Four years later, when the case was officially closed no plausible identity of the killer had been released by the police. However, when Robert Anderson retired in 1901 he admitted that the identity of the killer was indeed known.
Robert Anderson had apparently suspected three men, all mentally unstable, to be Jack the Ripper. The evidence was uncertain at best for two of them, but one suspect matched witness description. He was a man of Polish descent and the crimes were committed between his stays at insane asylums. Anderson's witness, however, doubted his own testimony and refused to testify against a fellow countryman (both witness and suspect were of Jewish descent) on shaky allegations. Without witness testimony, charges could not be filed, but Anderson's prime suspect would live out his days under lock and key in an asylum for the insane.
Robert Anderson alluded to his suspicions in various publications and statements after his retirement from police work but never gave a name. He refused to level libel against a man with no official conviction even though his publisher said they would pay the damages. Anderson's suspect has since been determined to be a man by the name of Aaron Kosminski and is considered by many to be the most likely identity of Jack the Ripper. Naming Jack the Ripper a book released in 2014 makes the claim that recent DNA evidence proves Kosminski is the famous serial killer, but doubt still remains.
Launching a Second Investigative Career
Robert Anderson was knighted upon his retirement from police work in 1901 but didn't cease investigating until his passing in 1918. However, Anderson's second career was not spent sleuthing criminal acts; his attention was instead turned heavenward. In the twilight years of his life, Sir Robert Anderson published over 20 works in Christian Theology. Unlike many Christian authors, he tackled difficulties within the faith head-on in works such as The Silence of God, The Coming Prince, and Human Destiny. Applying his detective's mind, he provided compelling Biblical answers to mysteries that have confounded the Christian faith for generations.
Sir Robert Anderson was critical of both the established church and the Biblical scholarship of his day. Church tradition and works of famous theologians were being propped as an authority in the believer's life and not the Bible itself. He addresses this issue in The Bible and Modern Criticism and The Bible or the Church in which he argues for the Bible to be authoritative, not tradition, creeds, or commentary.
Sir Robert Anderson had an immeasurable influence on Christian literature in his lifetime. There is much that remains to be discussed about his theological career, which interacted with giants of the faith such as John Nelson Darby, C.I. Scofield and E.W. Bullinger (relationships to be discussed in future posts). Any Christian believer will find themselves enriched by the writings and thoughts of the unique man that was Sir Robert Anderson.
The Silence of God: Updated for the 21st Century Reader is set to be realeased in June 2020.
Originally published in 1897, The Silence of God attempted to answer the biggest questions that faced Christianity in the 19th century, and continue to challenge the faith today. The original edition is biting in its content but written in superfluous prose that was typical of the literature of its day. For this and other reasons, The Silence of God can be tedious or difficult for today's reader. The updated version communicates Sir Robert Anderson's thoughts in a contemporary style without watering down or omitting a single argument.