Buckle in, readers. I am about to walk you through the ‘Maybrick Watch’ saga. This will be a long one!
The provenance of the Maybrick Watch has been under suspicion from the moment its existence became known. Just as the book ‘The Diary of Jack the Ripper’ by Shirley Harrison was going to print, a watch had now appeared. On the face of it, it should have supported the candidacy of James Maybrick but may have done more damage than good. It never got the same focus as the diary and was immediately branded a hoax simply for suspicious timing. It has failed to shake off that assertion 30 years on. However, the inconvenient truth about the watch is that the science is rather compelling.
THE WATCH ITSELF
The watch we are focusing on was made around 1846, most likely by Henry Verity of Lancaster, but it could also possibly be by William Verity of Rothwell near Leeds. This fact has never been clearly established. It’s rather unassuming and quite simple. It is a gentleman’s dress pocket watch used for social occasions such as balls or dinners. It is smaller than the standard men’s pocket watches of the time and slightly larger than a ladies’ watch. It is in an 18 ct gold casing. The initials J.O. are engraved in a cartouche on the outside of the back. The movement is an English lever mechanism.
Albert Johnson, a security officer from Liverpool, purchased the watch from Stewart’s on 34 Seaview Road in Wallasey on the 14th of July 1992 for £225. He said he had seen it in the shop window for at least a month, and it kept catching his eye. He used to collect his wages from the TSB, which was close by then.
At this point, there was no public knowledge of a diary being found or even that it would implicate James Maybrick as being Jack the Ripper.
Albert purchased it for his baby granddaughter Daisy as an investment. There have been slightly different accounts of whether he drew the money from a building society account or he won it on the horses. A fact sceptics have claimed is suspicious. Some say the money could have been supplied by his brother Robbie. More on him later.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Albert contacted Robert Smith of Smith Gryphon Publishing in June 1993 (the now owner of the ‘Jack the Ripper diary’) to alert him that this watch might interest him. Albert told Robert Smith that he discovered the scratches in the watch fairly recently when he viewed the watch under a microscope at the technical college where he worked.
Albert later wrote, “A bright light was coming through a window where we were having our break. It was a pure coincidence the letters could be seen, and curiosity was to look at them through a microscope at college. A beginning to a very, very long story.”
It was then he discovered the initials of the five canonical victims, the words ‘I am Jack’ and the signature of J Maybrick.
The five-week period between when James Maybrick’s name was publicly associated with Jack the Ripper on April 22nd 1993, and Albert contacting Robert Smith at the beginning of June 1993 has been used by critics to claim it was enough time for Albert (or his brother) to become acquainted with the case and then produce this forgery.
Upon the advice of Richard Nicholas, a local solicitor to Albert, he decided he should get the watch professionally examined. He did so at his own expense. Is that not a rather strange thing for a forger to do?
He took it to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). There Dr Stephen Turgoose MA PhD, ran some tests under the electron microscope. The full scientific report can be found here on casebook.
The report released in August 1993 revealed, “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.”
The University of Bristol also examined the watch in January 1994, whose own summary corroborated that of the University of Manchester. Dr Wild said, “Provided the watch has remained in a normal environment, it would seem likely that the engravings were of several tens of years age. This would agree with the findings of Turgoose (1993), and in my opinion, it is unlikely that anyone would have sufficient expertise to implant aged brass particles at the base of the engraving.”
Paul Feldman, in his book ‘Jack the Ripper: The Final Chapter’, claims he phoned Dr Turgoose shortly after the report was released and asked him, “If you bought a genuine Victorian watch, would you be able to create what you have seen?” Feldman claims the response was a firm and clear “No.”
These are the expert opinions of highly qualified metallurgists. So the scratches cannot be recent. Surely the science confirms that the watch cannot be a modern hoax? Well, it’s not enough, apparently.
“We could go on forever getting the watch tested but it wouldn’t make any difference to some people.”Albert Johnson
MELVIN’S OLD TOOL
Melvin Harris, a vocal opponent of the diary from day one, also had many reservations concerning the watch. He initiated the idea that the embedded brass particles the scientists found were actually from an old engraving tool and that the experts had been duped. Apparently, there is no such thing as “experts in dating scratches in metal”. This fallacy has been peddled to this very day by sceptical forum posters and loyal followers of Melvin’s arguments.
Could an antique engraving tool produce these scratches without crumbling apart under the merest pressure? Would it still be strong enough to get such clear markings? I’m not an expert, but I wouldn’t think so. Both experts believed a forger would require highly specific technical knowledge to recreate anywhere near similar results. Something Albert and Robbie did not possess.
When it was later discovered that Robbie Johnson, Albert’s brother, was a convicted criminal, it seemed the watch’s fate had been sealed by some. However, Robbie was imprisoned for drugs and had no convictions for fraud, deception, or anything remotely connected to forgery. Selling cannabis to forging a watch using specialist knowledge is rather a leap.
Robbie also had a ‘share’ in the watch, which critics have always deemed suspicious. It was unclear how this arrangement came to be or for what purpose.
I believe Robbie probably was a bit more street-wise than Albert, and with a ‘share’ in the watch, he had a vested interest in ensuring Albert was not about to get ripped off or defrauded. He felt he would be better placed to protect his brother’s best interests.
Robbie died in a road accident in southern Spain in August 1995.
Ron and Suzanne Murphy were the owners of Stewarts in Wallasey. When Shirley Harrison visited them in 1997, they claimed that Suzanne’s father had given them the watch as part of a collection of gold items 18 years prior. At the time, the mechanism was not working. Suzanne’s father had retired from running his own shop in Lancaster called Firth Antiques, and he apparently passed the unsold stock onto his daughter and her husband.
The Murphys also claim that the watch just sat in a drawer, broken for the best part of two decades. Why would a shop not get the watch fixed immediately and put it into sale as quickly as possible? It was 18-carat gold, after all.
By 1997 with Shirley’s visit, the onset of Alzheimer’s was well established with Suzanne’s father. However, the Murphys claim that he could recall that a man with a Liverpool accent sold this watch to him. This must have been around twenty years before.
I’m not sure how much we can rely on this as evidence. An antique shop must go through many watches each year. This watch had no remarkable features that made it stand out.
Ron Murphy does, however, admit that before placing the watch in the shop window, he had attempted to buffer the scratches out of the casing with a jeweller’s rouge to make the item more saleable. He claims he thought they were superficial scratches and did not examine them closer.
I want to believe that the Murphys were simply mistaken about this watch and that there was no deliberate deception here. I want to believe they confused the watch which sat in a drawer with this one. This is because I find too much of the story unreliable. I cannot buy the fact an 18-carat gold watch sat in the drawer for twenty years. I cannot buy the fact that by sheer coincidence, in 1992 of all years, it was randomly sent for repair. I cannot buy the fact Suzanne’s father can recall a man’s accent twenty years on whilst also suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Tim Dundas of The Clock Workshop, West Kirby, Wirral, was tasked by the Murphys to fix the broken movement in the watch. They sent this watch (and others) to him in 1992.
Dundas gave a random statement on the internet later that read, “The marks on the watch relating to ‘Jack the Ripper’ have been made on the watch since I examined and repaired it in 1992, the whole suggestion that this watch belonged to “Jack the Ripper” is completely false.”
That’s that, then. Or is it?
In 1994, Dundas described the watch he remembered as having Verity on the front. It does not, as the photo at the top of this post demonstrates. He did not even recall the fact that there were engravings of J.O. in the cartouche. Was he confused about which watch he actually repaired? Also, his job was to fix the movement, so why would he study the case? Can we take his statement seriously? I don’t think so.
One strange criticism thrown at the watch is that the TV Show Antiques Roadshow did not have a gold watch special broadcast in 1993. This is apparently relevant because the event which sparked Albert to look at his watch at work was prompted by a discussion about gold and the Antiques Roadshow.
John White, a friend and colleague of Albert for several years, confirms what actually happened. “It all stemmed from the Antiques Roadshow…we were talking about gold, and Albert said he had this watch; he said it was 18-carat gold, and one of our group said they didn’t have 18-carat gold in Victorian times. So Albert brought the watch in to show us – Albert collected anything. His house was full of stuff. We could see the scratches, but we couldn’t make them out. The light was so bad we said we’d take it over to the Science and Technology block. When Albert came back, he said “It’s just initials and there’s a name – Maybrick – in it, and there’s also something about Jack.” I said to him – I tell you whose watch that is – it’s Jack the Ripper’s”. And he said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well that Maybrick could be Jack the Ripper. I was reading his diary in the Echo.”
Albert phoned the Liverpool Echo, and they knew nothing of the article. It turned out John was actually referencing the Liverpool Daily Post reporting on the now-breaking story of the Maybrick diary sometime between 20th-27th April 1993.
This argument that there was no Antiques Roadshow gold watch special seems odd. Antiques Roadshow was indeed on television that year from January to March. John did not mention anything about a gold watch special or even a special on gold. The show is usually an eclectic mix of various items. Maybe one episode featured something which prompted the chat at work? People don’t always have immediate conversations just the day after something is aired on TV and never to be discussed again. Sometimes, people remember things about a show weeks after the fact, sometimes months.
This is a pantomime argument designed to undermine Albert’s story.
CLEAR AS K?
The few examples of the letter K below are taken from various meeting attendance sheets signed by James Maybrick from the Freemasons of St.George’s Lodge of Liverpool from the period between 1870 – 1877. Special thanks to Keith Skinner for the copies of these sheets.
I invite the reader to compare these examples below to the K of the watch.
This must clearly beg the question, how did the forger of the watch manage to get the K so much like Maybrick’s own style? There was no internet in 1993 when the watch came to light. At the time, the only known signatures were on his will (based in London) and his wedding certificate. Did the forger study either? Or is this pure luck by the forger to create a K similar to James’s handwriting? Or is it actually Maybrick’s own hand that carved this?
IN THE FAMILY
Albert sadly passed away in 2008. Daisy, Albert’s granddaughter, the person he claimed he had purchased it for originally, still owns the watch (at the time of writing). The family has had numerous offers down the years for the artefact, including one for $40k from a Texan businessman. According to Albert’s own notes, they even rejected an offer of $125k from someone called ‘Bob’.
However, it still remains in Daisy’s possession. If the watch was created to cash in on the Maybrick diary, then why do the same family still own it 30 years on?
Are they waiting for a bigger payday than the ones they rejected? This is one long-game hoax if ever there was one.
THE WATCH SOLD ME
After studying the signature and reading the scientific reports, I was under no doubt that the confession scratched into the casing was made by the hand of James Maybrick. Does that make him Jack the Ripper? No, but it does make his candidacy hugely more likely.
The man who picked his own family motto to be “Time Reveals All” must surely be considered a prime suspect on the watch alone. On that K alone.
I hope this post prompts those who are newly interested to learn more and investigate further for themselves. I would advise you to read ‘The Diary of Jack the Ripper’ by Shirley Harrison, ‘Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution’ by Paul Feldman and ‘Ripper Diary: The Inside Story’ by Seth Linder, Caroline Morris and Keith Skinner.
My own theory is that I believe the watch and the diary came from under the floorboards of Battlecrease House in March 1992. The former home of James Maybrick. I believe the haul was broken up. The scrapbook found its way to Mike Barrett, and the watch was sold to Stewarts in Wallasey by the electrician who found them both. Albert purchased the watch just four months later.
That same electrician (at the time of writing) denies he ever found anything in Battlecrease House on 9th March 1992, but he does admit he was there that day. We also have proof that the floorboards were lifted that day from the worksheets provided by his employer. That EXACT same day, Mike Barrett phoned Doreen Montgomery, a literary agent, to announce that he had the ‘Diary of Jack the Ripper’.
Now that is what I call suspicious timing.
JACK THE RIPPER: THREADS
Think you know Jack the Ripper? Think again.
In ‘Jack the Ripper: Threads’, Jay Hartley presents a compelling fictional exploration of the idea that the infamous serial killer was actually James Maybrick, a cotton merchant from Liverpool. Using a mix of fact and fiction, this historical crime thriller brings to life actual events and characters from the era in a way that will challenge everything you thought you knew about this unsolved case.
With gripping prose and meticulous attention to detail, Hartley paints a vivid picture of Maybrick’s life and his possible involvement in the gruesome murders that terrorised London’s Whitechapel district in 1888.
But the story doesn’t end there. Did one of Maybrick’s family members murder him in 1889, bringing an end to the Ripper’s reign of terror?
This debut novel will keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow the clues and try to piece together the truth behind one of history’s most baffling mysteries.
So if you’re ready to challenge your assumptions and dive into a world of intrigue and deception, ‘Jack the Ripper: Threads’ is the book for you.