Did Jack the Ripper Roam the Streets of L.A.?
Jack the Ripper is still the most infamous serial killer of all time. The series of gruesome murders he committed in the Whitechapel area in London's East End in 1888 were never solved, and theories about the identity of the killer have fascinated the world ever since.
He’s also been the perfect movie maniac since the early days. In the 1929 German expressionist classic Pandora’s Box, the beautiful heroine Lulu (Louise Brooks) falls into his clutches; more recently, Johnny Depp’s opium-addled copper leads a fruitless search for him in 2001’s From Hell.
Despite Jack's many appearances on the big and small screens, “Ripperologists” disagree about everything from the number of victims he claimed to the many possible suspects (including a member of the royal family, a famous author, a noted painter and a distinguished doctor, rather than just an insane man or even a vengeful woman, an idea favored by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes).
Newspaper stories from the 1880s suggest that Jack the Ripper might have visited Los Angeles — and claimed another victim here.
“Jack the Ripper Again on Deck — His Identity Believed to Be Established”
That was the headline in the Los Angeles Herald on March 17, 1892, which reported that an Englishman named Williams had been arrested in Australia and charged with murdering a woman (his wife Emily) at their home in Melbourne.
Williams had previously lived near Liverpool, England, where workmen had found the buried bodies of his wife Marie and three children, all killed by strangulation or having their throats cut. Also in Marie’s arms was a small baby, its head crushed in.
Williams’ real name was Frederick Bailey Deeming, and he had a long history of traveling the world committing crimes of bigamy, theft and deception. The Herald noted that his modus operandi was the same as Jack the Ripper's, and it was alleged that, just before Deeming swung from the hangman’s noose some 125 years ago, he confessed to two of the Whitechapel murders (the Los Angeles Times said there were 10 victims).
The story was a worldwide sensation, but then the Times of April 17, 1892, wondered whether “this fiend in human form” had lived in Los Angeles before he fled to England and began his murdering spree.
A story from April 24, 1888 — nearly four months before the first murder in Whitechapel — reported that a Charles H. Williams had swindled and robbed Nannie Catching, a “worthy lady” and noted music teacher and singer living in downtown L.A.
Williams had been working for a shoemaker/taxidermist downtown, but when they refused him a loan, he set his sights on someone else: the unlucky Nannie. Despite her friends' advice, she had married the charming Williams on Jan. 11, 1888, at Central Baptist Parsonage, but there were no wedding photos — the groom hated having his picture taken.
A few months later she came home to find a note saying he had gone to Temecula, and soon after she found all her money — around $2,500 — was gone, too.
Sensing a scoop, the Times excitedly reported that there were notable absences in Deeming’s whereabouts from 1886 to 1888. Over the next few days it also reported that several people had seen a picture of Deeming, and felt certain that the Charles Williams they knew in L.A. was the same man.
Since there were no photos of the camera-shy Williams, the only evidence of what he looked like was a photographic illustration of him among a group of hikers taken at Millard Canyon north of Altadena. Williams wore a big hat and had a large, drooping mustache, but maybe scissors and razor changed his appearance later.
Illustrations of Williams in Millard Canyon
Courtesy Los Angeles Times
There were other links between Deeming and Williams, who told his L.A. friends that he was from Australia and boasted in the bar about seducing women out of their money. He was also said to have a temper and was always changing his backstory.
The Times also pointed out that both Williams and Deeming were Freemasons and good at singing in church (such things were important in those days).
A battle in print broke out between long-term rivals the Herald and the Times, with more false/similar last names being reported and counterclaims from other witnesses — including a man who conned the Bank of England — coming into play. A facsimile of Deeming’s handwriting was favorably compared to Williams’, too.
Today it’s accepted among historians that Deeming wasn’t Jack the Ripper — he was always a long shot — and though his alias was Albert Williams and the L.A. criminal called himself Charles, it’s still possible that Deeming visited Los Angeles, and that Nannie had a lucky escape from a mass murderer.
The L.A. “connection” disappeared from the headlines after Deeming’s execution, but a copy of his death mask was shipped to Scotland Yard’s famous Black Museum of crime in London, where for years it was introduced to visitors as “the death mask of Jack the Ripper.”
Death mask of Frederick Bailey Deeming
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.