Jack the Ripper Murders: Masonic Ritual Killings?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, PM, FMLR

      It seems almost any high-profile mystery brings conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork with at

least one angle pointing to the Masons.  From the street patterns of Washington, DC, to alleged Masonic symbolism on the dollar bill to the Kennedy assassination there are those who would put the Freemasons behind it all.  Not surprising, then, is the belief by some that the Jack the Ripper slayings  of the late 19th century , also known as the Whitechapel murders, were a devious Masonic plot.

      There are varying accounts as to how the Masons were involved, as is usually the case when speculators don't let facts get in the way of their theories.  They all, however, identify Sir William Gull as the infamous Ripper.  Gull appears as Jack the Ripper in books, movies and countless Internet posts including  the 1988 TV adaptation Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight and the 2000 graphic novel (roughly a novel in comic book form) From Hell written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell.  Subsequently the Hollywood Movie From Hell starring Johnny Depp was loosely based on the novel.

      William Withey Gull was a respected physician credited with many significant contributions to medicine including advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of Bright's disease, myxoedema and paraplegia.  He also named the devastating eating disorder anorexia nervosa.  

      He became personal physician (Physician-Ordinary) to Queen Victoria and the Royal Family.  The conspiracy theory and premise of the movie (which parallels most of the Ripper Masonic theories) begins with the historical inaccuracy of Prince Edward Albert contracting syphilis.  This allegedly tarnishes Gull's reputation as the Prince's physician because Gull was unable to treat him.  Gull, portrayed as a Freemason in the film, takes it upon himself to eradicate the prostitutes that caused the Prince's affliction.  He does this by murdering the prostitutes with the implication they are ritual killings associated with the Freemasons.

      Not to leave any stone unturned, the movie also depicts the Prince as taking on the identity of Walter Sickert.  Sickert, rather than being an alias of the Prince, was in fact a 19th century painter.  Some believe he once lived in Jack the Ripper's apartment, a speculation likely due to the fact one of his paintings was titled, "Jack the Ripper's Bedroom."

William Gull
      To be sure, historically Prince Edward Albert and Sickert were separate individuals, but in the movie, the Prince becomes Sickert and marries Ann Crook, taking her away from her life as a prostitute.  Together, the Prince and Ann have a daughter, Alice.  By English law therefore, Alice becomes an heir to the throne and the film surmises Queen Victoria ordered that this problem be eliminated.  Gull, as the Ripper, takes it upon himself to do so in a far more grisly way than Queen Victoria had intended.

      In the denouement, Depp portrays Frederick Abberline, the actual Ripper case investigator, confronting Gull, and taking some off-the-wall liberties with the Masonic ritual, not to mention the actual facts of the case:

Abberline: "The arrangement of the coins at Dark Annie's feet and also the locations of the bodies form a pentacle star.  The pentacle star is a symbol of the Freemasons is it not, sir?"

Gull: "Yes"

Abberline: "And the way all these women were killed... throats cut left to right, organs removed... they're reenactments, aren't they, sir?"

Gull: "Reenactments of what?"

Abberline: "The Jews.  The traitors who killed Hiram Abiff, founder of the Masons, that's how they were executed."

Gull: "Ah, yes... so the great book tells us."

Abberline: "So, Jack the Ripper isn't just merely killing whores. He's executing traitors. He's a Mason, fulfilling a duty."

Gull: "Yes, I'm afraid, Inspector, that you won't be permitted to arrest him."

Abberline: "I don't want to arrest him.  The Ripper has one more traitor yet to kill; and I will stop him.  Did they come to you, sir, as a loyal Mason?  Did they ask you to help and cover up the Prince's secret marriage?"

Gull: "That's how it started, yes."

Abberline: "And then you discovered the Prince had syphilis."

Gull: "He's going to die of it, Inspector.  Would you like a tour of the syphilis wards?"

Abberline: "You're a physician, an Ordinary to the Queen, entrusted with the well-being of the heir to the throne.  Only you had reason to believe that these unfortunates, these whores, these traitors destroyed your life's work."

Gull: "Below the skin of history are London's veins. These symbols... the miter... the pentacle star... even someone as ignorant and degenerate as you can sense that they course with energy and meaning.  I am that meaning.  I am that energy. [Scream and killing scene].  One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the Twentieth Century."

      Although paragraphs could be written about it, the pentacle star, an Eastern Star symbol, is not generally accepted as a Masonic symbol: "[The five-pointed star] was a Pythagorean symbol, but is not mentioned in the Masonic ritual  and seems never to have been a Masonic emblem. There was and is a Blazing Star in the center of the Mosaic Pavement, which is a different symbol." (Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (1961), s.v. “Five-Pointed Star; Pentalpha”).  Added to this is the fact that the locations of the Whitechapel murders were not in the form of a five-pointed star.

      Jurisdictional details may differ, but in most the method of execution of the traitors in the Masonic ritual is not completely specified, except that in most depictions it is assumed they were beheaded.  As all Freemasons know, symbolic references to throats being cut and disembowelments appear elsewhere in the ritual.

      The movie's reference to the Jews derives from a chalk graffiti found at the scene of one of the murders saying (with variations), "The Juwes [sic] are the men that will not be blamed for nothing."  The movie and other conspiracy theories claim the misspelling in the message to be an illusion to the three ruffians who killed Hiram Abiff, Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum.  Masons do not refer to the ruffians as such and originally, until 1760, they were unnamed.  The names of the ruffians were not used in English rituals at the time of the murders and there is no reason to believe Masons at the time knew them.  It is more likely the note is nothing more than a misspelling and the connection was made later, after the names were known. (The Three Ruffians, Grand Lodge of British Columbia http://Freemasonry.bcy.ca).

      Finally, there is the issue of Dr. Gull himself.  In the movie, he is portrayed by Ian Holm, who was, at the time of filming, 68 years old and in good health.  His character is spry enough to carry out the brutal and physical murders.  The five murders attributed to the Ripper happened between August and November, 1888, when Gull was 72.  The previous year, Dr. Gull's health began to decline.  He suffered a series of strokes and a heart attack that, by the time of the murders, had rendered him unable to commit the crimes.  The London Times reported Gull's first stroke paralyzed him and he was never able to resume his practice.

      Even the movie's fictional Gull makes an issue of the physical nature of the murders when Abberdine suggests the Prince could be the murderer, "The disease [syphilis] is far enough along that the Prince's hands tremble uncontrollably.  He's very weak; and the killings of Jack the Ripper require sure hands and considerable vigor."  The stricken Gull, at the time, did not have "considerable vigor." 

      At the end of the movie, the exposed Gull disavows the Freemasons, a fact that may be lost on viewers and conspiracy theorists alike, "I have no peers present here... No man among you is fit to judge the mighty art that I have wrought.  Your rituals are empty oaths you neither understand nor live by.  The Great Architect speaks to me.  He is the balance where my deeds are weighed and judged... not you."

      Dr. Gull died of a final stroke January 29, 1890.  The final Whitechapel murder occurred after his death, although authorities did not conclusively attribute it to Jack the Ripper.  Whether or not that final killing was his or not, the facts are certain that Gull was not Jack the Ripper, nor were the murders some sort of Masonic ritual.

     One final thing: there is not a shred of evidence that Dr. William Gull was a Freemason.


Steve Harrison, 32° KCCH, is a Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri.  He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Senior Warden.  He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and is a member of the DeMolay Legion of Honor.


  1. Old news. Very old. I believe the origin of this particular conspiracy theory is rooted in the idea that Jack the Ripper was either the Duke of Clarence or his physician. I believe this theory was first put forth in the 1960s. Conspiracist Stephen Knight, an anti-Mason, built on that theory by claiming that there had been a Masonic cover-up to protect the identity of the murderer, and the claim that the Duke had fathered an illegitimate child by a Catholic prostitute. This was the conspiracy detailed in his 1976 book, titled "Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution." That book was the basis for the 1979 movie, "Murder by Decree," which employed Sherlock Holmes as the freelance investigator. For fans of Sherlock Holmes, this was too big a stretch, as it can be demonstrated that Holmes himself was a Freemason.

    1. Holmes was definitely not a Freemason, however his creator Sir ACD. Was.

  2. Good story, In the movie, Inspector Fred Abberline tries to make sense of the serial murders in a lower-class London ghetto plagued by poverty and violenc.


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