On the ground by the side of one of the two chapels in Wimborne Minster Cemetery is the simple grave of Montague John Druitt — A graduate of Winchester College and an avid sportsman who was discovered drowned in the Thames river on December 31, 1888. He would lie there in almost total obscurity, of note only in that he carried a prominent locally family name which still produces solicitors at Christchurch, but for one reason. He is considered by many to be the number one suspect in the case of the Whitechapel murders.
Born on August 15, 1857, Druitt was the second son of William Druitt, Wimborne’s leading surgeon. The Druitts lived at Westfield House which still stands. Montague Druitt was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, where he graduated with a third class honors degree in the classics in 1880. While at Winchester, however, Druitt was heavily involved in the debating society, choosing mostly political topics for his speeches. As much a sportsman as a speaker, Druitt was granted a spot in the Winchester First Eleven (cricket) in 1876 and was a member of the Kingston Park and Dorset Country Cricket Club.
Immediately after graduation, Druitt began teaching at a boarding school in Blackheath. In 1882, Druitt decided to focus on a law career, and was admitted into the Inner Temple on May 17. On April 29, 1885 he was called to the bar. The Law List of 1886 places him in the Western Circuit and the Winchester Sessions. The next year he is recorded as a special pleader for the Western Circuit and Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton Assizes
In 1885 his father passed away as a result of a heart attack, leaving a total of £16,579 inheritance, but leaving Montague and his two older brothers a slim cut. Tragedy struck again in July of 1888, when his mother Ann succumbed to mental illness and was confined in Brook Asylum in Clapton. Druitt seemed to have been able to cope with the loss of both his parents within the small space of three years. But in late November of 1888, it seems that one final straw had broken the camel’s back, as Druitt was found on Monday, December 31 floating in the Thames. The inquest was held Wednesday, January 2, 1889 before Dr. Thomas Diplock at the Lamp Tap, Chiswick. It was concluded that Druitt committed suicide ‘whilst of unsound mind.
The argument contending that Montague Druitt was the Ripper lies with a quote made by Inspector Macnaughten in his famous memoranda, who was referring to Montague in the following quote:
I have always held strong opinions regarding him, and the more I think the matter over, the stronger do these opinions become. The truth, however, will never be known, and did indeed, at one time lie at the bottom of the Thames, if my conjections be correct! Actual evidence which supports Druitt’s being the Ripper is all but nonexistent.
In fact, his only true link can be made in his appearance and his likeness to many witness accounts. The description of this suspect; in Macnaughten’s memoranda reads:
Mr. M.J. Druitt a doctor of about 41 years of age & of fairly good family, who disappeared at the time of the Miller’s Court murder, and whose body was found floating in the Thames on 31st Dec: i.e. 7 weeks after the said murder. The body was said to have been in the water for a month, or more — on it was found a season ticket between Blackheath & London. From private information I have little doubt that his own family suspected this man of being the Whitechapel murderer; it was alleged that he was sexually insane.
One of the most often quoted sources of evidence against Druitt, however, is his documented cricket schedule during the murders. On Friday and Saturday, August 3 and 4, Druitt was in Dean Park, Bournemouth. He was there again on August 10 and 11 playing the Gentlemen of Dorset. Tabram was killed on Tuesday, August 7. Would it not make sense that Druitt would have stayed in the region of Bournemouth if he was playing two consecutive weekends? Furthermore, Druitt was known to have played for Canford, Dorset, against Wimborne at Canford on September 1st, the day after Nichols’ murder. On September 8th (day of Chapman’s murder) Druitt played at 11:30 AM against the Brothers Christopherson on the Rectory Field at Blackheath.
Druitts acceptance as a Ripper suspect must lie in the belief that Macnaughten had more information than he wanted others to know — information which he claims he destroyed so as not to cause an uproar. One must also contend that Druitt could have committed the murders in time to return to his cricket games, especially in the cases of Nichols and Chapman. If those two queries can be answered in the positive, than Druitt deserves recognition as a leading Ripper suspect. If not, his inclusion as a suspect must be attributed to the sole opinions of Macnaughten, based on hearsay and memory.