Conspiracy Theory: Was Lewis Carroll Secretly Jack the Ripper?

Over a century after his death, Lewis Carroll is still one of the most beloved children’s authors, but there is a weary conspiracy theory that says otherwise…

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Lewis Carroll sitting in a window and Jack the Ripper wearing a long coat and a top hat and wielding a knife with a white question mark in between.

The Cheshire Cat. The Mad Hatter. The White Rabbit. The Queen of Hearts. Since their inception, these characters have delighted generations of children who dream of escaping to the fantastical world of Wonderland. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has inspired a multiplicity of books, movies, live performances, and Halloween costumes — and it’s all thanks to Lewis Carroll, the originator of this revered story.

Carroll’s contributions to the realm of childhood wonder have cemented him as one of the most outstanding children’s authors to date and earned him a rightful spot on many listicles highlighting the best children’s books of all time. But what most people don’t know is that Carroll has also made his way onto the list of potential Jack the Ripper suspects. Follow me down this rabbit hole to see if there’s a hidden dark side to Lewis Carroll lurking under the surface.

Who was Lewis Carroll?

Before we get started on this looming conspiracy theory, let’s discuss the author’s true background. Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born in 1832 in Daresbury, England. He was a mathematician, poet, and author best known for writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865, as well as its 1871 sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. Carroll’s work is characterized by his penchant for wit, wordplay, and whimsy.

Jabberwocky and Other Poems cover by Lewis Carroll, man with pocket watch and rabbit at a tea party.

Some of his most notable works of poetry include Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark, both of which fall into the category of literary nonsense, a genre defined by the subversion of logic and language conventions.

Carroll died of pneumonia in 1898 at the age of 65, and to this day, he remains a treasured author of children’s literature.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Jack the Ripper, also referred to as Leather Apron and the Whitechapel Murderer, was a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London and surrounding areas in 1888. His main moniker, Jack the Ripper, was derived from the “Dear Boss” letter — a taunting note written by someone asserting themself to be Jack the Ripper. The letter, which was sent to the Central News Agency of London, ridiculed police officers for being unable to catch Ripper and bragged about Ripper’s future crimes. Though the legitimacy of the letter has been questioned, many regard it as the serial killer’s first valid message to the public.

Jack the Ripper movie poster from 1960, woman laying on the ground with her arm protecting with her face as a large hand in a leather glove holds a knife above her.

Jack the Ripper is thought to have killed at least five women, but the true number of victims is unknown, and many have speculated it to be much higher. The grisly nature of his crimes was one of the factors that launched Ripper into infamy — Ripper’s signature was slitting his victims’ throats and disemboweling them — but what really intrigued people was his mysteriousness. To this day, his identity remains unknown, though many have theorized about who Jack the Ripper might have been.

The Origins of the Lewis Carroll Conspiracy

Richard Wallace, now a retired social worker, had a bit of a fascination with Lewis Carroll. In 1990, Wallace published his first book, The Agony of Lewis Carroll, in which he claims that Carroll’s most famous work of children’s literature, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is secretly filled with perverse sexual content. Then, in 1996, Wallace released Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend, alleging that the true identity of notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper was, in fact, Lewis Carroll.

The Agony of Lewis Carroll cover by Richard Wallace, man leaning back and covering his face while holding a sword.

Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend, is positioned as a sequel to The Agony of Lewis Carroll. In it, Wallace builds on this previously established image of Carroll as a depraved sexual deviant to present the theory that Lewis Carroll eventually snapped and became the ill-famed serial killer Jack the Ripper in a retaliatory act against the family and society he perceived as having wronged him. Both books surpass 100,000 words in length.

Debunking the Myth

Wallace’s theory seemed quite outlandish to many, as Carroll had a reputation for being meek and reserved. And indeed, when held up to the light, the thinness of Wallace’s assertions is quite apparent. To believe in his claims requires jumping to extreme conclusions based on largely non-existent evidence. But let’s explore his so-called proof for the sake of it.

Firstly, Wallace interpreted complaints about the boisterousness of Carroll’s boarding school classmates that Carroll made in letters to his family as admissions of intense bullying, which Wallace contended eventually led to a psychotic break that turned Carroll into a violent killer — a claim that has never been substantiated.

Lewis Carroll sitting and looking off to the side.

Wallace’s other arguments fall just as flat. While it’s true that Carroll lived in proximity to the crime scenes, he is known to have been away in East Sussex during the timeframe in which four of the murders took place. Plus, Carroll’s supposed accomplice — his friend, Thomas Vere Bayne — suffered from severe back pain that significantly impeded his mobility. Additionally, when confronted with the fact that Carroll’s handwriting was not a match for the handwriting found in Ripper’s letters to various newspapers, Wallace purported that Bayne could have written them instead, even though, as previously stated, Bayne was in no state to assist in such a plot at the time.

Wallace’s main piece of evidence was a handful of anagrams he made out of various passages from Carroll’s books, poems, and letters, as Carroll was known to be a fan of wordplay. However, despite Carroll’s predilection for puzzles, this was still a major reach on Wallace’s part.

The Nursery Alice cover by Lewis Carroll, king and queen of hearts sitting on a dais with a feast going on below.

To give an example of one of these supposed anagrams, let’s take a look at a passage from The Nursery Alice, a version of Alices’s Adventures in Wonderland that Carroll adapted for young readers. The original passage from the book reads as so:

So we went to the cook, and we got her to make a saucer-ful of nice oatmeal porridge. And then we called Dash into the house, and we said, “’Now, Dash, you’re going to have your birthday treat!’” We expected Dash would jump for joy; but it didn’t, one bit!

Famous Crimes Past and Present newspaper cover, dead woman discovered by harrowed young boy.

Clearly, this passage is a lighthearted scene about a mischievous dog. But Wallace’s anagram paints a much darker picture. In his interpretation, this passage is a covert admittance of guilt, detailing Jack the Ripper’s ghastly crimes:

Oh, we, Thomas Bayne, Charles Dodgson, coited into the slain, nude body, expected to taste, devour, enjoy a nice meal of a dead whore’s uterus. We made do, found it awful — wan and tough like a worn, dirty, goat hog. We both threw it out. – Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend cover by Richard Wallace, man leaning backward with his hands covering his face while holding a sword surrounded by blood.

However, critics of Wallace’s theory were quick to point out the ridiculousness of this supposed proof. In a 1997 issue of Harper’s Magazine, two readers who had taken issue with the argument, Guy Jacobson and Francis Heaney, pointed to a passage of Wallace’s own book that worked as an anagram of a murder confession. For their example, Jacobson and Heaney took the opening lines from Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend:

This is my story of Jack the Ripper, the man behind Britain’s worst unsolved murders. It is a story that points to the unlikeliest of suspects: a man who wrote children’s stories. That man is Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of such beloved books as Alice in Wonderland.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland cover by Lewis Carroll, Alice looking flustered surrounding by animals and flying playing cards.

Together, they were then able to create the following anagram, in which Wallace confesses to framing O.J. Simpson for murder, among other things:

The truth is this: I, Richard Wallace, stabbed and killed a muted Nicole Brown in cold blood, severing her throat with my trusty shiv’s strokes. I set up Orenthal James Simpson, who is utterly innocent of this murder. P.S. I also wrote Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a lot of Francis Bacon’s works too.

Wallace has yet to comment on this refutation.

While Richard Wallace felt confident enough to write over 100,000 words in support of the theory that Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper, his baseless claims were quickly dismissed by the public. So as much fun as it would be to believe that one of the world’s most enduring storytellers moonlighted as a serial killer, it’s safe to say that this conspiracy is no more real than anthropomorphic rabbits wielding pocket watches, incorporeal cats with devilish grins, or rabbit holes to kaleidoscopic worlds of magic and dreams.

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