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Florence Maybrick versus Jack the Ripper

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Florence Maybrick versus Jack the Ripper

Amanda Herman

In researching the odd and creepy history of this beautifully weird region of Alabama that we lovingly call home, I have come across the interesting history of a beautiful woman named Florence Maybrick.  She may have murdered her husband by slowly poisoning with arsenic from fly paper, but let’s give her a chance, shall we?  As it turns out, this Mobile-native woman could have been the one person to stand up and end the grotesque reign that was Jack the Ripper. Was she a courageous woman, being the triumphant good over the evil-doer, or was she just the lesser of the two evils? I mean, what straight-laced lady doesn’t know that she married a wildly ravenous and rampant serial killer? Let’s just hear her out.

Florie, as she liked to be referred, born Florence Chandler in Mobile, Alabama, was a southern belle and a lover of the lavish life. When the well-to-do cotton merchant from Liverpool named James Maybrick came sweeping through our Southern town of debutantes, Florie was smitten. She packed up her trunk and joined him on the other side of the pond. They soon wed, though she was eighteen and he was twenty-something years her senior. She threw that man’s cotton money around like sparrow seed.  She looked and felt the part of an elite Victorian woman—she threw elaborate parties and doused herself in the finest gems London could offer.

But it seemed that Florie has many needs that just couldn't be satiated. As she continued to feed her expensive taste buds, funds ran dry. She took out credit on anything she could, and it seemed James knew nothing of it. He was preoccupied with affairs of his own. Florie found that he was seeing other women... Many other women. One of these side ladies actually birthed five of his children. Well, Mrs. Maybrick would not take this infidelity lying down. She decides to seduce James' brother, and this affair lasts beyond James' death.

I'm just going to state, here, that it is not said how Florie found out about the affairs. Did James spend so much time away from home that his wife began to assume, maybe question, the events of his days? No woman in a halfway happy relationship would believe her husband was hacking other women into bloody pieces night after night, would she? Of course not, he's probably just sleeping around.

James was also a fan of the chemicals, taking daily doses of strychnine in larger and stronger quantities over time because he said it made him feel like more of a man. Florence inquired into this as well, because she started to find it all across the house. No biggie, though, because she used arsenic as her favorite beauty product. She just soaked fly paper to extract it and rubbed it on her face when she wanted to feel pretty.

Needless to say, poisonous substances laying about weren't really a big deal to these two, but the servants and chamber maids started to raise a brow when James fell inexplicably ill. More fly traps were soaking than other days. More empty or unlabeled bottles were present in the bathroom of in the kitchen. One maid was particularly suspicious of the cheating wife, investigating Florie's correspondence with the brother she was sleeping with. A letter was intercepted and later used in the investigation into James' death. The letter was written by Florence assuring the brother that James didn't know the truth, was unaware that they really knew what was happening, and that there was no way James was getting the truth out of her, even though he was heavily threatening towards the poor gal.

Seems vague, right? We can interpret this a couple of ways. My take on this dark and twisted tale is that maybe Florie was afraid her husband would find out that she was in love with his brother, and even more afraid of what he might do to her if he was to learn the truth, so the two longing lovers plotted to have James murdered by poisoning him with his own supply, leaving them to live happily ever after. On the other hand, if you found out that your husband was a deeply dark and ravenous serial killer, you couldn't just approach him and say, "hey, not cool." She may have known that if she let on that she was aware of his dark passenger, she would meet her fate by his hand, for sure. So she could have decided to kill him and stop his reign of terror, like the brave woman she knew she could be.

Either way, James passed. An investigation immediately followed. Evidence was circumstantial and information was scarce. Traces of poison were all over the house, but not found in the remains. Florence Maybrick was the first American woman in history to be sentenced to death in Great Britain, though the sentence was later lowered to life in prison, with her release fifteen years later.

More information has come out over the years, some against the thought of James being Jack the Ripper, some saying it is hard proof that he was that infamous and heinous killer. We will always wonder, was our sweet Mobilian belle the courageous avenger of the women fallen victim to this monster, or did she really just love another man so much she was willing to become a monster herself?