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Ever Hear the One About Jack the Ripper and the Bible Teacher?

[I wrote this article for the Baptist Bible Tribune — Springfield, MO, — DRS]

GOD’S DETECTIVE

By David R. Stokes

By the late 1880s, the British Empire was at its zenith — culturally, politically, and economically. Its capital, London, was, in effect, the capital of the world. Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887, marking 50 years on the throne. She was called the grandmother of Europe in many quarters. The nickname was justified. Her children had married into many of Europe’s royal families.

largeWilliam Gladstone and Robert Cecil (Lord Salisbury) were the strong political rivals of the day, Benjamin Disraeli having died in 1881. Arthur Conan Doyle’s new stories about a detective named Sherlock Holmes were becoming quite popular. H. G. Wells published his first short story in an obscure journal in 1888. A play called “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was drawing capacity crowds to the Lyceum Theater in Westminster. George Bernard Shaw was trying to make a career as a literary critic. Fourteen-year-old Winston Churchill lived in London then — as did an eighteen-year-old young man from India named Gandhi.

Possibly they were among the readers of The Star — the largest evening circulation newspaper in London on Friday, August 31, 1888. If so, they might have noticed this item on the front page:

Mr. Robert Anderson, who succeeds Assistant Commissioner J Munro at Scotland Yard, is the third son of Matthew Anderson, of Dublin, formerly Crown solicitor for the city and county of Dublin. He is forty-seven years of age, and married in 1873 to Agnes Alexandrina, sister of Ponson by W. Moore, cousin and heir presumptive of the Marquis of Drogheda. Mr. Anderson was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he holds the honorary degree LL.D, and entered a student of the Middle Temple in 1860, and was called to the Bar 1870, having previously been called to the Dublin Bar in 1863.

 

Described as “London’s foremost detective,” Robert Anderson was a tall man of “precise habits and quiet demeanor, and whose face is that of a deep student.” Absent from the announcement in The Star was any reference to Mr. Anderson’s other life and work. He was a devout Christian and the prolific author of several books about the Bible, one of which unlocked a code found in one of the Old Testament’s most cryptic visions.

The timing of the notice in the newspaper that August evening was interesting, for just across the same page was a story headlined, “A Revolting Murder.” It described the horrific discovery of the body of a woman in the Whitechapel area of London’s East End. Her name was Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. She was the first victim of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper.

Quite a day to begin a new job as “London’s foremost detective.”

Though of Scottish descent, Robert Anderson was born in Dublin, Ireland, on May 29, 1841. His family was active in the Irish Presbyterian Church, and his father, Matthew Anderson, was an important official in the city. He was a Crown Solicitor. It was his job to prepare cases for criminal prosecution. There can be little doubt that the dual themes of Robert’s life were developed early on through his father’s life and influence — theology and criminal law.

coming_princeRobert was very young when an infamous blight turned Ireland’s potato crop — the staple of the nation’s diet — into black, fungus-laden, mush. Due to his father’s secure position and salary, the Andersons were somewhat removed from what was going on in rural areas. As he grew through his teen years, two cultural dynamics influenced Robert’s life and career. First, there was the emergence of the Irish nationalist movement. Britain had done very little to help the suffering people in Ireland during the potato famine, and many were passionate about Ireland becoming an independent nation. The issue became an international concern because more than a million Irish citizens left home to seek better lives in the United States. Irish- Americans who supported Irish independence were known as Fenians — a nomenclature that eventually described all wings of the nationalist movement.

The second cultural matter formative for Robert Anderson was the Great Irish Revival of 1859. This spiritual awakening was driven by prayer meetings and the powerful preaching of men such as Henry Grattan Guinness, grandson of the famous brewer of Irish stout ale. Robert attended several local services at the invitation of his sister. His analytical mind prompted him to listen to the preaching with the ear of a critic, but soon he proclaimed, “In God’s name, I will accept Christ!”

A stellar student, Robert graduated from Trinity College in Dublin in 1862 with a B.A. (eventually receiving the L.L.D. from Trinity in 1875). He studied briefly in France (Boulogne and Paris), before being admitted to the Irish Bar in 1863. But before plunging completely into a career, Anderson joined a team of missionaries and evangelists who traveled from town to town in Ireland preaching the gospel and seeking converts. His work as a lay-preacher fueled his desire to know the Scriptures. He immersed himself in the pages of the Bible and read it with a devoted heart and keen mind. The spadework for the books he eventually wrote about biblical themes was done during this time.

According to his diary, Robert preached not only in churches, but “in schoolrooms, court-houses or jury rooms, in private houses, cottages or barns, once at least in a ballroom, at times in open-air.” He wrote to his sister, “We are living in the pilgrim fashion,” and he recounted stories of God’s work, such as one about a man who “said that a week ago he was the vilest wretch in the country, but now saved.”

The fulltime ministry was not, however, to be Robert Anderson’s permanent path. He would remain passionate about his faith for the rest of his life, but he would do so as a layman. Imitating the biblical character Daniel — a man he wrote much about — Anderson would be a civil servant, involved in matters that were anything but the stuff of gospel meetings.

Largely through the influence of his father, Robert was drawn into Secret Service work. In 1865, Matthew Anderson was prosecuting a number of Fenian members charged with treason. He turned to his sons Samuel and Robert for help with the research side of things. He trusted them with confidential reports and other secret information that crossed his desk.

Nepotism may have been his gateway to the world of secrets, but Robert Anderson quickly demonstrated that he was a natural. One historian wrote of him that he was “able to work with the quiet patience and efficiency of a spider.” The same mind that found the Bible so fascinating — particularly various cryptic prophecies — also found intelligence gathering to be very interesting.

Irish nationalists referred to people like the Anderson family — Irish, but not in sympathy with the Fenians — as “castle rats,” a reference to the iconic Dublin Castle, the seat and emblem of British power in Dublin. But soon Robert became the resident expert on all things Fenian, and he wrote a detailed history of the movement for the authorities. This opened many doors for the young lawyer. His work on the project was known in the highest circles, and eventually Anderson was called to London to join a taskforce of sorts dealing with the Irish threat and political crime in general.

Along the way, Robert Anderson — while working on his writing about biblical themes in his spare time — became involved with the interrogation of Fenian prisoners. From there, it was a small step into the murky world of infiltration and espionage. Soon the man who had preached the gospel in the open air became a spymaster.

Thomas Beach, a.k.a. Henri Le Caron, has been called “the champion spy of the century.” That would be the 19th century. He infiltrated the Fenian movement in America for 21 years. And he reported directly to his handler in the British Secret Service — Robert Anderson.

 

51jxof+YgeLA good number of Irish-Americans fought in the American Civil War — on both sides. By the end of the conflict in 1865, many of those same soldiers drifted into the Fenian cause. The more aggressive and extreme of the lot conceived a plan to attack British strongholds in Canada. The idea was to hold Canada hostage. This would be accomplished by seizing key cities and centers. If successful, the Fenians would then try to negotiate a trade with the reviled British — swap Canada for Ireland’s independence. Toward this end, there were four Fenian “raids” conducted between 1866 and 1871.

The raids were doomed from the start, not only because the whole scheme was incredibly far-fetched, but also because of the work of spy Henri Le Caron and his handler, Robert Anderson. They made sure the best-laid Fenian plans were betrayed long before implementation.

In 1873, Robert Anderson married Agnes Alexandrina Moore — together they would have five children. Shortly thereafter he began writing books, many of which are still widely read by Bible students today. It was quite remarkable that Anderson could think through and produce so many detailed studies of scriptural issues while immersed in a demanding and intense career. An old college friend wrote to him in 1876, “How on earth have you had time to dive into theology?” But he found the time and spent it well.

The Gospel and its Ministry was published in 1875, dealing with the great themes of grace, faith, repentance, reconciliation, and justification. A bit later he wrote what was likely the most widely read of his books — The Coming Prince. In it he dealt in-depth with prophecies found in the Book of Daniel about an end-time ruler. Probably the most famous — and controversial — part of the book is Anderson’s calculation and solution regarding Daniel’s vision of “seventy-weeks.”

With the help of the Royal Astronomer, Sir George Airy, he fixed the date of the decree by Cyrus for the Jews to “restore and build Jerusalem” at March 14, 445 BC. Anderson calculated 173,880 days — accounting for 69 weeks of years on the lunar calendar — and arrived at April 6, 32 AD as the date Jesus entered Jerusalem, shortly before his crucifixion. The final “week” would be later in history and feature the ungodly work of the Antichrist, “who by the sheer force of transcendent genius will gain a place of undisputed pre-eminence.”

A few years later Anderson wrote Human Destiny, an examination of life after death from a biblical perspective. It thoroughly examined theories such as “universalism” and “conditional mortality.” One contemporary preacher, none other than Charles Haddon Spurgeon, considered this Anderson book to be “the most valuable contribution on the subject.” Later he wrote The Silence of God (which comforted many in Britain during The Great War) and The Bible and Modern Criticism.

In all, he wrote 17 volumes based on biblical issues, as well as three books about his work for the government. His circle of friends included Lord Salisbury (Robert Cecil), William Gladstone, Henry Drummond, James M. Gray, C. I. Scofield, A.C. Dixon, C.H. Spurgeon, E. W. Bullinger, John Nelson Darby, and many others.

Anderson’s work as a spymaster eventually led to an appointment as Irish Agent at the Home Office in London. He moved in influential circles, often in the company of the rich and powerful. He was invited into the “Gossett’s Room” — an elite club usually reserved for members of Parliament. Over the next several years, Robert Anderson, in addition to his work with the Home Office, served as secretary of the Royal Commission on Loss of Life at Sea, secretary of the Prison Commission, and on the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh Commission.

Anderson thought of leaving government service in the early 1880s, possibly to pursue his writing full time. But the rise of Fenian violence in London — including several bombings — kept him connected to secret work. He was involved in the creation of a new intelligence organization called the Special Irish Branch. This role put him in the perfect position at Scotland Yard to step into what would become the most sensational and controversial murder investigation in history.

Robert Anderson’s official title was Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). And he was the man in charge of the big case as fear gripped East London.

Eventually, five women were savagely murdered — the victims of Jack the Ripper (there are many who think there could have been as many as 18). The spree ran from the 31st of August in 1888 through the following November 9th, ending abruptly and mysteriously with the killing of Mary Jane Kelly.

The crimes have never been solved and opinions abound. The list of suspects involves more than 30 names, including a member of the Royal family, author Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), and at least one woman.

Robert Anderson actually believed that the crime had been solved, and over the years he left hints as to the identity of the killer. For example, this item was in the March 21, 1910, edition of the Washington Post:

 

Sir Robert Anderson, for more than 30 years chief of the criminal investigation department of the British government, and head of the detective bureau at Scotland Yard, has at length raised the veil of mystery which for nearly two decades has enveloped the identity of the perpetrator of those atrocious crimes known as the Whitechapel murders.

 

Sir Robert establishes the fact that the infamous “Jack the Ripper,” as the unknown slayer had been dubbed by the public, and at whose hands no less than fourteen women of the unfortunate class lost their lives within a circumscribed area of the east end of London, was an alien of the lower, though educated class, hailing from Poland, and a maniac of the most virulent and homicidal type — of a type recorded, by reason of its rarity, in medical treatises, but one with which the world at large is not familiar.

 

But the most important point of all made by Sir Robert is the fact that once the criminal investigation department was sure that it had in its hands the real perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders it procured from the secretary of state for the home department a warrant committing the man for detention “during the Kings’ pleasure” to the great asylum for the criminally insane at Broadmoor five or six years ago.

The man’s name was Aaron Kozminski. In 2011, “Ripperologist” Robert House wrote a book called Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect. In it, he makes the case that Robert Anderson was right, and that Kozminski was indeed the notorious serial killer.

9867612Anderson retired from public life in 1901 and was knighted. He would be known ever after as Sir Robert Anderson. He spent his remaining days preaching and writing, advancing the cause of Christ and paying special attention to biblical prophecy and the second coming of Christ. He remained a keen student of current events and international affairs, always viewing them through the prism of God’s Word.

Interestingly, Anderson himself seemed to wax prophetic when he wrote these words in the 1890s: “History repeats itself, and if there be any element of periodicity in the political diseases by which nations are afflicted, Europe will pass through another crisis and it is impossible to foretell how far kingdoms may become consolidated and boundaries changed.”

He lived to see that great crisis — The Great War — but not long enough to witness the full measure of consolidated kingdoms and shifted boundaries. A few days after the armistice, Robert Anderson, as did millions of others around that time, succumbed to Spanish Influenza. He died on November 15, 1918.

 

David R. Stokes is an author, broadcaster, columnist, and Senior Pastor of Fair Oaks Church in Fairfax, VA. His personal website is http://www.davidrstokes.com.

2 replies »

  1. WOW…So who knew!!!! Where do you get the time and energy for such research? Great, informative article which encompasses my two greatest interests(ministry/teaching/evangelism and law enforcement). You are a walking, talking History Book…..Keep em coming!!!!

    Like

  2. Your writing is hypnotic making it interesting to read. It is interesting to read about history. I wonder if our modern crime solving efforts such as DNA, etc., would have been any better.
    Dr J

    Like

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