Pittsburgh handwriting expert shares theories on 'Jack the Ripper'

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There will be a dual Pittsburgh connection tonight when the History Channel premieres "MysteryQuest -- Jack the Ripper."

Appearing in the 10 p.m. broadcast is Pittsburgh handwriting expert Michelle Dresbold, who concludes Jack the Ripper was Francis Tumblety, an "Indian herb doctor," and abortionist from Rochester, N.Y., who once lived in Pittsburgh among other American cities before moving to England.

"If my theory is right, Jack the Ripper definitely lived here," Ms. Dresbold said. "I guess that's one person we're glad left the city."

Another theory the show explores is that Jack the Ripper was actually a woman.

Dr. Tumblety long has been included in a group of men suspected of being the serial killer who brutally murdered and mutilated five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888.

In her 2006 book, "Sex, Lies and Handwriting," Ms. Dresbold wrote she found a match between Dr. Tumblety's handwriting samples from years before and after the killings with that of the famous "Letter From Hell" many believe to have been written by Jack the Ripper.

Since then, she's even more certain after examining additional samples of Dr. Tumblety's handwriting that the History Channel procured for her from a London museum. The samples were of more value for comparison with the "Letter From Hell" because they were written around the same time.

"A person's handwriting can change over a period of time," said Ms. Dresbold, a nationally known handwriting expert whose local clients have included Pittsburgh police and the Allegheny County district attorney's office. "I found a few letters much closer to 1888 and I could see his handwriting changing, getting crazier and crazier.

"The ones closer to the dates of the crimes in the fall of 1888 were most like the Letter From Hell."

So named because "From Hell" was written at the top, the letter was sent to the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee with a piece of a human kidney. The writer said he ate the rest of the kidney and signed it "Catch me when you can."

A pathologist said the kidney came from a person who was about 45 who had advanced Bright's Disease. One of the mutilated victims, Kate Eddowes, was 43, had advanced Bright's Disease and her uterus and left kidney were missing.

Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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