Florence Maybrick was born in Mobile, Alabama to a banker and his wife in 1862. After her father’s early death, her mother remarried a German baron, causing the family to move overseas to Continental Europe. Florence accompanied her mother on many of her travels abroad, and during one of those adventures, Florence met her future husband, James Maybrick, a Liverpool cotton merchant, on a ship bound for the United Kingdoms.
Florence spent much of her time in James’s company, alone. This was strange for the time, because women in the Victorian era were commonly chaperoned when spending time with men. Many passengers aboard the ship were shocked by the 18 year-old Florence’s brazen interest in James, who was 23 years her senior. It came as no surprise that as the voyage drew to a close, the two decided to marry.
On July 27, 1881, the couple were married at St. James’s Church in London, and not long after the wedding, moved into Battlecrease House, in Aigburth, near Liverpool. Florence was an extravagant mistress for Battlecrease House, because like many young women, she enjoyed spending money on lavish furnishings, beautiful clothes, and other luxuries. The Maybricks soon found themselves on shaky, financial ground. James tried putting Florence on a budget, but her spending still outpaced the allotted allowance. Florence resorted to borrowing money, using American lands she expected to inherit and her jewelry as collateral.
Florence cannot be entirely blamed for the couple’s waltz towards financial ruin. James took several business trips to America and abroad throughout the year, while also keeping an army of mistresses. James had five children with one of these mistresses, and to support this second, shadow family, he paid £100 yearly for their housing, food, and clothes. On top of his addition to women, James was also a frequent user of arsenic and other patent drugs.
James’s infidelities drove Florence to having affairs of her own. She found comfort in the arms of Alfred Brierley, a cotton broker, and James’ own brother, Edwin Maybrick (now that takes revenge to a whole new level). James eventually discovered her relationship with Alfred Brierley, which led to a violent altercation. By 1889, the marriage had eroded to where both sides desired a divorce.
On April 23, 1889, Florence bought fly paper from a local chemist and soaked them in a bowl on a washstand. She later claimed she’d done this, because she was going to use the soaked fly paper to reduce the swelling for a skin eruption.
On April 27, 1889, shortly after their falling out, James became ill. He complained about headaches, cold limbs, and stomach problems. A doctor was summoned, and he diagnosed James with chronic dyspepsia, which according to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (CSIR), is a “chronic disorder of sensation and movement (peristalsis) in the upper digestive tract.” James was put on a strict diet to combat the illness.
However, the doctor’s orders did little to help James. A few days after his illness began, two female friends of his, Mrs. Briggs and Mrs. Hughes, visited James. They became suspicious after hearing about the fly paper Florence had soaked for her alleged beauty treatment. Mrs. Briggs sent a telegram to Edwin and Michael Maybrick, James’s other brother, about Florence’s suspicious behaviour. Her telegram read: “Come at once; strange things going on here.”
Florence sent a letter to her lover, Albert Brierley, that same day. According to Casebook: Jack the Ripper, the letter read:
Dearest -- Your letter under cover to John K. came to hand just after I had written to you on Monday. I did not expect to hear from you so soon, and had delayed in giving him the necessary instructions. Since my return I have been nursing M. day and night. He is sick unto death. The doctors held a consultation yesterday, and now all depends upon how long his strength will hold out. Both my brothers-in-law are here, and we are terribly anxious. I cannot answer your letter fully to-day, my darling, but relieve your mind of all fear of discovery now and in the future. M. has been delirious since Sunday, and I know now that he is perfectly ignorant of everything, even of the name of the street, and also that he has not been making any inquiries whatever. The tale he told me was a pure fabrication, and only intended to frighten the truth out of me. In fact he believes my statement, although he will not admit it. You need not therefore go abroad on that account, dearest; but, in any case, please don't leave England until I have seen you once again. You must feel that those two letters of mine were written under circumstances which must even excuse their injustice in your eyes. Do you suppose that I could act as I am doing if I really felt and meant what I inferred then? If you wish to write to me about anything do so now, as all the letters pass through my hands at present. Excuse this scrawl, my own darling, but I dare not leave the room for a moment, and I do not know when I shall be able to write to you again. In haste, yours ever. --Florie
The Maybrick brothers came to Battlecrease House to tend to their brother and watch Florence. She was forbidden from tending to her ailing husband and placed under house arrest by the brothers. On May 10th, the Maybrick brothers and the servants searched the house for evidence against Florence, finding nearly enough arsenic, it was claimed, to kill fifty people, amongst other things. Of course, it must be remembered arsenic was commonly used in households back then as rat poisoning and pesticide. It was also used in beauty treatments, which made Florence’s excuses for the fly paper somewhat believable.
On May 11th, it was clear that James Maybrick wouldn’t survive the night. He died soon after. A post-mortem was conducted on his body on May 13th, revealing he’d died from an irritant poison. However, his body was examined again on May 30th and the cause of death was changed after an analysis revealed less than half a grain of arsenic found in his system. A cocktail of strychnine, hyoscine, morphia, and prussic acid was found in his corpse, but these were all administered to James by his doctor (and himself) before his death.
During this time, Florence had been arrested for murder. However, there were those who believed Florence wasn’t guilty, especially when it found James didn’t have lethal amounts of arsenic in his body. They believed he’d likely died from his drug addiction. This didn’t prevent the courts from finding Florence guilty of murder and sentencing her to death. However, her sentence was commuted to life in prison. She served fourteen years of her sentence before being released, after which she returned to the United States. Florence died on October 23, 1941 in Connecticut, alone and penniless.
Did Florence poison Jack the Ripper? Those who believe in her guilt say she poisoned James because of his infidelities and drug addiction. Others say she murdered him after learning he was Jack the Ripper, which would be poetic if it was true.
James Maybrick wasn’t a Ripper suspect until 1992 when a Liverpool scrap metal merchant, Michael Barrett, produced a diary he claims was given to him by a friend, Tony Devereaux. Although the diary doesn’t hold the name of its author, it’s clear through inferences in the text that it’s the womanizing, drug-addicted James Maybrick. Along with the diary, there’s a crime scene photograph with the initials “F.M.” written in blood from one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, and a watch presented in the 1990s was inscribed with “I am Jack”, “J. Maybrick”, and the names of the Canonical Five.
Of course, the strongest evidence would be the diary, which describes the murders in detail and their motivations. The diarist described his wife as a “whore” and “bitch” and claimed the murders started after he spotted his wife in the arms of her lover in Liverpool. Shortly after, the Ripper murders started in the Whitechapel district of London. However, the diary is likely a hoax. James Maybrick was likely not even murdered by his poor wife. Most likely, James Maybrick died from an overdose, and his death was destined to remain lost to history if not for his “rediscovered” diary.
Arsenic and Injustice ~ The Trials of Florence Maybrick by Brian Thomas
Florence Elizabeth Maybrick on Murderpedia
Functional Dyspepsia by the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (CSIR)
My Fifteen Lost Years: Mrs. Maybrick’s Own Story by Florence Maybrick