The following review appeared in edition 160 of Ripperologist magazine.




Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword History, 2017
softcover & ebook
147pp; illus; notes; index
£12.99 softcover & £9.35 ebook

The execution of Ruth Ellis on 13 July 1955 sparked author Stephen Jakobi’s mistrust of authority, opposition to capital punishment, and eventual career as an internationally-recognised human rights lawyer who, in 1992, founded the Human Rights Organisation Fair Trials International. A few years ago he published his autobiography, Freeing the Innocent: From Bangkok Hilton to Guantanamo, sadly now out of print (but available as a Kindle), and he has recently been looking for “missed” miscarriages of justice – that is miscarriages which haven’t attracted public attention like the cases of Edith Thompson, Ruth Ellis and Emily Swann.

Interestingly, he’s “discovered” that the key files, those dubbed the Home Office “death files”, were pretty much fallow fields. That is to say, they’d been pretty much ignored by researchers to date and accordingly yielded hitherto unsuspected treasures. These “death files” contain the information provided for the consideration of the Home Secretary when called upon to consider the possible commutation of sentence. Normally closed for 100 years, a recent relaxation of the rules meant that files that would have remained closed for a further 30 years have been made available. Among the files accessible to Jakobi was that of Louie Calvert, a woman who he describes as “a little-known serial killer of the 1920s”. Among the treasures found by Jakobi was a notebook into which Calvert pencilled her autobiography! Calvert’s is one of the four cases Jakobi examines in this book, along with those of Agnes Norman, Kate Webster, and Emma Willis.

Whether any of these were serial killers in the generally accepted sense of someone who killed multiple times without profit or gain is open to question, and I’m not entirely sure Jakobi made much of an effort to get into the minds of these women either, so the book will likely prove a disappointment to anyone expecting a psychological evaluation of four female serial killers.

That said, Stephen Jakobi has written a solid re-evaluation of four little-known cases – well, three little-known and in the case of Kate Webster, one reasonably well-known. Of particular interest is what Mr Jakobi describes as “the explanation of one of the key puzzles in the ‘Thames Torso’ murders”. It would spoil things if I were to give details of this “explanation”, but I’ll say that it is interesting and merits some thought, but I didn’t find it particularly persuasive.

Review by Paul Begg.


Back to list of titles.