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History: The Mystery of The Maybricks

As part of the Walking Festival, Aspire volunteer, Julie Croydon, leads the ‘Lost Crypt’ history walk around Ryde dressed as Florence Chandler Maybrick.

It includes a stop at the tomb of five times Mayor of Ryde, Michael Maybrick, who was a famous composer.

Using the name ‘Stephen Adams’, Michael Maybrick far outsold his contemporaries, Gilbert and Sullivan. Michael accused Florence of poisoning his brother, her husband, James. Even though the postmortem did not find enough arsenic in his body to kill James, Florence was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. This was commuted to life imprisonment and Florence eventually returned to her native America. The injustice of this case led to the formation of the criminal court of appeal.

In 1991, a diary was discovered, purportedly written by Florence’s husband, in which he claimed to be Jack the Ripper. This resulted in the grave of James Maybrick in Liverpool being vandalised. Film director, Bruce Robinson, is convinced that the diary was written by Michael to deflect suspicion from himself. At the time of the Ripper killings, nobody suspected either of the Maybrick brothers, and forensic examination of the ink casts doubt on the date of the diary. However, many people are fascinated by Robinson’s theory. This includes American author, Ron Suresha, whom Julie met in Connecticut last October. Ron is writing a book about Florence who is buried not far from his home.

Ron quotes an offhand remark made by Robinson, during an interview in 2016, that Michael also killed Florence’s son. Concerned that unfounded speculation might lead to Michael’s grave being vandalised, Julie began searching for evidence of Michael’s whereabouts during the crucial period.

Florence’s son, who was also called James, died on April 10th 1911 in Vancouver where he was working as a mining engineer. Unhappily, whilst eating a sandwich, he appears to have mistaken a beaker of potassium cyanide for water.

The April 8th 1911 edition of the County Press records Michael as having been at a meeting of the Conservative Association seven days earlier. Julie was relieved to be able to point out to Ron that it would not have been possible for Michael to journey from the Island to Liverpool, sail to New York then on by train to the West Coast arriving in British Columbia in time to murder James, impersonate his voice over the telephone, then return completely unnoticed.

Julie said: “I’m so glad Ron is sending me drafts of his book. There are lots of conspiracy theories these days.”

The Isle of Wight Walking Festival will be held from May 11-19 2024, celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The Lost Crypt walks tend to be fully booked within days of their publication in March, so do watch the website.

She charges £5 per person with all proceeds going to the work of Aspire Ryde.

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