Subseries 8 - Lipski

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1294-B1998-0006-1-5-8




  • 1981-1989 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1.40 m of textual records

Context area

Name of creator

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

In the Spring of 1981, I started looking for a project that would build on my interest in Mr. Justice James Fitzjames Stephen, who had played a prominent role in the article on criminal codes that I had completed on my sabbatical in 1979-80. I knew that Stephen had been involved in a number of interesting murder cases, such as the Maybrick case. I started to play around with a plot, perhaps a fictional one, that would involve Stephen, the Maybrick murder case, and Stephen’s son, J.K. Stephen, who may have been Jack the Ripper. In the course of this speculative investigation I came across the Lipski case. (See file 10.)

I had earlier seen brief references to the Lipski case that Stephen had tried in 1887, but did not know much about it except for the fact that Lipski was a Polish Jew and was hanged for murder. I looked through the London Times microfilm of the case that took place over the summer of 1887. The case was a fascinating one and I wrote to England to see if there were records on the case. They had records and even though they were closed for 100 years they would make them available for me. I was going over to England that summer to give a paper at the Cambridge Lectures and made arrangements to view the documents at the Home Office (file 2). The papers were very extensive (files 88-93) and there was also a transcript of the two-day trial (files 94 & 95). I arranged to have the documents copied and sent to me in Canada.

I quickly concluded that the case was an excellent one to explore the frailty of the criminal process and various other issues that interested me, such as Jewish immigration to England. It would also enable me to show the danger of capital punishment. One of the files I have included in this collection contains notes that I made in the 1960s on the issue of capital punishment (file 3).

There were, of course, many documents in other libraries and archives (file 4). The Cambridge Library, for example, contained the Stephen papers -- papers that I had used in the R. S. Wright article -- which included letters that Stephen had sent to his wife in the country during the trial and which showed what was going through his mind during the trial and in the later fight for a reprieve.

John Atkinson, a law student, was my research assistant that summer and did excellent work in helping me find material putting the case in the social and economic context of the times. He also helped me the following summer in Canada as well as in London where he spent a month in various libraries (See file 8.). (John died from cancer shortly after graduating from Law School. I gave the eulogy at his funeral. It has not been easy sorting through the file containing his notes.) Another excellent research assistant was Stephen Perry, who had just graduated from the Law School and had returned to Oxford to complete his doctorate in jurisprudence. (He is now
teaching at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.)He visited various archives for me in England in the fall of 1981 (file 9).

There was extensive correspondence with a large number of persons who had expertise in the various subjects covered in the manuscript (files 5 to 7). Some were experts on immigration to England, some on life in the East End of London, some on W. T. Stead, the journalist, who played a prominent role in the case, some on locked-door murder mysteries, and many others topics.

I have kept only a small part--perhaps about 10%--of my research files dealing with the case. Most had been culled earlier. Those kept include a number of spiral binders which show, to some extent, the chronological development of my ideas (files 10-13) and various specific files that may be of particular interest to future researchers. These include research on Jack the Ripper, locked-door mysteries, Rabbi Simeon Singer, W. T. Stead, and immigration matters (files 14-24).

There is no complete hand-written draft of the manuscript. It seems that I had my secretary type short hand-written sections after I had completed them. Some of these early drafts that I did keep are contained in various files in the collection (files 1, 25, 26, and 30).

In early drafts I gave away in the opening the fact that Lipski was hanged (see file 1). In later drafts, however, I decided that because virtually no one knew the Lipski case, I would keep back from the reader the fact that he was hanged, although I would state at the outset that he was convicted. The drama in the case would therefore turn on the issue of whether there would be a reprieve.

The book went through various typed and word-processed drafts (files 27-29, 53-56). The endnotes were done after the text was completed (files 30-38). There is considerable correspondence relating to pictures that were used in the book and for the slides that I later used in the various talks that I gave (files 57-60).

Macmillan London agreed to publish the book in December 1982 and a contract was concluded in 1983 (files 39-46). A number of other publishers had turned it down (file 50). Box 3 contains the various matters pertaining to publication such as author’s publicity sheets and catalogues. I was particularly pleased to have Macmillan London publish the book because they were Stephen’s publishers a hundred years earlier. Subsequently arrangements were made to have Macmillan Canada distribute the book in Canada at a reasonable price (file 48). The American rights were finally sold to Beaufort Books (file 49). No paperback edition was brought out (file 47). In 1995 copyright in the book reverted to the author (file 46).

A selection from the book appeared in the Canadian lawyer and in 1995 it was given the Crime Writers of Canada Award for Non-fiction for 1984 and was short-listed for the English Crime Writer’s Dagger Award for Non-fiction (files 51 and 52). I gave many talks with slides on the book, and did a number of radio interviews (Peter Gzowski and Vikki Gabereau, etc.) (See files 72 & 73.)

The book was widely reviewed in England, Canada, and the United States (files 65-69). The files contain extensive correspondence after publication (files 62-64), including correspondence with some of the reviewers (file 70) and correspondence with respect to the W. T. Stead Society.

There are a large number of files in box 45 dealing with possible movies. An Australian company, the principal of which was the murdered women’s granddaughter, took an option on the book and came fairly close to getting the financing for a movie (files 75-84). It had some of the leading character actors in England, such as John Mills and Leo McKern, lined up to play roles in the movie (file 83). A number of Canadian directors and producers, such as Pat Ferns and Beryl Fox, took an interest in the project, but nothing concrete developed. An American company also took an interest in the book, but again, nothing came of it (file 85). As I state later with respect to my other murder books, I’m still hoping!

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access


Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Retrieval code


Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used




Accession area

Related subjects

Related people and organizations

Related genres

Related places