In 1974 a six part series was shown on American television, hosted by Sebastian Cabot, about the Jack the Ripper mystery, It starred Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor who had appeared on a regular, and long running detective series as police officers Barlow and Watts. The two fictional detectives were being assigned to re-investigate Whitechapel as a kind of test assignment. And the full story of those killings of 1888 was retold with great detail and care.
That series reopened real modern interest in the Whitechapel Murders, and the yearly series of books and magazines that deal with all aspects of the case (victims, detectives, and suspects, as well as locations, clues, historical background) being closely scrutinized. Whether that mystery is ever solved or not is besides the point: it has taken on a critical life of its own that is only rivaled (in social history terms) by the vast interest in the sinking of the Titanic.
The Ripper series actually appeared on the B.B.C. in 1973. What many Americans do not know is that a second series of factual based re-investigations were done by Barlow and Watts in 1976. This was only a six episode series (one crime per episode). The cases were pretty famous ones: the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Henri Desiree Landru, the fates of King Edward V and his brother (the Duke of York) in 1483 (the Princes in the Tower), were among them. In looking over the six, I notice that one is not as well recalled as the others: the Dickman - Nisbit Railroad Mystery of 1910. I will explain what this case is.
Nisbit, the victim boarded a train in the North of England, carrying a large sum of money for his company (wages for mine workers). He was seen sitting in a compartment with another man who was facing him in the shadows. Subsequently Mr. Nisbit's body was found in the train a few stations later, and the money was gone. The investigation led to the arrest of on John Alexander Dickman, a bookmaker. Dickman was tried and convicted of the murder, and executed. But the evidence was not very strong. To begin with, while Dickman was seen on the train station platform, he was never shown to have been with Nisbit. The man in the compartment with Nisbit COULD have been Dickman, but nobody was certain. Dickman's movements after he left the train were long, delayed, and suspicious - but he had an explanation: He suffered from hemorrhoids, and so he was occupied relieving himself in the fairly deserted old mine area that he was walking in. The money was never found, so that it could not be shown if Dickman ever used it. This was odd, because (supposedly) he killed Nisbit to get the money to pay some large outstanding debts.
England has had other major train murder cases, including at least three unsolved ones involving the murder of women (in 1897, 1905, and 1920). But of the ones officially solved by trial and conviction, the Dickman Case is generally considered the weakest. Therefore it was worth reviewing on this show - and leaving it's unanswered questions for the audience to determine.
I wish the show was rebroadcast or sold as DVD or a Video series. I don't know if any mistakes or misinformation appeared in the show (did they discuss the theory that Dickman was possibly involved in an earlier murder in 1908, but got away with it - and that powerful enemies (friends of the victims) made sure he was executed this time). Based on the Ripper series (which was very good) this group sounds promising. Maybe one day they'll be shown again.
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