On Friday 22nd June 1888 Edmund Gurney checked into the Royal Albion Hotel opposite the Aquarium on Brighton’s seafront. The hotel was an unusual choice for Mr Gurney. A frequent visitor to Brighton, he most commonly stayed in lodgings. Perhaps, this time, he craved the anonymity of a busy hotel. Gurney’s reason for being in Brighton was equally unclear. He had been summoned, by letter, but had not disclosed why, or by whom. His contact details were omitted from the hotel register, and he had no identification on his person, save for one unposted letter.
Edmund Gurney was a founder member of the Society for Psychical Research. A prolific writer and talented musician, Gurney had been involved with the organisation since its inception in 1882. The society investigated all manner of psychic events, cataloguing and seeking to prove or disprove their validity. Gurney had visited Brighton on numerous occasions while conducting experiments on hypnotism with George Albert Smith. Mr Smith, who later became a filmmaker, was a stage hypnotist and psychic who became Edmund Gurney’s private secretary. Together, they carried out work on telepathy and mesmerism.
So, what bought Edmund Gurney to Brighton in June 1888? Certainly not George Albert Smith who was honeymooning on the Isle of Wight. The contents of the letter summoning Gurney to Brighton were never made public although there was a suggestion that he was on Society business. In any event, he never returned to his family home in Montpellier Square London again.
At 2 pm on the afternoon of Saturday 23rd June 1888, a chambermaid at the Royal Albion Hotel raised the alarm after she could not access the room. The hotel manageress let herself in to find Edmund Gurney dead on the bed with a sponge bag over his face, and an empty bottle of a substance believed to be chloroform on the floor. At the subsequent inquest, details were given of Gurney’s insomnia and neuralgia for which he allegedly took chloroform for relief. His death was ruled accidental although later speculation suggested suicide.
But what if neither suggestion was correct?
Lawrence Harpham’s latest investigations lead from Ipswich to Brighton to Whitechapel. Find out what Lawrence concluded about Edmund Gurney’s death in The Ripper Deception.