Richard Mansfield was born on the 24th of May, 1857, in Berlin to an English wine merchant father and an opera-singer mother. He was educated in Derby, England, where he studied painting.
He went to the United States with his mother, where he was performing, but when he was about twenty-years-old he came back to England. He couldn’t make a living as a painter, so by 1879 he had settled on acting, appearing in light opera.
He performed in Gilbert and Sullivan shows and he even created the role of Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. In 1882, he went to the United States where he made his Broadway debut. In 1887, he began portraying the title role in the play Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
He continued to play Jekyll and Hyde for almost two decades on-and-off, headlining a number of Broadway revivals along with starring roles in major productions of King Henry V, Julius Caesar, the Merchant of Venice and Richard III.
His transformation scenes were said to be so realistic that women in the audience fainted and men were scared to go home alone.
In 1888, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was performed at the Lyceum Theatre in London just about when Jack the Ripper Murders took place in the East End of London. Two days after the performance, a woman named Martha Tabram was murdered and is considered by many to be the Ripper’s first victim.
Jack the Ripper was supposedly a normal man at day time and a serial killer at night. So there were similarities between Jekyll/Hyde and Jack the Ripper. It was thought that Jack the Ripper was a doctor because of the precise incisions he made on his victims.
Jack the Ripper was a serial murderer of multiple prostitutes in the East End of London in 1888. He is most often associated with the murder of five women: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly, all occurring between August the 31st and November the 9th, 1888.
The fact that Mansfield was able to transform himself from the upright and decent Dr Jekyll into the despicable and evil Mr Hyde on stage, night after night, led to the inevitable suggestion that he may well have been Jack the Ripper.
On October the 5th, someone sent a letter to the City of London Police claiming that Richard Mansfield was Jack the Ripper. The person couldn’t believe that someone was able to portray a killer like Mr Hyde so well as Richard did without actually being a killer. So Richard Mansfield was now a suspect but he was never arrested as a suspect.
Richard Mansfield died from liver cancer in 1907. Back then, the New York Times gushed “he was the greatest actor of his hour, and one of the greatest of all time.”