‘Jack the Ripper’ is one of the most enduring and famous serial killer legends that still captivates the world’s imagination.The culprit responsible for slaughtering five prostitutes, and possibly more, in London’s East End in the autumn of 1888 was never apprehended. Despite countless investigations which claim to have definitive evidence of the killer’s identity, the brutal murderer’s name and motivation are still unproven.The moniker ‘Jack the Ripper’ originates from a letter written by someone who claimed to be the Whitechapel butcher, which was published at the time of the attacks. The killings all took place within a mile of each other, and involved the districts of Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Aldgate and the City of London.Adding to the mystery of the affair is the fact that several letters were sent by the killer to the London Metropolitan police, taunting them about his gruesome activities and speculating on further murders to come. The plethora of theories as to the identity of the killer, ranging from the famous Victorian painter Walter Sickert to a Polish migrant and even the grandson of Queen Victoria have all contributed to a culture of folklore and ghoulish entertainment.The East End district was a place that was viewed by respectable London society with either compassion or utter contempt. Despite being an area where skilled immigrants, mainly Jews and Russians, came to start a new life and build up businesses, the district was also notorious for squalor, violence and crime. Prostitution was only illegal if the practice caused a public disturbance, and during the late 19th century thousands of brothels and low rent lodging houses provided sexual services.
In the 19th century, the death or murder of a working girl was rarely reported in the press or discussed within polite society. The reality was that countless ‘ladies of the night’ were subjected to violent attacks, which in some cases resulted in their deaths. A typical example was a prostitute named Emma Smith, who was violently assaulted by four men and raped with an object. Smith died of peritonitis. She was one of many unfortunate victims who were killed by gangs demanding protection money.However, it was the series of Ripper killings in August 1888 that stood out from anything that had gone before. They were marked by a sadistic butchery that suggested a mind so sociopathic and hateful of women that was difficult for sane people to comprehend. For Jack the Ripper didn’t just snuff out life with a knife, he mutilated and humiliated womanhood. It was as if his actions were aimed at all women, irrespective of their class, education or occupation.The fact that the murders suddenly stopped without the culprit having been apprehended has reinforced the mythology of Jack The Ripper and spawned an industry of books, films, TV series and historical tours dedicated to one of the most sickening episodes of serial murders in criminal history.
The Met vs "the Ripper"
The Victorian police were largely unfamiliar with serial killers. Their understanding of the psychological aspects of such murders, or indeed recognising patterns and killer profiles, was extremely limited.Two major police figures are associated with the Ripper investigations, Sir Melville Macnaghten, Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police Service Criminal Investigation Dept and Inspector Frederick Abberline.Macnaghten didn’t join the force until after the murders and his notes are now viewed as containing errors relating to the murders and investigations.Abberline himself was not in charge of investigations, but he is the most prominent police figure strongly associated with the case and was even portrayed twice on film and TV by Johnny Depp and Michael Caine.Following the murder of the first victim, Mary Ann Nicholls, Abberline was transferred to Whitechapel and placed in charge of several detectives investigating the case.
The police and press received countless letters during the investigation from a variety of different sources. Some pertaining to come from the killer himself were considered hoaxes, but a few were noted as genuine and even today have not been dismissed by experts. The killer referred to himself as ‘Saucy Jack’ in a postcard dated 1 October 1888, and the message contained details such as the ‘double killing’ even before the event had been reported in the press.One letter in particular has passed into folklore due to its association with a ghoulish package. Posted on the 15 October 1888, the letter headed ‘From Hell’ was sent to George Lusk who was head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.The letter arrived with a box that contained a lone kidney, assumed to have been taken from victim Catherine Eddowes. At first it was thought that the package may have been a hoax sent by medical students, but is now considered to be genuine:From hell.Mr Lusk,SorI send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longersignedCatch me when you can Mishter LuskNewspapers at the time did not hold back in criticising the authorities for not bringing the killer to book and in one particular sketch in ‘Punch’ magazine depicted a drawing of a blindfolded policeman being spun around by unsavoury characters with the heading ‘Blind-Man’s Buff'.It is thought that it was the newspapers that actually coined the phrase Jack the Ripper, as a means of ‘branding’ the crime and upping circulation figures.
Who was the Ripper?
Prime SuspectsThe longevity of the Jack The Ripper phenomenon has been maintained due to the fact that no killer was actually identified and the murders suddenly stopped after the butchering of Mary Kelly. Therefore, the gruesome saga has always been shrouded by mystery and prone to a multitude of theories and conspiracies.During the time of the actual investigations by Inspector Abberline, suspicion fell on a group of men, some of whom have been totally discarded as ever having been the Ripper. Crime writer Patricia Cornwall has invested millions in her endeavours to name the faceless killer and settled on an old suspect, the Victorian painter Walter Richard Sickert.Sir William Withey Gull (31 Dec 1816 – 29 January 1890)Perhaps the most popular choice of suspect throughout the decades has been physician to Queen Victoria, William Withey Gull, who appears to have caught the imagination of countless authors and film producers. Withey Gull is fingered as the culprit or associate of the Ripper in several films, including the blockbuster ‘From Hell’ (starring Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline), played by a diabolical Sir Ian Holm.Withey Gull is a favoured villain most likely because he fits the bill for conspiracy theories that revolve around Royal connections and associations with Freemasonry and illegitimate children. However, there is very little evidence supporting these views and many of the theories surrounding the involvement of Queen Victoria’s physician and grandson are simply seen as flights of fantasy rather than credible notions backed up with conclusive evidence.According to the main theory surrounding Withey Gull, he was employed to dispatch the victims after they had become part of a plot to blackmail the Government about Prince Eddy’s indiscretions with a pregnant shop girl, whom he secretly married. Withey Gull, with the assistance of a royal coachman, was alleged to have butchered the prostitutes including Mary Kelly who was the real target due to her harbouring Prince Eddy’s illegitimate child.Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (1864-1892)The theory revolving around Prince ‘Eddy’ Albert, being either the Ripper himself or the main cause of the murders, is perhaps the most intriguing and fanciful of all stories. It is a tale that has been recounted in a plethora of books, movies and TV productions but actually was only a theory that came to light in the 1960s.The rudiments of the tale are that Prince Eddy’s mother, Princess Alexandria introduced her son to the Danish painter Walter Richard Sickert in the hope that he would teach the young man about London life. During their escapades, the Prince met and had an affair with a shop girl, Annie Elizabeth Crook, who became pregnant by him. According to one angle, Prince Eddy sired a child with Irish prostitute Mary Kelly instead.Prince Eddy is then alleged to have married Annie Crook in a secret ‘Catholic’ wedding and set up both her and his illegitimate daughter in an apartment in Cleveland Street. It was shortly afterwards when the Royal family discovered Eddy’s secret and fearing scandal that they employed Withey Gull to dispatch Mary Kelly and her prostitute friends, who were blackmailing the Government.Annie herself was abducted and experimented on by Withey Gull, went insane and placed in an asylum where she lived until old age. The story makes compelling reading, but falls down on evidence relating to time and dates. Accusations that the Prince himself was the Ripper due to the fact he had contracted syphilis and had gone insane, are also discredited mainly because records show that he was out of London, often in Yorkshire, during the time of the murders.Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942)Sickert is the prime suspect in crime novelist Patricia Cornwall’s book ‘Portrait of a Killer’, which alleges the German-born painter is the Ripper due to elements of ‘misogyny’ in his art and a belief that he wrote the taunting letters to the police at the time of investigations. The choice is not original as Sickert has been associated with the murders as part of the many royal-conspiracy theories and also his relationship with Prince Eddy. Strong evidence points to Sickert having been in France during most of the killings and he is not considered by many investigators as being a serious contender.John Maybrick (24 Oct 1838 – 11 May 1889)Another contentious suspect, Maybrick was a well-travelled Liverpool cotton merchant who was murdered by his own wife, Florence, after she poisoned him. A diary, purportedly written by Maybrick, describes his activities as the Ripper responsible for the Whitechapel murders. The diary did not come to light until 1992 and the general consensus is that it is a fake.‘Dr’ Francis Tumblety (1833-1903)An American and charlatan, who posed as a doctor throughout North America and occasionally Europe, he was associated with the deaths of some of his patients who he may have actually killed through incompetence. Tumblety was in England in 1888, at the time of the Ripper murders and arrested for homosexual importuning. He was released on bail and fled the country to France on 24 November 1888, fifteen days after the death of last known Ripper victim, Mary Kelly. Contemporary investigators have dismissed him as being the Whitechapel murderer.Montague John Druitt (15 Aug 1857 – 1 Dec 1888)Druitt was a lawyer by trade, but also acted as a private school teacher. His last place of teaching was at a Blackheath school. Following his dismissal he was found floating in the Thames two days later. Police assumed Druitt had suffered a bout of depression and had also placed stones in his pocket to assist quick drowning. Because of his suicide so soon after the last of the Ripper murders, some investigators believed he may have been the killer. However, later evidence suggested that he was in a good state of mind after having performed well in a court case. Inspector Frederick Abberline himself was not convinced he was the Ripper.Severin Antoniocich Klosowski (1865 Poland – executed 7 April 1903)Klosowski was Inspector Abberline’s favoured suspect, having shown that the Polish born man was extremely violent and possessed a misogynistic streak. He was found guilty of poisoning his three mistresses and eventually hanged. Klosowski took up the alias George Chapman on his arrival in the UK. He was also known to have had some medical knowledge, but failed to become a doctor and instead set up a barber’s shop. It was thought unlikely that the Ripper, who dispatched his victims in such a bloody and messy manner with a knife, would then resort to poisoning his victims. Standard profiles of serial killers show that they rarely change their method of killing and chosen weapons. Chapman used a particularly cruel form of poison, similar to arsenic and after conviction for the murder of his last victim was hung at Wandsworth Prison on 7 April 1903.Dr Thomas Neill Cream (May 1850- 15 November 1892)Born in Scotland and educated in London, Thomas Cream specialised in secret abortions, which were illegal at the time. He was eventually found responsible of the deaths of several female and male patients by poisoning while working in America. Imprisoned at Illinois State Penitentiary he was released and relocated to London where he carried out similar activity. He was arrested and hanged. At the time of his execution on the gallows he is alleged to have said ‘I am Jack’.Cream was more likely a fantasist and possibly suffered from the personality disorder Munchausen syndrome, a pathological form of behaviour that has been linked to several contemporary murder cases within the medical profession. Many believe the fact that the dates of his imprisonment clashed with the times of the Ripper murders rule Cream out as the Whitechapel killer.Other suspects have included Frederick Bailey Deeming, a British man who murdered his family and a second wife in Australia ; Robert Donston Stephenson, an in-patient at Whitechapel Hospital who had a penchant for the occult and William Henry Bury, who murdered his wife, a former prostitute by cutting her with a knife. The murder took place a year after Mary Kelly’s death. Bury pleaded guilty to killing his wife and was hanged in Dundee, Scotland.
The man who shook a city
Most of the killings by so-called ‘Jack’ were perpetrated in a public place at night. The victim’s throat was always cut, after which the body was subjected to abdominal mutilations. It is believed that many of the victims were strangled in order to silence them, although a letter supposedly written by the killer and sent to the Metropolitan police alludes to one victim ‘squealing’.It is now accepted that the slayer also had a degree of surgical or medical skill due to the manner in which organs were removed from the bodies. Although the name and number of the Ripper’s actual murders are still open to debate, it is generally accepted that he carried out five attacks, two of which were executed on the same night.
Mary Ann Nichols (43), killed 31 Aug 1888Mary was born Mary Ann Walker on 26 August 1845. She was also known as ‘Polly’ and had married William Nichols, a printer’s machinist. They had five children. Mary was a known heavy drinker which most likely contributed to the breakdown of her marriage. Nichols continued to pay Mary an allowance of five shillings a week until it was reported she was living with another man. She later spent time in the workhouses and lived off her earnings as a prostitute.Mary is the first acknowledged 'Ripper' victim. Her body was found by two workmen in front of a dimly lit gated stable entrance in Buck’s Row (now Durward St) at around 3.40am on Friday, 31 August 1888. Nichols had been savagely attacked across the throat exposing her vertebrae and also repeatedly stabbed in the stomach. Her abdomen was cut open, exposing her intestines, with two small stabs in the groin area.Annie Chapman (47), killed 8 Sept 1888Annie, born Eliza Ann Smith in 1841, appeared to have had a reasonably promising upbringing, brought up by George Smith, of the 2nd Regiment Life Guards and Ruth Chapman. In 1869, she married a coachman called John Chapman and moved to Berkshire where they had three children. Tragically their only son was born disabled while their first daughter died of meningitis at twelve. The third and middle child, Annie Georgina, fared better when she joined a travelling circus and went to France. Annie and her husband eventually parted company.In 1886 Annie was living in Whitechapel with a man who made wire sieves. She was soon known as Annie ‘Sievey’ and for a few years lived on an allowance of several shillings from her estranged husband John. When the allowance stopped following her husband’s death, Annie’s live-in partner soon left her. It was after this that she became depressed and lived in lodging houses. She took to work selling flowers and doing crochet, but was tempted to earn much needed money through casual prostitution.Chapman, a small, blue-eyed brunette, was also known as ‘Dark Annie’ and in poor health at the time of her death due to TB and syphilis. She was discovered about 6am on the morning of Saturday, 8 September 1888. Her body was found near a doorway in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel. She had been completely disembowelled and her intestines thrown over her right shoulder in a macabre manner. Her uterus and a portion of her navel flesh were also missing. As with the other Ripper killings, her throat had been slashed.What was startling about this murder was that it had taken place in the emerging dawn light and while many people living in a house at the back of the yard were milling about. There was only one escape route, a narrow passage through the building which workmen used. Yet despite all this activity no-one saw or heard anything.
Elizabeth Stride (45), killed 30th Sept 1888Elizabeth was born Elisabeth Gustafsdotter in Gothenburg, Sweden and became a prostitute early on in her home country, before moving to England. She was registered by the Gothenburg police as a prostitute and was treated twice for venereal disease. In 1865, she tragically gave birth to a stillborn child, a year before she moved to London to work as a domestic. On 7 March 1869 she married a carpenter John Stride and the couple kept a coffee shop in Poplar, East London. The couple had separated by 1877 and Liz was admitted to the Polar Workhouse.Elizabeth, nicknamed ‘Long Liz’ was 44 at the time of her death and was killed on the night of the "Double Event" that also saw the murder of Catherine Eddowes. Liz’s body was discovered at 1am on the Sunday morning of 30 September 1888. She was found on the ground in Dutfield’s Yard (now Henriques St) in Whitechapel.Her throat had been cut, but strangely there were no other mutilations apart from what appeared to be an attempt to slice off her ear. It was most likely that the killer was disturbed. A steward of an adjoining club discovered her body.Some historians have argued that because Stride did not suffer the same mutilations as the other victims, she was not attacked by the Ripper. But despite this departure, the murder of Stride does bear other similarities to the Ripper’s pattern such as date, time and type of site.Catherine (Kate) Eddowes (46), killed 30 September 1888Catherine Eddowes was born one of twelve siblings in Wolverhampton. Her mother died from TB when she was thirteen and her father died a year later. Catherine met a Thomas Conway and had a daughter, Annie, by him and later two sons. They remained together for twenty years before separating.Eddowes met her final partner John Kelly in a Whitechapel lodging house. They stayed together for seven years until her death. It is likely that she kept her ‘casual’ prostitution a secret from Kelly, because on the day before she died she announced she was going to see her married daughter. After parting from Kelly around 2pm on the Saturday, the day before her death, she managed to procure enough money to get drunk and was later arrested by the City police. She was kept in a cell until sober before being released at around 1am.The last sighting of her was made by men leaving a pub in Mitre Square. She was seen talking to a male figure around 1.30am.Catherine’s body was found in the early hours of Sunday morning at around 1.45am in a dark quiet area of Mitre Square. This was the only killing to take place in the City of London, even though it was a short distance from the Whitechapel boundary.Reflecting the usual pattern of the killer’s grisly trademarks, her throat had been cut and her abdomen ripped open. She was completely disembowelled. Like Annie Chapman before her, her intestines had been gouged out and placed over her right shoulder. Eddowes also had facial mutilations and her uterus and left kidney were missing. The latter was to eventually reappear in a macabre attempt to taunt the police.
Mary Jeanette Kelly (25), killed 9th November 1888Not a great deal is known about Mary Kelly apart from hearsay and nuggets of information from Joseph Barnett, a man who had lived with her. She was said by friends to be a talented and creative creature from Ireland, but whose family at one stage had moved to Wales when she was young. From there Kelly left for London in 1884 and found work in an affluent West End brothel. It is alleged that she was invited by a client to France, but quickly returned having adopted the more French sounding name of Marie Jeanette Kelly.Her body was found on the morning of Friday, 9 November 1888, the day after the Lord Mayor’s celebrations. Her landlord had sent his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, to collect the rent as she was several weeks behind. At 10.45 am, when Bowyer first knocked on the door of 13 Miller’s Court, Dorset St in Spitalfields, there was no reply. He then peered through a broken pane.Kelly’s body, which was lying on the bed, was horrifically mutilated. Her throat had been slashed and her face severely ripped. The chest and abdomen were cut open and many of her internal organs had been removed, some strewn about her. Flesh had been carved from her limbs while her heart was missing, possibly thrown and burned in the fireplace. Neighbours had heard a solitary scream during the night suggesting she had been killed around 4am. It was later discovered that the victim had been pregnant.
VictimsMary Ann Nichols (43), killed 31 Aug 1888Annie Chapman (47), killed 8 Sept 1888Elizabeth Stride (45), killed 30 Sept 1888Catherine (Kate) Eddowes (46), killed 30 September 1888Mary Jeanette Kelly (25), killed 9 November 1888
Panic across London
Jack the Ripper’s targeting and hatred of prostitutes wasn’t an aberration, but was instead symptomatic of the society in which he lived. The middle and upper classes believed prostitutes were symbols of both decadence and disease. Then this view was certainly shared by the middle and upper-class opinions of the time. It was a society that saw prostitutes and the working class in general as a ‘degenerate’ community that needed its sexual activity curtailed and contained.At the time of the Ripper killings a Government backed initiative, The Contagious Diseases Act, was put in motion, precipitating a ‘morality’ campaign aimed at the working classes. Brothels and lodging houses of ‘ill repute’ were closed down and many ‘working’ women found themselves homeless and on the streets. For a predator like Jack The Ripper, the political and social climate had made it all the more easier for him to stalk his victims.The crimes quickly stirred up racial tensions, particularly in a place like the East End where many immigrants such as Jews and Russians lived and worked. Suspicion fell on anyone who wasn’t English, as the general belief was that the heinous killings must be the handiwork of a foreign national.Even the mentally ill were fingered. This followed from the belief that no sane Englishman could carry out such brutal acts. As a result many men who came forward confessing to be the killer ended up being detained in asylums.
Suspicion also fell on anyone employed as slaughterhouse workers, butchers, boot makers, doctors and surgical students; in fact almost anyone who worked with knives. What the actual killer had stirred up, as a by-product of his brutal slayings, was a bubbling cauldron of xenophobia and mistrust between the classes.When the body of Catherine Eddowes was discovered near Mitre Square, the police discovered graffiti on the wall that appeared to be linked to the crime. Written in chalk was the message: "The Juwes are not the men to be blamed for nothing".It was not understood whether this cryptic message had been written by the Ripper himself or that it happened to be sheer coincidence that Eddowes’ body was found by the message written at an earlier date. There was also the possibility that a local citizen had come across the body and written the message to stir up racial tensions.However, fearing that such a message would incite religious hatred and possibly ignite a riot, Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, decided to erase all trace of the message by rubbing it out. His actions although prudent were still extraordinary considering that this was a crime scene with forensic validity.Some officers believed that the message should have at least been photographed first.The mystery of the identity of Jack The Ripper will possibly continue for many decades until perhaps some incontestable evidence involving DNA can prove an irrefutable link.