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 1888
Mary 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 1888
Annie, 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 1888
Elizabeth 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 1888
Catherine 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 1888
Not 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.