Any true crime fan has heard of the infamous Jack the Ripper, and most of us still wonder who he really is. An unidentified serial killer from 1888, the Ripper is responsible for nearly 11 murders in the impoverished areas around the Whitechapel district, London. Given other names like the Whitechapel Murderer and Leather Apron, which he later ridiculed in one of his letters, the one name that caught on was, in fact, the name he gave himself: Jack the Ripper. It sure has a ring to it.
His bloody activities have long fascinated people, so much so that the term “Ripperology” is unofficially used to describe the study and analysis of the unsolved Ripper murders. Does that mean we finally know the killer? Well, we may never know. There are over one hundred hypotheses about the Ripper’s identity, but he has left us all in the dust. And he himself is far too dead to confess or to be convicted now.
The Canonical Five
There were a large number of murders around that time, which made ascertaining the Ripper’s wrath difficult. The police included 11 killings in their investigation, with dates ranging from 3 April 1888 to 13 February 1891, although they were unable to connect all the killings without a shadow of doubt.
The authorities felt most strongly about the connection of five victims—Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly—as victims of Jack the Ripper. Known as the “canonical five,” their murders occurred between 31 August and 9 November 1888. Their murders and their discovery are nothing less than creepy yet captivating, so let’s jump right into the details.
Mary Ann Nichols’ body was discovered at 3:40 a.m. on 31 August 1888 in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel. Two cuts were found around her throat, and the lower part of the abdomen was partly ripped open by a deep, jagged wound, along with other incisions on the abdomen.
Next came Annie Chapman. Her body was discovered at about 6 a.m. by a resident on 8 September 1888 next to a doorway in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street. Similar to Nichols, her throat was severed by two cuts. The abdomen was slashed entirely open, and a shocking fact was that this time, the victim’s womb had been entirely removed. Medical tests showed that Chapman had only been dead for half an hour before being discovered, so the Ripper was definitely close-by.
Right after this, on 27 September 1888, a letter found its way to the Central News Agency, claiming to be from the legend himself. Starting with “Dear Boss,” the letter joked about the stupidity of Leather Aprons, the police being wrong about their assumptions of the killer, and that he “shan’t quit ripping them just yet.” He signs off with, “Yours truly, Jack the Ripper. Don’t mind giving me the trade name.” Many believe it wasn’t from the killer himself but fabricated by a journalist to hype up the story.
Nevertheless, the name stuck, and so did the vast interest of the public to know who Jack the Ripper was. From then on, the Ripper only got more hungry for murder. As if one job wasn’t enough, on 30 September 1888, Jack the Ripper struck two prostitutes down in a single night. Elizabeth Stride and Cathrine Eddowes were killed on the early morning of Sunday, 30 September 1888.
Elizabeth’s body was discovered at about 1 a.m. in Dutfield’s Yard, off Berner Street in Whitechapel. She only had one clear-cut incision in the neck, which made the police believe the killer might have been interrupted during the attack. Eyewitnesses thought that they saw Stride with a man earlier that night, but descriptions of the man were inconsistent.
Examinations showed Stride had only been dead for 30 minutes from the time of discovery. And around 45 minutes later, Cathrine Eddowes’ body was found in Mitre Square, not too far away from where Stride was found. The throat of Eddowes was severed, and the abdomen was ripped open by a long, jagged wound. Her face had been disfigured as well. The left kidney and a major part of the uterus had been removed.
Eddowes’ and Stride’s murders were called the “double event.” Perhaps the toll of the extra work or the intention to tease the authorities, the police were able to find perhaps one of the few pieces of evidence in these crimes: A part of Eddowes’ blood-stained apron was found at the entrance to an apartment in Goulston Street, Whitechapel. Some graffiti on the wall above the apron piece read, “The Juwes (Jews) are not the men who will not be blamed for nothing.”
Since anti-semitic graffiti was common in such areas, it was unclear to the police whether it was written by the murderer or was merely incidental. But since the area was swarming with cops at that time, it was noted that the killer was easily able to escape attention and probably lived around that area.
The morning after, on October 1st, a postcard was received from Jack the Ripper or someone claiming to be him. Referred to as the Saucy Jacky postcard, it talked about the “double event,” which was not yet public information, so none of the citizens knew about it except the police and the killer himself. The postcard said, “Number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off,” hence Stride only suffered a cut on her neck.
The last known prostitute struck by Jack the Ripper’s spite was Mary Kelly. On Friday, 9 November 1888, Kelly’s mutilated and disemboweled body was discovered on the bed of her room, at 13 Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, at 10:45 a.m. The throat was severed down to the spine, and the abdomen almost emptied of its organs. Her heart was missing as well. Additionally, her body had been “virtually skinned down.” If you don’t get scared easily, the view of this might just give you the ultimate chills.
The Notorious Jack The Ripper’s Checklist
Many claimed that Jack the Ripper was a woman-hating individual with homicidal tendencies because he typically attacked only female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London. During those times, there was a sudden inflow of immigrants and refugees in many places, including the East End of London. This resulted in a lack of resources, and an impoverished class of people developed.
Alcoholism, theft, and violence were rampant due to this poverty. So, many women would become prostitutes to earn their living. In the Whitechapel area alone, there were 62 brothels and 1,200 women working as prostitutes.
More interestingly, experts believe that the deep throat slashes, the abdominal, facial, and genital-area mutilation, and the removal of internal organs are the distinctive features of the Ripper’s way of working or his modus operandi. Mind you, the removal of internal organs, which was found on three of the victims, is not an easy job of a regular Tom but of someone who has some anatomical or surgical knowledge.
Hence, a lot of the suspects during the investigations were mainly butchers, slaughterers, surgeons, and physicians. Many also believed that the close proximity of the killings and no reports of irregular individuals in the area suggested that perhaps the Ripper was a local who lived and worked nearby.
So, now that we know about Jack the Ripper’s victims and how he killed them, does someone know who the Ripper is? The police then interviewed more than 2,000 people; “upwards of 300” people were investigated, and over 100 suspects and 80 suspects were detained. Even after that, there have been years and years of investigation and theories, so are the people getting closer to the killer’s true identity or still far away from it?
Ripping Gripping Theories
The murders had perhaps one of the large numbers of suspects to murder, but Sir Melville Macnaughten, Scotland Yard’s Head of Criminal Investigation Department in 1903, had slimmed it down to a list of 3. Contemporary police documents include Macnaghten’s 3, but most only have circumstantial evidence that is not enough to arrest someone. Just because they couldn’t charge anybody doesn’t mean the theories were just thrown out.
Let us look into some of these compelling murder theories that try to pin down Jack the Ripper, and who knows, maybe one of them really is him.
Montague John Druitt
He was an assistant schoolmaster in London but was dismissed from the job, and shortly after, he committed suicide by drowning in the Thames in 1888. After his death, the murders had stopped as well, which only strengthened the police’s suspicion. Some authors suggest that Druitt’s homosexuality might have cost him his job, driven him to hate women, and also could have driven him to commit suicide. Although he did not have any anatomical knowledge of the human body, Druitt supposedly had an interest in surgery and may have been living with relatives who were doctors.
He was near Whitechapel during the first murder, although he lived quite far away, which is one of the reasons to doubt him as the killer. Druitt also had a history of mental illness in the family, and in a note, he described his fear that he was going insane. McNaughten added to this by saying that the man was “sexually insane.” The most compelling evidence was that his own family apparently believed him to have been the murderer.
Next on McNaughten’s suspect list was a Russian con artist and thief Michael Ostrog, but McNaughten described him as “a Russian doctor, and a convict who was subsequently detained in a lunatic asylum as a homicidal maniac.” Ostrog had been previously incarcerated several times, and later, he was kept in a lunatic asylum from which he was released on 10 March 1888. It was later in August when the first murder occurred. But the lack of evidence, other than circumstantial theories, resulted in him not being charged for the murders.
The last one off of McNaughten’s list of suspects, Aaron Kosminski, was referred to by McNaughten as a Polish Jew and resident in Whitechapel. He became insane owing to many years of indulgence in solitary vices. He had strong homicidal tendencies and a great hatred of women, especially of the prostitute class; he was moved to a lunatic asylum in March 1889.
Additionally, Sir Robert Anderson, the Assistant Commissioner throughout the murders, said that a witness who saw the murderer had positively identified a Polish Jew, referring to Kosminski, but refused to give evidence against him out of fear. After the murders, Kosminski suffered from mental illness and started living in lunatic asylums till his death.
His appearance also matched descriptions given after the fourth murder of victim Cathrine Eddowes. That was the night of the “double event” when the killer likely walked through civilians and the police. Author Russell Edwards, who had spent 14 years on the case, wrote a book, “Naming Jack the Ripper,” with some convincing DNA evidence to prove Aaron Kosminski was indeed the killer. But the test results have since been declared faulty and unreliable.
Jill the Ripper
It might seem like an uncommon theory, but who is to say the killer was necessarily a man? With the police mainly suspecting a male killer, in those times, a midwife would have been able to walk around without suspicion. Midwives also had sufficient anatomical knowledge of the human body, and them having bloody clothes was not uncommon.
However, all eyewitnesses who report having seen the killer only talk about a man with a mustache, which either rule out a Jill or, perhaps, our Jill wore a disguise. In fact, in 2006, a study by the Australian scientist Ian Findlay collected saliva from a selection of Jack the Ripper letters. The extracted DNA was used to create a partial profile, and although not conclusive, the findings did suggest that the sender was likely to have been a woman.
Barnett was a local fish porter who had lived in 10 different locations in East London, including the fact that he actually lived with Mary Kelly, the last Ripper victim. Hence, he would have been able to easily navigate around the area. Barnett was believed to be in love with Kelly, referring to her as “his wife” one time, and disapproved of her profession of prostitution. He strived to make money to keep her off the streets.
Some believe that he committed the first crimes to scare her, and it worked. But as Barnett lost his job, Kelly returned to the streets to make ends meet. Barnett and Kelly got into many fights, hence, some of which got violent as well. Barnett then moved out, and ten days later, Kelly was murdered. It should be noted that Barnett matched the physical description of the killer, and his friends would often call him “Jack.”
These suspects are only the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous more suspects and theories, some believable, some doubtful, and some simply wild. Prince Albert Edward Victor (The Royal Conspiracy), writer Lewis Carol, and The Freemasons are a few of the rather outlandish Jack the Ripper suspects to have been put forward by people.
Whoever the killer is, Jack the Ripper clearly shook London and made a name around the world for his brutal killings and getting away with them. With the intervention of modern technology and tests, perhaps we could find the real killer in today’s day and age, but the crimes, their evidence, and the suspects come from an event nearly 130 years ago. So, perhaps we may never know the killer, but people’s fascination and speculation about the killer’s identity may never stop.