Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper is a pseudonym given to an unidentified serial killer active in the largely impoverished Whitechapel area and adjacent districts of London, England, in late 1888. The name originated in a letter sent to the London Central News Agency by someone claiming to be the murderer.
The victims were women earning income as prostitutes. Most victims' throats were slit, after which the bodies were mutilated. The removal of internal organs from three of the victims led some officials at the time of the murders to propose that the killer possessed anatomical or surgical knowledge.
Newspapers, whose circulation had been growing during this era, bestowed widespread and enduring notoriety on the killer because of the savagery of the attacks and the failure of the police to capture the murderer.
Because the killer's identity has never been confirmed, the legends surrounding the murders have become a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. Many authors, historians, and amateur detectives have proposed theories about the identity of the killer and his victims.
In the mid 19th century, England experienced a rapid influx of mainly Irish immigrants, who swelled the populations of both the largely poor English countryside and England's major cities. From 1882, Jewish refugees escaping the pogroms in Tsarist Russia and eastern Europe added to the overcrowding and the already worsening work and housing conditions. London, especially the East End and the civil parish of Whitechapel, became increasingly overcrowded, resulting in the development of a massive economic underclass. This endemic poverty drove many women to prostitution. In October 1888, the London Metropolitan Police estimated that there were 1,200 prostitutes "of very low class" resident in Whitechapel and about 62 brothels. The economic problems were accompanied by a steady rise in social tensions. In 1886–1889, demonstrations by the hungry and unemployed were a regular feature of London policing.
The murders most often attributed to Jack the Ripper occurred in the latter half of 1888, though the series of brutal killings in Whitechapel persisted at least until 1891. A number of the murders involved extremely gruesome acts, such as mutilation and evisceration, which were widely reported in the media. Rumours that the murders were connected intensified in September and October, when a series of media outlets and Scotland Yard received a series of extremely disturbing letters from a writer or writers purporting to take responsibility for some or all of the murders. One letter, received by George Lusk, of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, included a preserved human kidney. Mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal character of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events, the public came increasingly to believe in a single serial killer terrorizing the residents of Whitechapel, nicknamed "Jack the Ripper" after the signature on a postcard received by the Central News Agency. Although the investigation was unable to connect the later killings conclusively to the murders of 1888, the legend of Jack the Ripper solidified.
Metropolitan Police files show that the investigation began in 1888 and eventually came to encompass eleven separate murders, stretching from 3 April 1888 to 13 February 1891, known in the police docket as the "Whitechapel murders". In addition, authors and historians have connected at least seven other murders and violent attacks with Jack the Ripper. Among the eleven murders actively investigated by the police, five are almost universally agreed upon as the work of a single killer, collectively called the "canonical five" victims:
The authority of this list rests on a number of authors' opinions, but historically the idea has been based upon the 1894 notes of Sir Melville Macnaghten, Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police Service Criminal Investigation Department. Macnaghten did not join the force until the year after the murders; and his memorandum, which came to light in 1959, contains serious factual errors about possible suspects. There is considerable disagreement about the value of Macnaghten's assessment of the number of victims. Some researchers have posited that the series may not have been the work of a single murderer, but of an unknown larger number of killers acting independently. Authors Stewart P. Evans and Donald Rumbelow argue that the "canonical five" is a "Ripper myth" and that the probable number of victims could range from three (Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes) to six (the previous three, plus Stride, Kelly, and Martha Tabram) or more. Macnaghten's opinion of which crimes were committed by the same killer was not shared by other investigating officers, such as Inspector Frederick Abberline.
Except Stride, whose attack may have been interrupted, mutilations of the "canonical five" victims became increasingly severe as the series of murders proceeded. Nichols and Stride were not missing any organs; but Chapman's uterus was taken, and Eddowes had her uterus and a kidney carried away and her face mutilated. While only Kelly's heart was missing from her crime scene, many of her internal organs were removed and left in her room.
The "canonical five" murders were generally perpetrated in the dark of night, on or close to a weekend, in a secluded site to which the public could gain access, and on a pattern of dates either at the end of a month or a week or so after. Yet every case differed from this pattern in some manner. Besides the differences already mentioned, Eddowes was the only victim killed within the City of London, though close to the boundary between the City and the metropolis. Nichols was the only victim to be found on an open street, albeit a dark and deserted one. Many sources state that Chapman was killed after the sun had started to rise, though that was not the opinion of the police or the doctors who examined the body. Kelly's murder ended six weeks of inactivity for the murderer. (A week elapsed between the Nichols and Chapman murders; three between Chapman and the "double event".)
The large number of horrific attacks against women during this era adds some uncertainty as to exactly how many victims were killed by the same man. Most experts point to deep throat slashes, abdominal and genital-area mutilation, removal of internal organs, and progressive facial mutilations as the distinctive features of Jack the Ripper's modus operandi.
Other victims in the Whitechapel murder file
Six other Whitechapel murders were investigated by the Metropolitan Police at the time, two of which occurred before the "canonical five" and four after. Figures involved in the investigation and later authors have attributed some of these to Jack the Ripper.
These two murders occurred before the "canonical five":
These four murders happened after the "canonical five":
Other alleged Ripper victims
In addition to the eleven murders officially investigated by the Metropolitan Police as part of the Ripper investigation, various Ripper historians have at times suggested a number of other contemporary attacks as possibly being connected to the same serial killer. In some cases, the records are not clear if the murders had even occurred or if the stories were fabricated later as a part of Ripper lore.
"Fairy Fay," a nickname for an unknown murder victim allegedly found on 26 December 1887 with "a stake thrust through her abdomen". It has been suggested that "Fairy Fay" was a creation of the press based upon confusion of the details of the murder of Emma Elizabeth Smith with a separate non-fatal attack the previous Christmas. The name of "Fairy Fay" was first used for this alleged victim in 1950. There were no recorded murders in Whitechapel at or around Christmas 1886 or 1887, and later newspaper reports that included a Christmas 1887 killing conspicuously did not list the Smith murder. Most authors agree that "Fairy Fay" never existed.
Annie Millwood (born c. 1850) reportedly the victim of an attack on 25 February 1888. She was admitted to hospital with "numerous stabs in the legs and lower part of the body". She was discharged from hospital but died from apparently natural causes on 31 March 1888.
Ada Wilson, reportedly the victim of an attack on 28 March 1888, resulting in two stabs in the neck. She survived the attack.
"The Whitehall Mystery", a term coined for the headless torso of a woman found in the basement of the new Metropolitan Police headquarters being built in Whitehall on 2 October 1888. An arm belonging to the body had previously been discovered floating in the River Thames near Pimlico, and one of the legs was subsequently discovered buried near where the torso was found. The other limbs and head were never recovered and the body never identified.
Annie Farmer, born c. 1848, reportedly was the victim of an attack on 21 November 1888. She survived with only a superficial cut on her throat, apparently caused by a blunt knife. Police suspected that the wound was self-inflicted and did not investigate the case further.
Elizabeth Jackson, a prostitute whose various body parts were collected from the River Thames between 31 May and 25 June 1889. She was reportedly identified by scars she had had prior to her disappearance and apparent murder.
Carrie Brown (nicknamed "Shakespeare", reportedly for quoting Shakespeare's sonnets) was killed 24 April 1891 in New York City. She was strangled with clothing and then mutilated with a knife. Her body was found with a large tear through her groin area and superficial cuts on her legs and back. No organs were removed from the scene, though an ovary was found upon the bed. Whether it was purposely removed or unintentionally dislodged during the mutilation is unknown. At the time, the murder was compared to those in Whitechapel though the Metropolitan Police eventually ruled out any connection.
The surviving Whitechapel Murders police files allow a quite detailed view of investigative procedure in Victorian times. A large team of policemen conducted house-to-house inquiries, lists of suspects were drawn up and many were interviewed, forensic material was collected and examined. A close reading of the investigation shows a basic process of identifying suspects, tracing them and deciding whether to examine them more closely or to cross them off the list. This is still the pattern of a major inquiry today. The investigation was initially conducted by Whitechapel (H) Division C.I.D. headed by Detective Inspector Edmund Reid. After the Nichols murder, Detective Inspectors Frederick Abberline, Henry Moore, and Walter Andrews were sent from Central Office at Scotland Yard to assist. After the Eddowes murder, which occurred within the City of London, the City Police under Detective Inspector James McWilliam were also engaged. However, overall direction of the murder enquiries was confused and hampered by the fact that the newly appointed head of the Criminal Investigation Department, Sir Robert Anderson, was on leave in Switzerland between 7 September and 15 October, during which time Chapman, Stride and Eddowes were killed. This prompted the Chief Commissioner of the Met., Sir Charles Warren, to appoint Superintendent Donald Swanson to coordinate the enquiry from Scotland Yard. Swanson's notes on the case survive and are a valuable record of the investigation.
Due in part to dissatisfaction with the police effort, a group of volunteer citizens in London's East End called the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee also patrolled the streets of London looking for suspicious characters, petitioned the government to raise a reward for information about the killer, and hired private detectives to question witnesses separate from the police. The committee was led by George Lusk in 1888. Albert Bachert, in 1889, claimed to be in charge of that group or a similar group.
Writing on the wall
After the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes during the night of 30 September, police searched the area near the crime scenes in an effort to locate a suspect, witnesses or evidence. At about 3:00 a.m., Constable Alfred Long discovered a bloodstained piece of an apron in the stairwell of a tenement on Goulston Street. The cloth was later confirmed as being a part of the apron worn by Catherine Eddowes. There was writing in white chalk on the wall (or, in some accounts, the door jamb) above where the apron was found. Long reported that it read, "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing." The writing is referred to by a number of authors as the "Goulston Street Graffito". Detective Daniel Halse (City of London Police), arrived a short time later, and took down a different version: "The Juwes are not the men who will be blamed for nothing." A copy according with Long's version of the message was taken down and attached to a report from Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Warren to the Home Office. Police Superintendent Thomas Arnold visited the scene and saw the writing. Later, in his report of 6 November to the Home Office, he claimed, that with the strong feeling against the Jews already existing, the message might have become the means of causing a riot:
"I beg to report that on the morning of the 30th of September, last my attention was called to some writing on the wall of the entrance to some dwellings No. 108 Goulston Street, Whitechapel which consisted of the following words: 'The Juews are not [the word 'not' being deleted] the men that will not be blamed for nothing,' and knowing in consequence of suspicion having fallen upon a Jew named John Pizer alias 'Leather Apron,' having committed a murder in Hanbury Street a short time previously, a strong feeling existed against the Jews generally, and as the building upon which the writing was found was situated in the midst of a locality inhabited principally by that sect, I was apprehensive that if the writing were left it would be the means of causing a riot and therefore considered it desirable that it should be removed having in view the fact that it was in such a position that it would have been rubbed by persons passing in & out of the building."
Since the Nichols murder, rumours had been circulating in the East End that the killings were the work of a Jew dubbed "Leather Apron". Religious tensions were already high, and there had already been many near-riots. Arnold ordered a man to be standing by with a sponge to erase the writing, while he consulted Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren. Covering it in order to allow time for a photographer to arrive was considered, but Arnold and Warren (who personally attended the scene) considered this to be too dangerous, and Warren later stated he "considered it desirable to obliterate the writing at once".
While the Goulston Street Graffito was found in Metropolitan Police territory, the apron piece was from a victim killed in the City of London, which has a separate police force. Some officers disagreed with Arnold and Warren's decision, especially those representing the City of London Police, who thought the writing constituted part of a crime scene and should at least be photographed before being erased, but it was wiped from the wall at 5:30 a.m. Most contemporary police concluded that the text was a semi-literate attack on the area's Jewish population. Several possible explanations have been suggested as to the importance of this possible clue:
"But suppose the killer happened to throw the apron, quite fortuitously, down by the existing piece of graffiti? In such a case we would be utterly wrong in according to the writing any significance whatsoever. Walter Dew was inclined to endorse this approach to the problem. (...) Constable Halse, on the other hand, saw it and thought it looked recent. And Chief Inspector Henry Moore and Sir Robert Anderson are both on record as having explicitly stated their belief that the message was written by the murderer."
After the acquittal of Daniel M'Naghten in 1843, and the establishment of the M'Naghten rules, physicians became increasingly involved in determining whether defendants in murder cases were suffering from 'mental illness'. And the growing importance of the medical sciences during the same period also led to an increasing involvement by pathologists in the investigative process. Their work further encompassed the treating of the perpetrators of crimes who were regarded as mad rather than bad; it is therefore not surprising that by the 1880s, medical officers thought it appropriate to offer opinions about the characteristics of an offender; the earliest of such opinions for which a copy still exists is that offered by the police surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond, in November, 1888, in a letter to Dr. Robert Anderson, head of the London CID, concerning the character of the "Whitechapel murderer". After the murder of Catherine Eddowes, Anderson requested Bond to give his opinion, as significant uncertainty had arisen about the amount of surgical skill and knowledge possessed by the murderer (or murderers). According to investigative psychologist David Canter Dr. Bond's proposals would probably be accepted as thoughtful and intelligent by police forces today. Bond based his assessment on his own examination of the most extensively mutilated victim and the post mortem notes from the four previous murders.
"All five murders no doubt were committed by the same hand. In the first four the throats appear to have been cut from left to right. In the last case, owing to the extensive mutilation it is impossible to say in what direction the fatal cut was made, but arterial blood was found on the wall in splashes close to where the woman's head must have been lying. All the circumstances surrounding the murders lead me to form the opinion that the women must have been lying down when murdered and in every case the throat was first cut."
Dr. Bond was strongly opposed to the idea that the murderer would possess any kind of scientific or anatomical knowledge, or even the technical knowledge of a butcher or horse slaughterer. In Bond's opinion he must have been a man of solitary habits, subject to "periodical attacks of homicidal and erotic mania"; the character of the mutilations possibly indicating 'satyriasis'. Dr. Bond also stated that "the homicidal impulse may have developed from a revengeful or brooding condition of the mind, or that religious mania may have been the original disease".
Researchers today have continued attempts to profile the killer, drawing parallels with the motives and actions of modern-day serial killers. The timing of the killings at the weekend, and the location of the murders within a few streets of each other, indicate to many that the murderer was employed during the week, and lived locally. The Ripper could have been a deranged schizophrenic, like the "Yorkshire Ripper" Peter Sutcliffe, who heard voices instructing him to attack prostitutes. Alternatively, Stephen Knight suggested in his book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution that the murders paralled Masonic ritual killings, since the murderers of a legendary masonic figure, Hiram Abiff, were executed by a slash to the throat and disembowelled. Many authors dismiss his theory as a fantasy.
Letters from the Ripper?
Over the course of the Ripper murders, the police, newspapers and others received many thousands of letters regarding the case. Some were from well-intentioned persons offering advice for catching the killer. The vast majority of these were deemed useless and subsequently ignored.
Perhaps more interesting were hundreds of letters which claimed to have been written by the killer himself. Nearly all such letters are considered hoaxes, and many experts contend that none of them are genuine; but of the ones cited as perhaps genuine by either period or modern authorities, three in particular are prominent:
Some sources list another letter, dated 17 September 1888, as the first message to use the Jack the Ripper name. Most experts believe this was a modern fake inserted into police records in the 20th century, long after the killings took place. They note that the letter has neither an official police stamp verifying the date it was received nor the initials of the investigator who would have examined it if it were ever considered as potential evidence. It is also not mentioned in any surviving police document of the time.
Ongoing DNA tests on the extant letters have yet to yield conclusive results.
The Ripper murders mark an important watershed in modern British life. While not the first serial killer, Jack the Ripper's case was the first to create a worldwide media frenzy. Reforms to the Stamp Act in 1855 had enabled the publication of inexpensive newspapers with wider circulation. These mushroomed later in the Victorian era to include mass-circulation newspapers as cheap as a halfpenny, along with popular magazines such as the Illustrated Police News, making the Ripper the beneficiary of previously unparalleled publicity. This, combined with the fact that no one was ever convicted of the murders, created a legend that cast a shadow over later serial killers.
Some believe that the killer's nickname was invented by newspapermen to make for a more interesting story that could sell more papers. This became standard media practice with examples such as the Boston Strangler, the Green River Killer, the Axeman of New Orleans, the Beltway Sniper, and the Hillside Strangler, besides the derivative Yorkshire Ripper almost a hundred years later and the unnamed perpetrator of the "Thames Nude Murders" of the 1960s, whom the press dubbed Jack the Stripper.
The poor of the East End had long been ignored by affluent society, but the nature of the murders and of the victims forcibly drew attention to their living conditions. This attention enabled social reformers of the time to finally gain the support of the "respectable classes." A letter from George Bernard Shaw to the Star newspaper commented sarcastically on these sudden concerns of the press:
Whilst we Social Democrats were wasting our time on education, agitation and organization, some independent genius has taken the matter in hand, and by simply murdering and disembowelling four women, converted the proprietary press to an inept sort of communism.
Main article: Jack the Ripper suspects
Many theories about the identity and profession of Jack the Ripper have been advanced. None have been entirely persuasive.
In popular culture