Few events have inspired crime and horror writers as much as the Whitechapel murders of 1888. From August to November of that year, the East End of London lived in complete and utter terror. Though there were other murders that year, five in particular were attributed to the hand of one suspect, known only by what was to become his most infamous name: “Jack the Ripper”. It is a name that should strike fear and loathing in even the bravest of people, for the vilest acts were committed by this one person. If, indeed, it was one person.
His victims were all penniless, alcoholic prostitutes, who walked the foggy streets of London’s East End. In order of murder:
Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols: 31st August
Mary Ann had gone out on the streets, after an evening of drinking, to earn her lodgings for the night. She was seen by an acquaintance at 2.30am. By 3.15am she was found, in the spot where only half an hour earlier a policeman had passed by. Her throat and abdomen were both cut open, but there was very little blood, leading police to conclude she had been murdered elsewhere.
Anne Chapman (“Dark Annie”): 8th September
Anne Chapman, also drunk and in need of money for lodgings, went out at 1.45am, was last seen at 5.30am and was found in a back yard at 6am. Her face and tongue were swollen, indicating that she had possibly been gagged or suffocated. Her abdomen had been cut open, intestines lifted out and placed on her shoulder. All her pelvic organs were removed with one clean incision, leading investigators to conclude that The Ripper had knowledge of anatomy. The attending pathologist, Dr George Bagster Phillips, said he himself could not have performed the task in anything less than an hour. If the precise anatomical removal was deliberate, it was done at lightning speed.
Elizabeth Stride (“Long Liz”): 30th September
Elizabeth had been drinking up until 6.30pm with a friend, before going out on the streets for her lodgings money. She was seen in another pub later, around 11pm, drinking with a man. By 1am she was found in a Dutfield’s Yard, behind the International Working Men’s Educational Club. Her throat had been slit. It is thought that the killer was disturbed by a salesman entering the yard with his horse and cart, and that the mutilation was probably left unfinished. It’s highly likely because simply killing Elizabeth was not enough to satiate the thirst of The Ripper that night.
Catherine Eddowes: 30th September
Within half an hour of killing Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes was also murdered. Last seen at about 1.35am, after being let out of her police cell at 1am where she had been taken earlier in the evening to sober up, giving her name as “Mary Jane Kelly”, one of the pseudonyms of the fifth and final victim of the Ripper. Approximately ten minutes later, at 1.45am Catherine was found dead by a policeman in Mitre Square. Her throat was slit, her vocal chords were severed, abdomen ripped open, and intestines placed on her shoulder in a similar manner to that of Annie Chapman. Furthermore, the inside of her thighs had been sliced open. Her left renal artery was cut through, and the left kidney removed. Catherine’s womb was also partially removed. Her face, eyes, nose and ears were mutilated. The pathologist declared that someone with anatomical knowledge must have carried out the murder. It would have been a truly gruesome sight to behold. However, it was nothing to the next, and final, horror the police would encounter.
Mary Jane Kelly aka “Ginger” and “Mary Ann Kelly”: 9th November
Mary Jane Kelly was the only victim who had permanent lodgings. She lived at 3 New Court, an alley off of Dorset Street. Of all the Ripper murders, Mary Jane Kelly’s is the only one that is committed indoors. Because of this it is likely that The Ripper had time to carry out his sick deeds undisturbed. It’s possible that Mary Jane was drinking heavily all evening. There are a couple of unconfirmed sightings between 8 and 11pm, in two different pubs, and in the company of several gentlemen throughout the evening and the early hours of the following morning. By 10.45am her body was discovered. She was mutilated beyond recognition. The surface of her abdomen and thighs had been removed, her abdomen emptied, breasts cut off, arms slashed, face completely mutilated and unrecognisable, her neck was severed to the bone. Her organs were found in various locations in the room: her kidneys, uterus and one breast were underneath the bed, the other breast by her right foot, her liver lay between her feet, her intestines by her right side, her spleen to the right, skin from her abdomen and thighs lay on a table.
The room was a blood bath. The bed was saturated and the floor was a pool of about two feet square. There were several spatter marks on the walls in line with the neck. Her face was gashed all over, many times, as were her arms and calves. It was a truly horrific murder. Of all the macabre killings, Mary Jane Kelly’s murder was probably the most abhorrent and ghastly of them all.
Ripperologists generally agree that out of all the murders going on in London at that time, these five were committed by the same person known as Jack the Ripper. Who he is depends on who you talk to. There are more theories than the five murders he committed! The eyes of suspicion fell upon the Jewish community as Londoners looked for a scapegoat, preferring to believe it to be a foreigner than one of their own people. This may have been the case, but it is far from certain.
The royal and masonic theory is obviously a colourful and exciting angle, and very film-worthy. Several enjoyable movies have been made around this theory. On just a quick research of events, however, it would seem that the evidence is sketchy at best…disappointingly so! Still, never let the truth get in the way of a good story, eh?
So who, then, if not the Queen’s physician, or indeed the prince himself? Well, there was certainly an abundance of dodgy characters roaming the East End of Victorian London. The Ripper murders were not the only ones being committed either. It would be fair to say that the East End was poverty stricken, filthy and no doubt disease-ridden to boot. The fact that so many penniless prostitutes walked the dangerous foggy streets after sunset, looking for money to buy a bed for the night, some food the next day and enough left over to drink away all their troubles, gives us some idea of what kind of life those poor women were leading. They were extremely vulnerable, with few people who would miss them and probably drunk enough that they were incapable of defending themselves very much. Together with their trade, which forced them into the streets, a trade which had to be done in private, in the middle of the night, these women were easy prey for The Ripper.
One popular theory is that he killed them in a carriage before dumping them. One thing I’d say is that he had to be pretty confident of his surroundings and probably lived in the area. Most of the killings were done in what appears to be a very short time frame of 15-20 minutes. He was really very quick. Either he did have access to a carriage, or the killings were done by more than one man. It’s true he may have had a relative knowledge of anatomy, but possibly not any more than he’d read in a book. That he seemed to know where certain organs were, to me, proves nothing about any professional knowledge on the matter.
One of the more plausible theories is that The Ripper was a man called Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew. Kosminski had been named as The Ripper by police, but a witness who saw him with one of the victims, would not testify against a fellow Jew. Kosminski could not therefore be tried, but he did suffer from some kind of paranoid psychosis and so was taken to an asylum. There were no more Ripper murders after that, and the police closed down the investigation. This was despite the fact that more time had elapsed in between murders than it had between the last murder and the end of the police investigation, pointing to the suggestion that the police knew something they weren’t saying.
Regardless, everyone has a theory and a belief. 125 years later Jack the Ripper continues to strike fear into the hearts of those who read the story of the Whitechapel murders. He is the ultimate villain and the stereotypically demonic serial killer. His barbaric crimes will no doubt continue to inspire future writers as they always have done, everyone attempting to claim a piece of the truth for posterity, but it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day. What’s important is that the conditions were right for someone to take advantage of those innocent women: squalor and poverty which we should never allow to happen again. What matters most of all is that he stopped. Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror was over, but his rule of only 10 weeks will never be forgotten.
Until next week, hit the road Jack! Your friend, A.D.
Murder By Decree (1979) with Christopher Plummer as
A Study in Terror (1965) with John Neville as Sherlock
Jack the Ripper (1988) with Michael Caine as Aberline.
Click here to watch online.
From Hell (2001) with Johnny Depp as Aberline.
Click here to watch online.
The Real Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper Documentary (Part 1 of 6)
MORTUARY & CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHS
Mary Ann Nichols, died 31st August 1888, aged 43.
Anne Chapman “Dark Annie”, died 8th September 1888, aged 47.
Elizabeth Stride “Long Liz”, died 30th September, aged 45.
Catherine Eddowes, died 30th September 1888, aged 46.
Mary Jane Kelly/Mary Anne Kelly/”Ginger”, died 9th November, aged (approx) 25 years old. In the article above, there is only an artists impression available to ascertain the appearance of Mary Jane. However, with modern technology it has been attempted to reveal what she might have actually looked like.
* With special thanks to Andy Young for introducing me to this subject. Miss you.