History was made in 1888 at Whitechapel, England when one of the first recorded serial killers stalked an impoverished neighborhood. Between August 31st, 1888 and November 9th, 1888, five women were brutally murdered and butchered in the streets. But the details of the murders are nothing compared to greatest question that has plagued history since: who was Jack the Ripper?
While also named the “Whitechapel Murderer” and “Leather Apron” at the time of the crimes, very little is known about the actual person. There have been theories that went from the practical to the ridiculous. Others that went from gang killings to cult followings. It seemed nobody could agree on the profession or profile of the person the police and Scotland Yard were pursuing, let alone the identity.
The East End of London was so densely populated and crime ridden, that gang activity and murders were just a passing thought in the life of the people who lived there. The labyrinth-like layout of the area may have hindered the process, as there were many ways in and out of the areas where the murders were committed. Lighting was dim in the streets. In some alleys there was no lighting at all, making the crimes that were committed easier to accomplish while remaining unseen.
There are five generally accepted victims of Jack the Ripper (also referred as the Canonical Victims). Many of the woman had similar lifestyles. This creates various theories about the suspect and his (or her) victimology.
Mary Ann Nichols was nearly 44 years old when her body was found. She was the wife of William Nichols with whom she had separated with several years earlier, and was the mother of five children, four of which lived with her at the time of her death. It is commonly thought that she was an alcoholic, and this is what led to her life of prostitution. Her body was found at Buck’s Row on August 31st, 1888 by a Car-man named Charles Cross, who signaled a friend, Robert Paul for assistance. While Cross believed the woman to be dead, Paul thought he could still feel a faint heartbeat. According to reports, both men had agreed that they didn’t want to be late for work, and alerted police after rearranging her skirts to provide her some decency. Her autopsy shows that she had her throat slit twice with a rather large knife and several incisions were made into her abdomen. Investigators believed that she had been killed elsewhere, as there was a lack of blood to indicate that she bled out where she was found.
Annie Chapman was 47 years old at the time of death. She was also married and separated from her husband, John Chapman, with whom she had three children. It was commonly thought that she was an alcoholic as well, since she had been arrested several times for her intoxication. Annie turned to prostitution after the death of her husband. Her body was found on September 8th, 1888 by another Car-man by the name of John Davis. The medical report shows extensive damage to her body. As with the last victim, her throat had be cut, but only once. However, her abdomen had been disemboweled and her intestines was removed and thrown over her shoulders. Upon further examination, it was discovered that her uterus had been removed.
On September 30th, 1888 the body of Elizabeth Stride was discovered. She was 45 years old. She was married to John Stride, and she did have a stillborn baby girl, but no other children of record. It is believed that her husband and she had separated prior to his death in 1884. Elizabeth was also known to be an alcoholic and was arrested for being drunk and disorderly on many occasions. She did make money through legitimate means, but occasionally prostituted herself on the side for extra income. Her body was discovered by Louis Diemschutz, a jewelry salesman, in the early hours of the morning. While her throat had also been cut, it is believed that Louis had scared off her murderer before he could finish with the mutilation of her body.
Catherine Eddowes was also found on September 30, 1888. While there was no evidence she was married, she did live with Thomas Conway for some time, and had three children with him. They did separate and she took her daughter, while Conway took her one of her sons (it is unclear what became of her third child). Only 45 minutes after Elizabeth Stride’s body had been found, Catherine Eddowes’ still warm corpse was discovered. Catherine’s skirts had been pulled up past her abdomen. She had been disemboweled as well, and her intestines had been pulled up past her right shoulder, and smeared with fecal matter. A piece of the intestine had been detached and placed between her body and her left arm, in a sort of design. Her throat had also been cut. As with Mary Ann Nichols, the crime scene showed little blood from the murder and disembowelment.
Mary Jane Kelley was only 25 years old when she was murdered. She lived with a man named Joseph Burnett and a Mrs. Carthy who seemed to only know things about her through her stories of her family, as no one claimed her body. Mary Jane was from Ireland, and traveled with her family to Wales. She had been married at the age of 16 to a man name Davies, and her husband had died two or three years later in an explosion. There had been a suggestion that a child came of this marriage, but she did not have one residing with her during her time in London. When she arrives in London, Mary Jane claims to have landed a job at a high end Brothel on the West End. Accounts found that she was belligerent when she was drinking, but overall a very sweet person. Mary Jane Kelley was found by a landlord after he went to collect past-due rent. When knocking did not get an answer for him, he went to the window where he found her body lying on her bed. The medical examination found that her whole abdomen and thighs were disemboweled. . Unlike the other victims, it seemed the Ripper did not worry about being caught, as he or she took the time to cut up her face. All her organs from her abdomen were emptied from her body, and her breasts had been removed. These were placed systematically in various stages around her body.
There is a theory that the Ripper had thirteen other victims alongside the Canonical Five, ranging from the years 1887-1891. While many of them shared the same attributes of alcoholism and prostitution, two stood out that were able to give a description of their assailant. Annie Millwood was admitted to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary on February 25th, 1888 with several stab wounds to her body. The exact number is unclear, and she would die less than a month later of “natural causes”. She described the man that attacked her as a stranger, but no one else had seen the attack itself.
Ada Wilson was attacked on March 28th, 1888 at her home. She claims that a man in his 30’s knocked on her door, and when she answered, the man forced his way into her home and demanded money. After refusing him, he stabbed her twice in the throat and ran, leaving Ada Wilson for dead. She, however, survived and was able to recount her tale to the authorities.
It is very possible that these two women may have been the first attempts at murder by the Ripper. As the body count increased, so did his methods. Using only a knife, as some may claim, he went from attacking women to evolving into a serial killer that not only mutilated the bodies of the women he killed, but managed terrify and panic a whole city.
The Ripper Letters are in no way, an indication of who the murderer was. Upon simple examination, it is fairly easy to determine that the “Dear Boss” letter was written by someone completely different than the author of the “From Hell” and “Saucy Jack” letters. While the “From Hell” letter did have what seemed to be a human kidney, the recipient of the letter, George Lusk, was unable to determine if it belonged to Catherine Eddowes (the Ripper’s 4th victim).
The suspect list continues to grow even today. More than 500 people have been identified as Jack the Ripper, including those of the noble class. One of which was Prince Albert Victor. Although there was no solid evidence, he became a suspect well after all the main players were dead. It was thought that he was mentally unstable (or in our day, he might have been mildly autistic). But that theory has been shot down by several experts as the Prince has been accounted for in other places, with several witnesses and royal documents and records back up his innocence.
Quite a few have been dubbed “Jill the Ripper”, as experts in the field believed that the famous serial killer may have been a woman. This theory grew credence as the community at large were looking for a man, thus making it easier for a woman to go about her business without harassment, or a second thought. Add in the theory that this woman may have been a midwife, or an abortionist, walking around with blood on their clothing would have the people around her not batting an eye. As experts would theorize on this, they thought “who else would know the human anatomy so well besides a physician?”
There is a theory that H.H. Holmes, the famous doctor turned serial killer in Chicago may have been the infamous killer of Whitechapel. In 1893, a few short years after the last document murder in London, made his 60 room boarding house into a “murder trap”. It is believed he had killed over 200 people, mostly women, although he only admitted to 27 murders. He was tried and convicted of those killings in Chicago, and was hanged in May 1896.
Forensics back in the 19th century were shoddy at best, considering forensics was in its infancy. Many of the scenes were contaminated by the civilians, police force and the coroner. This makes identity harder to reveal even today, as the contamination could be from anyone. Most of the evidence had been handled by many people, even experts without the use of gloves or masks, making anyone who had come into contact with them a suspect using today’s technology. One touch, one sneeze, made any evidence unusable by today’s standards.