Jack the Ripper

The purported serial killings began in the latter half of 1888 and before long parts of London along with the adjacent suburb of Whitechapel began to look like a war zone, someone using the pseudonym “Jack the Ripper” appeared to be murdering and mutilating young women at will. In the face of this remorseless butchery the public’s perception of both the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police soon became one of out-and-out incompetence.

Although some authorities have claimed the Ripper was to blame for as many as eighteen murders, only five can be attributed to the killer with any reasonable degree of certainty and it wasn’t until after what Ripperologists refer to as the “double event” (two victims were murdered on the same day) that the infamous designation “Jack the Ripper” supposedly coined by the perpetrator himself entered into the public domain.

The following is a list of the generally accepted victims, often referred to as the canonical five:

Mary Ann Nichols was a prostitute born on August 26, 1845, and murdered on August 31, 1888. Her body was found laying on the pavement, in Buck's Row, a short distance from London Hospital, Whitechapel, at approximately 3:45 a.m.

Annie Chapman was a prostitute born on September 8, 1841, and murdered on September 12, 1888. Her body was found in the garden of 29 Hanbury Street (a popular spot for prostitutes and their clients), Spitalfields, at approximately 6 a.m.

Elizabeth Stride was a prostitute born on November 27, 1888, and murdered on September 30, 1888. Her body was found at approximately 1 a.m. in Dutfield’s Yard, Berner Street, Whitechapel. She was the first of the so called “double event.”

Catherine Eddowes, a presumed prostitute, was born on April 14, 1842, and murdered on September 30, 1888. Her body was found in Mitre Square, City of London. She was the second of the so called “double event.”

Mary Jane Kelly was a prostitute born in 1863 month unknown and murdered on November 9, 1888. Her hideously disfigured body was found at 10:50 a.m. in the boarding house where she lived at 13 Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, Spitalfields.

As has been previously indicated the investigation into the purported Jack the Ripper serial killings was carried out by not one but two police forces: the City of London Police who were responsible for the square mile at the city center, and the Metropolitan Police (a.k.a. Scotland Yard) responsible for all other London boroughs Whitechapel included. Surprisingly, though neither force ended up making an arrest, the City of London Police seem to have been the more competent, taking photographs and drawing detailed crime scene diagrams. Contention between the forces arose when a piece of bloody apron, belonging to Eddowes, was found near a doorway above which was written a racist message “The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing.” [1] Thinking it might be relevant City of London Police wanted it photographed while Superintendent Thomas Arnold (Whitechapel), fearful of a race riot come daybreak, wanted it removed. (The public at large believed a Jewish boot maker was “Leather Apron” an early name for the Ripper and anti-Semitic sentiment was rampant.) Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren sided with Arnold and at 5:30 a.m. the graffiti was erased.

Between them the two forces actually had
a mind boggling list of suspects, but due to a lack of evidence none were ever charged. A few along with later additions, some quite bizarre, are listed here:

Montague John Druitt was born on August 15, 1857, and died on December 1, 1888. He was the son of a physician, educated, a lawyer and assistant schoolmaster at a local boarding school (he was dismissed just prior to his death). Druitt disappeared just after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly and was later found floating in the River Thames. The verdict of the coroner's jury was suicide by drowning. It was the coincidental time of his death and the fact that he was misidentified as a doctor that originally brought him to the police’s attention as a possible killer, but later that perception changed, Druitt himself becoming viewed as a victim of foul play.

John Pizer a Polish Jew was born in 1850 and died in 1897. At the time of the murders he was working in Whitechapel as a boot maker and was initially thought by the police to be a deviant sociopath and suspect called “Leather Apron.” He was later exonerated with a perfect alibi (he was talking to a police officer at the precise time a murder was taking place).

George Chapman was born Seweryn Klosowski, December 14, 1860, in Nagorna, Poland. He immigrated to Britain in the late 1880s and moved to London. Unable to qualify as a doctor, though trained as a surgeon in his native land, he was forced to seek alternate employment and became a barber. For a time Chapman was a bigamist with one wife in England and another in Poland, following the end of these relationships there were a number of mistresses, three of whom he poisoned with the compound tartar-emetic. A trial resulted in conviction and he was hanged April 7, 1903, at Wandsworth Prison. Chapman who also used the alias “Ludwig Schloski” was known as an extremely violent individual and is considered by many to be a prime contender for “Jack the Ripper.”

Francis Thompson was born on December 18, 1859. In 1878 after failing the priesthood, he placed his name on the register of the Manchester Royal Infirmary where he studied surgery for the next 6 years. In 1885 after failing his medical exams for the third time, Thompson left for London, where addicted to opium courtesy of the lung infection to which he would eventually succumb he lived as a vagrant for several years.

The evidence pointing to Thompson as a possible Ripper candidate seems to be entirely circumstantial: In initial reports the Whitechapel murderer wore a leather apron during his homeless years, so purportedly did Thompson. Thompson lived with a prostitute, later she disappeared; disappearing prostitutes were a fact of life in 19th century London. Thompson wore a necktie, alleged by some to be the Rippers weapon of choice; neckties were as common in the 1880s as they are now.

An aspiring writer he submitted work to the periodical "Merrie England," the publishers sought him out and helped with the publication of his first book entitled “Poems.” More poetry and a short story followed with an essay “Shelly” being published after his death.

Some of his work was considered disturbing by his peers. In “The Ballad of The Witch Babies” a knight hunts down women in the fog then disembowels them and in the “Finis Coronat Opus” young women are graphically sacrificed in a pagan temple. As a counterbalance other pieces such as the famous cricket poem “At Lords” or his most well-known verse “The Hound of Heaven” are both reflective and inspirational.

Thompson died November 13, 1907, of tuberculosis and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. The epitaph on his grave “Look for me in the Nurseries of Heaven” is taken from his poem entitled “To My Godchild-Francis M.W.M.”

Prince Albert Victor was born second in line to the British throne on January 8, 1864. As a young man he toured the Empire, he and his brother serving as naval cadets on a British warship. After returning to England he attended Trinity College, Cambridge, before eventually joining the army in 1885.

In 1889 the Metropolitan Police discovered a male brothel operating on Cleveland Street in the heart of London, several members of the aristocracy including the Prince were implicated and a cover-up began. The Prince was sent to British India while things cooled down but there too rumours began to circulate this time of infidelity and married women. Albert Victor returned to England and a Royal Family determined to keep him on the straight and narrow. On May 24, 1890, the Prince became His Royal Highness Duke of Clarence and Avondale and on December 3, 1891, was engaged to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. It was all for naught, however, on January 14, 1892, at the age of 28 he died of pneumonia.

In the mid-twentieth century conspiracy theorists began to advance alternatives to what had been the accepted version of Albert’s death: he died of Syphilis, he died of a morphine overdose, he was secretly incarcerated in an asylum and didn’t actually die until 1920 the original reports of his death a hoax designed to remove him from the line of succession and in what is perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all, that His Royal Highness Duke of Clarence and Avondale was responsible either directly or indirectly for the Jack the Ripper murders. The reason given, an indiscretion with a Whitechapel prostitute had resulted in an illegitimate child and the carnage was part of a well orchestrated and sweeping cover up.

Throughout the Ripper investigation the police were inundated with hundreds of taunting letters from people claiming to be the killer, but only three were viewed as having any real credibility:

The “Dear Boss” letter dated September 25, 1888, was received by the Central News Agency on September 27 and forwarded to Scotland Yard two days later (it was in this letter that the pseudonym “Jack the Ripper” was first used).

Dear Boss,
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good luck.
Yours truly
Jack the Ripper

Don’t mind me giving my trade name

PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha

The “Saucy Jack” postcard was postmarked and received by the Central News Agency on October 1.

I was not coddling dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squeeked a bit couldn’t finish straight off. Had not got time to get ears off for police thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.  
Jack the Ripper

The “From Hell” letter was received by George Akin Lusk, a Freemason (later excluded for non-payment of dues) and Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. It was accompanied by a small box within which was half of a human kidney pickled in wine. The letter was postmarked October 15, and delivered October 16.

From Hell.
Mr. Lusk,
I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and preserved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer

Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

If the query is who was Jack the Ripper, then there are lots of suspects but unfortunately no Sherlock Holmes [2] to gaze knowingly at the evidence curved pipe in hand before answering in a droll and deliberate voice “It’s elementary, my dear Watson

But what if it was all a hoax, what if there was no Whitechapel serial killer or at least not one using the persona “Jack the Ripper”?

The original consensus concerning the afore mentioned three letters was that they stood the greatest chance of being genuine out of the hundreds received, but many experts deem that they too were fraudulent. Some think that the epithet “Jack the Ripper” was invented by the media to boost interest in the subject matter, the sole object to sell more newspapers.

As the investigation progressed, the police in particular, came to believe that the “Dear Boss” letter along with the “Saucy Jack” postcard was a deception perpetrated by a local reporter. If this is true then obviously the killer’s self-professed moniker is also fraudulent.

The “From Hell” letter stands the best chance of being genuine, at least insofar as it came from the killer of Catherine Eddowes. The letter is different from the others in a number of ways: it was delivered to the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee not the Central News Agency, the author appears to be less literate, it was received in conjunction with the preserved half of a human kidney (Eddowes was missing half a kidney) and it was not signed with the murderer’s infamous nickname. The possibility exists that it came from a copycat killer responsible for only one murder, that of Eddowes.

Other factors that need to be taken into consideration are the time and location of the alleged serial killings:

Investigative techniques were extremely primitive in the latter half of the 19th century, limited to eyewitness accounts, the taking of photographs and subjective examination of evidence. The ability to analyze DNA (profiling) was a century in the future and even fingerprinting was in its infancy.

Whitechapel, a suburb of London, was in the late 1880s a warren of narrow winding streets filthy and dangerous. It was home to breweries, foundries, tanneries, slaughterhouses and other similar businesses unwelcome in neighboring boroughs, and a haven for the very poorest and most vulnerable in Victorian society: outcasts and immigrants desperately trying to eke out a living. Women augmented meager (sometimes non-existant) wages by turning to prostitution, many murdered, victims of predators in search of easy prey.

So what is the truth, did a serial killer using Jack the Ripper as an alias really exist and if so who was he/she or were the murders merely isolated events committed by shadowy figures at a time and in a place where life was cheap and the taking of life a common almost everyday occurrence? [3] 

To quote Holmes once again “It is quite a three pipe problem. . . .”

[1] The writing as reported by constable Alfred Long of the Metropolitan Police (other sources reported it differently and both the exact location, spelling and order of words are still a matter of contention).

[2] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes creator, did offer a theory in which he hypothesized that the elusive killer was a man who disguised himself as a woman in order to confuse the police and/or ingratiate himself with potential victims.

[3] There were dozens of reported murders in Whitechapel and the surrounding boroughs during the year 1888.

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