Jack the Ripper was the name given to a serial killer active in London’s East End during the year of 1888. The name originates from a letter written by someone who claimed to be the killer published at the time of the murders (Many researchers now believe that all of the Ripper letters are fake.). Other aliases include “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron.” These killings occurred in Whitechapel, Aldgate, and the City of London proper. At this time, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. The British Empire was the premiere world power. But while England's model of wealth and modernity radiated throughout the world, Whitechapel District, in the East End of London, hardly reflected this brilliant reality. Whitechapel was a sprawling community composed of what many considered the worst occupants of London. Its boundaries were home to alcoholics, beggars, prostitutes, and a large community of Jewish immigrants who had fled Eastern Europe to escape the growing Anti-Semite movement. Tens of thousands of people lived, crammed within a labyrinth of dark, filthy alleyways, forever overshadowed by fog. Whitechapel was the scene of three of the Ripper victims’ violent deaths; those of Mary Ann Nichols, Mary Jane Kelly, and Annie Chapman. Among eleven case files archived by the police, the generally accepted Ripper victims are Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Katherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. These five women are regarded as the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. Other victims, the subject obviously being open to speculation, are Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Alice Mckenzie, and Frances Coles. Before I go into the details of the victims, I must stress the difference between the “Ripper Murders” and the “Whitechapel Murders.” Victims of the Whitechapel murders were not necessarily murdered by the Ripper himself, but their murders took place in the district of Whitechapel and may or may not have been in similar circumstances to the canonical murders. Emma Smith was murdered in April 1888. Following her murder, press reports published a story on an unidentified woman found in Whitechapel, Christmas week of the previous year. (Researchers have tried, in vain, to find more on this murder. Nothing has surfaced.) She was the first file in the Whitechapel Murders, but is not necessarily to be considered a Ripper victim because almost no information is available on her case. This is because her case-file, not unlike the mutilated brain of President Kennedy, is missing. The little information that we have on her in is preserved in the BBC television special “Jack the Ripper” airing in 1973. The information includes details of her lodgings, drinking habits, and a witness report of her conversing with a man in Dark clothes and a white scarf at fifteen minutes after midnight on the third of April. Finally, it told of her death at London Hospital under House Surgeon George Haslip, after being robbed and attacked in Osborne Street, Whitechapel. The circumstances of her murder also set her apart from the canonical victims, who were killed by a singular murderer, in a private setting. Along with much of her case, Smith’s social standing is unknown; it is likely that she, like the other Ripper victims, was a prostitute. Martha Tabram was the second victim of the Whitechapel murders. She was found at George- Yard buildings, Whitechapel, with 39 stabs to her body, stumbled upon by a city cab-driver. She was 37, and a prostitute. Mary Ann Nichols was 44 at the time of her death on August 31, 1888. She was the first of the Whitechapel murders that was also recognized as the work of Jack the Ripper. She was a prostitute and an alcoholic. Her murder, being in a chain of brutal murders in Whitechapel district, drew the public’s attention to a brutal reality; a maniac was on the loose in London. A name for the killer surfaced, Leather apron; this was due to a leather apron found in Nichols’ lodgings where the killer had cleaned his knife. Annie Chapman (aka Dark Annie, Annie Siffey, Sievey or Sivvey while her real name was Annie Eliza Smith.) was a Prostitute living in Whitechapel. She was killed a week after Mary Ann Nichols, causing an uproar in the media. According to legend, two farthings and two rings were found by her body. The significance of this is unknown. Elizabeth Stride was 45 years old, having come to London from Sweden several years before. She reportedly made money by sewing and charring (cleaning), and was an occasional prostitute. She was found with her throat savagely slit in Dutfield’s Yard, Berners Street, St George’s in the East. What many do not know, however, is that upon the same night, Katherine Eddowes was also found, her mutilated body discovered in a secluded corner of Mitre Square by PC Edward Watkins. This date is infamously known as “The Double Event.” Mary Jane Kelly was approximately 25 years old, born in Ireland, and worked as a prostitute after her lover, Joseph Barnett, lost his job (he was later a suspect in the Ripper Case.). Her age and the speculation that Joseph Barnett was her killer make her the most disputed of the canonical victims. However, most students and authors believe she is included in the Ripper murders. The Ripper killed his victims by strangling them by the neck until they were unconscious, if not dead. He then lowered them onto the floor and slit their throats. At this point, he made other mutilations to the body, often removing organs. In the case of Elizabeth Stride, he removed her kidney, later allegedly sending half of it in the post to George Lusk, the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee with a letter claiming that he ate the other half (The “From Hell” letter). From the circumstances of the murders, in the street, in near total darkness, keeping on watch for others, and in very tight time constraints, and the minimal damage done to the organs surrounding those that were removed, we can conclude that the Ripper had measurably intimate knowledge of how to handle a knife (for lack of a better description.).This knowledge of the Ripper’s modus operandi was not available to us through forensic science until several years ago. It has been speculated, acknowledging the social standing of the Ripper victims, that he had a moral grudge against prostitution, or possibly females in general. The true motive of the Ripper is as mysterious as his identity. Another suggestion is, in the case of Joseph Barnett (more on him in a second) that he killed the other women to frighten Kelly out of prostitution. As mentioned before, not much is known about the identity of the Ripper, he was never caught by the police force which pursued him. Some suspects in this case include Joseph Barnett, Montague John Druitt, Aaron Kominski, and George Chapman. Joseph Barnett was a former fish porter. He is known to have been Mary Jane Kelly’s lover from 1887 to 1888. They apparently separated after a quarrel relating to his work (this is also when most believe she returned to being a prostitute.). Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline questioned Barnett after Mary Kelly’s murder, but he was later released without charge. In the 1980s, author Bruce Paley suggested that he was a suspect, as Kelly’s spiteful ex-lover, and committed the other murders to frighten Kelly into giving up prostitution. Another suggestion is that he only killed Mary Jane Kelly (accounting for her obvious difference in age for the other victims), but mutilated the body to look like a Ripper murder. Montague John Druitt was a barrister (From Dictionary.com: A lawyer who is a member of one of the Inns of Court and who has the privilege of pleading in the higher courts.) and schoolmaster in Blackheath, London (a position from which he was dismissed in 1888). He committed suicide shortly after he was dismissed, his body found in the Thames near Chiswick on New Year’s Eve. His suicide after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly forced Chief Constable Melville Macnaghten to name him as a suspect in the Ripper case. He was dismissed as a suspect by Inspector Abberline due to the fact that the only evidence against him was his coincidentally timed suicide. Aaron Kominski was a Polish Jew, admitted to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1891 (three years after the Ripper murders). Kominski was named as a Ripper suspect by Melville Macnaghten and Inspector Donald Swanson (in handwritten notes in the margins of Assistant Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson’s memoirs) Sir Robert Anderson confirmed that a Polish Jew had been identified as Jack the Ripper, but prosecution was not attempted because the witness (a Jew) would not testify against a fellow Jew. Many researchers take this information skeptically, as it is contradicted by Melville Macnaghten, saying that no one was ever identified as the Ripper. Kominski was regarded as harmless in the asylum; his insanity consisted of auditory hallucinations and irrational fears (such as being fed by other people and bathing). Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski, aka George Chapman, (no relation to victim Annie Chapman) was a Polish immigrant who had come to England shortly before the time of the murders. He assumed the name Chapman at some point between 1893 and 1894. Outside of the Ripper case, he had poisoned three of his wives (for these crimes he was hanged in 1903). At the time of the murders, he had taken residence in Whitechapel, London, working as a barber. He is believed by many to be the favored suspect of Inspector Fredrick Abberline. Other researchers, however, disregard him as a likely culprit on account of the drastic change in his modus operandi; the five canonical victims had died due to asphyxiation and/or blood loss while Kłosowski killed his wives with poison. It is uncommon, while not unheard of, for a serial killer to make such changes in the way he kills his victims. And before we move on, I would briefly like to assess the theory of “Jill the Ripper.” Inspector Fredrick Abberline at one point suggested that the Ripper may not be a man at all, but a woman. This theory is backed by the witness account of Mrs Caroline Maxwell, who claimed to have seen Mary Kelly two times after she had been declared dead. William Stewart published Jack the Ripper: A New Theory in 1939. He asked four questions which supported the theory of a female Ripper: 1. What sort of person was it that could move about at night without arousing the suspicions of his own household or of other people that he might have met? 2. Who could walk through the streets in blood stained clothing without arousing too much comment? (Remember, this is Whitechapel) 3. Who would have had the elementary knowledge and skill to have committed the mutilations? 4. Who could have been found by the body and yet given a satisfactory alibi for being there? While Jack the Ripper was not the world’s first serial killer, he was the first in history to create such frenzy in worldwide media. This publicity was aided by the boost in circulation of inexpensive newspapers. The true identity of Jack the Ripper is still shrouded in mystery, yet even today, many self- proclaimed “Ripper-ologists” continue to research the case. The macabre nature of the murders drew the public’s attention to poor living conditions in the East End, and in the two decades following the murders, the worst of London’s slums were demolished. Some buildings survive, and a tour following the Ripper’s path through London is available to tourists. Horror stories depict Jack the Ripper as phantasmal or monstrous, shown as a bogey-man-esque creature. Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, his imaged morphed into that of an ordinary man in ordinary clothes, preying on unsuspecting women. During the 1960s, the Ripper was known as “the Symbol of Predatory Aristocracy”, dressed as a stereotypical English gentleman. The fictional world of “Ripper-ology” is known to span everything from Sherlock Holmes to Japanese Erotic Horror. Recently, the British Broadcasting Network (BBC) released Whitechapel, a new series detailing a serial killer who seemed to be recreating the Ripper’s path through London. To discover the identity of Jack the Ripper, although the perpetrator is undoubtedly long dead, would be a fulfilling task for any modern researcher to complete. What is amazing to me though is that these events occurred 120+ years ago and people still fight for the truth. And the fighters aren’t just burly old rich men with mustaches and tall men in deerstalker caps with magnifying glasses and pipes anymore; today, the detectives are average people: people who are willing to spend three or four hours of their free time lolling over the internet and library books. And there isn’t even much of a reward for their efforts, sentiment, perhaps. I personally think they should be compensated for their efforts, but if the world was fair, chances would be that the madman we call Jack the Ripper wouldn’t even exist.
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