Top 10 Things We Know About Jack The Ripper
Who is Jack the Ripper? And how much do we really know about him? Thanks to Ripperologists, quite a lot is known or presumed to be known, though his true identity has not been discovered for sure. Jack the Ripper refers to a still-unknown serial killer who terrorized poverty-stricken areas of London in 1888. Also known as the Whitechapel Murderer and the Leather Apron, this mystery killer typically targeted women working as prostitutes in the Whitechapel district. His brutalization of victims, throat-cutting, abdomen-splitting, and removal of certain organs led many to believe he may have had a surgeon’s hand. The true number of his victims is unknown, though five women, known as the Canonical Five, were all killed within the autumn of 1888.
Thanks to a media frenzy, a collection of mysterious letters, and a string of murders, Jack the Ripper lives on as a symbol to be feared. His identity has morphed over time, bringing to life numerous fictionalized accounts in movies, books, and other media. But who was he really? Thanks to in-depth case files and witness testimonies, a lot is known. Despite the Ripper’s ever-unknown identity, much can be learned about him from his modus operandi, marks left on the victims, and messages left behind. Behind the myths and rumors, there is a real story. Here are the top ten things we actually know about Jack the Ripper.
10. There Were At Least Five Murders.
Although there were a variety of murders that may or may not have been linked to Jack the Ripper, at least five are believed to have been committed by the same man, the Ripper, from August to November of 1888. These were the Canonical Five.
The first of the five was Mary Ann Nichols. Nichols was around the age of thirty when she was killed. Although she was described as a clean and well-kept woman, she was also an alcoholic and a prostitute. On August 31, her body was found with five teeth missing, a cut tongue, bruises on the face, a cut on her neck, incisions down to the bone, and a jagged wound on her lower abdomen.
The rest of the Rippers’ victims were in their mid-40s. The second victim, Annie Chapman was found on September 8 with a swollen face and mouth, cut throat, and severed abdomen with numerous organs removed. The third victim, Elizabeth Stride was found September 30 with a cut throat. The fourth named Catherine Eddowes was also found on September 30. She had deep cuts on her face, throat, and abdomen. Numerous organs were stabbed and removed with surgical precision. The fifth of the Canonical Five, Mary Jane Kelly, was found November 9. Her body was heavily mutilated: her face was gashed and hacked, her breasts and thighs were removed, and her organs were removed and placed around her body. The woman was mutilated beyond recognition.
Although other murders may or may not have been committed by the same man, the time period and similarities of these five convince most that they were all committed by none other than Jack the Ripper.
9. The Double Event theory may explain Elizabeth Stride’s unique case.
Of the Canonical Five, Stride’s connection to the Ripper is still debated. Because Jack the Ripper had a clear style—slit throats and cut abdomens—the haphazard murder of Stride’s stands out among the rest. Stride’s murder was remarkably different from the other Canonical Five murders. Whereas the first three women were killed from behind, Stride was killed from the front. Whereas other women had marked incision points, Stride had none. Stride’s cut had less precision than the wounds inflicted on the other victims and looked as if they had been made by someone who did not have the surgical skill exhibited in the other cases. Whereas Jack usually killed in secluded places, Stride was first attacked in an alley outside a loud and busy pub. Some believe the Ripper was caught in the act and for this reason did not have a chance to fully mutilate Stride in his usual style.
Forty-five minutes later, though, Catherine Eddowes was murdered in Ripper’s typical fashion. Had his bloodlust led him to seek a second victim that night? Those who argue that Stride was killed by the Ripper appeal to the Double Event theory, believing that the interrupted attack on Stride drove the Ripper to kill again, and with increasing horror. Eddowes’ murder was particularly brutal, as even her face was mutilated.
8. There May Have Been More.
Although most focus in on the Canonical Five, there may have been more victims. According to the Whitechapel Murder files, there may have been as many as eleven victims of the Ripper spanning from 1888 to 1892. Even before 1888, there had been many violent attacks, specifically on women, as Whitechapel was a dark and dangerous place to live due to the combined poverty, drunkenness, criminality, and insanity of many of its inhabitants.
Before the Canonical Five, Annie Millwood was hospitalized with stab wounds in her abdomen and thighs. Ada Wilson, too, was stabbed, but in the throat. After the Five, four other murders gained the attention of investigators: Rose Mylett, Alice McKenzie, the Pinchin Street torso, and Frances Coles. Mylett was found strangled. Though some thought it may have been a murder, others argued she may have drunkenly choked herself or failed a suicide attempt. McKenzie, on the other hand, was found with a cut throat. Other typical Ripper marks, though—incisions and removed organs from the abdomen—were not present, leading most to believe this was not a Ripper murder, but perhaps an imitation or copy-cat. The Pinchin Street torso, a headless and legless torso found in Whitechapel, may or may not have been a Ripper murder. Lastly, the Coles murder was committed with a slit throat but no bodily mutilation. Although these murders had some similarities to Ripper murders, the differences and inconsistencies were too large to prove any definitive connection.
7. He May Have Been A Medically Trained Man.
He cut throats in the perfect places, sliced through abdomens, and removed organs like a true professional. Although such skill could have belonged to a butcher or slaughterman, most choose to focus on the more luxurious or enticing theory: that Jack the Ripper was a surgeon.
Dr. Bond, one researcher on the case, insisted strongly that the Ripper did not have the skill of a surgeon. He claimed that, in fact, the killer did not even have the skill of a lowly butcher or slaughterman. Then again, Bond was only able to examine one victim. Dr. Phillips, on the other hand, claimed the killer was likely a professional with an expert grasp of anatomical or pathological examinations.
The first of the Canonical Five, Mary Nichols, was found with many incision points on her body but other cuts were described as jagged. Cuts on the second victim, Anne Chapman, were also described as sometimes clean incisions and other times jagged cuts. Chapman’s womb had been removed, and so cleanly severed that no other organs were damaged. Such carefulness of the removal of these organs prompted many to begin to believe the Ripper was a medical man. Elizabeth Stride’s throat seemed carefully cut. Finally, Catherine Eddowes’ highly mutilated body was also treated with what seemed like a surgeon’s hand. Although her face was destroyed beyond recognition, the cuts down her abdomen had been carefully done and numerous organs had been meticulously cut out and removed.
Despite evidence of an interest in dismantling the female form, evidence of actual medical knowledge of the Ripper’s is still under debate today.
6. Although They Helped Coin The Name “Jack The Ripper,” Most Letters Were Dismissed As Hoaxes.
For a case that took place in the late 1800s, the Ripper murder case had a remarkable public involvement. Numerous letters flooded the mailboxes of police, authorities, newspapers, and others claiming to have information on the case or to be Jack himself. The allure of publicity spurred on countless men and women to taunt and tease the police or, conversely, offer their help and advice. It is estimated that the police at the time received as many as 700 letters pertaining to the case. The amount of those that were helpful rather than hurtful or mocking, though, was around half. The actual killer may have never sent a letter.
The importance of the letters, though, lies in one that was received on September 27, after the murder of Annie Chapman. In a letter to Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the man who had been called The Whitechapel Murderer, the Red Fiend, and the Leather Apron alike, came to be known at last as Jack the Ripper. The letter read:
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. … I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. … My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance.
Jack the Ripper
Three days after the letter was received, in fact, the murderer struck again with two killings in one night.
5. He Left One Small Clue.
After Jack the Ripper gained public interest with a string of horrific killings, many began to write letters claiming to be him, taunting police and garnering fifteen minutes of fame. Whether the Ripper letters were ever from the real killer may never be known. The Ripper did, though, leave a message of his own. After Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered in the same night, the Ripper fled the scene and left a message in a doorway off of Goulston Street, just a brief stroll away from Mitre Square, the site of the Eddowes murder.
There, a piece of Eddowe’s bloodied apron was found on the ground. Although only a small clue, it was one of the few that led detectives to any idea of who the Ripper was. It revealed the direction he chose to flee in, and perhaps the direction of his home.
Above it, scrawled in chalk on the wall, was the message:
The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.
The area was known for social unrest and developing anti-Semitism. The housing complex there, indeed, primarily housed Jews. Was the message left by the Ripper? Most likely, no. Most likely, the graffiti had been there for a while, and the killer had only coincidentally chosen to linger in that particular doorway before dropping the piece of apron. Police chose to erase the message in order to prevent anti-Semitism from increasing, figuring the Ripper had not taken the time to write it in fleeing the area.
4. There Were A Few Prime Suspects.
Who was Jack the Ripper? One man? A handful of criminals? We may never truly know. There were, though, a few prime suspects. In the course of their investigation, Whitechapel authorities interviewed over 2,000 people, investigated hundreds of others, and detained up to 80. Of those investigated, a few seem remarkably questionable.
Seweryn Antonowicz K?osowski was a Polish immigrant who was known for having poisoned three of his wives. At the time of the Whitechapel murders, he was working as a barber in the area. Because poisoning had been his modus operandi in the past, though, it seemed unlikely he would switch to slitting throats.
Aaron Kosminski, another suspect, was a Polish Jew admitted to an asylum shortly after the main murders were committed. Although he was from Whitechapel and markedly insane, he was found to be harmless in the asylum and expressed paranoid fears rather than a killer instinct.
John Pizer, also a Polish Jew, worked as a bootmaker in Whitechapel. He had been convicted of stabbing before as well as assaulting prostitutes. His alibis, though, were perfectly sound.
Despite countless interviews and in-depth investigations, Jack the Ripper’s true identity has never been discovered. Theories on just who he was range wildly, from a butchers to a madman to Lewis Carroll (yes, the writer of Alice in Wonderland!) to a female midwife to a cult leader. Jack the Ripper’s true identity may never be known.
3. He Had A Distinct MO.
Like many other successful and strangely endearing serial killers, Jack the Ripper had a distinct Modus Operandi, or method of executing his murders. The Ripper only attacked in early morning hours and on weekends. Most women were killed by strangulation and then systematically drained of their blood via throat-cutting. He then removed numerous organs, typically from cuts on the abdomen. These women were not noblewomen but common prostitutes, often drunken alcoholics. Not only were drunk prostitutes easy targets, they were also symbols of lust, and much of the Ripper’s mutilation was focused on the female form and genitalia.
Reasons for the Ripper’s way of killing may reveal certain aspects of his personal life or thought process. For one thing, early morning weekend killings may reveal that the Ripper was a regular worker who could only attack during weekends. Perhaps, on the other hand, weekends were simply an easy time to attack, as many were drunk, the streets were loud yet dark, and targets were easy to find. Because so many of the killings involved mutilation, cutting, and removal of organs, it is tempting to believe that the killer was a surgeon or at least anatomically educated beyond the level of the typical citizen of Whitechapel. Modern psychologists and criminologists purport that Jack the Ripper may have been enacting violent fantasies aimed towards an alcoholic prostitute mother. He may have frequently visited prostitutes or he may have despised them. Regardless of what these details could reveal, the Ripper certainly had a particular way of doing things.
2. The Case Is Still Open.
Fascinations with Jack the Ripper that began with copy-cat letters to the police and newspapers in the late 1800s have only increased as time has passed and as the murder mystery has gone on unsolved. Ripperology is the genuine study of the Jack the Ripper case, practiced by amateurs, journalists, historians, psychologists, and criminologists alike. Over 4,000 books have been written about the case, fact, fiction, and hybrids of the two.
According to a former murder detective,
There are a hardcore of people throughout the world who will always be interested. There are people who live and die the Ripper.
I sometimes wonder whether they want the crime to be solved. There are some people who won’t accept any facts. Nothing’s ever going to change them.
Still, many professionals and amateurs will continue to try to dig into the case and its attached legends, wondering who the killer could have been. Theories range to this day. Was he an aristocrat who hated poor women working the streets? Or a poor man himself, laboring away during the day only to kill under the darkness of night? Was Jack the Ripper actually Jill the Ripper?
U.S. detective novelist Patricia Cornwell attempted to solve the case with a provocatively-titled book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. She reportedly spent millions trying to prove the guilt of an artist named Walter Sickert. Leading Ripperologists dismissed her claims outright. Despite continued public interest and fervor, modern detectives seem no closer to solving the mystery than those investigating the case back in 1888.
1. A Recent Book Makes Big Claims.
The latest large claim in the Ripper case was made as recently as last year (2014). It seems that upon finding the terribly mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes, Sergeant Amos Simpson asked to take home with him a blood-spattered shawl from the crime scene. His horrified wife hid the shawl, and the piece of fabric came to be passed down from generation to generation until it was at last sold on auction in 2007. Armed with the shawl, Russell Edwards wrote the book Naming Jack the Ripper in which he claims to have found the killer via DNA evidence: Aaron Kosminski. A paranoid schizophrenic, Kosminski lived much of his days in an asylum where he died of gangrene. Edwards researched this case for fourteen years. As he strongly asserts, “Only non-believers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt. This is it now – we have unmasked him.”
Still, Edwards has his doubters. Ripperologists point out that the lab work used to find the evidence hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, making it unworthy of serious consideration. Others remark that evidence from a 126 year old case could be unclear or fabricated, as the shawl could have been touched and handled by hundreds over that period of time. Whether Edwards is right about the proposed killer, his assertion that the myth will live on is a fair one. An unsolved mystery is a lot more fun than a solved one.
Fears of the unknown, dark alleys, and lurking dangerous people drive us to purchase pepper spray, avoid certain areas of town, and park only in well-lit places. At the same time, we scream with joy in haunted houses, gear up for Halloweens full of fake blood, and line up in front of the television set to watch crime shows, true and fictionalized. A fascination with the darker side of humankind has been around for centuries, as is apparent with death rituals, voodoo dolls, and skull-and-bones symbols galore. The fascination with Jack the Ripper is no different, and it is here to stay.
Was Jack the Ripper Aaron Kosminski, a man driven by pure insanity? Perhaps he was a lone butcher with a strong dislike for prostitutes. On the other hand, maybe he was a silent aristocrat, seemingly normal but not so much under the cover of night and the loud din of weekend partying. Maybe he was a she, a Jill the Ripper after all. Regardless of his true identity, the myth and allure of the Ripper lives on. The case that went cold 125 years ago continues to be debated by Ripperologists young and old.