“On the 31st of October 1888 at about 3:40 am, Charles Cross was walking down Brady street towards Whitechapel road. It was a cold, dreary morning and he shivered in his overcoat as he walked. Charles noticed a bundle on the gutter ahead of him and crossed the road to take a closer look. To his horror, it turned out to be the body of a woman. She was barely breathing and by the time he had run for help, she was already dead. The woman’s name was Mary Ann Nichols, the first victim of Jack the Ripper”
A What If illustration by The Illustrated London News.
The name ‘Jack the Ripper’ has beset much of Victorian London and continues to unnerve many, two centuries later. To this day, the killer’s identity and his whereabouts remain deeply shrouded in mystery. In 2006, Jack the Ripper was voted the worst Briton ever, by a poll carried out by BBC History magazine. The Victorian murderer has become quite an iconic figure in the world, being featured in movies and books over the decades. Before we lose ourselves in the Victorian Murderer’s trivia, let us wind back the gears of time and jump into the murky waters of Victorian London to witness the Ripper’s crimes.
Between August and November 1888, five blood-curling murders were committed in the Whitechapel district of London’s East End. This period came to be known as the ‘Autumn of Terror’. The nauseating nature of the murders is shocking to this day. This case is also one of the most intriguing unsolved mysteries of English crime. A notable fact of Jack the Ripper’s victims is that they were all ‘women of the streets’, and had built quite a reputation for themselves within Whitechapel.
The sites of the Whitechapel murders.
Each of the murders had been committed at ungodly hours, more so between 12:00 am to 3:00 am. The Ripper is said to have stalked his victims for days before murdering them. The victims were Mary Ann Nichols (found August 3), Annie Chapman (found September 7), Elizabeth Stride (found September 30), Catherine Eddowes (found September 30) and Mary Jane Kelly (found November 9).
In each instance, the victim’s throat was slashed and the body mutilated in a manner suggesting that the murderer possessed a certain degree of knowledge on human anatomy. Some victims even had organs missing, each one expertly cut out of their bodies. The victims were reported to be middle-aged women of ill repute and had been acquainted with the Ripper, before being murdered.
The London Police and the citizens of Whitechapel were left baffled by the severity of the murders and worse, the impossible task of finding the murderer.
Despite using every available option at the time and access to resources limited to the era, no evidence of the killer was ever found. On one occasion, half of a human kidney, which might have been removed from the murder victims, was mailed to the Police. They also received a stream of letters signed by a person named Jack the Ripper calling himself to be the murderer. The Victorian Police also received serious backlash for failing to catch the killer. With no possibility of nailing the murderer, the case was left unsolved with no progress. Thus, leaving it an open case for more than a century.
Various theories on the Ripper’s identity have been produced over the decades. Some include claims accusing the renowned Victorian painter Walter Sickert, a Polish migrant. Accusations have also been levelled at Queen Victoria’s grandson. Since 1888, more than a hundred suspects have been named, leading to widespread folklore and nightmarish entertainment surrounding the mystery.
Jack the Ripper has also provided themes for numerous literary and dramatic works over the decades. The most notable being the horror novel, ‘The Lodger’ written in 1913 by Marie Adelaide Lowndes, which inspired films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog’ released in 1927. More than a hundred books have been published on the case, each more far-fetched than the last. Some include that the murders were part of an occult or masonic plot and the Police were covering up for highly placed culprits, perhaps even members of the royal family. The most recent adaption of Jack the Ripper is seen in the animated Batman movie, ‘Gotham by Gaslight’. Moreover, the murder sites have also become the locus of a macabre tourist industry, attracting over 100 tourists every month.
When looking back at the Whitechapel murders, Jack the Ripper was an extraordinary murderer indeed. Even today, his identity continues to be shrouded in secrecy and mystery. Some even consider him to be part myth, part monster. Nevertheless, peeling back the layers of fiction and conjecture, he is no more than an ordinary man. One who had ample opportunity to murder his victims and blend into the crowd.
In present times, criminal investigations can employ an arsenal of tools and equipment for crime detection, such as DNA profiling and forensics making it effortless to connect an individual to a crime scene.
Centuries later, not one person is closer to identifying the Ripper or his whereabouts, are you up for the challenge?Writter’s Thoughts