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In the last few years of Queen Victoria's reign, life was pretty dreary for the British working classes. There was no welfare state and some women used to sell their bodies to help pay their rent, or even just to buy them a drink of gin. The East End of London was notorious for its prostitute population and many men frequented the streets in search of their services.
Under cover of darkness, anonymity was assured. There were no street lights in those days, merely gas lamps which were lit manually sometimes well after darkness had fallen. The fog, which descended regularly, assisted any visitors to the district in becoming almost invisible.
On 31 August, 1888, the mutilated remains of Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols (43) were found. A murdered prostitute was hardly likely to cause a great deal of concern, although police1 were shocked at the brutality of the crime. Polly's throat had been cut so deeply it exposed her vertebrae. She had also been repeatedly stabbed in her abdomen.
Arrests were made but no one charged and Polly Nichols was almost forgotten when the body of another prostitute, Annie Chapman, (47) was found just over a week later on 8 September. This woman's throat had been cut, her body mutilated and her uterus was missing. Now people were scared, and the press went into action. The newspaper boys screamed:
Read all about it - murder most foul.
The police had no clues, so men were arrested on circumstantial evidence. Rumour spread like wildfire in the frightened town. The killer was christened 'Leather Apron' by the press, as it was suspected he was a macabre doctor who wanted to experiment on human body parts - a practise that was outlawed.
For three weeks nothing more sinister happened, until the eventful night of 30 September. Elizabeth 'Long Liz' Stride (45) was walking home from her local pub, quite the worse for drink. She never made it home. Her body was found the next day, her throat slit, but her clothing was undisturbed. That the Ripper was interrupted during the murder is almost certain. His attempt to sever her ear, (a trophy he wanted for the police), was unsuccessful.
His appetite whetted, the killer found another prostitute, Catherine (Kate) Eddowes, (46) and she bore the full brunt of his savagery. He slit her throat, mutilated her face, cut off her nose and removed a kidney. After Kate Eddowes' murder, the killer scrawled 'The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing' on a wall nearby. This could have been ordinary graffiti and nothing to do with the latest murder.
The 'Juwes' writing pointed to Jewish suspects. Sir Charles Warren (Chief of Metropolitan Police) ordered2 the removal of the writing on the wall, seemingly to avoid a confrontation with the immigrant population. There was already unrest caused by the false arrest of one man, John Pizer (see below).
By now, the police were under immense pressure to find and arrest the murderer. Several arrests were made, hapless men were thrown into lunatic asylums but nothing was ever proved. Just when the East End thought it had heard the last of the Ripper, a landlord collecting rents made a fearsome discovery. Marie Jeanette (Mary) Kelly (25) was a beautiful young Irishwoman. When Mary's landlord could not get a reply to his knock, he peered through the window. What a sight greeted his shocked eyes. The most appalling murder yet, sickening everyone who read about the account.
Mary - or what was left of her, anyway, was spreadeagled on her bed. She had been skinned. Her abdomen had been emptied, and her womb placed at her feet. One of her hands had been placed in her empty abdominal cavity. Intestines had been placed at her left shoulder. Her heart had been extricated and was missing. The room was awash with blood and gore. Even worse, Mary Kelly was known to have been pregnant.
Several other murders of street women took place around this time, and some could have been the Ripper's work. One prostitute was killed by having a blunt instrument inserted into her womb. Prostitution was certainly a hazardous occupation. Other prostitutes killed in that time period can be viewed on the Jack the Ripper Casebook website. Please be aware that this webpage contains real photographs of the dead women and graphic details of the slayings. It may not be suitable viewing for young readers or those with sensitive dispositions.
HRH Prince Edward Albert Victor
The Duke of Clarence allegedly made visits to a brothel in Cleveland Street in the East End. He had supposedly learned disembowelling techniques on hunting expeditions and was said to have suffered from syphilis. His official cause of death was given as pneumonia.
William Wallace Brodie
Brodie confessed to all the Whitechapel murders while in a drunken stupor, in 1889. Scotland Yard checked into his whereabouts at the time and it was discovered that he was in South Africa between 6 September, 1888, and 15 July, 1889.
A Polish immigrant who changed his name from Severin Klosowski. Chapman, who had previously poisoned his wife, was arrested and charged by Frederick Abberline, who was in charge of the Ripper investigation at the time. This was later retracted.
Thomas Neil Cream
An American Doctor, Cream had previously been arrested in connection with the poisoning of prostitutes and habitually writing to the Police giving false names and false accusations of a number of crimes. Cream was hanged for the murder of the Lambeth prostitutes in 1892. As he was hanged, his departing words were: 'I am Jack...'.
Dr Cream raised suspicions following revelations that an American had been making enquiries as to the availability of certain organs at medical schools in and around the Whitechapel district. Also, a letter received by the Police prior to the double killings of Elizabeth Stride and Kate Eddowes contained many 'Americanisms'. However, Cream was actually imprisoned awaiting trial at the time of the murders.
Montague John Druitt
A schoolmaster, Druitt studied medicine for a time and became a barrister. He was from a good family and was well educated. He was also criminally insane. Two days after his dismissal from a Blackheath school, he committed suicide by drowning himself in the River Thames. He left a note saying:
Since Friday I felt I was going to be like Mother3 and the best thing for me was to die.
The note was found on his body which was recovered on 31 December, 1888. Druitt's suicide made him a convenient scapegoat and the police closed the Ripper file.
Sir William Gull
The Royal Physician allegedly became involved in an attempt to silence all contacts of Mary Kelly. Rumour had it that she was the maid of the Duke of Clarence, the grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert Victor. There was even gossip that the Duke had married Annie Crook, a Catholic, and when she got pregnant, she was locked away in a mental asylum to avoid a scandal. Mary Kelly was supposedly blackmailing the Government with her knowledge about the Duke of Clarence's illicit marriage. Gull was to slaughter the women inside the Royal carriage, then dispose of the bodies. This supposedly explains the lack of noise and blood at the scene of the murders. There were many who believed that there was a cover up by the authorities to protect someone very important. Queen Victoria's interest in the case could have added to the inevitable assumptions. This conspiracy theory is popular but the fact was that William Gull was 6' tall, much taller than the eye-witness accounts of the Ripper. He was also 71 years old at the time of the killings, he had suffered a stroke the year before and he died after another stroke in 1890.
A Polish Jew, barber and resident of Whitechapel since 1882, this was a man with an extreme hatred of women, especially prostitutes. Kosminski had strong homicidal tendencies and a history of brutal crimes. He was described by police as a self-abuser (he masturbated), he drank from sewers and ate scraps from the gutter. He was committed to Mile End Infirmary for the insane in 1890. According to the records at the asylum, Kosminski was not considered a danger and he was never placed in a strait-jacket. He also only ever spoke Yiddish. He died of gangrene in 1919, still an asylum inmate.
A cotton merchant and the author of the famous 'Jack the Ripper Diary'. There are as many believers as non-believers of the authenticity of the book. He was addicted to arsenic4 and strychnine, and he was obsessed with his adulterous wife. In 1993, a pocket watch was found with the initials of the five victims and his verified signature scratched on the case. Also scratched were the words: 'I am Jack'.
James Maybrick died from arsenic poisoning in 1889, and his wife was accused of his murder. At the time of the trial there was actually doubt that Florence Maybrick had poisoned her husband. The evidence against her was circumstantial, her defence attorney was worse than useless and the judge's remarks to the jury were unacceptably biased (the judge later went mad). It is generally acknowledged that no modern jury would have found her guilty, and her trial was one that contributed to the introduction of 'appeals' against convictions.
A Russian doctor, Ostrogg was a confidence trickster who assumed numerous aliases, including that of a 'Dr Grant', and a ship's surgeon in the Russian Navy. He was a fraudster and a thief. He spent much of his time in Police custody, though not when the murders were committed.
A Russian doctor. Possibly also known as Michael Ostrogg. Pedachenko had trained as a barber's surgeon and worked at a Maternity Hospital. The Russian Secret Police Gazette, Ochrana, described Pedachenko as 'the greatest and boldest of all Russian criminal lunatics' at a time when Pedachenko was allegedly living with his sister in London. He returned to Russia, where he was institutionalised for the murder of a woman in St Petersburg. Pedachenko died in the asylum.
A Jewish shoemaker - he was a man with access to five inch blades and who owned a leather apron. Pizer not only had a stabbing conviction against him, but also displayed a well known dislike for prostitutes. He unfortunately fitted the description of the suspect 'a short man with a dark beard and moustache and a foreign accent'. Upon his arrest, the press described Pizer as having a 'cruel sardonic look'5. Pizer though, had a solid alibi and he received a compensation payment from the libel courts after his release.
Walter Richard Sickert
An artist, Sickert was 28 at the time of the murders and two decades later, he painted a series named the Camden Town Murders depicting prostitutes, either dead or alive, in a room with a clothed man. He also fitted a psychological profile similar to that of serial killers. His father was abusive and Sickert had a cleanliness compulsion as a child. Sickert endured painful surgery on his penis several times, which could have left him impotent or sterile. He married three times but had no children. Sickert also used the same stationery as the Ripper.
James Kenneth Stephen
Prince Albert's tutor at Cambridge, this man was linked to the crimes because it was presumed he had a pathological hatred of women because he was homosexual (homosexuality was a criminal act in the UK until 1967).
Dr Roslyn D'Onston Stephenson
Author, magician and a student of the black arts, Stephenson mysteriously disappeared around 1904. The number five is significant, it being both the total number of murders attributed to the Ripper and also the number of points on a pentagram (A five-pointed star enclosed in a circle), a familiar symbol in black magic.
A poet, Thompson had a violent childhood and failed at medical school. A drug addict, he became a vagrant and had an unhappy love affair with a prostitute. Thompson's morbid poetry and prose likens his life tragically with tortured personalities such as Oscar Wilde.
Tumblety was an American misogynist 'doctor', though he had no medical training. He made a fortune from making and selling his own tonics and elixirs. He was arrested for attempting to abort the pregnancy of a prostitute named Philomene Dumas. The charges were later dropped. Another patient of his died and Tumblety fled the USA. He was almost certainly homosexual, after a brief marriage to an ex-prostitute failed. He was known to have a collection of uteri, which he displayed in his home and he produced the jars with their gory contents as a party piece to dinner guests. Chief Inspector Littlechild (Scotland Yard), believed him to be a 'very likely suspect'. He escaped to the USA while on bail after being arrested for homosexual practises. Tumblety lived quietly with his sister and died in America in 1903.
Jill the Ripper
Just about the most implausible suspect (that it was a woman), because the victims were not sexually interfered with. Possibly a midwife trying to obtain knowledge of abortion techniques or seeking a pregnant uterus for study. This is the most highly unlikely scenario as women murderers do not, as a rule, mutilate women victims.
During the Ripper's reign of terror, the police and other prominent members of the public received letters written in red ink. The writer stated that he had saved blood from one of the victims to write the letters with, but the blood had congealed so red ink 'would have to do'. The letters displayed knowledge that could only be known by the killer. One letter contained the footnote:
Ha, Ha, they say I am a Doctor now!
They were taunting letters, and revealed a religious fanatic. He predicted the next murder, yet these details were not released to the public, so it was assumed these letters were from the murderer himself. He signed himself 'Jack the Ripper'.
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won't fix me just yet... I am down on whores and I shan't quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady [Annie Chapman] no time to squeal. How can they catch me know? I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me and my funny little games... The next job I do I shall clip the lady's ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly... Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife is nice and sharp. I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good luck.
Jack the Ripper
I was not codding [Joking], dear old Boss, when I gave you the tip. You'll hear about Saucy Jack's work tomorrow. Double event this time. Number one squealed a bit. Couldn't finish straight off. Had not time to get ears for police. Thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again. Jack the Ripper.
Mr Lusk. Sir I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman prasarved it for you. tother piece I fried and ate it was very nice. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer. Signed Catche me when you can Mister Lusk.
During the enquiry police received many fake letters, supposedly from the Ripper. At least one of the letters was later discovered to have been written by a reporter, seeking to sensationalise the case. All of the letters could have been fakes. The fact that some contained information that only the Ripper and the police knew, was no mystery. Newspaper reporters were trying to sell newspapers with their stories, the more sensational the better. Police were hardly paid a living wage.
The Legend of Jack the Ripper
The crimes were blown up out of all proportion by the Press. The popular press at the time was an expanding force, seeking to find a niche for itself in society. The East End and its deprivation were a crusading cause for them, and the murders provided perfect material to prove their thesis. Jack's reign did not do any harm to the sale of newspapers.
Many books have been written and several films have been made about the murderer. Most have different suspects and some fanciful ideas which all add to the mystery. The fact is that the case has never been solved, so it remains a mystique in the eyes of the public and those who love to be thrilled by a gory story.
There is a 'Ripper' attraction at the London Dungeon, complete with real photographs of the remains of the victims and a map of the crime scene.
If you are very brave then you can visit the sites where the murders were committed. A guided walk with The London Tourist Board who organise daily walks to the 'Jack the Ripper Haunts' from Tower Hill Tube Station at 7.30pm may be just up your alley.
Papers which were released to the public in 1988 from official UK archives, after being sealed for 100 years, yielded no further clues, in fact at least half of the official paperwork was missing. More mystery to add to the already well-hyped furore. The Ripper's story continues to thrill and entertain two centuries later.