Jack the Ripper
The Most Famous Serial Killer of All Time
The name originated in a letter, written by someone claiming to be the murderer, that was disseminated in the media.
The letter is widely believed to have been a hoax, and may have been written by a journalist in a deliberate attempt to heighten interest in the story. Other nicknames used for the killer at the time were "The Whitechapel Murderer" and "Leather Apron".
Attacks ascribed to the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes from the slums whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations.
The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer possessed anatomical or surgical knowledge.
Rumours that the murders were connected intensified in September and October 1888, and letters from a writer or writers purporting to be the murderer were received by media outlets and Scotland Yard.
The "From Hell" letter, received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, included half of a preserved human kidney, supposedly from one of the victims.
Mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal character of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events, the public came increasingly to believe in a single serial killer known as "Jack the Ripper".
Extensive newspaper coverage bestowed widespread and enduring international notoriety on the Ripper. An investigation into a series of brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888, but the legend of Jack the Ripper solidified.
As the murders were never solved, the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory.
The term "ripperology" was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper's identity, and the murders have inspired multiple works of fiction.
The large number of attacks against women in the East End during this era adds uncertainty to how many victims were killed by the same person.
Eleven separate murders, stretching from April 3rd, 1888 to February 13th, 1891, were included in a London Metropolitan Police Service investigation, and were known collectively in the police docket as the "Whitechapel murders".
Opinions vary as to whether these murders should be linked to the same culprit or not, but five of the eleven Whitechapel murders, known as the "canonical five", are widely believed to be the work of the Ripper.
Most experts point to deep throat slashes, abdominal and genital-area mutilation, removal of internal organs, and progressive facial mutilations as the distinctive features of Jack the Ripper's modus operandi.
The first two cases in the Whitechapel murders file, those of Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram, are not included in the canonical five.
Smith was robbed and sexually assaulted on Osborn Street, Whitechapel, on April 3rd, 1888. A blunt object was inserted into her vagina, which ruptured her peritoneum. She developed peritonitis, and died the following day at London Hospital.
She said that she had been attacked by two or three men, one of whom was a teenager. The attack was linked to the later murders by the press, but most authors conclude that it was gang violence unrelated to the Ripper case.
Tabram was killed on August 7th, 1888; she had suffered 39 stab wounds. The savagery of the murder, the lack of obvious motive, and the closeness of the location (George Yard, Whitechapel) and date to those of the later Ripper murders led police to link them.
However, the attack differs from the canonical ones in that Tabram was stabbed rather than slashed at the throat and abdomen. Many experts today do not connect it with the later murders because of the difference in the wound pattern.
The canonical five Ripper victims are Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.
Nichols' body was discovered at about 3:40 a.m. on Friday 31st August 1888 in Buck's Row (now Durward Street), Whitechapel. The throat was severed deeply by two cuts, and the lower part of the abdomen was partly ripped open by a deep, jagged wound. Several other incisions on the abdomen were caused by the same knife.
Chapman's body was discovered at about 6 a.m. on Saturday 8th September 1888 near a doorway in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. As in the case of Mary Ann Nichols, the throat was severed by two cuts.
The abdomen was slashed entirely open, and it was later discovered that the uterus had been removed. At the inquest, one witness described seeing Chapman with a dark-haired man of "shabby-genteel" appearance at about 5:30 a.m..
Stride and Eddowes were killed in the early morning of Sunday 30th September 1888. Stride's body was discovered at about 1 a.m., in Dutfield's Yard, off Berner Street (now Henriques Street) in Whitechapel.
The cause of death was one clear-cut incision which severed the main artery on the left side of the neck. Uncertainty about whether Stride's murder should be attributed to the Ripper, or whether he was interrupted during the attack, stems from the absence of mutilations to the abdomen.
Witnesses who thought they saw Stride with a man earlier that night gave differing descriptions: some said her companion was fair, others dark; some said he was shabbily dressed, others well-dressed.
Eddowes' body was found in Mitre Square, in the City of London, three-quarters of an hour after Stride's. The throat was severed, and the abdomen was ripped open by a long, deep, jagged wound. The left kidney and the major part of the uterus had been removed.
A local man, Joseph Lawende, had passed through the square with two friends shortly before the murder, and he described seeing a fair-haired man of shabby appearance with a woman who may have been Eddowes. His companions, however, were unable to confirm his description.
Eddowes' and Stride's murders were later called the "double event". Part of Eddowes' bloodied apron was found at the entrance to a tenement in Goulston Street, Whitechapel.
Some writing on the wall above the apron piece, which became known as the Goulston Street graffito, seemed to implicate a Jew or Jews, but it was unclear whether the graffito was written by the murderer as he dropped the apron piece, or merely incidental.
Police Commissioner Charles Warren feared the graffito might spark antisemitic riots, and ordered it washed away before dawn.
The nature of the murders and of the victims drew attention to the poor living conditions in the East End, and galvanised public opinion against the overcrowded, unsanitary slums.
In the two decades after the murders, the worst of the slums were cleared and demolished, but the streets and some buildings survive and the legend of the Ripper is still promoted by guided tours of the murder sites. The Ten Bells public house in Commercial Street was frequented by at least one of the victims and was the focus of such tours for many years.
In addition to the contradictions and unreliability of contemporary accounts, attempts to identify the real killer are hampered by the lack of surviving forensic evidence.
DNA analysis on extant letters is inconclusive; the available material has been handled many times and is too contaminated to provide meaningful results.To date more than 100 non-fiction works deal exclusively with the Jack the Ripper murders, making it one of the most written-about true-crime subjects.
The term "ripperology" was coined by Colin Wilson in the 1970s to describe the study of the case by professionals and amateurs.
The periodicals Ripperana, Ripperologist and Ripper Notes publish their research. Jack the Ripper features in hundreds of works of fiction and works which straddle the boundaries between both fact and fiction, including the Ripper letters and a hoax Diary of Jack the Ripper.
The Ripper appears in novels, short stories, poems, comic books, games, songs, plays, operas, television programmes and films. In the immediate aftermath of the murders, and later, "Jack the Ripper became the children's bogey man." Depictions were often phantasmic or monstrous.
In the 1920s and 1930s, he was depicted in film dressed in everyday clothes as a man with a hidden secret preying on his unsuspecting victims; atmosphere and evil were suggested through lighting effects and shadowplay.
By the 1960s, the Ripper had become "the symbol of a predatory aristocracy", and was portrayed in a top hat dressed as a gentleman. The Establishment as a whole became the villain with the Ripper acting as a manifestation of upper-class exploitation.
The image of the Ripper merged with or borrowed symbols from horror stories, such as Dracula's cloak or Victor Frankenstein's organ harvest. The fictional world of the Ripper can fuse with multiple genres, ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Japanese erotic horror.
Unlike murderers of lesser fame, there is no waxwork figure of Jack the Ripper at Madame Tussauds' Chamber of Horrors, in accordance with their policy of not modelling persons whose likeness is unknown. He is instead depicted as a shadow.
In 2006, Jack the Ripper was selected by BBC History magazine and its readers as the worst Briton in history.