Jack The Ripper


Jack The Ripper Essay, Research Paper

Jack the Ripper was a murderous madman who terrorized prostitutes in the late 1880?s. Time has not diminished the gruesomeness of the killings. All the victims’ throats were cut; some victims were disemboweled; and the killer took organs from some of his victims. When fear of the Ripper peaked, the killings stopped, and a century of speculation ensued (jack 1). Many authors have tried to sift through the evidence and have arrived at their own theories as to the identity of the killer. Still there has never been conclusive proof of who the murderer was and what were his motives. To understand the difficulty of solving the murder it is necessary to look at the historical circumstances, the Ripper?s victims, and the suspects involved.

The crimes took place during a period of English history known as the Victorian

period. This era was named after Queen Victoria who became Queen in 1837 (Stitson 1). She ruled Great Britan until 1901. This was a time when industrialization grew and people flooded into the city to find work. It was also a time when the British Empire was expanding and many foreign workers traveled to London and competed with the locals for jobs.

The class system, a sharp division between rich and poor kept the two groups

isolated from each other as much as possible (stitson 1). Wealthy Victorians lived a life of ease and comfort and took little interest in the lives of the poor. The Victorians lived with many strict moral restraints. They were supposed to keep their emotions and desires in check. Men considered women to be virgins or whores. They felt that their wives and girlfriends were pure and that they had to turn to prostitutes to satisfy their desires. Prostitutes in this era were primarily from the lower classes. Many were to be found in the East End. ?Gentlemen? usually visited the poor East End only when drinking with male friends or when looking for a prostitute. The East End, Whitechapple, in the 1880?s was a small area of London crowded with ninety thousand people (Sugden 3). There was little or no plumbing or sanitation and disease and pollution were a constant problem. There was also a large population of European Jews who were not well accepted by their English neighbors. The English feared that the immigrants would take their jobs and compete for the overcrowded housing available.

The police in London at this time had to control and protect the poorer class

members of society. At the same time they had to answer to the members of the

prosperous English society and protect the royalty. Two years before the Whitechapel

murders by Jack the Ripper, riots broke out in the area because people were camping in the streets due to mass unemployment. General Charles Warren, a professional soldier was appointed as Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to handle the confrontation. He was later knighted for controlling the riots, but the local people never forgot the fact that he used force and many arrests to stop the riots on ?Bloody Sunday? (Abrahamsen 21). This affected the cooperation level he would later receive. He was to face his biggest challenge when trying to solve the Ripper murders.

The first murder in Whitechapel definitely attributed to Jack the Ripper happened

on August 31, 1888. The victim was a forty-two year old prostitute named Mary Nichols,

nicknamed Polly. A friend last saw her at 2:30 in the morning. She was very drunk and said she was going to earn the price of a room for the night. A workman discovered her body at 3:40 that same morning. Her throat was slashed all the way to her vertebrae. She had several rough incisions in her abdomen. No one heard her scream; the examining doctor felt that she might have been strangled first. Her former husband identified the body the next day. She was the mother of five children.

The police had no clue who could have murdered Mary Nichols. Later writers have suggested that she was murdered by a group of three men and dumped along Buck?s Row (Knight 126). Forensic evidence and the doctor?s testimony suggest that she was killed where she was found, and that one man carried out the murder. Since she was a pauper, robbery was not the motive and police feared that perhaps they were searching for a maniac who could strike again.

On Saturday, September 8, 1888 the police found the next victim. Her name was

Annie Chapman, known as ?Dark Annie?. She was a forty-seven year old prostitute. Like

Mary Nichols, she lost her husband and three children because she was an alcoholic. Annie was killed in the backyard of a heavily populated rooming house. The murderer was not interrupted this time and his savagery was evident. She was strangled and then her throat was cut. She was eviscerated and her partially attached organs were displayed next to her body. Some of her organs were missing. The examining doctor felt that only someone with anatomical knowledge could have performed so precise a surgery in the short period of time before the body was discovered.

The next two murders happened on one night. The first occurred just after

midnight on September 30, 1888. Elizabeth Stride was murdered in a passageway just

outside a Socialist club whose members were Russian and Polish Jews (Howell 224). Despite the comings and goings of the members, no one heard or saw anything. Her throat was cut and she bled to death. Soon after this, a second grisly murder took place in Mitre Square. In less than fifteen minutes time, the murderer brought his victim into Mitre Square, killed her, mutilated her body and escaped, taking her kidney and womb with him. The victim was known as Kate Conway but her real name was Catharine Eddowes. Both victims were in their mid-forties, liked to drink and resorted to at least occasional prostitution to support themselves.

The most horrific murder was yet to come. On November 10, 1888, a young Irish

prostitute named Mary Kelly was found by her landlord. She was lying in her bed, dead

and dismembered in such a disgusting manner that anyone who saw her vowed that they

would never forget the savagery. Perhaps because the murderer had the privacy of a room, he performed the most mutilations on this victim (Ryder 1). He cut her throat, cut out her heart and other organs and flayed her legs to the bone. A reward was set up after this murder to pay any informant who could reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper, but nobody came forward. The police never found the murder weapon or a clue that could help to positively identify the killer. They did have a number of leads and suspects. Writers are continuing to add to that list of suspects even today.

Numerous witnesses came forward to describe companions of the various victims

the nights that they were killed. One of the first suspects was a man known to the locals as ? Leather Apron? (Sugden 73). He was a Jewish slipper maker who allegedly threatened prostitutes and tried to get them to pay him money, like a modern pimp would do. He denied that he did this but was known to carry a sharp knife. He was released because he had convincing alibis for the dates of the murders.

Charles Ludwig, a German hairdresser was also a suspect because of his bizarre

behavior and he also carried razor knives. But he was later exonerated because he was in jail when some of the murders occurred. Oswald Puckridge, who was called the ?mad butcher?, also had to be removed from the suspect list because he was confined in an asylum when the later murders took place (Begg 56).

Many local people felt that a Jew was responsible for the killings. They feared that the murders were some kind of ritualistic religious sacrifice. Ignorance of Jewish culture made them an easy scapegoat (Knight 123). On the night of the double murder, a piece cut from the apron worn by the victim of the Mitre Street mutilation was found by a policeman in Whitechapel. It was beneath a sign drawn in chalk, which said, ? The Jews are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.? (Ryder 1). Chief Inspector Warren had the writing washed off the wall before dawn the next day. Even though it was a valuable piece of evidence, he feared that this could incite a riot against the Jews in the area.

The press followed every new development in the cases. When the police were not always forthcoming with information, the press would elaborate by interviewing witnesses and publishing rumors. Soon, letters claiming to be from the murderer started arriving. The first two that were taken seriously were written by the same man and sent to the Central News Agency (Ryder 1). ?Jack the Ripper? signed them. This was the first time the name was used. Because of their content and knowledge of detail, many people believed these letters to be written by the murderer. Another letter was written to Mr. Lusk, the chairman of the vigilantes who helped patrol the neighborhood. The letter was

bloodstained and arrived with part of a human kidney in a box. The kidney was proven to

be human and very likely from Catherine Eddowes. Therefore, this was definitely considered to be legitimate (Stitson 1). However, all efforts to find out who sent the letters failed.

The list of suspects continued to grow, but no one suspect could be

conclusively proven to have committed the crimes. When the murders ceased, many

officials felt that the killer had committed suicide or had been locked up in an asylum.

Modern profiles of serial killers suggest that this is unlikely (Abrahamsen 36). One of the suspects did kill him self shortly after the last murder. His name was Montague John Druitt. He was a doctor and a lawyer and had a family history of mental illness. No conclusive proof has been discovered that he was Jack the Ripper but he is generally accepted to be the prime suspect.

Even today, more suspects are being suggested because Scotland Yard documents

that has been sealed for a hundred years are now becoming available. The question

remains. Why was Jack the Ripper never caught? Many in the East End felt that the police were providing a cover-up for some suspect from the distinguished upper classes. In fact, some have even suggested that the crowned prince Albert Victor should have been regarded as a suspect. His motive has been suggested to be that he had contracted syphilis from a whore (Howells 173). This is still believed despite the fact that he had alibis for the dates of the murders.

The real reason that Jack the Ripper has never been caught seems to be primarily

due to the fact that the investigative techniques employed in the 1880?s were not up to the

task of finding a serial murderer. Investigations of murders were geared to the motive and

the background of the killer and victim. To catch a very cunning murderer with no

apparent motive was very difficult in that era. Without a weapon, finger print analysis and forensic evidence, it was virtually impossible at the time for the police to find the right suspect (Abrahamsen 47). The high crime rate and overpopulation of Whitechapel and the large foreign population complicated the police efforts and allowed the murderer to slip away unpunished. In all this psychopath only killed five people but the murders were so grisly they will always be remembered.


Abrahamsen, David, M.D. Murder and Madness. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1992.

Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper the Uncensored Facts. Great Britain: Robson Books Ltd,


Jack. Enter The Sinister World of Jack the Ripper. 1997,


Stitson, Jessica. Jack the Ripper. March18,1998.


Howells, Martin and Keith Skinner. The Ripper Legacy. Middlesex: Sidgewick &

Jackson, 1987.

Knight, Stephen. Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution. Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1986.

Ryder, Stephen and Piper, John. Casebook: Jack the Ripper. 1998


Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll &

Graf, 1995.

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