The Case of Jack the Ripper
I do believe that any introductions would be completely redundant. We’ve been hearing about this mysterious man ever since his presence first became known, back in 1888.
A title that inspires fear to this day, a faceless man with a killer’s instincts and a name that has taken the proportions of a myth.
Jack the Ripper.
Few names in history are so instantly recognizable. And even fewer still evoke such vivid images: hansom cabs and gaslights, fog, prostitutes decked out in the tawdriest of finery, newsboys –“Whitechapel! Another murder!” – and silent, cruel death, embodied by a figure shrouded in shadows, a faceless prowler of the night, armed with a long knife and a thirst for blood.
(Oh my God, I’m giving myself goosebumps!)
No matter what you call him, his image will always lurk in the foggy darkness of Victorian London, a legend that cannot exist in the alleys of any other city. Jack the Ripper has become one of the shadows of the city of London.
Literature of the 19th century depicts London in two different ways. One is the city during the daytime: bustling, vibrant, crowded. But when the sun sets, the city morphs into something else entirely: foggy, dark, gloomy, dangerous. London seems to be an endless realm of shadows.
1888, Whitechapel, the slums of London. Through the poverty and permanent despair, a new terror emerges: five women are murdered, starting on the 31st of August when the first victim, Mary Ann Nichols, was found in Buck’s Row, followed by Annie Chapman on the 8th of September in the yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Elizabeth Stride in Dutfield’s Yard and Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square on September 30th, and finally Mary Jane Kelly in Miller’s Court on November 9th.
Take a look at the map below!
All these are locations of victims left behind by Jack the Ripper!
Chilling, isn’t it?
These five women, all prostitutes, are accepted as confirmed victims—the “canonical five”—of Jack the Ripper, though thirteen other murders were investigated in the area around that time and many experts argue that the number of his victims was actually much higher. The five prostitutes were all found in different stages of mutilation, the cause of death invariably being a slashed throat.
(Like, women can never catch a break!)
The horriﬁc nature of the Whitechapel slayings not only provoked panic among women of all ages and classes, but also raised fears of anti-Semitic rioting in the East End because so many of the suspects were young Jewish males.
Most modern studies of the Whitechapel murders take their readers through the long list of famous and obscure candidates for the role of the Ripper whom amateur and professional sleuths have fancied over the years. To this day many Ripper buffs cling to the notion that Jack was a gent—a West End professional, a ‘‘guv’nor’’ or toff—who wore an expensive cloak and top hat and was driven by misogyny, religious fanaticism, or venereal disease to destroy prostitutes. Among the most persistent and ludicrous of myths is the one linking the murders to royalty—namely, H. R. H. Prince Albert Victor (‘‘Prince Eddy’’), Duke of Clarence and Avondale, the eldest son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne.
Obscure or plebeian suspects include Joseph Barnett, the ex-lover of Mary Kelly; a vengeful doctor named Stanley, whose beloved son had supposedly caught venereal disease from Kelly; the mad Polish hairdresser Aaron Kosminski; and the mad Russian doctor Michael Ostrog. Then there is the eccentric and colorful medical quack Dr. Francis J. Tumblety, a Canadian-born con man of Irish origins who made a small fortune by peddling a fake cure for pimples.
Among the most exotic suspects fancied by a few ‘Jack the Ripper’ sleuths have been practitioners of black magic reputed to have left their mark by such cabalistic signs as the number of stab wounds in a victim’s body (39, or 3 times 13), the choice of the murder sites so as to form a cross or pentagram across Whitechapel, the ritualistic mutilations, and the timing of each attack to accord with phases of the moon.
Ok, let’s be honest here, all of the above suspects sound like pretty shady characters themselves, even if they weren’t Jack.
Umm…London Police? You might want to take another look at them…or their basements.
A significant part of what has shaped the modern perception of Jack is the existence of several letters sent in to various newspapers in 1888. They were all alleged to have been written by the murderer, but were most likely penned by members of the public caught up in the excitement and fear gripping London. Two of the most famous letters are the ‘Dear Boss’ letter and the ‘From Hell’ letter. The ‘Dear Boss’ letter, which was sent to the Central News Agency on September 27th, is the first text which uses the title ‘Jack the Ripper’.
It is assumed to have been written by a member of the press, but a promise to cut off his next victim’s earlobe, which was fulfilled three days later in the double murder of Eddowes and Stride, led to it being reproduced in newspapers in the hope that someone would recognize the handwriting. The ‘From Hell’ letter is the most infamous of all the supposed Ripper correspondence. It was sent with a package to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk, on October 16th. Inside the package were half a human kidney and an anonymous letter bearing the address ‘From Hell’.
Needless to say, the elusive presence of Jack the Ripper, the unseen terror, the night prowler, the creeping shadow of death, was at the epicenter of every discussion back then, spreading fear throughout Whitechapel and the East End. With no solid leads and without a case strong enough against any suspect, Jack the Ripper continued his reign of terror long after his murderous spree finally stopped.
Both the name he was given—The Ripper—as well as the morbid fascination of the Victorian press turned fived sordid, brutal murders into a myth, and one could say that despite physically holding the knife that slashed those women’s throats, Jack the Ripper ended up being a cultural sensation, a living reminder for the wealthy population of London of the city’s darker aspect. Jack the Ripper became the physical embodiment of widely held fears and prejudices about the East End of London.
Since 1960, at least thirty books—not to mention scores of articles and chapters—have dealt with the exploits and identity of Jack the Ripper. Scholars from a wide variety of academic fields are still being seduced by the allure of the century-old unsolved case of the one man that managed to throw the Victorian society of London into complete disarray, and certainly, there has been no shortage of research into the Whitechapel murders.
Throughout the century that separates us from the infamous Ripper of East End, Jack has come to represent more than just the darker aspects of the human psyche. He epitomizes the social divide between the Victorian social classes, embodying in the most brutal, animalistic way the horrors of being poor, of being a woman—or even worse, of being a poor woman, walking the streets after sunset.
I’m certain even the man himself couldn’t have possibly imagined—or ever expected—that his crimes, as horrific as they were, would ever become known outside of London, much less the world, and yet his name is and will probably remain one of the most recognizable names to ever grace our ears and the worldwide press.
With his infamy transcending the ages, a cultural storm and horror-sensation in his own right, Jack the Ripper will go down in history as the world’s most notorious serial killer.
(The things I had to read through to bring you this article…seriously!)
Written by Hanna Hamilton