Known for committing gruesome murders from August 7 to September 10 in 1888, “Jack the Ripper“— a moniker for the notorious serial killer, who was never identified—remains one of England’s, and the world’s, most infamous criminals.
In the late 1800s, London’s East End was a place that was viewed by citizens with either compassion or utter contempt. Despite being an area where skilled immigrants—mainly Jews and Russians—came to begin a new life and start businesses, the district was notorious for squalor, violence and crime.
Prostitution was only illegal if the practice caused a public disturbance, and thousands of brothels and low-rent lodging houses provided sexual services during the late 19th century.
At that time, the death or murder of a working girl was rarely reported in the press or discussed within polite society. The reality was that “ladies of the night” were subject to physical attacks, which sometimes resulted in death.
Among these common violent crimes was the attack of English prostitute Emma Smith, who was beaten and raped with an object by four men. Smith, who later died of peritonitis, is remembered as one of many unfortunate female victims who were killed by gangs demanding protection money.
However, the series of killings that began in August 1888 stood out from other violent crime of the time: Marked by sadistic butchery, they suggested a mind more sociopathic and hateful than most citizens could comprehend.
Jack the Ripper didn’t just snuff out life with a knife, he mutilated and disemboweled women, removing organs such as kidneys and utereses, and his crimes seemed to portray an abhorrence for the entire female gender.
In 2011, British detective Trevor Marriott, who had long been investigating the Jack the Ripper murders, made headlines when he was denied access to uncensored documents surrounding the case by the Metropolitan Police. According to a 2011 ABC News article, London officers refused to give Marriott the files because they include protected information about police informants, thereby potentially dissuading testimony by modern-day informants.
In 2014, author and amateur sleuth Russell Edwards claimed to have determined the identity of Jack the Ripper by DNA results obtained from a shawl belonging to one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes. Edwards asserted the evidence pointed to Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant and one of the prime suspects in the grisly murders.
Jack the Ripper Full Biography and Profile
The identity of the killer of five – or possibly six – women in the East End of London in 1888 has remained a mystery, but the case has continued to horrify and fascinate.
Between August and November 1888,the Whitechapel area of London was the scene of five brutal murders. The killer was dubbed ‘Jack the Ripper’. All the women murdered were prostitutes, and all except for one – Elizabeth Stride – were horribly mutilated.
The first murder, of Mary Ann Nicholls, took place on 31 August. Annie Chapman was killed on 8 September. Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddoweson were murdered 30 September and Mary Jane Kelly on 9 November. These are often referred to as the ‘canonical five’ Ripper murders, although Martha Tabram, stabbed to death on 6 August 1888, is considered by some ‘ripperologists’ to be the first victim.
There has been much speculation as to the identity of the killer. It has been suggested that he or she was a doctor or butcher, based on the evidence of weapons and the mutilations that occurred, which showed a knowledge of human anatomy. Many theories have been put forward suggesting individuals who might be responsible. One theory links the murders with Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, also known as the Duke of Clarence, although the evidence for this is insubstantial.
Violence to prostitutes was not uncommon and there were many instances of women being brutalised, but the nature of these murders strongly suggests a single perpetrator.
A quarter of a mile from the scene of Catherine Eddowes’ murder, the words ‘The Juwes [sic] are not the men to be blamed for nothing,’ were found scrawled on a wall in chalk, and it was suggested this was written by the killer. A police officer ordered the words to be removed, fearing an anti-Semitic backlash in an area with a large Jewish population. The murderer is also sometimes thought to have made contact by letter with several public figures. These letters, like the chalk message, have never been proved to be authentic, and may have been hoaxes.
Jack the Ripper was never caught and he is not thought to have killed again after November 1888.
The Legacy of Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper’s murders suddenly stopped in the fall of 1888, but London citizens continued to demand answers that would not come, even more than a century later. The ongoing case—which has spawned an industry of books, films, TV series and historical tours—has met with a number of hindrances, including lack of evidence, a gamut of misinformation and false testimony, and tight regulations by the Scotland Yard. Jack the Ripper has been the topic of news stories for more than 120 years, and will likely continue to be for decades to come.
- Jack the Ripper Biography and Profile (BBC / Biography / History)