The year was 1888. The Industrial Revolution had peaked, but its effects still lingered. England had grown immensely in technology, the scope of industry and in population as well. For the affluent, life was good. For the middle and lower classes, life was harsh. Working and living conditions were still terrible. However, for the first time the majority of the population was literate. It was at this time and into this environment that one of the most infamous and ominous names in history unleashed himself. Jack the Ripper, in roughly a four-month period of time, succeeded in at once terrifying and mystifying, not only the police and the press but the total population of London, who were never able to discover his true identity. His victims were among the lowest class of society, prostitutes from one of the worst slums in London, a place called Whitechapel. Although he allegedly killed only five women, Jack the Ripper created a legend that has echoed and reechoed in films, theater and music in the modern-day world. His notoriety and significance are due to the society in which he committed the crimes, the brutality of his crimes, his terrifying effects on the populace and his undying legend.
Industrial expansion of the late 18th to mid 19th centuries, packed big cities, especially London, with thousands of people looking for work. Job opportunities proved less than satisfactory. No laws provided for safe working conditions and the salaries paid barely reached subsistence levels.Making clothes, cigars, preparing food and operating or working in sweatshops were the jobs available for the unskilled.
Despite the low salaries, men earned substantially more money than women and therefore women and children composed roughly three fourths of the poorest of the population of London. Women could find some work in factories and sweatshops but the wages they received for those menial jobs were often unlivable sums. In counts taken in 1857, a mere 30 years before the murders, estimates showed that among the poor areas of the London, one out of every 60 houses was a place of prostitution and one out of every 16 women was a prostitute. This means that roughly 80,000 women attempted to earn their livings, as prostitutes.
Mostly due to poverty, many of the crimes before the Ripper murders were economically based and although their severity varied, none attained the notoriety of Jack’s crimes. Prior to late 19th century, most crimes were robberies and assaults. Though it was not uncommon for prostitutes to be roughly mistreated by their “clients,” very few crimes against women were actually committed.
Industrialization of society congested the cities but also furthered education of the general populace. For the first time, a widespread number of people in all social classes but especially in the lower class could read. This newfound literacy empowered the working class who took advantage of its benefits. Education fostered in the working class, a sense of dissatisfaction with their lot in life. Demands for social improvement grew stronger.
The depraved and somewhat chaotic conditions of the lives of the women whom the Ripper claimed as his victims stemmed from in the Industrial Revolution and aided the killer in committing his horrible acts and escaping detection. Industrial expansion of the late 18th to mid 19th centuries, packed big cities, especially London, with thousands of people looking for work. Job opportunities proved less than satisfactory. No laws provided for safe working conditions and the salaries paid barely reached subsistence levels. Making clothes, cigars, preparing food and operating or working in sweatshops were the jobs available for the unskilled (Curtis, 39) The East End of London, and Whitechapel, the site of the murders, specifically were plagued with problems. “Outcast London, as the East End was known housed an estimated 900,000 people (Rumbelow, 8). In Whitechapel 80,000 people crowded into whatever housing they could find. (Rumbelow, 21) However, the dilapidated and unsanitary conditions of many of the “living quarters” eventually prompted government condemnation of the buildings and eviction of all the residents. (Rumbelow, 26) These homeless people, forced to wander the “maze of dirty streets” looking for shelter in whatever lodging or alley they could find, often had to sleep outside. (Sugden, 68) These conditions triggered low average life expectancy and high infant mortality. (Begg, 13) The wealthy saw Whitechapel and London’s East End “as suspicious unhealthy localities…” and the poor population that composed these areas was “a strange amalgamation of Jews, English, French, Germans and other antagonistic elements that must clash and jar…” (Curtis, 33) Life for these people was extremely cruel. All poor people, but women in particular were faced with extreme hardships.
Despite the low salaries, men earned substantially more money than women and therefore women and children composed roughly three fourths of the poorest of the population of London. (Rumbelow, 21) Women could find some work in factories and sweatshops but the wages they received for those menial jobs were often unlivable sums. As a result of this, many women turned to alternate forms of occupations. In counts taken in 1857, a mere 30 years before the murders, estimates showed that among the poor areas of the London, one out of every 60 houses was a place of prostitution and one out of every 16 women was a prostitute. This means that roughly 80,000 women attempted to earn their livings, as prostitutes and the number did not decrease in 30 years time. (Rumbelow, 26) The middle and upper classes “scorned” prostitutes even though prostitution had become a common occurrence amongst the poor. Wealthier society considered these women, also known as “the unfortunates,” as “already lost,” “wretched” and “dissolute.” (McLaren, 74) Prostitutes became seen as a “menace to society” and crimes against prostitutes, although regrettable were not wholly undeserved or unmerited. (McLaren, 75) As a consequence, they proved to be easy targets for the Ripper.
Jack’s choice of victims proved ideal for the isolated circumstances required to commit the crimes. The women, defenseless and alienated from society, worked hard to earn whatever money they could in order to buy food and lodging. Their “workplace” consisted of alleyways or dark corners, and they worked into the late night. (Evans & Gainey, 21) Even after the murders began, prostitutes still worked because they had to earn money in the only way they knew how. (Sugden, 128) Prior to the murders, crimes and brutality against prostitutes were not uncommon, and not surprisingly, other types of crime were quite common among the poorer parts of society.
Mostly due to poverty, many of the crimes before the Ripper murders were economically based and although their severity varied, none attained the notoriety of Jack’s crimes. Prior to late 19th century, most crimes were robberies and assaults. Though it was not uncommon for prostitutes to be roughly mistreated by their “clients,” very few crimes against women were actually committed. (Rumbelow, 3)
Industrialization of society congested the cities but also furthered education of the general populace. For the first time, a widespread number of people in all social classes but especially in the lower class could read. (Casebook, 10) This newfound literacy empowered the working class who took advantage of its benefits. Education fostered in the working class, a sense of dissatisfaction with their lot in life. Demands for social improvement grew stronger. (Rumbelow, 5) As discontent mounted so did the number of demonstrations. Tensions grew between the lower and upper classes. When the police came in to quell the uprisings, their abrasive treatment only fanned the smoldering frustrations of the working class. Disturbances and mistreatment by the police further embittered the already tense relationship between law enforcement officials and the poor. (Sugden, 63) Social uprisings and riots also contributed to the “criminal” reputation of the lower classes. The East End of London and Whitechapel appeared to be centers for criminals and prostitutes. Obviously this turbulent relationship and the disorganization of the police force increased the capability of criminals like Jack the Ripper, to commit their crimes and continue uncaught.
At the time of the murders the general population felt the police force to be inept. Policemen themselves were suspect. (Sugden, 69) The Commissioner of police, Sir Charles Warren, dealt harshly with the working class and any uprisings that occurred. His harsh policies did not put him in a favorable light with the poor. Although he tried to reform the police force and improve it’s structure and discipline, he prime concern was clearly to keep the peace at any cost. (Sugden, 62)
Even after the murders began, Warren tried harder to keep order in the city than to investigate the crimes. For example, at the crime scene of the fourth of Jack’s victims, a message had been written on a doorway. The message read, “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.” Before this message could be photographed or properly documented, Warren, fearing it would cause riots against the Jewish people in the neighborhood, ordered it to be erased. (Casebook, 1) In order to maintain peace, the Commissioner destroyed a piece of evidence that might have helped solve the case.
Part of Jack’s notoriety comes not only because his true identity was and still is unknown. But other dynamics surrounding the crimes cast strange and intriguing shadows over the grotesque scene. For example, there isn’t even certainty regarding the actual number of victims. Most researchers and investigators believe that there were at least five victims. However it is also speculated that there were as many as nine fatalities. (Casebook, 2) The concrete details include: all of the murders took place in the East End of London within a single square mile area; (Sugden, 1) the murders were committed in the middle of night; all of the women were murdered within a four-month time frame; all of the victims were said to have been drunk; of the alleged “five” murders all but one, the last one, were committed outside in the side streets and alleys where the women would have taken their customers; (Casebook, 2) and the last murder was perpetrated inside the victim’s small room. (Evans, Gainey, 129) The common link between all the murders was the victims that Jack the Ripper chose. The women were all prostitutes but they shared more than their occupation and tragic fate.
Although the estimated number of murders goes as high as nine, five victims are generally considered to be definite “Ripper” victims. Mary Ann Nichols, also known as Polly, was murdered Friday, August 31. Annie Chapman was murdered Saturday, September eighth. The next two women, in a strange twist were killed on the same date. Elizabeth Stride was murdered Sunday, September 30, and a few hours later Catherine Eddowes was also dead. The last victim, and the most brutally killed of the five, was allegedly Mary Jane Kelly, and she was killed on Friday, November ninth. The brutality of Kelly’s murder made it very hard to identify her and some experts speculate that the last victim’s true identity is unknown. These are the names of the dead most commonly accepted as being victims of Jack the Ripper. Other women such as Martha Tabram, killed August seventh, that quite possibly could have been murdered by the same hand, however, it is not certain that they actually were. (Casebook, 2)
The five listed women all lived and worked in Whitechapel. Their lives, like the lives of many others, were full of obstacles and hardships. By selling their bodies, they earned meager wages to buy shelter or alcohol. (Srmason 2) The women lived alone. They evidently did not know each other. Each was isolated from society and her family. When Jack chose his victims, he did not pick a specific age or appearance. The victims varied in both. (Casebook, 2) Only their terrible fate bound them tightly together.
The absolute horror of each murder is almost indescribable and the senselessness and the lack of any apparent motive only intensifies the nightmare. The violence of the murders surpassed the level of blatant destruction of any prior crimes against individuals. Jack was the first of his kind. All of the women were murdered and then mutilated in similar fashions, however, the viciousness increased with each murder.
Evidence shows that each of the women were strangled at least to the point of unconsciousness prior to their actual deaths, explaining why there were no screams or noises heard. The victims then had their throats cut from left to right and finally the bestial mutilations began. (Casebook, 1) The first victim, Polly, received slashes to her abdomen and two deep stab wounds to her genital area. (Tully, 117) Annie Chapman was partially disemboweled and her intestines were draped over her shoulder. (Tully, 122) Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes’s heads were almost completely severed. (Tully, 153-154) The mutilations of the last victim, Mary Jane, were terrible beyond words. It also was the only crime scene photographed by the police and its bloodiness is unimaginable. Mary Jane was completely disemboweled and her organs were laid around her on the bed where she lay. Much of the flesh on her thighs, stomach and breasts was removed and placed under her head and on a table by her bedside. (Evans & Gainey, 140)
Surprisingly, although Jack severely mutilated the genital areas of all his victims, and in some cases removed all reproductive organs. There is no evidence that he engaged in sexual intercourse with his victims either before or after the murders. Also, because of the precision of the incisions and removal of the organs, and taking into consideration the extreme darkness in which he worked, many investigators believed that the murderer had at least some knowledge of human anatomy. (Sugden, 10)
At the scene of the crimes uncontaminated or intact evidence was hard to find significantly increasing the difficulty of catching the murderer. It is clear that a basic reason why the police never apprehended Jack springs from the lack of any concrete evidence or reliable witness accounts. Crude methods of investigation rendered it impossible to collect much solid evidence from the crime scenes. Since most of the murders took place outside and no rules required the sealing off of the crime scenes, the grounds around the victims were trampled on by many different feet before the coroner or chief investigators could arrive. Some evidence, such as the message scrawled on the doorway at the scene of the fourth murder, was destroyed either intentionally, as in the case of the message, or unintentionally.
Also, the absence of consistent witness statements intensifies the difficulties and obstacles that the lack of evidence created. The few witnesses found often gave completely differing descriptions of the man they saw at the scene of the murders. (Casebook, 1) Some people claimed he was English, while others insisted he was foreign. Several witnesses said they saw a well-dressed man, but other witnesses declared him to be shabbily dressed and ragged. (Casebook, 2) These varying accounts when combined with the irresponsible disregard for the importance of the crime scene compounded the difficulties of even collecting a list of suspects.
Though the police interviewed several suspects, they never apprehended or identified who Jack the Ripper was. The failure simply shrouded him in deeper mystery and legend. The suspects the police were able to find encompassed a wide assortment of types. One man, M.J. Druitt, one of the three top suspects, earned his living as a teacher and committed suicide a month after the last murder. Another suspect called Severin Klosowski was an alleged wife poisoner, and yet another suspect, an insane man named Aaron Kosminiski was institutionalized shortly after the murders and died not long after in an insane asylum. The police followed up on these suspects and others but none traced back to the murders. (Casebook, 2)
The people of England had their own suspicions of who Jack might be. The most popular involved a member of the royal family and an elaborate murderous cover up to save the royals from embarrassment. (Bessel, 3) However, these allegations were never proven and Jack’s true identity still remains a secret. He is known simply by his trade name.
The origin of Jack’s trade name though is as strange and baffling as the man to whom it pertains. After the murders started, letters of all sorts poured into the police station and newspapers. Some of the writers claimed to know the murderer. Other’s claimed to be the murderer. Nearly all of the letters were useless. (Rumbelow, 107) However, on September 27, the Central News Agency received the following letter, now referred to as the ‘Dear Boss” letter. (Bessel, 6-7)
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games…My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.
Jack the Ripper
Don’t mind giving me the trade name…
Whether this letter was actually written by the murderer is unclear but the trade name ironically caught on and has been used ever since. Many letters followed but few others are considered to be authentic. Jack’s victims, the way he killed them, even the origin of his name all set him apart from other criminals. He was the first of his kind in many ways.
The viciousness of the crimes and the uniqueness of the killer, wove more deeply the shroud of terror and horror that settled on the city during and after the murders. Jack was the first serial killer to emerge in a large, educated city. He impacted society for many reasons the first being the fact since most people could read, newspapers and the press had a new power. The press was now capable, and succeeded in spreading fear throughout London. (Casebook, 1) After every murder, the newspapers took the story and ran with it. They elaborated and drew conclusions, which instilled dread into every heart. One article read, “London lies under the spell of a great terror. A nameless reprobate –half beast, half man – is at large, who is daily gratifying his murderous instincts on the most miserable and defenseless classes of the community…” (Sugden, 118) The media used the murders to sell papers knowing that now that people could read, they would read. Everyone in the city was terrified. Women especially, no matter what their age or class were petrified, never knowing when or where Jack would strike next. (Curtis, 23)
The most frightening aspect of the murders was the lack of any apparent
motive. Jack instigated the first set of “motiveless serial killings.”
(McLaren, 143) No one understood or understands today why he committed
such horrific acts. However, despite the revulsion at the dreadfulness
of the crimes, the murders and chiefly the murderer, proved an odd fascination
for the people of the society and that fascination is still present today.
In the last year, a movie entitled “From Hell” entered theaters. Its plot dealt with the supposed involvement of the Ripper with the Royal family. Even its title was coined from a phrase used in one of the letters supposedly written by Jack. This film was not the first to deal with Jack and his victims. The story of Jack the Ripper and his victims has been told in song, on stage and in film ever since the murders took place a century ago. Jack is known in all cultures and is considered a “worldwide symbol of terror.” (Sugden, 1) Not only does his story intrigue the general population, but also the fact that he escaped and seemingly vanished, has inspired many people to try and solve the case.
These people have called themselves “Ripperologists.” Many of these “Ripperologists” have spent enormous amounts of time and money on their obsession. In one recent example, crime novelist Patricia Cornwell was interviewed by ABC news and claimed that she spent roughly four million dollars on trying to prove that Jack the Ripper was an Impressionist painter. (ABC, 1) All this excitement is stirred by a case that will more than likely never be solved, and over a killer that committed his crimes 113 years ago. Jack the Ripper only killed five women and while he brutally mutilated his victims he is by no means the worst killer ever known. Yet the tale of his deeds lives on and continues to intrigue all kinds of people and will keep on captivating generations to come.
Jack the Ripper’s ominous infamy serves an important historical role because of the society of his times, his unique thirst for blood and the terror he unleashed on all people. Jack chose a perfect environment for his killings. The literacy of the majority of the people, made the news of his evil deeds spread like wildfire all through the city. With the news and the increasing ferocity of each murder, people in all classes were shocked and chilled. Jack horribly mutilated five women for no apparent reason, which created a new phenomenon in crime, which is copied in unspeakable ways today. Jack also committed his crimes and then vanished without leaving a shred of traceable evidence or even a single clue as to whom he was. Despite the efforts of investigators of his day and even modern detectives, the likelihood that his true identity will ever be discovered is slim. For this reason, Jack the Ripper --who in the dead of night, in the cramped mazelike streets of London viciously murdered five women-- will live on forever and the silent cries of his victims will continue to haunt the people of future generations for many years to come.
Begg, Paul. Jack The Ripper: The Uncensored Facts, Robson Books, London; 1988
Curtis, L. Perry. Jack the Ripper and the London Press, Yale University Press, New York; 2001.
Evans, Stewart & Gainey, Paul. Jack the Ripper: The First American Serial Killer, Kodansha International, New York; 1996.
Rumbelow, Donald. Jack the Ripper: The Complete Casebook, Contemporary Books, Chicago; 1988.
Sugden Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, Caroll & Graf Publishers Inc., New York; 1994
abcnews.go.com/sections/primetime/DailyNews/pt_ripper_011206.html (This site contains an interview of a crime novelist who spent millions of dollars on her obssession to prove that jack the Ripper was a painter.)
www.bessel.org/ripper.htm (This site contains facts about the case and certain suspects. It also goes into depth about different theories on who the murderer was.)
www.casebook.org/official_documents/index.html (This was a very extensive site about the entire case. It covers every aspect of the crime including the suspects, the letters, the facts of the case, its signifigance etc.)
www.fromhellmovie.com/flash_site/inex.html (Contains a picuture from the movie)
(This useful site concerns the masonic allegations involved in the case.
It includes a case summary and a discussion of the recent movie, "From
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