Jack the Ripper needs no introduction: his name is legendary, the inspiration for countless fictional retellings and endless speculation. In the century following his awesome wave of terror, his status as the most well known (if not especially, the most prolific) serial killer was secured in the pages of “penny dreadful” thrillers, and upon stage, screen and television. Likewise, an endless succession of paperback “whodunits,” all of which offered their own special theory as to the real identity of this elusive, predatory night prowler, have appeared over the years. To offer any theories or engage in any conjecture as to the “real” identity of Jack the Ripper is quite beyond the scope of the present author; however, no book of true, historical criminal profiles would be complete without the inclusion of Whitechapel’s deathless fiend.
The years following the industrial revolution were bleak ones for the people of East London: living conditions for the poor and needy were abominable; women frequently sold themselves into prostitution at an early age, and alcoholism was the norm. In this unsettling environment, murder was not rare; although (and this perhaps was the reason that the Ripper killings struck such an intense chord), motiveless, multiple murder was almost unheard of. The first victim, the first verifiable victim, of Red Jack, was the alcoholic prostitute Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, whose body was discovered at 3:45 A.M. on August 24th, 1888. The unknown assailant had viciously slashed the throat, and left a jagged, open cut in the abdomen. He had then escaped into the darkness of the gas lighted East London streets, apparently unconcerned with the possibility of discovery.
Although the ferociousness of the brutal slaying must have given the police some amount of pause, it was not until eight days later, when the killer struck again, that they became dimly aware that they had a potentially difficult situation brewing. “Dark” Annie Chapman, a particularly unappealing prostitute, had been slain in much the same manner as the first victim, with the possible exception that, at this point, the killer had graduated to an actual evisceration of the body; the intestines had been pulled outside the body, and the sexual organs had been mutilated. The body was found in a vacant lot; a sort of “yard” behind a tenement dwelling. It was surrounded by an odd assortment of loose change, and the personal possessions had, apparently, been rifled, though nothing was stolen. Again, there was not a single witness, and no real evidence. The public, already brooding with resentment and general frustration at their sorry economic lot, and what they perceived (rightly) to be the lack of concern for their community by those of “a higher station,” became greatly antagonized at the lack of progress in the official investigation, They formed “Whitechapel Vigilance Committee”, a loose assemblage that threatened, at times, to take on the aspects of a lynch mob. Meanwhile, as the official authorities dissembled as to what the solution should be (they were, in fact, divided as to jurisdiction, some of the murders having happened outside the City of London proper, in London Town), the killer struck again in a climactic night of savagery that has become regarded in the annals of Ripperology as the “Double Event.”
Jack’s first kill of the evening was the luckless “Long Liz,” Elizabeth Stride, another “fallen woman” whose alcoholism had dragged her downward into economic ruin and moral turpitude. He had apparently approached her as a prospective client, then quickly dispatched her. However, as he began his standard mutilation, he found that the approaching footsteps of local pub crawlers interrupted him. Most likely cursing his luck, he escaped quickly into the night, leaving his grisly handiwork behind as a calling card. His taste for blood not yet sated, he quickly proceeded to hunt out another victim, and within the space of an hour found a winning candidate in the form of the miserable, drunken Catherine Eddowes. His butchery of her was a ghastly step up from his previous work; it was as if, whether out of desperation or anger at being thwarted in his mutilation of “Long Liz,” he proceeded to erase the human features of Catherine Eddowes in a manic explosion of pent up, homicidal urge. Her facial features were badly mutilated: her nose was hacked to bits, her internal organs were viciously ripped asunder, her sexual organs were likewise mutilated, and part of a kidney was removed. The killer then ripped a piece of her dingy apron to clean off his knife, and left the scene quickly.
Her entrails had been cast over one shoulder. The killer had utilized a zigzag cut from Eddowes genitalia to the center of her breasts, and her ears had likewise been mutilated. It was a stunning example of frustrated overkill. The body had been found lying in Mitre Square, and Eddowes had apparently been seen talking with a tall “foreign looking” gentleman, described as being in his late thirties, just moments before. That the euphemism “foreign looking” was interpreted by some as meaning “Jewish” did nothing to alleviate the fears caused by the next startling find of the police. Nearby, chalked up on the wall of a dripping alley, were the unmistakable words:
The Juwes are the Men that Will Not be blamed for Nothing.
Or something to that effect. There is a certain amount of argument as to spelling, wording, and capitalization, but the writing was unmistakably the work of Jack the Ripper. Below, they found a bloodied piece of the apron that Catherine Eddowes had been wearing when she had been killed. However, there is no way to authenticate the spelling or exact wording of this cryptic message, as it was ordered to be scrubbed from the wall by terrified authorities, who feared it might spark an anti-Semitic riot. Through the decades though, this mysterious cryptogram has figured prominently in the various winding conspiracy theories concerning the true identity of Jack the Ripper. The heavily loaded (and, admittedly creatively spelled) word “Juwes” has suggested to researchers everything from a shochet, a Jewish kosher butcher, to “Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum,” the three characters in Freemasonic lore that are said to have killed Hiram Abiff for not giving them the “Mason Word” (which, incidentally, is Mahabone). This connection with that popular fraternal organization and catalyst for conspiracy-mongering is one that would be exploited increasingly by “Ripperologists” over the next several decades; most suggest that the ritualistic killings inflicted on the unfortunate women were consistent with the strange punishments that Masons are threatened with if they should ever betray a Brother Mason. (Some of these theories have attempted to weave a grand conspiracy involving Freemasons, the British Royal Family, the Zionist movement, Bolshevism, Satanism , Aliester Crowley, etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum.)
There are conceivably more theories regarding the true identity of Jack the Ripper today (when the probability of actually ascertaining the truth of the matter is, barring some divine revelation, virtually nil) than at any other time in history.
Something must be said, of course, about the numerous letters received by the London police from a variety of different sources, nearly all of which were ascertained to be nothing more than the work of frauds. Such was not the case with a letter received September 27th , generally referred to as the “Dear Boss” letter:
Dear Boss, 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. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly jack the Ripper Dont mind me giving the trade name PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha
This letter was originally thought to be just another cruel joke, and, indeed, there are Ripperologists today who dismiss it as just that. However, a later postcard was in the same hand, and made reference to a “double event” that had not, at that point, taken place. The small note below was, almost certainly, written by Jack the Ripper:
I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, y11 hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off. ha not the time to get ears for police, thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again. Jack the Ripper
As distressing as these brazen confessions were, and as impossible as it was to ascertain who it was that might be sending them (was it the killer himself, or an accomplice?), the next, infamous package, received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, had to top the list of gruesome games played by a killer that any of the authorities had yet to have the displeasure of encountering:
From hell Mr husk, Sor I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk
The letter was sent in a box containing half of a preserved human kidney.
Like the half of a kidney that had been removed by the killer from Catherine Eddowes, it was from someone that had been suffering Bright’s Disease. There was, of course, no way at the time to try and ascertain if it really was the kidney belonging to Eddowes.
If the police were impotent, the killer proved himself a demonically capable miscreant. His final killing, his last hurrah, was the killing of prostitute Mary Jane Kelly, in her own room, which was done at his leisure. The body was butchered in an appalling manner: the face was ripped to shreds, the intestines were cut out and splayed upon the blood-soaked bed, the legs were opened and the genitalia was mutilated; the breasts were cut off, and set next to the body on a nights tand. The body was nearly decapitated. It was a horrific, grotesque scene; upon discovery, a terrified boy who had been peeping through the broken pane of the front window of the dismal doss-house room fled in terror for police. The resulting photograph of the victim was so grotesque that it was rarely seen afterwards for years, until standards for realism demanded it be reprinted in various books and articles.
Kelly had been living with Joseph Barnett, a fish porter with a peculiar, stuttering pattern of speech, who, apparently, had become incensed with a lesbian affair Mary was having with a fellow prostitute. He had violently ejected the women from the small room (really just a bedroom with a fireplace and washtub) where the three of them had been staying, and only relented to have Mary Kelly come back again out of pity. Obviously, he did her no real favor by doing so. With the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the public outcry against the failed police efforts rose to a fever pitch, but they needn’t have worried: Jack had apparently decided to move on. Although Inspector Abberline, the on-the-ground detective who did most of the heavy footwork related to the case, would remark in later years that he felt, personally, that the Ripper had been a mad Polish Jew named Kosminski, who had made a habit of walking the streets muttering to himself and eating things from the gutter (later to be confined to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum), the list of suspects would grow over the passing decades to include royalty, Russian agents, mad midwives, beastly butchers (of the occupational variety), sinister Satanists, psychopathic syphilitics, demented doctors, and even outer space aliens. One promising, often repeated suspect is the suicided schoolmaster Montague John Druitt, who bore a striking resemblance to certain eyewitness descriptions of the killer, and who had, apparently, been dismissed from his job as an instructor at an all-boys school for alleged “improprieties,” whatever that term is meant to imply. (Most seem to think, probably correctly, it implies that he was a pederast.) At any rate, his body washed up on the shores of the Thames, and he found lasting notoriety as a cornerstone suspect of this striking, enigmatic case.
Of course, whoever Jack the Ripper really was, one thing remains for certain: he will live on, seemingly indefinitely, in the pages of true-crime books, horror films, television specials, plays, comics, games, and even rock music. Every year, visitors flock to London to take the “Jack the Ripper Tour,” guided by a man dressed in a black cloak and a top hat. Every year, a new slew of books surfaces, each claiming to have the one undeniable, final answer to the ghastly crimes perpetrated by an unknown personage, in 1888. As for Jack himself, he disappeared into the London fog following that strange Autumn of Terror, and was never seen again.