Monday, 7 December 2015

From Hell - Jack the Ripper and his Unfortunates

 Jack the Ripper. It is almost impossible to forget the name of the anonymous serial killer, a mysterious murder case that has kept the world enthralled since the Ripper first struck the streets of Victorian London. The ripper butchered five prostitutes in the dim, gas-lit alleyways of Whitechapel, London in the 19th century. These grisly murders sickened the public and sparked a classic 'whodunit' case for the whole world to investigate. To this day the serial killer’s identity remains a mystery — ' over 500 suspects were put forward by various experts and historians based on flimsy or non-existent evidence.’ (Stephen P. Ryder – The Casebook.) 


A painting by Dave Palumbo
It is important to consider the living conditions that the East End Londoners were living in at the time of the murders.  London was full of rigid masses of the urban poor. Whitechapel was the immigrant district of London as Russian, Irish or Jewish immigrants were living in the area. Survival was a daily struggle as houses were overcrowded, streets were dirty, and the area was very violent and noisy. Severe unemployment leads the women to live and work as prostitutes in slums in order to survive. Prostitution was common, 'the metropolitan police in October 1888 estimated that there were around 1200 prostitutes in Whitechapel, and over 60 brothels.' Furthermore the public was familiar with alcoholism and disease from the appalling living conditions. The people of the East end were unprepared for the horrors to come. 

'William Acton, a surgeon, said he had counted 185 [prostitutes] in the course of a walk home. He made a table showing the estimated figures of brothels and prostitutes in London, May 1857.' (British Library)
The murder sites of the famous "Canonical Five"
The first victim of the "Canonical Five" was Mary Ann Nichols - known as “Polly" a prostitute murdered on the August 31st, 1888. Nichols wanted to earn her 'doss money' and met her fate as her throat was slashed deeply twice from left to right; her abdomen was cut with a mutilating gash. 'A contemporary account claims that the "lower part of the person was completely ripped open”. All of the wounds had been inflicted with a sharp knife.’ After Nichols’ body was examined, it was known that the killer had disemboweled her body. Polly’s murder opened a new case, as inspectors were horrified at the mutilating of her body. Polly was not the first promise that was murdered, a few days later second victim Annie Chapman was found murdered in a grotesque manner on September 8, 1888. Inspectors were alarmed at the murders, what kind of person committed these murders? Was it someone who was self-centred under that narcissism that wanted domination? Despite the heat the women, men and children of the capital’s poorest area shivered in constant fear of the ripper. The faceless butcher stalked the streets of Whitechapel after dark, searching for more victims to add to his calling card. 

First page of the "Dear Boss" letter
But on the 27th September, 1888 a letter titled "Dear Boss" was sent to the central news agency and signed as "Jack the Ripper". Originally the letter was thought to be a journalistic hoax, just another journalist who sent the letter in order to keep the press talking and story going. However, after the double event murder of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on September 30th, 1888, made the inspectors reexamine the letters:

"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


Don't 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"


Second page of the "Dear Boss" letter
After the murders of Eddowes, her ear was found cut off which links to the promise the Ripper made in the letter "I shall clip the lady ears off and send to the police officers". But since the Ripper did not send the ear to the police, the letter was dismissed and scholars today believe that the letter was in fact a hoax. Yet the signed name "Jack the Ripper" was unavoidable, as the killer wanted to take complete credit for the murders. This mirrors the sadistic methodical murders committed in the name of revolution in The Tale of Two Cities. Jack the Ripper from his letter seems to think his cause had reason and these women were worthy of dying, mirroring the way Madame Desfarge thought the Bourgeois deserved to die. The Ripper murders his prostitutes in the same methodical way Madame Desfarge knitted her hit list. This could demonstrate the same sociopathic tendencies in a character like Madame Desfarge as in Jack the Ripper. It was a way of informing the world of his identity, to offend the police and stun the town. The murders were so similar it was figured that they were none other than the work of the ripper, a man with a mania for murder. The women were obscenely butchered and barely identifiable. The ripper’s last victim of the “Canonical Five” was Mary Jane Kelly murdered on November 9th, 1888. The alarming similarities of each of the five murders were not ignored, the press reported on each murder, every detail, feeding the public fascination of what was happening.

London Daily Post dated: November 9, 1888


Newspapers were wondering if the murders were linked and rewards were offered in exchange for information on the killer. As several suspects were brought in and interrogated, Inspectors searched methodically for the killer but yet they were ill-equipped with experience and the right training to deal with it. Some detectives were disguised to catch the killer, but the suspects were cleared of suspicion. The East end Londoners were up against a well-organised murderer — after committing the murders the Ripper would remove himself from the scene to escape and avoid getting caught.

Jack the Ripper was believed to have worked in a familiar territory, a comfort zone; this suggests that the killer possibly must've been someone who did not stand out from a crowd.  To this day, experts are attempting to find out who 'Jack the Ripper' really was, but what's interesting is that a nineteenth century horror still hangs over us today.



 Bibliography: 

Ryder, Stephen P. "Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Suspects." Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Suspects. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015. <http://www.casebook.org/suspects/>. 

Paley, Bruce. Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth. London: Headline Book Pub., 1996. Print

Palumbo, Dave. Jack the Ripper. 2012. Macabre & Horror, n.p.


Dickens, Charles. A Tale Of Two Cities. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library, 1994. Print.

Acton, William. "Prostitution." Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. Judith Flanders, n.d. Web. <http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/prostitution>.

Murder Sites of the "Canonical Five" Digital image. My Maps. Google, n.d. Web. <https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?msa=0&mid=zCiDU48WEIXc.kIyunJKhVTyw>.

Wilson, David. A History of British Serial Killing: The Shocking Account of Jack the Ripper, Harold Shipman and beyond. London: Sphere, 2011. Print.

"Dear Boss." Letter. 25 Sept. 1888. Casebook: Ripper Letters. Casebook, n.d. Web. <http://www.casebook.org/images/dearboss1_big.jpg>.

Jack the Ripper Claims 5th Victim" Digital image. 10 Famous Serial Killers. Top 10 Edges, n.d. Web. <http://top10edges.com/10-famous-serial-killers/>.



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