The Hunt for Jack the Ripper
It’s hard to imagine 19th century London without conjuring up the image of Jack the Ripper and the terror he brought to the East End. His crimes were vicious but surprisingly quick. Even by today’s standards his efforts were shockingly brutal. He came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly without leaving behind clues or evidence as to his identity. Even today, over 100 years later, his true identity isn’t known and experts can only hazard an educated guess as to who he was. There is even debate as to why the murders even occurred. Little is known about his psychological state and the forces that were driving him. The total number of victims is also debated as some feel there may be more or less than the traditional five we know about. All that’s really known is that Jack the Ripper struck fear into the citizens of Whitechapel and kept the police guessing during his spree of 1888.
Whitechapel almost made it easy for a killer like Jack the Ripper to take root. Far from the imagery of well to do horse drawn carriages, or the Bobby laden streets is the reality that Whitechapel was nothing more than a square mile ghetto full of impoverished Jewish and Irish immigrants as well as throngs of prostitutes. 600,000 people crammed the area and survival was a day to day affair with the residents doing whatever they could to get by. Violence and crime were common. It was noisy and the lower forms of work were done here such as butchery. It wasn’t uncommon for men to be seen with blood soaked clothes heading to and from work, further giving concealment to the Ripper’s activities. Prostitution was common and there was no shortage of workers or customers.
Before the spree actually starts some rather brutal murders take place in Whitechapel. Martha Tabram who some believe to truly be the first Ripper victim was discovered at 3:30am with 40 stabs wounds. While she doesn’t bare the vicious incisions later victims would receive the killer was certainly in a frenzied state. There is also Emma Smith who is beaten to death, although she is not slashed or eviscerated. Are these the early works of Jack the Ripper or just victims of the poor conditions of the area?
But then the real terror starts as Jack gets to work and kills 5 prostitutes in what may be called a rampage. He slashes their throats, rips open their bodies and proceeds to remove and keep organs as trophies. Such brutality like this hadn’t been seen before. Each murder seems to only take a minute or two, no sound is heard, no witnesses are around and Jack is able to slip away without getting caught. Even in this bustling slum, no one sees the murders occur in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, Jack has the prostitutes working in his favor. He doesn’t have to lead them to some place quiet and secluded, they do that for him. The very nature of their business means they will sneak away where they won’t be disturbed. And of course the idea of a gentleman in black overcoat and top hat is nothing more than glamorized fiction. Considering the squalor that existed in Whitechapel a person dressed like that would stick out. If anything he would look more like a sailor or seaman.
In each case the victims are brutalized and left out in the open to be discovered. Each crime seems to escalate in violence. Many feel Jack was disturbed during the attach of Elizabeth Stride which is why her body wasn’t cut up like the others. If so, this interruption would have simply left the killer frustrated and unsatisfied, which is why his next victim Catherine Eddowes is so terribly mutilated. While this certainly makes sense, some feel that Stride was not a Ripper victim and may have been a copycat. This is also the time where a cryptic message is left on the wall near the first victim. Is this a deranged prank, simple graffiti, or did Jack have time to kill Stride, write a message and then move on for another victim? Is he at the height of a frenzy or is more than one killer at work?
There is plenty of evidence to support a copycat with hundreds of letters coming in to the police claiming credit for the kills and even the name Jack the Ripper comes from letters sent in. Very few feel this was from the actual killer, but the name is now synonymous with the mysterious figure.
While Jack may not have named himself many believe he did send letters to the police or at least to George Lusk who received a severed kidney in the mail. While previous letters reported he would offer up the ears of his next victim rather than a kidney many feel this was an offering from the real killer. This was the only time he actually sent a token to the police although he certainly took organs from his victims. What happened to those one can only imagine.
The final victim is the most gruesome of all. Mary Kelly works from within her room and it offers far more privacy and time for her body to be mutilated. When she is discovered it is the most violent crime scene of them all. In some places she is stripped right down to the bone, body parts cut and missing, and the room soaked in blood.
Scotland Yard had dozens of suspects to work through, yet none of them would ultimately match. There are definitely some unsavory characters at the time, but they all had alibis. Forensic evidence was non-existent so putting the murder weapon in someone’s hand wasn’t going to happen. The police quite literally would need to catch the killer red handed to make an arrest.
A total of 149 policemen are put on patrol to catch the killer. But it won’t do any good since no more murders occur. Everything goes quiet and no more prostitutes are murdered in this way.
After Mary Kelly, the killings stop. Or did they? Seven months later some murders are investigated that have a similar trait, but few believe them to be the work of the same hand. So why did Jack the Ripper stop? Certainly his fractured mind wouldn’t allow him to simply give up and control himself. So what happened? Did he escape to another country? Was he caught for another crime and locked away? Was there another incident that ultimately caused his death? Some conjecture he was actually institutionalized, but the connection to his previous crimes was never made. Theory speculates he left the country and headed to Chicago. It’s certainly possible he met his end at the hands of another. He may have become a victim of the violence that plagued the East End where he is supposed to have lived.
After all these years, experts are no closer to the identity of the killer. While books continue to be written offering suspects and evidence, it’s nothing more than theory and conjecture. All the evidence is circumstantial and while they may make a solid case there is very little true evidence to support their findings.
It’s even hard to understand why he was committing the murders. What set him off? Was the one of the very first sexually based killers? What prompted him to only murder prostitutes? And where did he come from? Did he move to the East End from somewhere else or did he grow up in this squalor and finally snapped? As we know from all the crime dramas we see on TV there had to be some trigger, some traumatic event that set things in motion. And in theory, there should have been previous signs of his behavior. He didn’t come to kill women over night, there would be a pattern; a pattern of abuse and mentally unbalanced behavior.
Was Jack a doctor or a butcher? Did he have some medical skill? Many movies, such as From Hell speculate he was a doctor involved in a Royal cover-up to protect an illegitimate child. While no evidence exists to actually support such a theory, there is also very little to support he was a doctor. While many originally felt an anatomical background would be needed to cut up the bodies as he did, further investigation suggest that only a few people of the time felt Jack was skilled with a knife. Does it take skill and experience to wield the long razor blade that was probably used? Or did he just have practice in the art of killing from previous misdeeds?
Jack the Ripper will continue to be the classic whodunit that will keep people interested because he came out of nowhere, committed terrible crimes and then just as quickly, disappeared without a trace. He almost defies understanding and even with the forensic skills and data analysis we have today, he still remains a secret.
While there are volumes dedicated to Jack the Ripper, here are just a few on this mysterious figure.
Jack the Ripper on Wikipedia
The Casebook of Jack the Ripper
The Case of Jack the Ripper – Perennial Thriller
The Enduring Mystery of Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper Revisited
Jack the Ripper on Amazon
Hunt for Jack the Ripper
The Hunt for Jack the Ripper
Other Articles of Interest:
- Jack the Ripper ‘was invented to win newspaper war’
- Whitechapel Series 1
- Dr. H. H. Holmes and The Whitechapel Ripper – A Review
- Killer Contact – Jack the Ripper – S01E01
- Aaron Kosminski Named as Jack the Ripper Through DNA Evidence
- Bloodstains – Jeff Mudgett
- Whitechapel Season 3
- Haunted History Season 1, Ep. 3 "Murder Castle"
- Whitechapel Season 2
- Murder Maps–Life and Crime in London