Without a doubt, Jack the Ripper is the UK’s most infamous serial killer. If you can describe this kind of individual as being popular, then Jack is the main man who tops all popularity polls. Our fascination with him is partly down to the fact that his crimes were so horrific and partly because we have no idea who he really was.
Countless newspaper reports, police investigations and speculation surround his identity and motive.
An Introduction to Jack the Ripper.
We don’t even know if the killer’s name really was Jack – a couple of letters to the police that were supposed to be from the killer were signed with that name and it stuck.
Before these letters were sent, he was known as the “Whitechapel Murderer” and “Leather Apron”.
The latter nickname came from an early suspect who had been harassing local prostitutes, and who always wore a leather apron.
Jack the Ripper rampaged around the streets of the East End for a few short months in 1888, killing prostitutes in a particularly gruesome way. This was probably the first case of a serial killer followed by the popular press.
Everyone knew about it all over the country, and abroad, because the papers reported it so widely. The grisly nature of his crimes made this a lurid story for the masses and scared most locals for a good few months, if not years.
Notorious East London Locations
The East End at the time of the murders was a crowded, dirty and impoverished area. You can still get a feel for how claustrophobic and frightening its narrow streets and unlit alleyways were in today’s East End, as some original areas remain the same as in Victorian times.
Taking a Ripper walk or tour at night gives many visitors a close-to-reality view of what late-night East End London was like in Jack the Ripper’s time.
You can’t of course reproduce the sounds, smells and smog of the area, but you can get a feel for how the Ripper was able to find, follow and attack women and escape without notice.
This could have been down to luck or skill, but he was able to anatomically mutilate and kill his victims in busy areas in just minutes without detection.
It isn’t 100% clear how many women he killed. It is thought that there were at least five definite victims whose deaths all followed a similar pattern: Mary Ann Nicholls, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. All of them had their throats cut or slashed; all but Stride had their abdomens slashed and some organs removed or mutilated.
Nothing is really known about Jack the Ripper’s motives. He may have hated women or had a particular grudge against prostitutes. Prostitutes were an easy target in London’s East End and many plied their trade in the area late at night.
Unlike respectable women, they walked the streets at the most dangerous times, had little or no protection and expected to go off with strange men they didn’t know. All but Mary Jane Kelly were killed in the streets in which they worked. Kelly was killed in her bed – she may simply have been in the habit of taking clients home with her.
Who Was Jack The Ripper; The Fake Letters?
There has been much speculation about the Ripper’s identity. He struck fear into the area for a period of time and then the murders simply stopped. His attacks on the abdomen and his almost surgical slashing and organ removal made many people think that he must be a surgeon, doctor or a butcher.
The police received hundreds of letters that claimed to be from the killer. It isn’t clear if any were, but three remain of interest to Ripper experts. Two were signed “Jack the Ripper” – these are known as the “Dear Boss” and “Saucy Jack” letters.
The police at the time thought that these might have been spoofs written by a journalist looking to boost newspaper sales by adding some lurid elements to the crimes.
The third, known as the “From Hell” letter was unsigned and came in a parcel containing half a human kidney. Some experts think that this letter may have actually been authentic as it was sent shortly after the murder of Catherine Eddowes – one of her kidneys had been removed when she was killed.
Again, this could have been a fake letter – the police had plenty of them and decided that this might have been simply a prank by a medical student who had access to a human organ.
Unsolved Mystery and Royal Connections
It is thought that over 100 suspects have been named as potential Jack the Rippers over the years. Some experts even believe that he was the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson, and that the establishment hushed up his involvement and kept him under guard at night to stop his killing sprees.
There is, however, no actual proof that pins down any one suspect – people will keep trying to solve the crime, but it is unlikely that we’ll ever know exactly who Jack the Ripper was.