“There was not a soul about….. I had been round there half an hour previously, and saw no one then. I was on the right side…when I noticed a figure lying in the street. It was dark at the time…I examined the body by the aid of my lamp, and noticed blood oozing from a wound in the throat. She was lying on her back, with her clothes disarranged. I felt her arm, which was quite warm from the joints upwards. Her eyes were wide open. Her bonnet was off and lying at her side.”
This was the testimony of London Police Constable John Neil on what he found at about 3:45 a.m. in the morning of today’s date, August 31 in 1888. The body which Constable Neil found was that of Mary Ann Nichols, 43, a prostitute. She was the first of the five victims who can be definitely attributed to a serial killer who came to be known as “Jack the Ripper”. And for those of you who don’t like such phrase qualifiers as “believed to be” and “apparently’ and others like that I suggest that you skip this posting. Because as is well known, “Jack the Ripper” was never caught. Therefore what we can say about him for sure… how many women he killed, why he killed, even if he was in fact a “he” and not a “she”… these are all matters of speculation and will likely remain so for all time. READERS WARNING: this posting includes some gruesome details and at least one awful crime scene photo.
“The Canonical Five”
As stated above, there is no way to know exactly how many women the Ripper actually murdered. But of the eleven murders that took place between April of 1888 and February of 1891 in the Whitechapel section of London’s impoverished East End and which were included in a police report called “The Whitechapel Murders” five are widely viewed as definitely the work of the Ripper. These have come to be called “the Canonical Five.” This is because they all follow the Rippers established pattern of killing. The Ripper in each case made deep slashes of the victims throat followed by mutilation of the genital area. This was followed by what can only be called disembowelment of many of his victims internal organs, and by slashing of their faces. This has in many cases lead some to suggest that the killer must have been a doctor to have the necessary anatomical knowledge to locate the organs and remove them. Others have pointed out the very rough, almost frenzied nature of these removals and concluded that the killer required only rough knowledge of the anatomy as opposed to the presumed surgical skill of a doctor. In addition to Mary Ann Nichols mentioned above “the Canonical Five” include:
Annie Chapman (above), 48, murdered on September 8, Elizabeth Stride, 44, murdered on September 30, Catherine Eddowes, 46, murdered on September 30, and finally Mary Jane Kelly (below), 25 murdered on November 9. All of these five killings took place between today’s date of Aug. 31 and November 9 of 1888; little more than two months. Notice that the third and fourth killings both took place on Sept. 30. This has been called “the Double Event”. It is believed that the
Ripper was interrupted during his killing of Elizabeth Stride, and was forced to flee. Witnesses saw Stride with a man earlier in the evening but gave differing descriptions of him. Nevertheless Stride was later found with her throat slashed in the same way as the other victims. Catherine Eddowes was found later that night and had been viciously mutilated with her left kidney and her uterus having been removed. Kelly’s bloody apron was found not far from her body, beneath a message scrawled in chalk on a wall which read “The jewes are not the ones who will be blamed for nothing”. A police inspector, fearing anti-semitic riots had this inscription washed away before dawn. Whether or not it was actually connected with the murders, or was simply there by coincidence remains unknown. But there was at this point in time considerable discomfort among the local population with the influx of Jewish immigrants, so both the police fear of anti-semitic riots and the belief that the words were there by coincidence are reasonable. But Stride and Eddowes had been murdered within an hour of each other. So the belief is, due to the more limited wounds on Stride, that the Ripper was interrupted during his attack on Stride and went on to Eddowes to finish his “work”.
Mary Jane Kelly, the Media, the Letters and the Legacy
The body of Mary Jane Kelly was found by a man who went to her flat to collect some rent that was past due. This was the only one of the killings to be committed indoors and a look at the actual crime scene photo above makes it obvious that the killer took advantage of his privacy to really vent rage at this woman, or at women in general. The following is a quote from the police report:
“The body was lying naked in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. The left arm was close to the body with the forearm flexed at a right angle and lying across the abdomen. The right arm was slightly abducted from the body and rested on the mattress. The elbow was bent, the forearm supine with the fingers clenched. The legs were wide apart, the left thigh at right angles to the trunk and the right forming an obtuse angle with the pubes. The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone. The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus and kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side and the spleen by the left side of the body. The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table. “
The Jack the Ripper killings attracted some of the most sensational newspaper coverage of the era. Drawings by artists (above) were made to give the most drama possible to a public that was hungry for details and the more salacious, the better. Rumors flew everywhere and reporters sniffing around for the most gory and lurid details that they could find were not above creating some details in order to sell more papers. In fact the very name of “Jack the Ripper” was likely an invention of a local newspaper man. Many letters purportedly from the killer were received in the mail by the police. One of them was signed “Jack the Ripper” and when this appellation got out to the public, the name stuck. Of these letters only three are given any real credence. One of those was written to the leader of a local protective group named George Lusk. It read:
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women preserved it for you the other piece I fried and ate it was very nice. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a while longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk”
The letter (the spelling is the original, above) came with a small package which contained half of a human kidney, and came shortly after the murder of Catherine Eddowes. Of the three letters, this one (the original of which has been missing from the files of Scotland Yard since the 1950’s) is believed to be the one most likely from the actual killer. But of course nobody knows for sure. After the murder of Mary Kelly there were two more murders which raised fear that the Ripper was still at his bloody spree. But those are not crimes which fit the Ripper’s known pattern. So Mary Kelly was the last of the killings which are generally attributed to the Ripper. Since nobody was ever apprehended and charged with the crime there are a plethora of suspects who have been fingered over the years. Part of the legacy of the Ripper killings has been the whole phenomenon of serial killers, and the means to catch them, none of which were available in 1888. Finger printing was not in use at that time, though it was not far off. But the whole concept of assembling and using a psychological profile of an unknown assailent and the use of DNA evidence are both tools which have been applied or dreamt of being applied to study this case. In fact DNA analysis on the adhesive that was on one of the letters has actually been used to suggest to some “Ripperologists” that the killer may have actually been a woman…. just imagine that. Out of the mists and shadows of London’s blighted slums of Whitechapel in the autumn of 1888 comes the menacing, glowering figure of…. “JILL the Ripper” ?? Who knows??
Season One, Disc Three, A & E Television Networks, 2009.
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