Infamous murderer Jack the Ripper killed at least five London female prostitutes in 1888. Never captured, his identity is one of the UK’s most famous unsolved mysteries.
From August 7th to September 10th in 1888, “Jack the Ripper” terrorised the Whitechapel district in London’s East End. He killed at least five prostitutes and mutilated their bodies in an unusual manner, indicating that the killer had a knowledge of human anatomy. Jack the Ripper was never captured.
All 5 murders took place within a mile of each other and involved the districts of Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Aldgate and the City of London – in London’s East End in the Autumn of 1888. Despite countless investigations claiming definitive evidence of the brutal killer’s identity, his name and motive are still unknown. The moniker “Jack the Ripper” originates from a letter written at the time of the attacks, by someone who claimed to be the Whitechapel Murderer/Butcher (the name the police used for the killer).
Many of these letters were sent by the ‘killer’ to the London Metropolitan Police Service, also known as the Scotland Yard, taunting officers about his gruesome activities and speculating on murders to come.
Various theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity have been produced over the past several decades, which include claims accusing the famous Victorian painter Walter Sickert, M.J. Druitt, a barrister turned teacher who committed suicide in December 1888 and even the grandson of Queen Victoria. Sir John Williams, the Queen’s surgeon was also a very likely suspect, as well as Dr. William Withey Gull who we’ll look at in a little more detail a bit further on…
In fact, since 1888, more than 100 suspects have been named, contributing to widespread folklore and ghoulish entertainment surrounding the mystery.
In the late 1800s, London’s East End was a place that was viewed by citizens with either compassion or utter contempt. Despite being an area where skilled immigrants, mainly Jews and Russians, came to start a new life and start businesses, the district was notorious for squalor, violence and crime.
Prostitution was only illegal if the practice caused a public disturbance and thousands of brothels and low-rent lodging houses provided sexual services during the late 19th century.
At that time, the death or murder of a working girl was rarely reported in the press or even discussed within ‘polite society’. The reality was that it was thought that “ladies of the night” were subject to physical attacks, which sometimes resulted in death.
So, obviously it was their own fault, right?
Among these common violent crimes was the attack of English prostitute Emma Smith, who was beaten and raped with an object by four men. Smith, who later died of peritonitis, is remembered as one of many unfortunate female victims who were killed by gangs demanding ‘protection money’.
However, the series of killings that began in August 1888 stood out from other violent crime of the time: They were marked by sadistic butchery, suggesting a mind more sociopathic and hateful than most citizens could comprehend. Jack the Ripper didn’t just snuff out life with a knife, he mutilated and humiliated women and his crimes seemed to portray an abhorrence for the entire female gender.
When Jack the Ripper’s murders suddenly stopped, in the Autumn of 1888, London citizens wanted answers that would not come – even more than a century later. The ongoing case – which has spawned an industry of books, films, TV series and historical tours – has been met with a number of hindrances, including lack of evidence, a gamut of misinformation and false testimony as well as tight regulations by the Scotland Yard.
Jack the Ripper has been the topic of news stories for more than 120 years and will likely continue to be for decades to come.
At the end of October, Robert Anderson asked police surgeon Thomas Bond to give his opinion on the extent of the murderer’s surgical skill and knowledge. The opinion offered by Bond on the character of the “Whitechapel Murderer” is the earliest surviving offender profile. Bond’s assessment was based on his own examination of the most extensively mutilated victim and the post mortem notes from the four previous canonical murders. He wrote:
“All five murders no doubt were committed by the same hand. In the first four the throats appear to have been cut from left to right, in the last case owing to the extensive mutilation it is impossible to say in what direction the fatal cut was made, but arterial blood was found on the wall in splashes close to where the woman’s head must have been lying.
All the circumstances surrounding the murders lead me to form the opinion that the women must have been lying down when murdered and in every case the throat was first cut.”
Bond was strongly opposed to the idea that the murderer possessed any kind of scientific or anatomical knowledge, or even “the technical knowledge of a butcher or horse slaughterer”.
In his opinion, the killer must have been a man of solitary habits, subject to “periodical attacks of homicidal and erotic mania”, with the character of the mutilations possibly indicating “satyriasis“. Bond also stated that “the homicidal impulse may have developed from a revengeful or brooding condition of the mind, or that religious mania may have been the original disease but I do not think either hypothesis is likely”.
There is no evidence of any sexual activity with any of the victims, yet psychologists suppose that the penetration of the victims with a knife and “leaving them on display in sexually degrading positions with the wounds exposed” indicates that the perpetrator derived sexual pleasure from the attacks. This view is challenged by others who dismiss such hypotheses as insupportable supposition.
Was Jack The Ripper a Royal Surgeon OR Queen Victoria’s private physician?
The mutilations perpetrated on the victims involved careful removal of the uterus, kidneys and other organs. This fact has led many people to believe Jack the Ripper must have been a doctor. But which one?
Author Antonia Alexander, who claims she is the great-great-great-granddaughter of the Ripper’s fifth and final victim Mary Kelly, says she knows that Sir John Williams is indeed Jack The Ripper.
She pointed the finger at Sir John, who founded the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth, following a book released by Tony Williams, the great-great nephew of Sir John, who also accuses the prominent surgeon of being behind the notorious killings on the cobbled streets of London’s Whitechapel in 1888.
Ms Alexander’s investigation started after she discovered a photograph of a man in a 125-year-old locket contained in Mary’s belongings was not of the victim’s husband – as she had initially believed – but of Sir John.
‘It’s part of our family history that Mary had an affair for a number of years with a doctor who had taken her to places like Paris,’ said the mother-of-two, who released her book The Fifth Victim earlier this month.
‘But the doctor married someone else and Mary also got married so everyone believed the photo in the locket was of her husband. But my research has shown she was in fact carrying around the photo of her lover, Sir John Williams.’
When the killings suddenly stopped, Sir John is claimed to have told friends he’d had a nervous breakdown and retired from London life – moving to Aberystwyth in West Wales.
Documents were also uncovered showing that Sir John carried out an abortion in 1885 on Mary Ann Nichols – who later became the Ripper’s first victim.
Mr Williams even discovered a letter sent by Sir John in 1888 in which he apologises for canceling an evening dinner appointment on September 8th because he had to go to a clinic in Whitechapel.
That was the date the Ripper’s second victim Annie Chapman was murdered…
He also matched a knife in Sir John’s collection with the pathologist’s description of the murder weapon and found that three medical slides from Sir John’s collection contained smears from a human uterus…
If not him though, then perhaps Dr. William Withey Gull?
It’s the story portrayed in the movie From Hell, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, itself based on Steven Knight’s book The Final Solution. The movie is actually pretty good, the graphic novel (apparently) even better – however both are completely and hopelessly wrong when it comes to the case.
Sir William Gull certainly possessed a great deal of anatomical knowledge – however, in the late summer and Autumn of 1888 (when the murders took place), Dr. Gull would have been in his seventies. Some accounts say he also suffered a series of debilitating strokes a few weeks before the Ripper murders and was being closely monitored.
So I guess we will never know the true identity of the Jack The Ripper. I guess it’s just one of those things that will forever remain unsolved 🤷🏻♀️
‘The Canonical Five’
Although the press attributed 11 murders to Jack The Ripper, Ripperologists firmly believe that only these 5 murders were carried out by ‘him’…
Mary Ann Nichols
31st August 1888
Annie Chapman aka Dark Annie, Annie Siffey, Sievey or Sivvey
8th September 1888
Elizabeth Stride aka ‘Long Liz’
30th September 1888
Catherine Eddowes a.k.a. Kate Kelly
30th September 1888
Mary Jane Kelly A.K.A.. Marie Jeanette Kelly, Mary Ann Kelly, Ginger, Fair Emma
9th November 1888