Who was Jack the Ripper?
Jack the Ripper is one of the most sinister serial killers to have ever slashed UK history. His very name is the introduction to the ghastly murders which surrounded his enigma, eliciting the way in which his victims were brutally mutilated. The Ripper was not only suspected of committing the murders of the canonical five – the five victims: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly, who were murdered between 31st August and 9th November 1888 -, but also 11 killings in Whitechapel in the years leading up to 1881 (however some argue that these killings were a part of a separate event known as the Whitechapel murders) . Needless to say, the Ripper’s name was soon whispered into worldwide news.
Whilst one would expect a man with such a disturbing reputation to have the behaviour of a deranged and erratic psychopath, the calculative way he targeted and attacked drunk prostitutes suggests otherwise. In fact, the evidence appears to conclude that he even had some medical knowledge or experience. If we take Mary Ann Nichols as an example, we can understand that from the post-mortem analysis that Jack was rather specific about the areas of the body he chose to target. The injuries that were most noticeable on the body were the incisions that run across the lower abdomen and the slashes across her throat. This was similar to the murder of Annie Chapman who also sustained such wounds; the police concluded that the same instrument was used to slice both parts of the body and was also used on both victims.
Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were considered a double event thanks to the postcard left at Elizabeth’s gravestone signed by the Ripper. Stride’s body was left relatively unharmed whilst Eddowes was, unfortunately, the extreme opposite. Whilst the Ripper’s trademarks were still noticeable, the disfigurement was far more sinister as the face had been severely mutilated and her intestines had been pulled out from her stomach and placed on her right shoulder in perhaps his sick attempt at being artistic.
However, none of these killings can compete with the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.Unlike the other women who had just had their skirts lifted to expose the lower part of the body, Kelly was entirely naked. The whole surface of the abdomen was removed and the face had been extremely disfigured with the nose, cheeks, eyebrows and ears being partly removed. Her throat was severed to the bone, much like her thighs. Both breasts were also removed; one was placed by her head and the other by her left foot. The liver was also placed in between her feet. This disgusting display appears to encompass the lengths of gruesomeness Jack the Ripper explored throughout these murders and acts as a fitting finale to his horrific practises inflicted upon vulnerable women.
But who exactly was Jack the Ripper? The answer has escaped everyone. The best detectives, researchers and professors have been unable to fathom the identity of the real Ripper. Nearly anyone in connection with the cases, however tenuous the link, has been suspected of committing the crimes. However, the police did manage to sift through all the possibilities and settle on 8 convincing suspects.
Montague Johnson Druitt, a barrister, was perhaps considered a lead worth pursuing. Both his uncle and cousin were doctors so he had access to the medical knowledge required to perform such calculated disfigurement and it is also worth noting that he had an interest in surgery. Furthermore, it is suspected that the killer, being so familiar with the streets, lived locally, which implicates Druitt as he took up residency in Whitechapel. Eventually, he ended up committing suicide four weeks after the final murder after he had written a letter explaining how he was going insane just like his mother. His body was found floating in the River Thames.
The next suspect is Michael Ostrog, a Russian doctor and criminal. Previous to the murders, he had been in an asylum for homicidal tendencies and couldn’t provide a strong alibi for his whereabouts during the murders. However, there was no strong evidence to tie him to any of the murders of the canonical five and, as such, he can be discounted as a likely suspect.
Aaron Kosminski, a resident of Whitechapel spent time in an asylum after the last murder and resided in asylums until his death in 1919. During his life, he was known for his hatred towards women, especially prostitutes. Kominski matched eyewitness descriptions of the Ripper. A shawl owned by one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes, supposedly had his DNA on it. However, the DNA analysis was conducted improperly, leading to false findings and clearing Kosminski as the murderer.
Another possible suspect that has been theorised in modern times is ‘Jill the Ripper’. This is the idea that perhaps the Ripper was a female. It is argued that a female Ripper could have been a midwife, meaning she would have anatomical knowledge and the blood on her clothing would not have been questioned by the general populous. As well as this, being a woman made evading police and police suspicion easy. However, all eyewitness testimonies described a man, which almost completely discredits this theory.
This next theory is known as ‘The Royal Conspiracy’. For this, the suspect is Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward. The prince was known for frequenting places such as Whitehall and contracted syphilis from his use of harlots as a result. Allegedly, his syphilis drove him to insanity. His insanity is argued to have driven him to commit the murders, with him never being discovered due to royal aides assisting in covering his identity. It is also argued that the women were killed on royal orders to hide the activities of the prince. However, there is no substantial evidence to prove the prince was in any way connected to the crimes and, even so, it is unlikely that he committed the murders due to the security surrounding his movements.
Another suspect that has come to light in modern times is Walter Sickert, a painter who was obsessed with the Ripper. Sickert referenced the Ripper in some of his paintings, with one painting being called “Jack the Ripper’s bedroom”. As well as this, one of his paintings mirrors the body position of Mary Kelly, with another painting mirroring the facial wounds of Catherine Eddowes. Moreover, there were reports of Sickert ‘cosplaying’ as Jack the Ripper. The most damning piece of evidence in the case against him is the fact that Sickert’s letters and the Ripper’s letter were subjected to paper analysis and both come from a handmade paper run of only 24 possible sheets. However, it is noteworthy to mention that all Jack the Ripper letters are unconfirmed, meaning that is a genuine possibility that Sickert was nothing more than a mentally ill painter who was merely morbidly obsessed with the Ripper’s atrocities.
The next suspect is perhaps the most likely, being Joseph Barnett a fishmonger who lived with Mary Kelly. His job as a fishmonger would give Barnett basic anatomical knowledge, making him fit one aspect of the Ripper’s profile. Barnett lived in 10 different locations in East London, making him well-versed in the area and capable of navigating back streets. He was supposedly in love with Mary Kelly, which at least gives him motive for the last murder and, perhaps, all five of the canonical murders. Evidence of this came on November 10th 1888, where he referred to Mary Kelly as his wife, when they were only roommates. He disagreed with Mary Kelly’s life as prostitute and strived to make money to keep her off the streets. It is theorised that the first murders were committed to scare Mary Kelly off the streets, which was successful at first. Some time after the first murders, Barnett lost his job and Kelly returned to the streets. The financial situation led to many arguments between Mary and Joseph. One time, Mary brought home two prostitutes which Joseph found “unacceptable”, leading to an argument which became violent with a window being smashed in the process. Barnett moved out as a result, and ten days later, Mary was found dead in her apartment. Barnett was questioned for four hours on the crime and let go afterwards as there was no substantial evidence. Being a past resident of Mary’s apartment meant he had intimate knowledge of how to get in and out easily, and was also aware of Mary’s schedule and tendencies. Due to his association with Mary, he was known and trusted by many prostitutes, allowing him to claim victims easily. Barnett matched the physical and psychological profile of the Ripper and his friends reportedly called him “Jack”. Kelly being the last victim would support Barnett being the killer as after killing her he would have no incentive to continue the killings.
Jack the Ripper’s gruesome murders will go down in history as one of the bloodiest chapters in British history and, whilst we may never know who he, or even she, was or how many murders were truly committed by the Ripper, there are a multitude of intriguing and interesting theories that will continue to mystify all those seeking to unmask the real Ripper. For now, the case remains unsolved…