The Original Jack the Ripper Club: Must Kill One Prostitute to Join
The five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper had no known connection between them during their lives. The only similarities between them stem from where they lived, their involvement with prostitution, and their violent deaths. The five women were killed within twelve weeks of each other in seemingly similar ways causing a panic throughout London about a murderer on the loose. However, there were differences in the murders that lead to the possibility of multiple murderers to the extent that all five of the murders could have conceivably been committed by five different people. The two victims that have the most similarity in their murders are Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman and seeing as how they were the first two of the canonical victims it is very likely that they were killed by the same person. The differences in the bodies of Catherine Eddowes, and especially Mary Kelly, make it hard to believe that they were killed by the same person who killed the others or even each other. Liz Stride presents an interesting case with her possibly incomplete murder. This possibility makes it hard to determine if she was killed by the same person as Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman, or by someone else entirely. The area of Whitechapel in the East End of London was full of poorly lit, winding passageways that allowed the killer to move around undetected and the circumstances of the people living there made it even easier for victims to be found. The murders of women in the area brought light to the conditions of Whitechapel. This helped outsiders realize the horrible living conditions of the area, but when the murders first began they may have also caused residents to wonder if they could get away with murder as well.
Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols was found murdered on August 31, 1888, lying on her back in the street (Begg 111). She was 42 years old when she died, had dark hair, and was around 5’2” (Casebook). She was first discovered by Charles Cross and Robert Paul around 3:30 am on Buck’s Row while they were on their way to work. A few minutes later PC Neil arrived on the scene. He saw that her clothes had been raised up to her stomach and that “blood had oozed from her throat” (Begg 112). The post-mortem was performed by Dr. Llewellyn who noted the deep cuts in Nichols throat that reached to the vertebrae and the “extensive injuries to the abdomen” (Begg 114). The abdominal injuries were very violently done by a knife in a downward motion (Sugden 41). The abdominal injuries and deep cuts in the throat are the two main aspects of the murders that tie together the canonical victims with the exception of Liz Stride. Bruises were also found on Nichols’ face and neck that Dr. Llewellyn thought must have been done at the same time (Begg 115). This hints at some form of strangulation by the murderer. A majority of Nichols’ blood had drained out of her veins and Dr. Llewellyn thought that the murder might have only taken four or five minutes (Begg 115). He also thought that the murderer must have had some anatomical knowledge because he seemed to have attacked all the vital parts (Sugden 41).
Annie Chapman was 45 years old when she died and was around five feet tall with dark wavy hair (Casebook). She was murdered on September 8, 1888. Her body was discovered by John Davis in Hanbury Street. He “‘saw a female lying down, her clothing up to her knees, and her face covered in blood…What was lying beside her I cannot describe-it was a part of her body’” (Begg 187). Dr. Phillips, who performed the post-mortem, described the positioning of the body as “lying in the yard on her back…the left arm was across the left breast, and the legs were drawn up, the feet resting on the ground, and the knees turned outwards” (Sugden 87). He believed that she had been strangled due to signs of asphyxia on her face, lips, and hands. Her throat was cut to the spine and there were severe abdominal mutilations. Parts of her abdominal wall were lying over both shoulders along with some of the small intestines lying over the right shoulder (Begg 193). Dr. Phillips also believed that the murderer must have had some anatomical knowledge because he felt that it would have taken him close to an hour to perform the murder as a professional surgeon (Begg 193). He also felt that the evidence to support the killer’s anatomical knowledge wasn’t obvious because the killer would have had to rush through the murder (Sugden 92). Inspector Abberline discussed Chapman’s murder with Superintendent West and Inspector Helson of J Division where Nichols’ body was found. They all agreed that the same man who had killed Polly Nichols had killed Annie Chapman (Begg 193).
Elizabeth Stride was 45 years old when she was murdered. She was 5’5” and had dark curly hair (Casebook). She was found on September 30, 1888, by Louis Diemschutz when he was pulling into George Yard and his horse began to shy away from something on the ground. When he went to investigate he discovered Stride’s freshly killed body (Begg 216). She was lying on her back with her right arm over her stomach. During the post-mortem the cause of death was determined to be the severance of the left carotid artery. However, there was an absence of post-mortem mutilation. This leads to two conclusions; Liz Stride was not killed by Jack the Ripper or the killer left the scene before he could finish (Begg 217). There were no signs of strangulation on Stride’s body, but there were discolorations found on her shoulders. These were determined to be pressure marks caused by two hands pressing down on the shoulders (Sugden 199).
A few hours later that night, the body of Catherine Eddowes was discovered by PC Watkins in a dark corner of Mitre Square (Begg 242). Eddowes was 46 years old when she died, had dark hair, and was five feet tall (Casebook). Dr. Frederick George Brown, the police surgeon, described her body when he arrived on the scene. According to him she was lying on her back with the clothes drawn up above the abdomen with the left leg lying straight and the right leg bent (Sugden 178). Eddowes’ throat was cut to the bone and had more extreme mutilation than any of the previous victims. Her face was extensively mutilated with cuts on her eyes, nose, lips, and cheeks. In particular, the tip of her nose had been cut out and there were inverted v cuts located under each eye. Her abdomen was also mutilated. The intestines were pulled out and placed over the right shoulder. The left kidney and portions of the womb were missing from the body. (Begg 243). Additionally the liver was slit and there were stab wounds on the thighs and the groin (Sugden 242). Dr. Brown thought that the killer must have had a good deal of anatomical knowledge to be able to locate and remove organs in the abdominal cavity. He also said that this knowledge is similar to knowledge that a person who cuts up animals on a regular basis would have (Begg 243).
Mary Kelly is the fifth canonical victim of Jack the Ripper and was only 25 years old when she died. She was taller than the other victims at 5’7” and had light colored hair (Casebook). She was discovered in her room in Miller’s Court on the morning of November 9, 1888, by Thomas Bowyer when he went to collect rent from her (Begg 299). Dr. Thomas Bond’s post-mortem notes describe Kelly’s position on the bed. She was lying on her back with her left arm lying across her abdomen. Her legs were spread apart and were bent at different angles. Mary Kelly was mutilated beyond recognition. Her neck was cut to the bone, her face was shredded, her breasts were cut off, the surfaces of the abdomen and thighs were removed, and several of her organs were spread around the room (Begg 301).
The similarities between the murdered women led the police to assume at the time that the murders had all been done by the same person. Serial killers were unheard of at the time and the police were unequipped to deal with crimes of this nature. The coincidence of the timing, location, and violence of the murders led to a natural assumption that one person had killed all of the women. However, as technology has progressed and crimes of this nature have become more prevalent re-evaluations of the victims make it harder to assume that the murders were committed by the same person. Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman were similar enough in style that it is acceptable for them to have been killed by the same person. The next three victims are harder to be sure about. Liz Stride suffered a similar fatal slash to her throat, but was not mutilated any further and did not appear to be strangled. Since Louis Diemschutz appeared to have scared off the killer though, it is possible there was no time to commit the mutilations to the abdomen. Also, the murderer would not have been able to predict Stride’s reaction and may have had to hold her on the ground rather than previously strangling her. This puts Stride’s murder on the fence of being absolutely committed by the same Ripper who had killed Annie Chapman and Polly Nichols.
The murders of Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly appear to be far too different to have been killed by the original Ripper. Most police forces now believe that murderers kill their victims practically the same way every time. The extent to which Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly were mutilated is too different from the other victims to have been done by the same person. In Catherine Eddowes’ case the previous victims did not have cuts on their faces and the patterns that were made on Eddowes’ face make it an even more distinguishable crime. Several aspects of the murders changed when it came to Mary Kelly. First of all, hers was the only murder that took place indoors. This is a very drastic departure from the previous murders in the streets of Whitechapel. The mutilations performed on Kelly were also unlike any of the other victims. Her abdomen was mutilated, but was also practically emptied by the killer. The injuries done to the rest of her body were highly extreme. The violence of Kelly’s murder was more severe than any of the other victims. This and the location of her death make it hard to believe that Kelly was killed by a stranger, as it is assumed that Jack the Ripper was to his victims. The five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper were probably not all killed by the same person.
The conditions of Whitechapel made it surprisingly easy for murder to occur. The police were unable to do much to catch murderers at the time, but it was also “the conditions under which people lived-in the teeming yet socially isolated slums of the cities…made the sudden, unexplained death or disappearance of a human being an event that would by no means automatically come to the attention of the police” (Altick 283). In 1883, novelist George Robert Sims travelled through the East End and released a series of articles debating the causes of the conditions of the East End. He determined that “overpopulation…meant that the East End labor market was flooded, which kept wages down to a bare minimum, while inadequate housing for the laborers and their families had brought about the forced co-mingling of working-class families with the criminal element” (Paley 16). Charles Booth’s poverty maps of London released in the decade after Sims had done his studies showed the East End of London colored primarily in black and two shades of blue. This was a range from the vicious, semi-criminal lowest class to the poor who live off of eighteen to twenty-one shillings a week (Paley 19). The area was a display of despair and desperation of the people who lived there. There were always people in the streets due to lack of shelter and not many police officers were present because it was not an important part of society.
In spite of the conditions murder was actually uncommon in Whitechapel when the Jack the Ripper murders occurred. There was plenty of violence in Whitechapel and it had a reputation as being a dangerous place, but there were very few murders. In 1887, there were eight reported homicides in London, but none of them took place in Whitechapel (Paley 70). A series of murders was not only a new occurrence, but also a highly shocking one. The murders became a spectacle and were covered heavily by the media. Murder was found to be fascinating by Victorian society and it therefore “provided an inexhaustible source of material for the mass-circulation journalism that developed in the course of the Victorian Era” (Altick 288). Sensationalism was popular and the media strived to uncover whatever they could about the murders. The flooding of information about the murders, regardless of truth, caused problems for the police and worsened the panic in the area. It is safe to assume that every person in Whitechapel knew what was going on with the murders and the inability of the police to catch the culprit. This opens up the possibility that people then realized that they could get away with murder. There was enough panic in the streets that any murder would probably be attributed to Jack the Ripper if the throat was violently slashed.
This comes back to the issue of if it can be determined that the victims were all killed by the same person. There were disturbing similarities between the murders. Not only were all of their throats cut similarly, but the positioning of their bodies after the murder was similar. They were all found lying on their backs with their legs spread apart and slightly bent in some way, with the exception of Liz Stride. The different degrees of violence displayed by the murders though make it hard to believe they were all done by the same person. The attention that was given to these events makes it possible for people to have copied aspects of the murders to place the blame on Jack the Ripper.
It was bad enough for the residents of Whitechapel to imagine one killer on the loose that multiple murderers would have caused even more of a panic. The five canonical victims are the ones that the police believed were a part of the Ripper murders. Aside from this there is no guarantee that the murders were all committed by the same person calling into question the very existence of Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper was transformed from the shadow of a killer to a warning about the fall of future society and a critique of Victorian society. As time passed the idea of Jack the Ripper vastly overshadowed the actual man, or most likely men, that committed these murders. Even if the identity of Jack the Ripper was finally discovered the motives of the man would still be unknown and would probably forever remain so. The mystery of Jack the Ripper will never be fully solved and the lasting effects of the murders on society will never let the Ripper die.
Altick, Richard D. Victorian Studies in Scarlet. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1970.
Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History. London: Pearson Educated Limited, 2004.
“Generally Accepted (Canonical) Victims.” Casebook.org. Casebook: Jack the Ripper. 20
April 2008 <www.casebook.org/victims/>.
Paley, Bruce. Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth. London: Headline Book Publishing, 1996.
Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2002.