April 24th, 2008
Jack the Ripper’s London
Joseph Barnett: Suspect No. 1
From August to November of 1888 London’s east end was terrorized by a ruthless murderer who killed without emotion. The most horrifying thing about these murders was the manner in which they were committed; brutal, ruthless, and vicious murders the likes of which the world had never seen. Female prostitutes, their throats slashed deeply, many of which had their bowels removed and placed about their dismembered bodies. What is equally frightening is that the perpetrator of these crimes was never brought to justice for his crimes. This man is known by the world as Jack the Ripper and it may never be possible to completely find out who he is for sure. What is possible is to construct the most likely suspect; the person who fills in the gaps of the Ripper mystery. With the help of modern profiling and theory it is possible to narrow down a likely suspect.
There are an incredible number of suspects in the Ripper killings. With so many suspects involved in the case how does one go about narrowing down the one who is most likely? One way is to use eyewitness accounts. On many different nights there are witnesses who stated that they saw a mustached man, between thirty to forty years in age, around 5’5″ to 5’7″ tall, wearing a hat and overcoat.
Now there could be many men in London in 1888 who perfectly fill the witnesses’ descriptions, however, a man by the name of Joseph Barnett matches the description rather well. Barnett was a fish porter and would have been gutting and boning fish all day for many years. This job would have made him proficient and quick with a knife. Along with knife skills he would have a good alibi if he had blood anywhere on him. Physically, Barnett was thirty years old and had a medium body size, as well as a mustache. It may be concluded from this that he does match the physical attributes of the Ripper from what the eyewitnesses say and has a background that would be useful as the Ripper. It should be understood that it is naive to assume that Barnett is the Ripper based solely on these accounts. Indeed, merely being seen with a victim, even all the victims, does not make you Jack the Ripper, all that means is that you were with them, not that you killed them necessarily. Barnett matches a physical description which alone cannot be used, but together may be a coordinating detail in pinning him as the best suspect.
Profiling is needed to properly suspect Joseph Barnett as the Ripper. It can first be reasoned that Jack was a male due to research which figures males to be more likely to kill by knife or strangulation rather than a woman who, by a large margin, normally kills by poisoning. A male would also be able to operate more easily at night in Whitechapel without arousing suspicion by police. A woman walking alone at night in the Victorian Era, or any era for that matter, especially in the slums, is going to be suspicious and warrant the concern of police.
Along with the Ripper being a male it can be reasoned that he was a Caucasian. This theory is upheld by research which states that, “…the data tells us that Caucasian male serial killers kill Caucasian victims. The same holds true for African-Americans; they usually murder African-American victims” (Serial Killers 6). All of the Ripper’s victims were Caucasian women. The backing of this theory with scientific data, as well as the socio-political aspects of the Victorian Era, makes Jack the Ripper most definitely Caucasian.
The relationship between the killer and his victims must be figured next. Again the research states that, “…results from this hypothesis test support the widely believed idea that [male] serial killers
mostly attack strangers” (Serial Killers 7). Based on these statistics it can be deemed more likely for the Ripper to have no relationship with his victims, however, do not blindly accept theory. The important part of projecting is to remember that these studies are inferences and statistics and are not infallible. Simply because there is a chain of thought does not mean that it is not broken.
Reasoning would lead one to believe that in 1880’s London slums would be rather difficult to navigate if one did not have a knowledge of the area. Whitechapel was filled with narrow corridors, backyards, and side doors to dilapidated buildings which would enable a killer to quickly and quietly leave the scene with no one having knowledge of his whereabouts. Joseph Barnett was, “born in 1858 and raised in 4 Hairbrain Court, less than a mile from the heart of Whitechapel.” This means that Barnett would have had an incredible knowledge of the area, something that Jack the Ripper would undoubtedly have as well in order to go undetected.
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation uses a complex profiling system known as the Holmes Typology to organize the traits of serial killers. It is with this system that serial killers are deemed either disorganized and social or organized and nonsocial in their modus operandi. With this system it is possible to pick out parts of an a crime that match with an individual’s personality.
The F.B.I. case file and psychological profile on Jack the Ripper matches some parts of Joseph Burnett’s characteristics. The F.B.I. profile states that Jack the Ripper would be a:
White male, aged 28 to 36, living or working in the Whitechapel area. In childhood, there was an absent or passive father figure. The killer probably had a profession in which he could legally experience his destructive tendencies. Jack the Ripper probably ceased his killing because he was either arrested for some other crime, or felt himself close to being discovered as the killer. The killer probably had some sort of physical defect which was the source of a great deal of frustration or anger. (Casebook: Jack the Ripper)
Burnett was 30 at the time of the murders. He was also left at age six when his father died; a trait that would be a major influence for Jack the Ripper. Along with this his profession as a fish porter would allow him to vent his frustration on a daily basis. In relation to being caught or arrested Burnett was, “…interviewed for four hours after the Kelly murder. The police seemed satisfied with his testimony and they don’t appear to have suspected him further,” (Casebook: Jack the Ripper). As for physical problems Burnett was stricken with echolalia, a disease which makes its victim repeat the words of others. This disease would possibly be a source of anger for Burnett.
Jack the Ripper was an organized killer, according to the typology of serial killers. His habits fit most of the traits which are known. The known traits are that he left a controlled crime scene, that he left little physically evidence, and dismembers the bodies. It is possible that he killed at another site and dumped the corpses (mutilating them on site), as well as followed the news of his murders, and attacked by seducing his victims, more traits of an organized killer, however, these things are almost impossible to know definitively. There is evidence of strangulation in some victims, which would support the theory of an off-site killing, but the physical evidence alone is not sufficient to support this idea. Along with the off-site theory it would have been almost impossible to work alone in such a large endeavor, something that the Ripper most likely did. It would have been easier for the Ripper to kill by seduction, especially after the initial murders had stirred up such a media frenzy, however, no one knowns of this for sure. Burnett was known to date Mary Kelly, the last of the canonical Ripper victims, another trait of an organized serial killer.
In the Ripper murders there are some things which are inconsistent with the Ripper being organized, things which should not be overlooked . Disorganized killers have nocturnal habits, a definite trait of the Ripper. They are usually uneducated and Burnett was a mere fish porter, hardly the job of a well-educated man. Disorganized killers also live or work close to the crime scene and Burnett definitely lived very close to the murder sites, he even lived at one of the sites, at 13 Miller’s Court, with Mary Kelly. This evidence in and of itself results in another conflict of interest. The door to 13 Miller’s Court was locked from the inside when the police got there, something that would only be possible if the killer had reached through the window to lock it or if he had a key. It is very possible that Burnett kept his key to Miller’s Court for a convenient time.
Even after 120 years of contemplation and fascination, discussion and dissertation, there is no resolution in Jack’s case. The fact of the matter is that while Burnett does match the physically description, had an unstable family life, a physical impediment, was a fish gutter with a proficiency in knives, lived with Mary Kelly, and knew the Whitechapel area, there are still too many loose ends in the Ripper murders to formally announce him as the killer. It is not fair to make him the Ripper due to these inconsistencies, however, what is possible is to name Joseph Burnett the most likely suspect in the murders. By making Burnett the primary suspect one is able to present the known facts while still entertaining the possibility of others being the perpetrator.
Bethany , Harris. “Serial Killers: An Analysis of Their Patterns.” World View of Mathematics and Data Analysis 14 July 2007 24 April 2008.
Casebook: Jack the Ripper <http://www.casebook.org>.
Holmes, R. “The Holmes Typology (Part1).” Psychology. 1996. 22 Apr. 2008 <http://psychology.concordia.ca/fac/Laurence/forensic/holmes1.pdf>.