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Who was Jack the Ripper?

  • Thursday November 23rd 2023


Find out everything you need to know about Jack the Ripper. Who we think he was, how many people he may have killed & where he operated.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

The Victorian era was a period of extreme poverty and social disparities. Unfortunately, conditions for the working class were also very poor, millions worked for long hours in mines and factories, and many lived in poor living conditions with access to sub-par education.

There was also a huge political and economic divide which was largely based on gender and class. Gender was the biggest determinant of one's character and identity. Men were independent whilst women were dependent and men were allowed to participate in politics, paid work, and lead more active and fulfilling social lives. Men were also allowed to be more sexually free whilst for women, this was frowned upon.

Who was Jack the Ripper and what did Jack the Ripper do? Jack the Ripper was a serial killer who to this day, remains unidentified. He killed at least five women during the Victorian era between August and November 1888.


Information about Jack the Ripper: His murders

How many people did Jack the Ripper kill?

From April 1888 to February 1891 around 11 women were killed, 5 of which were believed to have been killed by a man called Jack the Ripper.

To begin with, the killer was known as the "Whitechapel Murderer" however, a taunting letter was sent to the police station and the writer claimed to be the infamous serial killer – they signed the note with the name "Jack the Ripper", sparking the name change.


Mary Ann Nichols – 31st Aug 1888

In a gateway in Buck's Row in Whitechapel on the evening of August 31st, 1888 – a mutilated body was found. The body was later identified as a woman called Mary Ann Nichols. Mary lived during a period when there was no government support or assistance, so she turned to prostitution like many women during this period to help support herself.

She was last seen alive at half 2 in the morning by one of her friends, Emily Holland. Emily reported that Mary had mentioned she needed money to pay for her lodge that night, as unfortunately, she had spent this earlier in the day. Emily tried to convince Mary to come home with her as she was worried about her vulnerable state. However, Mary refused, affirming that she needed to make her lodging money one way or another. This was the last time Mary was seen alive.

Later that evening, Mary's body was found – her throat had been cut back to her spine and the wound was so bad it almost severed her head from her body. She was taken in an ambulance where they later found a deep wound in her abdomen. Her funeral took place on Thursday 6th September 1888 and investigations began.



Annie Chapman – 8th Sept 1888

Annie Chapman was Jack the Ripper's second victim. Like Mary Nichols, she was also struggling in her personal life as she had recently split from her husband before he died. Annie supported herself with crochet work and prostitution as there was not much support available from the government for women in her position.

On Friday the 7th of September – around 5 pm she reportedly met her friend Amelia Palmer and complained of feeling ill but told her friend she had to go out and make money to pay for her lodgings that evening. Her mutilated body was found in Hanbury Street around 6 am and she was identified by her younger brother – Fountain Smith.

Her funeral took place on the 14th of September 1888 and like the funeral of Mary Nichols, there was a lot of secrecy to prevent crowds of curiosity.

The legacy of Annie, one of the Ripper victims, lives on as her murder forced society to begin to investigate the plight of poor working-class women like Annie due to the connection between her and Mary's deaths.


Elizabeth Stride – 30th Sept 1888

Born in Sweden in 1842, Elizabeth emigrated to London around the age of 22 and married a man called John Thomas Stride. Unfortunately, she separated from her husband in 1877 and as a result, Elizabeth started staying in several lodging homes and doing odd jobs to make a living. She earned the nickname 'Long Liz' whilst working as a prostitute.

On the evening of Saturday the 29th of September 1888, Elizabeth left her lodging house ready for a night out. At 12:45 am on the 30th of September, a man called Israel Schwartz reported that he had seen Elizabeth being attacked on Berner Street by a mysterious-looking man. Schwartz, however, did not intervene.

Elizabeth's body was found in Louis Duffield's yard – he was the steward of a club located near Berner Street. He called for assistance after making this gruesome discovery and the police quickly came to the scene along with a medical team. Like the previous murders – her throat had been cut but her body was not mutilated.

Her death became known as the 'Double Event' – as two murders took place just hours apart on September 30th, 1888.

Her funeral was held on the 6th of October 1888.


Catherine Eddowes – 30th Sept 1888

Catherine Eddowes was born on the 14th of April 1842. In the late 1870s, she moved to Westminster with her husband and started to experience difficulties both in her personal life and financially.

Catherine endured a difficult childhood with both her parents dying, she was also separated from several of her siblings during this time. Her marriage began to suffer difficulties and by 1880 she had moved into Cooney's common lodging house after separating from her husband.

Here she met a new man called John Kelly who she began staying with in different lodging houses.

On the day of her murder – Catherine informed John Kelly that she was going to see if she could borrow money from her daughter to pay for her lodgings that night. Kelly warned her about the "Whitechapel murderer" but Catherine disregarded this, stating that she could take care of herself.

The details of what happened on that night are unclear. At 1:45 am, police officer Alfred Watkins walked into Mitre Square and discovered the mutilated body of Catherine, her throat had been cut like previous victims. However, her face also had deep Vs cut in her eyelids and cheeks, and her uterus was missing.

Catherine Eddowes' funeral took place on Monday the 8th of October 1888 – large crowds attended the procession along with her four sisters.


Mary Jane Kelly – 9th November 1888


Mary Jane Kelly is the last known victim of the Ripper murders. Not much is known about her life however, she was born in Ireland and grew up with seven brothers and one sister.

She married at the age of sixteen to a man called Davis however her husband was tragically killed three years later. Around this time, her cousin introduced her to prostitution, and she moved to London where she befriended several French women who ran brothels in Knightsbridge.

Mary began drinking heavily and stayed at different lodgings throughout her life before meeting a man called Joseph Barnett. They shortly began living together however, once her partner lost his job they slowly fell behind on rent, causing Mary to turn back to prostitution.

On the night before her death, several people claimed to have seen her, including a man called George Hutchinson. Mary asked him to lend her money however he had spent everything he had. Soon after, a man approached Mary and whispered something to her, they began laughing and started walking along Commercial Street.

Around 4 am, two of Mary's neighbours heard some commotion but ignored it, assuming the noise was the result of a drunken argument.

Her body was found in her room around 10:45 am as her landlord had sent someone around to collect rent. Her landlord McCarthy was informed of the body and went into the room where they discovered a gruesome scene. He reported, "The whole scene is more than I can describe. I hope I never see such a sight again."

The police soon arrived and reported the body had been very badly mutilated – not much more than a skeleton remained. Her face was scarred but her eyes were still wide open. The police and doctors began launching an investigation – a photographer was also on the scene. As a result, Mary Jane Kelly's murder is now one of the earliest crime scene photos to date.

Her funeral was held on Monday the 19th of November 1888.


The investigation: Scotland Yard outsmarted by the Ripper?

The Jack the Ripper investigation was one like no other at its time. The police were dealing with a killer who left little clues and the murders took place in one of the most crime-ridden parts of London.

There was also a lack of police techniques used in the investigation – things like fingerprinting and modern forensics were not available at the time!

The murders unfortunately did not gain a lot of media attention – which in the modern day can be a huge advantage. During this time, the Victorian police had the attitude that restricting the access and involvement of journalists would prevent the criminal from learning the details of their investigation.

The name "Jack the Ripper" was coined after the police received a letter from the supposed killer on the 27th of September 1888. The letter was written in quite a boastful tone and addressed the police as "The Boss". At first, the police were sceptical about the letter being from the killer – however, shortly after they received the letter two more women were murdered – Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes.

This caused police to take a closer look at the letter they had received which gave clues to these murders, stating – "I want to get to work right away if I get a chance".


Why did Sir Charles Warren resign from the Jack the Ripper investigation?

The police investigation took a turn after the murder of Mary Jane Jelly – one of the main officers on the scene, Sir Charles Warren resigned.

Warren was an interesting character and a highly successful military commander; he ran the Metropolitan Police on strict principles. During the Ripper murders, he became a big target for unhappy commentators and journalists who were expressing concerns about the police's inability to catch the murderer.

Warren was a liberal and often found himself having disagreements with the Conservative Home Secretary because of these criticisms.

Before the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, Warren had already been criticised heavily in the press due to his role in a protest, often referred to as "Bloody Sunday". This protest resulted in two people dying and a further one hundred being hospitalised. 77 police constables and 40 protestors were also arrested. Although some people saw Warren as a hero who had suppressed a revolt, he was criticised by the press for excessive brutality and the public slowly began to turn against him. Therefore, it is unsurprising that he received such heavy criticism during the Jack the Ripper investigation.

As the search for Jack the Ripper continued, public fear began to grow, and people grew angry with the police, due to their inability to catch the murderer.

One newspaper wrote: "It is impossible to exaggerate the utter want of confidence in the whole police system which this frightful tragedy has evoked; and if sheer fright grows into crazed fury, we shall hold Mr MATTHEWS and Sir CHARLES WARREN responsible."

Warren had attempted to resign on several occasions, but this was denied each time. However, it is a common misconception that Warren resigned because of the murder of Mary Jane Kelly – the approval had actually come through the day before the murder.

Warren had enough of the criticism, and he also had bad relations with Henry Matthews, the Home Secretary, influencing his decision to resign further. Warren informed the press that weak political leadership was one of the main reasons the police failed in the Jack the Ripper investigation.


Jack the Ripper – main suspects:

The identity of Jack the Ripper remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in criminal history. Numerous suspects have been proposed over the years, each with their own theories. Among the most notable suspects is Montague Druitt, a barrister with a troubled past. Thomas Cutbush, a mentally unstable man who was often violent, and Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant who spent some time in an asylum.

Montague Druitt – Jack the Ripper? – Montague was found dead in the River Thames shortly after the Ripper's final murder which led some to believe he was the killer – however, there was a substantial lack of evidence. Montague was born on August 15th, 1857. He was dismissed as being a potential suspect as there were theories that his suicide was driven due to his homosexuality and not his involvement with the murders. Also crucially, on the day of the first murder, he was playing cricket in Dorset, miles away from the crime which took place in Whitechapel.

Thomas Cutbush – Jack the Ripper? – Thomas was a medical student who was sent to Lambeth infirmary due to delusions that were believed to be the result of syphilis. Here he tried to stab a woman in the behind and was then committed to Broadmoor Hospital in 1891.

Numerous articles were written by The Sun suggesting that Thomas was the Ripper, but there is no evidence that the police took this seriously.

Aaron Kominski – Jack the Ripper? – Aaron was a Polish Jew who was admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum in 1891. He was considered a suspect at one point as it was known that the only person who ever had a good view of the killer identified him as Aaron, as soon as he saw him. Aaron also fit the profile of a "sexual maniac" which was also reported by the witness. At one point there was speculation that the murderer and his people were low-class Polish Jews – again fitting the description of Aaron.

At the time of the investigation there was not enough evidence to convict Aaron however many recent documentaries and theories including the BBC documentary, Jack the Ripper: The Case Reopened – suggested that Aaron Kosminski was the most likely suspect.

Throughout the investigation – there were over one hundred suspects!


The impact of Jack the Ripper: Why his actions echo through history to us today:

Interesting facts about Jack the Ripper and the investigation:

Jack the Ripper and his murders have become culturally important for several reasons including its impact on societal perceptions, discussions around criminal investigations, and the emergence of the serial killer phenomenon.

Numerous books, movies, and TV shows have been inspired by or directly referenced Jack the Ripper. The case often serves as a backdrop for exploring themes including mystery, horror, and the dark side of history.

The investigation highlighted the limitations of forensic science during this time and prompted discussions and reforms in policing and forensic methods – pioneering the development of criminal investigation practices that we see today!

Societal changes made in response:

The murders brought to light the struggle of the working class and highlighted the challenges they faced; sparking debates for social reform and improvements in the conditions of the poor and working class.

The term 'Social Darwinism' is commonly used to describe the plight of these individuals – it is a theory that individuals and groups are subject to the same Darwinism that plants and animals see due to natural selection. This theory is now discredited but was once used to justify unfair practices and rally against intervention and reform.

The Jack the Ripper investigation was also one of the earliest instances of a sensationalized serial killer in modern history. This fascination with serial killers is now studied in many psychological aspects and influences academic research and entertainment.


Theories and speculation: The Ripperologists

The fascination with Jack the Ripper persists today with enthusiasts and experts known as Ripperologists – they continue to investigate the murders. These individuals have analysed historical documents, witness statements, and forensic evidence in hopes of unveiling the mystery.

There are a plethora of different theories ranging from royal conspiracies to claims that the killer may have been a woman.

Jack the Ripper tour - the London Dungeon

For those seeking a more immersive experience, the London Dungeon offers a chilling journey through Victorian London and stands as a testament to the city's rich and often grim history.

Here the Mary Jane Kelly and Jack the Ripper stories are explored in two different shows through an interactive recreation of the historical events. The shows are set in a meticulously recreated Victorian-era room, taking guests back to the eerie atmosphere of 1888 Whitechapel. As you step into the room, the air becomes heavy with suspense.

The shows allow exploration into the societal issues that allowed Jack the Ripper to continue his murders and live storytelling across 12 different shows detailing a wide range of London’s perilous past. The London Dungeon offers guests a thrilling but enlightening journey into history.

Do you have what it takes to face the Dungeon?