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Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper is the pseudonym given to an unidentified serial killer active in the largely impoverished Whitechapel area of London, England in the second half of 1888. The name is taken from a letter by someone claiming to be the murderer, published at the time of the killings. Although many theories have been advanced, Jack the Ripper's identity may never be determined.

The legends surrounding the Ripper murders have become a complex muddle of genuine historical research, freewheeling conspiracy theory and dubious folklore. Lack of an identity for the killer has allowed subsequent and mostly amateur sleuths — dubbed Ripperologists — to point their fingers at a wide variety of candidates. Newspapers, whose publication had been growing during this era, bestowed widespread and enduring notoriety on the killer due to the savagery of the murders and the failure of police to effect a capture, with the Ripper sometimes escaping discovery by minutes or even less.

Victims were women earning income as casual Censored page. Typical Ripper murders were perpetrated in a public or semi-public place; the victim's throat was cut, after which the cadaver was subjected to abdominal and sometimes other mutilations. Many now believe that the victims were first strangled in order to silence them. Due to the nature of the wounds on some presumed Ripper victims, several of whom had internal organs removed, it has been proposed that the killer had a degree of surgical or medical skill, or was perhaps a butcher.



The canonical five
Jack the Ripper victims
Mary Ann Nichols
Annie Chapman
Elizabeth Stride
Catherine Eddowes
Mary Jane Kelly

The number and names of the Ripper's victims are the subject of much debate, but the most accepted list is referred to as the "canonical five." It includes the following five prostitutes (or presumed prostitute in Eddowes' case) in the East End of London:

The authenticity of this canonical list rests not only on a number of researchers' opinions, but also on notes made privately in 1894 by Sir Melville Macnaghten as Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police Service Criminal Investigation Department, papers which came to light in 1959. Macnaghten's papers in turn reflected only contemporary police opinions, while Macnaghten himself did not join the force until the year after the murders, and his papers contained errors of fact about possible suspects. For this and other reasons, some Ripperologists prefer to remove one or more names from this list of canonical victims: typically Stride (who had no mutilations beyond a cut throat, and, if one witness can be believed, was attacked in public), and/or Kelly (who was younger than other victims, murdered indoors, and whose mutilations were far more extensive than the others). Others prefer to expand the list by citing Martha Tabram and others as possible victims.

Except for Stride, mutilations became continuously more severe as the series of murders proceeded. Nichols and Stride were not missing any organs, but Chapman's uterus was taken, and Eddowes had her uterus and a kidney carried away and was left with facial mutilations. While only Kelly's heart was missing from the crime scene, many of her internal organs were removed and left in her room.

The five canonical murders were generally perpetrated in darkness, within the small hours of the morning, on or close to a weekend, in a secluded site to which the public could gain access, within the borough of Whitechapel, and on a pattern of dates either at the end of a month or a week or so after. Yet every case differed from this pattern in some particular. Besides the differences already mentioned, Eddowes was the only victim killed within the City of London, though close to the boundary of Whitechapel. Nichols was the only victim to be found on an open street, however dark and deserted. Chapman, found in a back yard, was alone in being killed almost certainly in daylight.

A major difficulty in identifying who was and was not a Ripper victim is the large number of horrific attacks against women during this era. Most experts point to deep throat slashes, mutilations to the victim's abdomen and genital area, removal of internal organs and progressive facial mutilations as the distinctive features of Jack the Ripper.

Possible victims

Victims of other contemporary and somewhat similar attacks and/or murders have also been suggested as additions to the list. Those victims are generally poorly documented. They include:

  • "Fairy Fay", reportedly a nickname for an unnamed murder victim found on December 26, 1887. The cause of death was given as "a stake thrust through her abdomen." It has been suggested that "Fairy Fay" was a creation of the press based upon confusion of the details of the murder of Emma Smith (see below) with the claims of a later victim's friend that she was attacked the prior Christmas.
  • Annie Millwood, born c. 1850 (approximate date), reportedly the victim of an attack on February 25, 1888, resulting in her hospitalisation for "numerous stabs in the legs and lower part of the body." She was released from hospital but died from apparently natural causes on March 31, 1888.
  • Ada Wilson, reportedly the victim of an attack on March 28, 1888, resulting in two stabs in the neck. She survived the attack.
  • Emma Elizabeth Smith, born c. 1843 (approximate date). She was attacked on April 3, 1888, and a blunt object was inserted into her vagina, rupturing her perineum. She survived the attack and managed to walk back to her lodging house with the injuries. Friends brought her to a hospital, where she told police that she was attacked by a gang of two or three, one of whom was a teenager. She fell in to a coma and died on April 5, 1888.
  • Martha Tabram, (maiden name Martha White, name sometimes misspelled as Martha Tabran, used the alias Emma Turner), born on May 10, 1849 and killed on August 7, 1888. She had a total of 39 stab wounds. Of the non-canonical Whitechapel murders, Tabram is named most often as another possible Ripper victim.
  • "The Whitehall Mystery," term coined for the torso of a woman found beheaded and with severed hands on October 2, 1888.
  • Annie Farmer, born on 1848 she reportedly was the victim of an attack on November 21, 1888. She survived with only a light, though bleeding, cut on her throat. The wound was superficial and apparently caused by a blunt knife. Police suspected that the wound was self-inflicted and ceased to investigate her case.
  • Rose Mylett, (true name probably Catherine Mylett, but was also known as Catherine Millett, Elizabeth "Drunken Lizzie" Davis, "Fair" Alice Downey or simply "Fair Clara"), born on 1862 and died on December 20, 1888. She was reportedly strangled "by a cord drawn tightly round the neck," though some investigators believed that she had accidentally suffocated herself on the collar of her dress while in a drunken stupor.
  • Elizabeth Jackson, a prostitute whose various body parts were collected from the River Thames between May 31 and June 25 of 1889. She was reportedly identified by scars she had had previous to her disappearance and apparent murder.
  • Alice McKenzie (nick-named "Clay Pipe" Alice and used the alias Alice Bryant), born c. 1849 and killed on July 17, 1889. The reason of death was reportedly the "severance of the left carotid artery" but several minor bruises and cuts were found on the body.
  • "The Pinchin Street Murder", a term coined after the finding of a torso similar in condition to "The Whitehall Mystery" , though the hands were not severed, on September 10, 1889. An unconfirmed speculation of the time was that the body belonged to Lydia Hart, a prostitute who had disappeared.
  • Frances Coles, (also known as Frances Coleman, Frances Hawkins and nicknamed "Carrotty Nell"), born in 1865 and killed on February 13, 1891. Minor wounds on the back of the head suggest that she was thrown violently to the ground and then her throat was cut. Otherwise there were no mutilations to the body.
  • Carrie Brown, (nicknamed "Shakespeare," allegedly because of her habit of reciting sonnets by William Shakespeare while drunk), born c. 1835 and killed on April 24, 1891 in Manhattan, New York, New York, USA. She was strangled with clothing and then mutilated with a knife. Her body was found with a large tear through her groin area and superficial cuts on her legs and back. No organs were taken, though an ovary was found upon the bed. Whether it was purposefully removed or fell out of the gap is unknown. At the time the murder was compared to those that happened in Whitechapel, though London police apparently ruled out any connection eventually.

The Ripper letters

Jack the Ripper letters

Over the course of the Ripper murders, the police and newspapers received many thousands of letters regarding the case. Some were from well-intentioned persons offering advice for catching the killer; the vast majority of these were deemed useless and subsequently ignored.

Perhaps more interesting were hundreds of letters which claimed to have been written by the killer. "Jack the Ripper" was a nickname coined by one such writer. The vast majority of such letters are considered hoaxes. Many experts contend that none of them are genuine, but, of the ones cited as perhaps genuine either by contemporary or modern authorities, three in particular are prominent:

  • The "Dear Boss" letter, dated September 25, postmarked and received September 27, 1888 by the Central News Agency, was forwarded to Scotland Yard on September 29. Initially it was considered a hoax, but when Eddowes was found with one ear severed, the letter's promise to "clip the ladys ears off" gained attention. Police published the letter on October 1, hoping someone would recognise the handwriting, but nothing came of this effort. The name "Jack the Ripper" was first used in this letter and gained worldwide notoriety after its publication. Most of the letters that followed copied the tone of this one. After the murders, police officials stated that they contend this letter was a hoax by a local journalist.
  • The "Saucy Jack" postcard, postmarked and received October 1, 1888, by the Central News Agency, had handwriting similar to the "Dear Boss" letter. It mentions that two victims—Stride and Eddowes—were killed very close to one another: "double event this time." It has been argued that the letter was mailed before the murders were publicised, making it unlikely that a crank would have such knowledge of the crime, though it was postmarked more than 24 hours after the killings took place, long after details were known by journalists and residents of the area. Police officials later claimed to have identified a specific journalist as the author of both this message and the earlier "Dear Boss" letter.
  • The "From Hell" letter, postmarked October 15 and received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee on October 16, 1888. Lusk opened a small box to discover half a human kidney, later said by a doctor to have been preserved in "spirits of wine" (ethyl alcohol). One of Eddowes' kidneys had been removed by the killer, and a doctor determined the kidney sent to Lusk was "very similar to the one removed from Catherine Eddowes," though his findings were inconclusive [1] . The writer claimed to have "fried and ate" the missing kidney half. There is some disagreement over the kidney: some contend it had belonged to Eddowes; others argue it was "a macabre practical joke, and no more." [2]

Some sources list another letter, dated September 17, 1888, as the first message to use the Jack the Ripper name. Experts believe this was a modern fake inserted into police records in the 20th century long after the killings took place. They note that the letter has neither an official police stamp verifying the date it was received, nor the initials of the investigator who would have examined it if it were ever considered as potential evidence. Neither is it mentioned in any police document of the time, and some who have seen it claim that it was written with a ballpoint pen, which was not invented until some fifty years after the Ripper crimes.


Before detailing the investigation into the Jack the Ripper crimes, it is important to note that investigative techniques and awareness have progressed greatly since the crimes. Many valuable forensic science techniques taken for granted today were unknown to the Victorian-era Metropolitan Police. The concept and motives of serial killers were poorly understood.


The Ripper murders mark an important watershed in modern British life. While not the first serial killer, Jack the Ripper was the first to create a worldwide media frenzy around his killings. Repeal of the Stamp Act in 1855 had enabled the publication of inexpensive newspapers with wider circulation. These mushroomed later in the Victorian era to include mass-circulation newspapers as cheap as a halfpenny, along with popular magazines such as the Illustrated Police News, making the Ripper the beneficiary of previously unparallelled publicity. This, combined with the fact that no one was ever convicted of the murders, created a haunting mythology that cast a shadow over later serial killers.

It is believed by some that the killer's nickname was invented by newspapermen to make a more interesting story that could sell more papers. The moniker first appeared in a letter ostensibly written by the murderer but which most experts now believe was a hoax by a journalist. This practice then became a standard all over the world with examples such as the American The Boston Strangler, The Green River Killer, the Axeman of New Orleans, the Beltway Sniper, the Hillside Strangler, and the Zodiac Killer, besides the derivative British Yorkshire Ripper almost a hundred years later, and the unnamed perpetrator of the "Thames Nude Murders" of the 1960s, whom the press dubbed Censored page.


Many theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper have been advanced. None is entirely persuasive, and some can hardly be taken seriously at all.

See list of proposed Jack the Ripper suspects for further information.

Jack the Ripper in popular culture

Jack the Ripper has been featured in a number of works of fiction, either as the central character or in a more peripheral role.


Among the films which take him as a subject are A Study in Terror (1965) and Murder By Decree (1978), both of which feature Sherlock Holmes attempting to find the murderer; Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker 's Jack the Ripper (1959), loosely based on Leonard Matters ' theory that the Ripper was an avenging doctor; the Hammer Horror Hands of the Ripper (1971), in which the Ripper's daughter grows up to become a murderer after she sees her father murder her mother; From Hell (see Comics, below); and Time After Time, in which the author H. G. Wells builds an actual time machine that the Ripper uses to continue his killing spree in a future San Francisco while being pursued by Wells.


The Ripper features briefly at the end of Frank Wedekind's play Die Büchse der Pandora (1904), in which he murders Lulu, the central character. This play was later turned into the film Pandora's Box (1928, directed by G. W. Pabst) and the opera Lulu (by Alban Berg), both of which also end with this murder.

Novels and short stories

Novels featuring the Ripper include The Lodger (1913) by Marie Belloc Lowndes, which in 1927 was the subject of an Censored page-directed film, and Ritual in the Dark (1960) by Colin Henry Wilson. Kim Newman's novel Anno Dracula takes place in an alternate history where Dracula marries the widowed Queen Victoria, and centres around the hunt for Jack the Ripper, who is killing vampire prostitutes. Jack also figures heavily into Roger Zelazny's novel A Night in the Lonesome October, a story which is narrated by the Ripper's pet dog.

Robert Bloch's short story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper " (1943) cast the Ripper as a sorcerer who must occasionally make a series of human sacrifices to extend his immortality. The science-fiction anthology Dangerous Visions (1967) featured an unrelated Ripper story by Bloch, "A Toy for Juliette," and a sequel by Harlan Ellison, "Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World," written with Bloch's permission.


From Hell is the name of a graphic novel about the Ripper case by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. In 2001, the Hughes Brothers made the book into a film starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

DC Comics' Gotham by Gaslight features a Victorian Age version of the superhero Batman hunting the killer, who has come to Gotham City. This was the first of the alternate universe "Elseworlds" series.


In the Star Trek episode "Wolf in the Fold", a highly aggressive alien entity, later named Redjac, is claimed to be responsible for the Ripper murders. The Babylon 5 episode "Comes the Inquisitor" features a character named Sebastian who is meant to be Jack the Ripper, taken by Vorlons in the year 1888 and rehabilitated to become an inquisitor so that he can test (through torture) the motives of people who are called to lead an important cause. An episode of The Outer Limits titled "Ripper" starred Cary Elwes as Doctor Jack York, who discovered an alien entity possessing people and killing them; he was frequently nearby during the deaths, and became a suspect in the case.


Artists including Morrissey, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, LL Cool J, The White Stripes, My Chemical Romance, and Iced Earth have recorded songs titled "Jack the Ripper." Judas Priest also wrote a song called "the Ripper", and Infernal Majesty's "Anthology of Death" is about the crimes.


  • The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden, ISBN 0786702761, is widely held to be one of the best on the topic.
  • The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook by Stewart Evans and Keith Skinner, ISBN 0786707682, is a solid reference devoted to known facts instead of theories. Evans also has other books on the topic, including one advancing his own suspect.
  • Jack the Ripper: The Facts by Paul Begg, ISBN 1861056877, is a comprehensive look at the latest research on the case.

External links

  • Casebook: Jack the Ripper has an extensive collection of contemporary newspaper reports related to the murders as well as articles by modern authors.
  • The Metropolitan Police history of Jack the Ripper discusses the investigation into the killings.
  • Ripper Notes: The International Journal for Ripper Studies and Ripperologist: The Journal of Jack the Ripper, East End and Victorian Studies are professional periodicals devoted to scholarly examination of the case.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 18:25:45
Last updated: 02-18-2005 14:20:24