Jack the Ripper: The Victorian Serial Killer

Jack the Ripper The Victorian Serial Killer 1888–1891 -
Jack the Ripper: The Victorian Serial Killer 1888–1891

Victorian London

Few serial killers have inspired so many novels and movies such as the Victorian Serial Killer known as Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper was originally known as the ‘Whitechapel Murderer’, given that his crimes were committed in the neighbourhood of East London by the same name. At the time, this part of East End London was overcrowded and inhabited by very poor people, immigrants, drug addicts, alcohol dependents, prostitutes, peddlers, etc. In short, they were the slums where a significant part of the economic underclass lived.

Sleeping accommodations became extremely expensive for many, who ended up having to share “common lodging houses” with many strangers. A single room for sleeping and eating was filled with people who were not related to one another.

Illustration of Low Lodging House, St Giles, London, 1872
Illustration of Low Lodging House, St Giles, London, 1872

Petty crimes, violence and thievery were a common daily occurrence in the Whitechapel area, and the police struggled to keep the peace as social and racial tensions arose, coupled with the economic problems and high unemployment rate that the population suffered at the time, all of which finally led to the socio-popular uprising known as “Bloody Sunday”, in which more than 400 people were arrested and another 75 were badly injured.

Attacks towards women were also a common occurrence. Many were driven to prostitution due to endemic poverty. It was estimated that in 1888, there were 1,200 women working as prostitutes in the Whitechapel area in at least 62 brothels.

Engraving from The Graphic (published 19 November 1887) depicting a policeman being clubbed by a demonstrator as he wrests a banner from "a Socialist woman leader, one Mrs. Taylor", while other people are covering their heads to protect themselves from raised police batons.
Bloody Sunday (1887) – Engraving from The Graphic (published 19 November 1887) depicting a policeman being clubbed by a demonstrator as he wrests a banner from “a Socialist woman leader, one Mrs Taylor”, while other people are covering their heads to protect themselves from raised police batons.

While assaults, violence and beatings were common towards women, one Jack the Ripper would terrorize the dark cobblestone streets of London, with the brutal murders of 11 prostitutes, although only 5 have been canonically attributed to him.

The Murderer in Leather Apron

Jack the Ripper was an unknown serial killer who terrorized the streets of London and was active in a mostly poor neighbourhood in and around the East London areas of Whitechapel and Spitalfields between the years 1888 and 1891. The man or men who committed those killings have escaped capture. It is possible that more than five victims could have been claimed by the Ripper, but the majority of experts accept that at least five murders in the East End of London were the work of Jack the Ripper.

A 19th century drawing of Jack the Ripper depicting him as a ghostly figure, and a news report from the time
A 19th-century drawing of Jack the Ripper depicting him as a ghostly figure, and a news report from the time

Five extremely brutal and gruesome murders were committed between August 31st and November 9th of 1888. Although the murders continued until the year 1891 totalling eleven, only 5 have been attributed to Jack the Ripper. The others are still unknown and debated, whether it was Jack the Ripper himself or a copycat trying to emulate and spread terror over the East End, it is still debated to this day.

The Modus Operandi of these murders was extremely similar in all the cases. All of the victims were slum prostitutes, who had their throats slit before being disfigured in usual ways and who had abdominal wounds. They all took place relatively near one another (in the boroughs of Whitechapel, Aldgate, Spitalfields, and the City of London), and they were all believed to be committed by one person. The five gruesome killings are generally called the five Ripper killings, though Martha Tabram, who was stabbed on August 6, 1888, is considered by some Ripperologists to have been the first victim.

It has been suggested that the murderer had considerable knowledge of human anatomy, leading many to believe that Jack the Ripper was a doctor or physician by trade operating in the area.

London Daily Post, 1888 - Two More victims Claimed by the East End Ripper
London Daily Post, 1888 – Two More victims Claimed by the East End Ripper

The original belief that he had knowledge of anatomy led many to dub him the “Murderer in Leather Apron”, a garment he would wear to prevent blood spatter from coming into contact with the rest of his clothes.  

The idea that Jack the Ripper was a doctor, a physician, a mortician, an anatomist or any other similar related medical professional of the time is not far-fetched and has been entertained for more than a century. The reason for this is that it was common at the time for medical experts to steal bodies from graves for the purpose of study. This practice became so prevalent in Victorian England that led many individuals to put mortsafes around the deceased in order to protect their resting place and prevent their remains from being stolen.  

During the murders, the police, newspapers, and others received many hundreds of letters regarding the case. A series of letters were purportedly sent to the London Metropolitan Police (often known as Scotland Yard) by Jack the Ripper, mocking officers for their appalling activities and speculating about future killings.

However, many of these letters are believed to be hoaxes perpetrated by journalists in order to heighten interest in the Whitechapel murders and increase their newspaper’s circulation. One such letter, known as the “From Hell” letter or the “Lusk letter”, was sent to one George Lusk, a member of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, alongside half of a preserved human kidney.

The letter “From Hell” reads:

From hell.

Mr Lusk,

Sor

I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved

it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may

send you the bloody knif[e] that took it out if you only wate

a whil[e] longer

signed
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

A photographic copy of the now-lost "From Hell" letter, postmarked 15 October 1888
A photographic copy of the now-lost “From Hell” letter, postmarked 15 October 1888

The Canonical Killings

The high rate of attacks on women in East End London at the time added to the uncertainty about how many victims were killed by a single person. Although there were eleven women murdered in the period around the Ripper’s time, only 5 victims are linked to his name. All five on the list were prostitutes, killed from the beginning of August until early November 1888.

In addition to those five, there is strong evidence that the first victim was indeed Martha Tabram, murdered on Tuesday, 7 August 1888, and important considerations exist to the question of whether Martha Stride was the victim of Jack the Ripper.

Opinions differ on whether all eleven individual murders are supposed to have been linked to the same perpetrator, but the five out of eleven listed below, known as the Canonical Five, are generally considered the work of Jack the Ripper. At various times, some or all of the murders in Whitechapel have been attributed to the famous unknown serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.

The Victims

Jack the Ripper victims were Mary Anne Nichols (found on August 31, 1888), Annie Chapman (found on September 8, 1888), Elizabeth Stride (found on September 30, 1888), Katherine Eddowes (also found on September 30, 1888) and Mary Jane Kelley (found on November 9, 1888).

Mary Anne Nichols

Generally understood as being the first victim of Murderer in Leather Apron, Mary Anne Nichols was a native Londoner who had spent much of the 1880s smuggling contraband.

A memorial marker for Mary Ann Nichols at the City of London Cemetery
A memorial marker for Mary Ann Nichols at the City of London Cemetery

Her body was discovered in Whitechapel around 3.40 a.m. Her throat had been sliced off by two deep cuts, one of which completely severed all the tissue down to the vertebrae. She had two stab wounds in her vagina and several other incisions in her abdomen, which had partly been ripped open causing her bowels to protrude.

Annie Chapman

The second canonical victim of the Victorian Serial Killer was Annie Chapman. Her body was discovered in Spitalfields at approximately 6 a.m. Her throat had been severed by two deep cuts in much the same way as Mary Ann Nichol’s had been.  Her abdomen had been entirely cut open and part of her stomach had been placed on her left shoulder, while her small intestines were placed above her right shoulder.

29 Hanbury Street. The door through which Annie Chapman and her murderer walked to the yard where her body was discovered is beneath the numerals of the property sign
29 Hanbury Street. The door through which Annie Chapman and her murderer walked to the yard where her body was discovered is beneath the numerals of the property sign

During the autopsy, it was discovered that part of her uterus, bladder and vagina had been removed.

Elizabeth Stride

Stride’s body was discovered at approximately 1. a.m. in Whitechapel. She had a single clear-cut incision across her neck which had severed her left carotid artery and her trachea before terminating beneath her right jaw.

Unlike the other victims, Elizabeth’s body had not been mutilated, letting many to believe that it was not the work of the same Victorian Serial Killer, or that perhaps Jack the Ripper was interrupted before he could finish the attack.

Catherine Eddowes

Catherine’s body was found on the same day as Elizabeth’s, on the 30th of September 1888, just 45 minutes after the discovery of Stride’s body in Mitre Square, in the City of London.

Just like Annie Chapman, Catherine’s body had been found slit from ear to ear with her abdomen ripped open. Her intestines were placed on her right shoulder, and a portion of them had been completely detached from her body and placed between her body and left arm.

Her left kidney was removed, as was also the major part of her uterus. Her face was completely mangled, her cheeks and eyelids had been slashed and her nose had been cut off.

Contemporaneous police drawing of the body of Catherine Eddowes, as discovered in Mitre Square
Contemporaneous police drawing of the body of Catherine Eddowes, as discovered in Mitre Square

Nearby, on Goulston Street, a chalk inscription with a piece of Catherine’s apron was found that read:
“The Juwes are The men That Will not be Blamed for nothing.

The Goulston Street Graffito is highly controversial for Ripperologists. Some claim that whoever wrote the message meant to imply that a Jew or Jews were responsible for the Whitechapel murders. Others argue that the killer himself wrote the message. The police were divided on the issue because such type of graffiti was commonplace at the time in the East End where immigration and social unrest were the norms.

Copy of graffito in Goulston Street, attached to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren's report to the Home Office on the Whitechapel murders.
Copy of graffito in Goulston Street, attached to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren’s report to the Home Office on the Whitechapel murders.
Mary Jane Kelly

Mary Jane Kelly’s body was discovered at 10.45 a.m lying on her bed where she lived in Spitalfields. Her face had been “hacked beyond all recognition”. Her throat had been severed down to her spine, and her abdomen had been emptied of almost all of its organs. Her uterus, kidneys and one breast had been placed beneath her head, and other viscera from her body placed beside her foot, about the bed and sections of her abdomen and thighs upon a bedside table. The heart was missing from the crime scene.

The Whitechapel Murders

While Jack the Ripper is associated with five killings in London’s Whitechapel area, there are widely believed to have been another six similar killings which could undoubtedly be attributed to Jack the Ripper. Although the evidence has yet to prove the conclusive connection between the Whitechapel killings and several other women, it is possible that Jack the Ripper was responsible for every murder that occurred in the East End of London at the time.

Since Jack the Ripper was never caught, and because the general police file covering his crimes, the Whitechapel Murders, in fact, has eleven victims, it is virtually impossible to tell with any degree of confidence which murders occurred in the autumn of terror were committed by Jack the Ripper.

Eleven separate murders, stretching from 3 April 1888 to 13 February 1891, were included in a Metropolitan Police investigation and were known collectively in the police docket as the “Whitechapel murders.”

Map showing the location of the graffito (red triangle) in relation to 6 of the murder sites (red circles). Bottom left: Mitre Square (where Catherine Eddowes was found); Bottom right: Berner Street (where Elizabeth Stride was found). Others (clockwise from top): Dorset Street (Mary Jane Kelly), Osborn Street (Emma Elizabeth Smith), George Yard (Martha Tabram), Castle Alley (Alice McKenzie).
Map showing the location of the graffito (red triangle) in relation to 6 of the murder sites (red circles). Bottom left: Mitre Square (where Catherine Eddowes was found); Bottom right: Berner Street (where Elizabeth Stride was found). Others (clockwise from top): Dorset Street (Mary Jane Kelly), Osborn Street (Emma Elizabeth Smith), George Yard (Martha Tabram), and Castle Alley (Alice McKenzie).

The names of the 6 other victims of the Whitechapel Murders are Emma Elizabeth Smith, Martha Tabram, Rose Mylett, Alice Mackenzie, an unidentified woman known as the Pinchin Street torso, and Frances Coles.

The first two murders, Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram, occurred previous to the so-called “Canonical Murders”. Smith’s survived the initial attack on April 3rd 1888, although she would die a day later, telling the police that she had been attacked by two or three men. Her death was described as gang violence unrelated to the Ripper case.

Martha Tabram was murdered in Whitechapel on 7 August 1888. She had been stabbed 39 times. She suffered wounds to her throat, lungs, heart, liver, spleen, stomach, and abdomen, with additional knife wounds inflicted on her breasts and vagina. Despite the brutality of the killing, many experts do not connect Tabram’s murder with those of Jack the Ripper simply because she had not suffered any slash wounds to her throat or abdomen.

The other 4 Whitechapel murders occurred, allegedly, after Jack the Ripper stopped operating in the area and the victim’s death are attributed to either passionate or revenge killings, or simply copycats of the Victorian Serial Killer.

Rose Mylett was found in Poplar, East London on 20th December 1888. Initially, police believed she had accidentally hanged herself in a drunken stupor or simply committed suicide. After an inquest into her death, it was ruled that she had been the victim of a murder.

 Alice Mckenzie was found dead in Whitechapel on 17th July 1889. She had suffered two stab wounds to her neck, and her left carotid artery had been severed. Other minor bruises and cuts were found on her body. The two pathologists studying the case disagreed on whether she had been a victim of Jack The Ripper or simply an imitator of the Murderer in Leather Apron.

On September 10th 1889, a decomposing headless and legless torso of an unidentified woman was found beneath the railway arch in Pinching Street, Whitechapel. The victim’s abdomen was also extensively mutilated. She became known as “The Pinching Street torso”.

On 13th February 1891, a prostitute by the name of Frances Cole was found at a railway in Whitechapel. Her throat was deeply cut but she had not been mutilated. She was found alive, although she died before medical help arrived at the scene.

Victorian mortuary photographer of murder victim Frances Coles. February 1891
Victorian mortuary photographer of murder victim Frances Coles. February 1891

Two Serial Killers

A series of murders swept East London between 1888 and 1891. However, some of these cases dubbed the Thames Mysteries and The Whitehall Mystery appeared to have been wrongly attributed by the press and by the common people to Jack the Ripper.

In fact, it appears Scotland Yard police were right when they dubbed the ‘Torso Killer’ as a completely different serial killer from Jack the Ripper. In the case of the Torso Killer, the victim’s mutilations appear to be similar to those of the ‘Pinching Street Torso’ case, where the legs and head were severed but not the arms.

In The case of the Torso Killer, the victims were also female but not necessarily prostitutes or wanton women. Some were, while others were widows or nurses. In at least one case, a 7-year-old boy was also found with his abdomen open, his intestines partly drawn out, and his heart and one ear removed, leading meaning to believe it was the work of one Jack the Ripper.

Who Was Jack the Ripper?

Mary Jane Kelly is generally considered to be the Ripper’s final victim, and it is assumed that the crimes ended because of the culprit’s death, imprisonment, institutionalisation, or emigration. During the criminal investigation, More than 2,000 people were interviewed, upwards of 300 people were investigated, and 80 people were detained.

The question of who was Jack the Ripper has been debated for more than a century by academics and Ripperologists alike. Many theories have been put forth, from lawyers to reporters, to artists, to actual murderers, all the way to Royal family members and even, a woman has been discussed as a possible profile behind the Jack the Ripper persona.

According to new research, it is probable that the Ripper was Aaron Kosminski, a 23-year-old Polish-born barber living in London at the time. Aaron Kominski was first named a suspect more than 100 years ago and was named once more in a 2014 book written by British businessman and Ripper researcher Russell Edwards.

Scientists claim the Polish barber was the killer in the Jack the Ripper killings. After publishing the results of tests on a disputed silk shawl stained with blood and, perhaps, semen, which was allegedly found at the Ripper killing site by one of his victims, the scientists are pointing the finger of blame at him. Aaron Kosminski was among the first suspects identified by the London Police in the Ripper murders and his mitochondrial DNA was found on the shawl of Katharine Eddowes’s killings

However, the tests are not conclusive. A few years ago similar research was conducted in the United States and the prime suspect was named as one Walter Sickert, a German-born artist who was raised in England.

 For now, the identity of Jack the Ripper still remains a mystery.

9 thoughts on “Jack the Ripper: The Victorian Serial Killer 1888–1891

  1. Seriously, some of the Jack the Ripper woman murder case is extremely disturbing. I still wondered how the Jack the ripper manage to escapes everytime with his murder and also keeping all the evidence clean. The person behind all of this murder could be really disguised himself in society that no one could identify him or found out about his murder. Jack the ripper will always be a mystery that can’t be solved. It happens in the old days where there are no technologies to investigate the case further so yeah it will remain a mystery.

  2. Jack the Ripper: The Victorian Serial Killer 1888–1891” A very disturbing incident. With no mercy and compassion . He shall not exist in the very first place. With no technology to help during that period, really disgusting to know such ripper through history review. Hope no repeat of such incident again in this modern world we are in now

  3. én gyermekkoromban azt hittem ez csak Mende monda, nagyon tragikus hogy ez tényleg megtortent. Szerintem az hogy a hüvelyüket is felvágta elég beteg, állítólag még is erőszakolta őket. Nem éltem volna abban a korban, és ha lett volna lányom nem engedtem volna, sehova egyedül.

  4. Some of the evidence in the Jack the Ripper lady murder case is very horrifying. I continued to wonder how Jack the Ripper was able to get away with murdering people while still leaving no traces of the crime. The perpetrator of all of these killings may have truly camouflaged themselves to avoid being recognized or having their murder reported. There will never be an answer to the riddle of Jack the Ripper. It occurs in the past when there was no technology to further explore the matter, thus it will undoubtedly stay a mystery.

  5. Interesting article. It is so weird that it is not found who he was. Sometimes I ask myself is he real person! I really enjoyed reading this article.

  6. I read a book on the ‘five canonical victims’, they all had very sad lives . The one that really stood out and actually made me tearful was Katherine Eddowes . She sadly didn’t have much of a settled life and came from Wolverhampton and at one time lived in Bilston Street before her return to London. They were not just ‘prostitutes’. What a truthful way of telling these ladies stories . My grandmother grew up in London, Westminster etc. One of her sister’s was murdered as a young girl. My mum said the police thought that she was murdered by Jack the Ripper but they then said she wasn’t one of his victims. The thing is the last victim of Jack the Ripper was about 15 years before the death of my grandmother’s sister.An excellent book on the lives of the victims, The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold, is a very interesting read. The author has done some incredible detective work…

  7. I find very interesting what you posted here, we can agree that they had sad lives, poor victims. And the strongest thing is that Jack the Ripper, as they said above, could have passed for a normal person. His way of committing the murders disturbed me, what a horrible case and what a pity for what happened. I hope something like this never happens again.

  8. Interesting article. It is so weird that it is not found who he was. Sometimes I ask myself is he real person! I really enjoyed reading this article.

  9. We can all agree that they had tragic lives and were unfortunate victims, thus I found what you wrote here to be quite intriguing. The strongest point is that, as was said above, Jack the Ripper may have been mistaken for a regular person. I was concerned by the way he carried out the killings; what a terrible situation and what a shame it was. I sincerely hope this never occurs again.

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