The Jack the Ripper crimes vie with the Kennedy assassination as history’s greatest murder mystery. They inspire visions of a black garbed figure at midnight, stalking gaslit streets shrouded in fog as he cuts down the female population of East London one by one.
That is the image. The reality was the murder of several tragic Women whom a society shaped by gold, and the hypocrisy it spawned, cast out to be buffeted by the cruel winds of poverty until they were driven under a murderer’s knife. In a moving editorial following the death of Annie Chapman the “Daily Telegraph” said:
Dark Annie’s spirit still walks Whitechapel unavenged by justice…her dreadful end has compelled Londoners to reflect what it must be like to have no home except the kitchen of a low lodging house; to sit there sick and weak, bruised and wretched, to be turned out after midnight, to come across your murderer and caress your assassin.
Annie was one of five Women who have become known as the “canonical victims” of Jack the Ripper. In fact the term is a misnomer; there is very little unanimity amongst Ripper historians as to who was and was not a victim. In many instances candidates have been added or subtracted from the list by Authors attempting to prove that their own preferred suspect was the culprit. There are in fact only three Women on whom Ripperologists tend to agree were killed by the same man.
Logic certainly seems to suggest that all three of these crimes were committed by the same man, although DR GEORGE BAGSTER PHILLIPS, the Police Surgeon who performed the post mortem on Chapman, described Eddowes injuries as the work of an “unskilled imitator”. However, Phillips was the only Doctor to credit the Ripper with surgical skill as opposed to anatomical knowledge, which he based purely on the Chapman murder. So his was arguably a highly subjective judgement. No modern writer or commentator has ever doubted that Eddowes was the Ripper’s work.
But on three other victims opinions differ more widely.
Also queried, especially in recent times, are MARY JANE KELLY’S credentials for appearing on the killer’s death list. Doubts are now expressed that Mary Kelly was actually killed by the same perpetrator while another school of thought holds that the corpse’s features were obliterated to cover up the fact that it was not Mary after all.
However, the preponderance of opinion remains both in favour of it being her body, and that she was murdered by Jack the Ripper.
Opinion is about equally divided on whether the murder of MARTHA TABRAM was a Ripper atrocity.
Other East London murder victims mooted as possible Ripper victims are:
EMMA SMITH, 1843-88, prostitute, attacked, allegedly, by three men on the corner of WENTWORTH STREET AND BRICK LANE, SPITALFIELDS, in the early hours of April 3rd, 1888. Smith had a wooden object of some king rammed into her vagina, rupturing the perineum and causing her to succumb to peritonitis two days later.
CATHERINE “ROSE” MYLETT, 1859-88. Mylett holds the dubious distinction of being the only murdered woman associated with the Ripper crimes to actually be born in Whitechapel. A prostitute who plied her trade around the London docks, in the early hours of December 20th, 1888 two Police Officers found her lifeless body in CLARKE’S YARD, POPLAR. The autopsy revealed that she had been strangled with a ligature. There were no other injuries.
ALICE McKENZIE, A prostitute aged around 40, McKenzie was found murdered not long after midnight on July 17th, 1889 in CASTLE ALLEY, WHITECHAPEL, only yards from the Whitechapel 1888 Society currently meets. She was stabbed twice in the throat and had a number of wounds to her abdomen, mostly superficial.
“LYDIA HART” Possible name of the woman whose corpse was found on September 10th, 1889 under a railway arch in PINCHIN STREET, which is very close to Berner street where Liz Stride was murdered. The corpse was minus its head and arms and there was also a gash in the abdomen. Precise cause of death could not be established. Hart, a prostitute, went missing from her lodgings around this time.
FRANCES COLES, prostitute, circa 25. Coles was found with her throat cut in SWALLOW GARDENS, again not far from Berner street, in the early hours of February 13th, 1891. A Seaman named Thomas Sadler was arrested for the crime but the case against him unraveled at Coles’s Inquest.
Virtually no student of the Ripper murders believes that Smith, Mylett, McKenzie, “Hart” or Coles was murdered by the East End’s most infamous ghoul. In the case of the Pinchin street torso, she may have been the victim of a separate, dismemberment, killer. Two other women, one unidentified whose remains were found on the site of what is now New Scotland Yard at the beginning of October, 1888, the other a prostitute named Elizabeth Jackson, whose body parts began to turn up in the Thames in the Spring of the following year, may also have been murdered by the same individual.
However, recent discoveries of two other women, attacked but not killed early in 1888, are intriguing Ripperologists.
ANNIE MILLWOOD, a resident of a SPITALFIELDS lodging house in WHITE’S ROW, was assaulted on February 25th and hacked with a knife around the genital area. Millwood recovered but succumbed to heart problems at the end of March, around the same time (28-29th ) as ADA WILSON, described as a “young sempstress” was assaulted in her apartment at MAIDMAN STREET ( now WENTWORTH MEWS situated next to MILE END tube station ). Wilson was stabbed twice in the throat and was not expected to recover but did so at the LONDON HOSPITAL, WHITECHAPEL. Studies of other serial killers reveal that they often work their way up to murder through lesser assaults.
Debate over the East End murderer’s identity and motives rage even more fiercely over who he did, or did not, slay. Suspects are posted separately on a different page along with the motives attributed to them, but overall the evidence of these crimes point to their having been committed by a misogynist whose hatred of women fashioned sexual desires which were perverted in the extreme, rape with a knife as one renowned Ripperologist has termed it. The mutilations were centered on the victims’ private parts, the killer’s “signature” to his crimes, meaning the fulfillment which the perpetrator derives from them.
No criminal has defined a year as Jack the Ripper did in 1888. As it wore so the eyes of not only the nation but the world became focused on the squalid streets and alleys of London’s poorest quarter. People watched with bated breath as the Ripper ran them with blood and terror.
But it is not just his crimes which concern today’s genre of Historians. It is necessary to mix together the atoms and particles of crime, economic, social and political history to explain the social conditions which provided this dread gargoyle with his prey, the economic forces which spawned the social and the political system which sustained the economic, all different bulbs but illuminating the same tree.
That may stand as the mission statement of the Ripper historian.`