Jack the Ripper was a notorious serial killer in Victorian London. In 1888 the murders began and saw a string of deaths. Young women were stalked and brutally murdered in the East End of London by a mysterious figure who evaded capture. Officially the women who died during the spree were filed in a case called “The Whitechapel Murders”.
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There has been speculation over the years as to who was Jack the Ripper and how many people did he really kill? In the late 19th century, the area of Whitechapel in London had become impoverished and a place of immorality. Violence and robbery were commonplace. Work and unemployment became so terrible that many women were forced to turn to prostitution in order to feed their families. There are 11 victims which have been connected to Jack the Ripper but it is believed that only 5 were the work of the serial killer.
The first woman to die was Emma Elizabeth Smith in a string of bizarre murders on 3rd April 1888. While Smith was working as a prostitute to fed her two children, she was attacked and beaten by a group of men. She survived the initial and attack and went to the lodging house which she called home. Other people in the house took her to the hospital and she was attended by the house surgeon, Dr Haslip. She fell into a coma and died the next day. When she was examined by Dr Hillier, another surgeon, it was discovered that she had blunt object forced into her vagina which ruptured her peritoneum, the membrane that supports the internal organs. Although this is listed as the first possible victim for Jack the Ripper many historians have suggested that it isn’t. The police at the time believed Smith’s murder to be unrelated to the murders that followed. The brutal nature of the attack was linked by the press to the other murders.
The second victim in The Whitechapel Murders was another prostitute named Martha Tabram on 7th August 1888. Tabram had a history of drinking and was known for throwing fits. She was separated from her husband and her partner at the time of her murder. On the night she was killed, she was drinking with another prostitute called Mary Ann Connelly or “Pearly Poll”. They had been drinking with two soldiers and had left together. Tabram took her client to George Yard, a narrow alley, and Poll took her client to Angel Alley opposite. Her body was found around 5am when a dock worker was heading to work. She had been seen on the stairs by other people in the building but they had believed she was homeless and sleeping. When the doctor inspected her body, she had been stabbed 39 times. Although this is the second victim in the Whitechapel Murders, it may be the first victim of Jack the Ripper.
The first “official” victim of the Jack the Rippers was Mary Ann Nichols who was killed on 31st August 1888. Nichols was another alcoholic who used prostitution to help pay for her lodgings for the night. She had made enough money for her bed that night but had spent it all on alcohol. She was planning on seeing one more client before she turned in for the night. At 3:40 am her body was found on Bucks Row in Whitechapel. No-one had heard anything or saw what happened, despite the woman only being dead for 10 minutes. Her throat had been slit and her abdomen had been stabbed repeatably. This murder was not connected to the others at the time of the inquest because at this point, they were all different in style.
It was during the inquest to Nichols death that the next victim of Jack’s killing spree would appear. On 8th September 1888 Annie Chapman, or Dark Annie, was found murdered at 6 am in a yard. She was murdered between 5 am and 6 am when she was found. Just like Nichols, her throat had been slashed and her abdomen was wounded. Chapman did not often work as a prostitute, it was only this night she had no money for her lodging and had taken to the street to earn some. She normally sold flowers and made a small income from crochet work.
Elizabeth Stride was another casual prostitute who became a victim of Jacks. After separating with her partner only a few days before, Stride took to the street to earn money for her lodging. Normally she worked as a cleaner and made extra with sewing. On 30th September 1888, her body was found in a yard with a slit throat. The man who found her claimed that the blood was still flowing from her throat which suggests she had bee attacked only moments before. Stride did not have the same wounds to her stomach that the other victims had. It is possible that Jack was interrupted during his attack and silently slipped away. Others believe that it may have been an attack or robbery that the police would pin on Jack.
Within an hour of Stride being murdered, another woman was attacked, and this was far more brutal. Catherine Eddowes had been arrested for being drunk in the street and was held until she was sober enough to talk at 1 am on 30th September. She was last seen alive at 1:35 am by three men who were leaving a club opposite Mitre Square. 10 minutes later her body was found in the square by the beat policeman, PC Edward Watkins. In that 10 minute window, Eddowes was mutilated. It was believed that she lay on the ground with her dress pulled up, exposing her thighs and abdomen when the killer slashed her throat. Once she was dead, her stomach was opened up and her intestines were pulled out and arranged around her. Part of her kidney and her womb were removed, and her face was disfigured. On the 16th of October, a parcel was sent to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk. Inside there was half a human kidney, believed to be from Eddowes and a letter with the words “From Hell” written at the top.
The double murder set London into a panic and the newspapers began spinning stories about who it was killing these women. By now everyone was terrified of Jack the Ripper. But this did not stop the prostitutes from doing their jobs. Mary Jane Kelly was the youngest and most brutally disfigured of the victims. She was around 25 years old when she took a man back to her room on 9th November 1888. Her body was found the next morning by the assistant of the lodging house who was coming to collect the rent. Kelly was behind on her rent so when there was no answer to the door, the assistant let himself in. The body had been cut open, organs placed around it. Her breasts were cut off and placed along with the organs, and her face was covered in slash marks. The police and the doctors estimated that it had taken around 2 hours for The Ripper to do all of this.
There have been many different theories about the true identity of The Ripper. Some people believe that it was a high-ranking member of society, namely Price Albert Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria. Other theories point to Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s father. Lord Churchill closely resembles the description given by a witness who saw Mary Kelly shortly before she died. The nature of the cuts and slash marks on the victims, and the knowledge of human anatomy, have suggested that it may have been the work of a butcher or doctor. Attacks on prostitutes were not uncommon but investigators believe the nature of the attacks was the work of one person. DNA analysis pointed to a Polish barber, Aaron Kosmininski, but this evidence was later found to have contained an error.
Despite the case being open for many years, there is still much to debate about the Whitechapel Murders. Many different books have been published about the true identity of the killer. One problem with the many publications on the subject is that many do not do original research which has caused lies to become truths in the public eye. This may be in part to the lack of documents and limited access to the files that exist. Unfortunately, because of the interest in the case, the police and Home Office have restricted access to the files as people have stolen valuable papers over the years. This had made any new investigations into the murders nearly impossible.
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