Jack the Ripper

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It was in the later part of the 19th century that a serial killer was spreading terror in the East End of London. Five women were killed in just a matter of months. The people of London were terrified of the killer who was known as Jack the Ripper, or the Whitechappel murderer. There have been many theories about who Jack the Ripper was, but no one really knew who he or she was. Jack the Ripper is probably one of the most famous serial killers of all time. He is known all over the world for his gruesome murders.

It is unclear just how many women the Ripper killed. People assumed that he killed at least five women. The women were prostitutes, and almost all were in their late forties when they were killed. Many people have tried to solve the mysteries, but no one has made it yet.


In this essay I will try to answer the following questions about Jack the Ripper:

  • What was English society like at that time?
  • Who did he kill, and how did he kill them?
  • What evidence did he leave behind?
  • Who were the suspects?
  • And above all, why are we still fascinated by the story of Jack the Ripper today, 114 years later?


Historical background


In the latter part of the 19th century prostitution was common in the East End of London. At that time it was estimated that there were 55 000 prostitutes in London - one prostitute pr. 12 men. Prostitution was actually legal in London. There were not many brothels, but in some rooming houses men could find prostitutes. The prostitutes were usually young women in their twenties. Many of them were infected with syphilis and gonorrhea. The prostitutes who didn’t die of an illness would often give up prostitution, settle down and get married, sometimes with a former client.



The Murders


During three months from August to November 1888 five horrific murders were committed. The Star newspaper reported, “No murder was ever more brutally done.”           

The Ripper was soon known for his gruesome murder methods. He would seek out the women on the street and strangle the victim until unconscious, lay them on the ground, cut their throats and then mutilate their face and body. In some of the victims he would remove organs and body parts.


The victims’ names were: Mary Nichols, Elizabeth Strider, Catherine Eddowes, Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly. All of the women were above the average age for prostitutes at the time.


Mary Nichols was the first victim. The Ripper used a razorblade as a tool, just like he would use on the other four victims. She became a part of the prostitute society after she got divorced. People found her August 31st in Bucks Row. Her throat had been cut and her body had been mutilated. She was 42 years old when she was killed


Annie Chapman was the second victim. Her husband had died a few years earlier and she had to become a prostitute so that she could earn money. She was found September 8th in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street. When she was found her throat had been cut, her body mutilated and some of her organs had been removed. She died 47 years old.


Elizabeth Strider was originally from Sweden, but after a while she moved to London and got married. The marriage did not go so well, so she got divorced and became a prostitute. She was discovered on 30th of September in Berner Street. Her throat had been cut. She died 44 years old.


Catherine Eddowes came to London after a bad divorce. When she got there she immediately became a part of the prostitute society. She was found just one hour after Catherine Eddowes, in Mitre Square. She had been cut on her face and on her abdomen. Some of her organs had been removed, just like on Catherine Eddowes. She died at the age of 44.


Mary Jane Kelly was borne in Ireland. She quickly moved to Wales and got married. After her husband got killed she moved to London, where she became a prostitute. Mary was the youngest of the Ripper’s victims and probably the most gruesome murder committed by him. She was found in Miller’s Court the 9th of November. Her face was cut so that it was almost unrecognizable. Her body was horribly mutilated. She died only 25 years old.



The evidence


Scotland Yard was responsible for the investigation, and they did everything in their power to catch the Ripper.


In October the police and news agencies started getting letters signed Jack the Ripper. In the letters the Ripper described his victims and wrote that he would continue killing women. The police believed that the letters were written by a journalist, however.


After the murder of Mrs. Eddowes the police found a message written on the wall by the doorway. The message read: The Juwes are The men that Will not be Blamed for nothing. Experts are not certain if this was written by Jack the Ripper or someone else who did not like Jews.


Maybe the most important evidence is the way the Ripper cut his victims. When he removed organs from the victims he would dissect their bodies in the same manner that a trained doctor would have done it. This shows that Jack the Ripper may have been a doctor or that he had received medical training.


In recent times a crime novelist named Patricia Cornwell from USA has spent millions of dollars trying to find the Ripper’s DNA and fingerprints. She believes that the Ripper was an artist by the name of Walter Richard Sickert. To prove this she has bought 30 of Sickert’s paintings costing many thousands of dollars just to find his fingerprints or DNA. She became suspicious after seeing his paintings of dead prostitutes. Experts think that her theories are “rubbish”.



The suspects


Over the years there have been many suspects in the Ripper case (including Sickert), but no one has been proven guilty. The list of suspects has become long over the years and here are some of them:


Kosminski was a poor Polish Jew who lived in Whitechapel. He was the police’s main suspect for a time. He was a lunatic who heard voices in his head. He was put away in an asylum, and he died in 1919.


John Druitt was a 33-year-old schoolteacher and lawyer. He committed suicide nearly a month after the last murder. Since no other prostitutes were killed after he died, many thought that he was the Ripper.


Michael Ostrog was a Russian born thief and had been in the asylum several times.


Dr. Francis Tumbley was an American “quack” doctor. He had been arrested for indecencent behavior several times before. He fled the country after he had been suspected of the murders. He was the last serious suspect in the Ripper case.


At the time of the murders on one of the three first suspects were mentioned in the police report. Their names were first mentioned in a report dated February 1894. However the report contained several errors about them. The police were never able to get hard evidence against them.





The legend about Jack the Ripper has fascinated a whole world for a century. Although it has been over 100 years since he killed his victims, many people are still trying to solve the mystery. The reason for that, is that people are still curious about who the murderer really was. The way the women were killed was so gruesome that it had to be a very special person who could have done it.


People are able to get material from the Ripper case over the Internet so that they can investigate and make theories for themselves. Patricia Cornwell is a good example of this. Since there were many suspects and few facts it was easy to speculate and bring forward many different theories. Because of this, there has been made many films and books about the Ripper. New generations will therefore get to know the story and they will continue to speculate more about whom the guilty person could be.





Stalking Jack the Ripper. A crime novelist is obsessed with a 113-year-old case. From http://abcnews.go.com/sections/primetime/DailyNews/pt_ripper_011206.html


Casebook: Jack the Ripper-introduction to the case. Barbee, LS. Article from http://www.casebook.ord/intro.html


The enduring mystery of Jack the Ripper. Article from Stories from the crime museum. http://www.met.police.uk/history/ripper.htm


The fallen woman in fiction and legislation. Bell M. From www.gober.net/victorian/reports/prostit.html


Jack the Ripper strikes….! The mystery monster of London’s East End has struck. From www.accomodata.co.uk/events.htm  


Jack the Ripper. A beginner guide to the infamous serial killer who stalked Victorian London. From www.jacktheripper-cd.com/jacktheripper.html

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