Jack the Ripper was a murderous madman who terrorized prostitutes in the late 1880s. Time has not diminished the gruesomeness of the killings. All the victims’ throats were cut; some victims were disemboweled; and the killer took organs from some of his victims. When fear of the Ripper peaked, the killings stopped, and a century of speculation ensued (jack 1). Many authors have tried to sift through the evidence and have arrived at their own theories as to the identity of the killer. Still there has never been conclusive proof of who the murderer was and what were his motives.
To understand the difficulty of solving the murder it is necessary to look at the historical circumstances, the Rippers victims, and the suspects involved. The crimes took place during a period of English history known as the Victorian period. This era was named after Queen Victoria who became Queen in 1837 (Stitson 1). She ruled Great Britan until 1901. This was a time when industrialization grew and people flooded into the city to find work.
It was also a time when the British Empire was expanding and many foreign workers traveled to London and competed with the locals for jobs. The class system, a sharp division between rich and poor kept the two groups isolated from each other as much as possible (stitson 1). Wealthy Victorians lived a life of ease and comfort and took little interest in the lives of the poor. The Victorians lived with many strict moral restraints. They were supposed to keep their emotions and desires in check.
Men considered women to be virgins or whores. They felt that their wives and girlfriends were pure and that they had to turn to prostitutes to satisfy their desires. Prostitutes in this era were primarily from the lower classes. Many were to be found in the East End. “Gentlemen” usually visited the poor East End only when drinking with male friends or when looking for a prostitute.
The East End, Whitechapple, in the 1880s was a small area of London crowded with ninety thousand people (Sugden 3). There was little or no plumbing or sanitation and disease and pollution were a constant problem. There was also a large population of European Jews who were not well accepted by their English neighbors. The English feared that the immigrants would take their jobs and compete for the overcrowded housing available. The police in London at this time had to control and protect the poorer class members of society. At the same time they had to answer to the members of the prosperous English society and protect the royalty. Two years before the Whitechapel murders by Jack the Ripper, riots broke out in the area because people were camping in the streets due to mass unemployment.
General Charles Warren, a professional soldier was appointed as Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to handle the confrontation. He was later knighted for controlling the riots, but the local people never forgot the fact that he used force and many arrests to stop the riots on “Bloody Sunday” (Abrahamsen 21). This affected the cooperation level he would later receive. He was to face his biggest challenge when trying to solve the Ripper murders. The first murder in Whitechapel definitely attributed to Jack the Ripper happened on August 31, 1888.
The victim was a forty-two year old prostitute named Mary Nichols, nicknamed Polly. A friend last saw her at 2:30 in the morning. She was very drunk and said she was going to earn the price of a room for the night. A workman discovered her body at 3:40 that same morning. Her throat was slashed all the way to her vertebrae.
She had several rough incisions in her abdomen. No one heard her scream; the examining doctor felt that she might have been strangled first. Her former husband identified the body the next day. She was the mother of five children. The police had no clue who could have murdered Mary Nichols.
Later writers have suggested that she was murdered by a group of three men and dumped along Bucks Row (Knight 126). Forensic evidence and the doctors testimony suggest that she was killed where she was found, and that one man carried out the murder. Since she was a pauper, robbery was not the motive and police feared that perhaps they were searching for a maniac who could strike again. On Saturday, September 8, 1888 the police found the next victim. Her name was Annie Chapman, known as “Dark Annie”.
She was a forty-seven year old prostitute. Like Mary Nichols, she lost her husband and three children because she was an alcoholic. Annie was killed in the backyard of a heavily populated rooming house. The murderer was not interrupted this time and his savagery was evident. She was strangled and then her throat was cut.
She was eviscerated and her partially attached organs were displayed next to her body. Some of her organs were missing. The examining doctor felt that only someone with anatomical knowledge could have performed so precise a surgery in the short period of time before the body was discovered. The next two murders happened on one night. The first occurred just after midnight on September 30, 1888. Elizabeth Stride was murdered in a passageway just outside a Socialist club whose members were Russian and Polish Jews (Howell 224).
Despite the comings and goings of the members, no one heard or saw anything. Her throat was cut and she bled to death. Soon after this, a second grisly murder took place in Mitre Square. In less than fifteen minutes time, the murderer brought his victim into Mitre Square, killed her, mutilated her body and escaped, taking her kidney and womb with him. The victim was known as Kate Conway but her real name was Catharine Eddowes.
Both victims were in their mid-forties, liked to drink and resorted to at least occasional prostitution to support themselves. The most horrific murder was yet to come. On November 10, 1888, a young Irish prostitute named Mary Kelly was found by her landlord. She was lying in her bed, dead and dismem …