One of the most notorious serious killers of all-time goes by many names: “Jack the Ripper,” “The Leather Apron,” “The Whitechapel Murderer.” But despite his long list of infamous monikers, his actual name remains unknown.
In this article, we’ll examine the casebook of Jack the Ripper, including the history of Whitechapel, an overview of the victims and of course — the Jack the Ripper suspects…
Whitechapel: Where it All Began
Great Britain experienced a surge of immigration during the mid-19th century. Immigrants from Ireland, Russia and Eastern Europe settled into London’s East End, placing a tremendous strain on the local resources.
The East End’s Whitechapel District saw particularly devastating effects of this. As living and working conditions declined, the impoverished lower-class population increased. Alcohol and drug dependencies became commonplace, which paved the way for an enormous surge in crime.
Poor Whitechapel men relied on assault and robbery to survive, while many of the women turned to prostitution.
The Whitechapel Murders
Due to the high poverty, crime and prostitution, violent attacks against women were all too common in the East End. From April of 1888 to February of 1891, eleven separate murders were investigated by the London police and dubbed as the “Whitechapel murders.”
However, it is not widely believed that Jack the Ripper was responsible for all of these atrocities. Just five of the eleven Whitechapel murders are actually thought to be the work of Jack the Ripper. These have become known as the”Canonical Five.”
A Closer Look at the Canonical Five
- Mary Ann Nichols. Nichols has gained notoriety as Jack the Ripper’s first victim. Her body was found at approximately 3:40 a.m. on August 31st, 1888 in Whitechapel. Her throat had been severed with two cuts, and her lower abdomen had been partially torn open.
- Annie Chapman. About a month after Nichols was murdered, Chapman’s dead body turned up in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street. Her throat had also been severed by two cuts, her abdomen had been savagely slashed entirely open and her uterus had been removed.
- Elizabeth Stride. On September 30th, 1888, Stride’s body was found in Dutfield’s Yard. There was a single, clean incision to one of her carotid arteries — but no mutilations to her abdomen. A lack of the latter led police to believe that the Ripper had likely been interrupted during this attack.
- Catherine Eddowes. Eddowes was also killed in the early morning hours of September 30th, 1888. Her body was found in Mitre Square less than an hour after Stride’s. Eddowe’s throat had been slashed, her abdomen cut open and her kidney and uterus cut out.
- Mary Jane Kelley. On November 9, 1888, Kelly’s badly mutilated body was found on the bed of her residence at 13 Miller’s Court. Her throat had cut so forcefully that it nearly severed the spine. She had been barbarically disemboweled and her heart was missing.
Letters to The Police
Over the course of the investigation, police received several letters claiming to be from the killer himself. The majority of these were disregarded as pranks… but these three were taken a little more seriously:
#1 “Dear Boss” Letter
This letter was received by the Central News Agency in late September 1888. It was initially written off as hoax… until Eddowes’ body was found shortly after the letter’s postmark with her ear partially clipped. In the letter, the killer had promised to “clip” his next victim’s ear off.
This is now believed to be a coincidence, as Eddowes’ ear appears to have been nipped during the attack and not intentionally targeted. Regardless, the letter was signed “Jack the Ripper” – a name which stuck in the minds of the press and public.
#2 “Saucy Jacky” Postcard
The “Saucy Jacky” postcard had handwriting similar to the “Dear Boss” letter. It contained details about the “double event” murder of Eddowes and Stride… but was postmarked nearly 24 hours after the events took place. Residents of Whitechapel were already discussing the details of the homicides at this time.
#3 “From Hell” Package
This parcel contained a letter that had different handwriting from the first two letters. It also contained a box which held a kidney. Experts concluded that this was indeed a human kidney – but it could not be matched to Eddowes as DNA testing did not yet exist.
3 Notable Jack The Ripper Suspects
To this day, over a hundred Jack the Ripper suspects have been named – and modern criminology and forensic experts still haven’t found a way to identify the killer. Here are three of the most popular suspects:
1) James Maybrick
Maybrick was a local Liverpool merchant who died of arsenic poisoning at the hands of his wife in May of 1898. His abrupt death would explain why the Whitechapel killings stopped so suddenly. And over the years, a great deal of interesting evidence has surfaced that points to Maybrick as the killer.
In 1993, a diary allegedly belonging to Maybrick surfaced that contained confessions to the Whitechapel murders. However, this was eventually revealed to be a forged document.
More evidence surfaced in 1994 – but interestingly enough, this was more difficult to prove false. A gentleman’s pocket watch containing the engravings “J Maybrick” and “I Am Jack” was found and turned over to corrosive experts. Using an electron microscope, they could not definitively determine an age of the engravings but concluded they were at least “tens of decades old.”
2) Francis Tumblety
An Irish-born American con artist, Francis Tumblety made a living posing as an “Indian Herb” doctor and peddling tonics throughout North America and Europe. Tumblety was “practicing” in London around the time of the Whitechapel murders.
He was arrested in London in 1888 for unrelated “indecent acts.” Police let him go – but then wanted to re-arrest him in connection with the murders. He fled back to America in November of 1888.
Although Tumblety did not match witness descriptions of The Ripper, he was in London around the time of the murders and left when they stopped.
His fraudulent career in medicine may have actually required to learn some anatomy, a knowledge the Ripper clearly possessed. Handwriting analysis experts have also testified that Tumblety’s script was most consistent with Jack the Ripper’s.
3) Aaron Kominski
Kominski was a Polish Jew working as a hairdresser in Whitechapel at the time of the murders. He was mentally unstable and was institutionalized in 1891 for threatening his sister with a knife. He remained at the asylum until his death in 1919.
The London police named Kominksi to the long list of their original suspects, but lost contact with him after he was institutionalized. In 2014, a shawl found at the scene of Catherine Eddowe’s murder was tested for DNA.
Historic DNA analysis expert Dr. Jari Louhelainen confidently announced that the DNA lifted matched Kominski. However, his findings had not been reviewed by peers or other investigators – leading many to dispute the validity of the claim.
Conclusion: Who was Jack the Ripper?
While we have more advanced criminologists, forensic experts and advanced technology than we did during the Whitechapel Murders, we may be even further away from determining the killer than ever. The original witnesses, investigators and even the suspects themselves have been dead for decades, and crucial evidence has been lost or destroyed.
The casebook of Jack the Ripper remains open. And while the list of the Jack the Ripper suspects continues to grow, the true identity may never be discovered.