|A Victorian Cartoon depicting Jack|
Long time readers of this blog know that every October we do a 'Month of Horror' dedicating this blog to all things dark and terrifying, (on a side note on our Facebook page we're celebrating Black History Month where each day of October we look at an influential figure in black history). To start the 2017 Month of Horror off we'll be looking at a real life figure of horror. Starting in 1888 a serial killer started mutilating prostitutes in Whitechapel, London. Thanks to a letter sent to the media this serial earned the nickname 'Jack the Ripper'. Jack was never caught and since then he has become a key figure in popular culture. Ranging from Alan Moore's masterpiece From Hell, (and the poor film adaptation of the same name), to inspiring Marie Belloc Lowndes' novel The Lodger, to even the manga/anime Black Butler. Nicholas Rance has argued that Bram Stoker's Dracula was inspired by Jack the Ripper. Today we'll be looking at the mystery of Jack the Ripper.
|An Alley in 1880s London|
As mentioned earlier Jack the Ripper murdered his victims in Whitechapel in the East End of London. For centuries London's East End has been viewed differently than the rest of London. Whitechapel, and many other districts of the East End, started as hamlets which grew over the centuries as industries like slaughterhouses, tanneries and breweries moved there. Naturally this created job prospects and the population started to increase. By the 1700s former hamlets like Whitechapel, Limehouse, and Ratcliff became self-contained urban communities which were densely packed with intricate networks of courts and alleys. The structures weren't well built so many houses were derelict and tightly packed together. Until the passage of legislation in the second half of the 1800s diseases such as cholera and typhus spread quickly through these districts. Big cities always attract immigration and London at the center of a global empire was no exception. Xenophobic feeling grew from this. Thanks to the British empire in India a type of cloth called calico managed to be imported cheaply to the metropole, (at the expense of Indians). Local weavers blamed calicoes from India for their bad fortunes and riots broke out in June 1719 in Whitechapel and Spitalfields. These riots spread across London so Parliament in 1720 banned wearing of calicoes. Britain's colony in Ireland led to Catholic Irish to go to London. Although widely discriminated against Catholics were marginally less discriminated against in England. However, anti-Catholicism and xenophobia led people to blame the Irish for their issues, (poor housing, low wages etc.) which led to riots. In 1736 around 4,000 weavers and laborers protested against the employment of cheap Irish laborers in Whitechapel and Spitalfields which again spread across London.
During the 1800s London became the place for political exiles. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the authors of The Communist Manifesto, had fled to London where they lived in the East End, (although Engels lived in Manchester for several years). If someone could not flee to the United States they fled to London which developed a particularly thriving Jewish intellectual culture. Particularly German Jews had fled the Continent thanks to either horrific anti-Semitism or persecution through their socialist or anarchist views. However, through British anti-socialism and anti-Semitism they too faced discrimination. London's Jewish population boomed after 1881. With the assassination of Tsar Alexander II Russian anti-Semitism blamed leading to intense pogroms. Through fear many fled abroad; those who could afford it went to the USA while the rest fled to less anti-Semitic regions of Europe including London. As we'll see later anti-Semitism would play into the case of Jack the Ripper. Thanks to the British Empire colonized peoples also came to London, (also facing xenophobic abuse). Indian and Chinese communities grew in particular. A famous depiction of the East End are Victorians getting high in Chinese ran opium dens. The Irish, Jewish, Chinese and Indian communities all faced discrimination from the Protestant, white population and elite.
East End Murders and Mysteries before Jack
|The London Monster|
Long before Jack the Ripper the media had focused on murderers from the East End. We'll look at two today. The first that we'll look at the London Monster. He, however, wasn't a murderer but instead a sexual abuser and attacker of women. Beginning in 1788 mainly wealthy women complained that a large man would shout obscenities at them, sometimes rip their clothes, and then stab them in the buttocks. Other accounts say that he would invite victims to smell a posy only for them to be stabbed in the face with a hidden spike among the flowers. Over a period of around two years it has been estimated that 50 women were attacked. Recently historians have debated the extent of the London Monster's reign of terror, or even if it actually happen. The Georgian media seized on the story of the London Monster and created a frenzy. In 1790 Rhynwick Williams was accused and incarcerated for being the London Monster although historians have doubted if he actually was the London Monster, or if he was tried to quieten down a frenzied public.
|The Ratcliff Highway Murderer|
Those who have recently watched the movie The Limehouse Golem, or read the novel it is based on Dan Lino and the Limehouse Golem, will recognize the Ratcliff Highway Murders. In Ratcliff and Wapping seven people were slaughtered. On December 7 1811 the Marr family and their apprentice were horrifically mutilated and were discovered by their servant. This created a media sensation which dwarfed that of the London Monster. Twelve days later a second set of murders took place. At The King's Arms Tavern the tavern owners John and Elizabeth Williamson and their servant Bridget Anna Harrington were brutally murdered. Eventually a sailor named John Williams was arrested for the murders and he later was found hanged, apparently he commit suicide, in Coldbath Field Prison. In both these cases the 'penny press' became enraptured by the stories and spread them across the country. However, in 1888 a series of murders would become more well renowned.
The Ripper Murders
|The Location of the Murders|
A prostitute named Mary Ann Nichols had been living in a doss-house. On Friday August 31 1888 she was found in Buck's Row, Whitechapel with her throat cut. She was last seen alive by her roommate at 2.30 and had been discovered by a cart driver at 3.40. The police determined that she had been murdered at the scene due to the amount of blood. Throughout the year two other women, Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram, had been murdered in the area leading to The Star to link the three murders together. Emma Smith had been assaulted in Osborne Street, Whitechappel where her right ear was torn and she had been stabbed in the stomach. She later died in the hospital. The prospect of a serial killer led Scotland Yard to send Detective Inspectors to the area, one of whom being Frederick Abberline. To this day criminologists debate whether Smith and Tabram were the first Ripper victims. Eight days after Mary Nichols had been found at Hanbury Street another prostitute named Annie May Chapman was found dead. The coroner found that she had been 'terribly mutilated' and that her throat had been cut with a thin narrow blade of a knife which a surgeon would use. A witness, Elizabeth Long, said that Annie Chapman had been talking to a man at 5.30 in an overcoat and deer-stalker hat who spoke in a 'foreign' accent. At 6.00 she was found dead. She had been disemboweled and most disturbingly a part of her uterus was missing. Like Mary Nichols she too had been murdered at the scene.
On September 30 two more victims were found. At 12.35 a.m. a police officer witnessed Elizabeth Stride outside the International Working Men's Educational Club, a socialist and primarily Jewish club, with a man in a felt hat. She was found with her throat slashed at St-George's-in-the-East at 1.00. Catherine Eddows unfortunately met a more disturbing fate. I must warn readers that the coroner's report of Eddows will be disturbing:
the intestines were drawn out to a large extent and placed over the right shoulder-they were smeared over with some feculent matter. A piece of about two feet was quite detached from the body and placed between the body and the left arm, apparently by design. The lobe and auricle of the right ear were cut obliquely through.
The last confirmed Ripper murder was found on November 9. Mary Jane Kelly had been spotted by a friend entering her accommodation at 2.45 and at 3.00 another resident Mary Ann Cox shouted 'Murder!'. Mary Kelly had been brutally murdered being disemboweled with her face slashed beyond recognition. Those were the five confirmed Ripper killings although more murders took place which today still have not been conclusively linked to Jack the Ripper. Sometime after Mary Kelly's murder a prostitute was found strangled in Poplar which a police surgeon described as the handiwork of the 'Whitechapel Fiend'. Again in St-George's-in-the-East and Whitechapel two more women were mutilated. The last possible murder happened on 13 February 1891 in Whitechapel. Found in an alley her throat had been slashed so violently that she had almost been decapitated. After no further killings happened and today we are no closer to finding Jack the Ripper at the cost of the lives of possibly eleven people.
|The From Hell letter|
Disturbingly the murderer, possibly, sent letters to taunt the police and media. These letters went into the hundreds but three have stood out to criminal historians. The first of these is the 'Dear Boss' letter sent to Central News Agency in September who then forwarded it to Scotland Yard. It was first thought to be a hoax until Catherine Eddows was found mutilated. It reads:
Dear Boss,I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn't you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife's so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours trulyJack the RipperDont mind me giving the trade namePS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it. No luck yet. They say I'm a doctor now. ha ha
Written in red ink it gave the world the name 'Jack the Ripper'. Jack had been used to describe a devil-like figure scaring Londoners and others throughout England called 'Spring-heeled Jack' so the name was widely known. The second prominent letter is actually a postcard called the 'Saucy Jack' postcard. It was sent in October and reads:
I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you'll hear about Saucy Jacky's work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn't finish straight off. Had not got time to get ears off for police thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.Jack the Ripper
The final letter is the most famous entitled 'From Hell'. The handwriting on this letter is very unlike that of 'Dear Boss' and 'Saucy Jack' but there is a reason why it isn't seen as a hoax. It was sent to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk, with a box containing half a kidney, (likely that of Catherine Eddows). It reads:
From hell.Mr Lusk,SorI send you half the Kidne I took from one woman prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longersignedCatch me when you can Mishter Lusk
Media and the Suspects
|Prince Albert Victor|
The popular press became enraptured by the Ripper killings. In the 1850s a change in tax laws allowed people to publish cheap papers available for wide circulation. The Star mentioned earlier is one such paper which emerged thanks to this. Today's British tabloids like The Daily Mirror, The Sun and the The Daily Star were only possible thanks to this law. This is how Jack the Ripper became such a cultural icon. While the London Monster and Ratcliff Highway Murders were not widely known outside London the new press allowed Jack to become widely known outside Britain itself. Jack the Ripper wasn't the first tabloid frenzy in Britain but it would be the first serial killer to grab headlines nationwide. The Manchester Guardian, (ancestor to today's Guardian), even widely reported the first murder. When CID refused to release information the press started speculating. One early nickname for Jack was the 'Leather Apron' which lead to the brief arrest of a Jewish cobbler who worked with leather called John Pizer to be briefly arrested. This description of the killer was widely circulated:
Age 37; height, 5ft. 7in.; rather dark beard and moustache. Dress-shirt, dark vest and trousers, black scarf, and black felt hat. Spoke with foreign accent.
The media frenzy was so manic that writer and journalist, George R. Sims, while reporting the story was identified as the killer. Sims believed that the murderer was 'undoubtedly a doctor who had been in a lunatic asylum and had developed homicidal mania of a special kind'. At the time a 'quack' doctor Francis Tumblety was suspected although he would later be arrested for homosexuality, (which was sadly illegal then). Other suspects have included a barrister and schoolmaster Montague Druitt, who commit suicide after Mary Kelly's murder, a Jewish barber who had 'a great hatred of women' called Aaron Kosminski (the Daily Mail a few years ago accused Kosminski of being the killer although criminologists disagree), and another barber, hanged 1905, called George Chapman, (also called Klosowski). Since World War Two others have been put forward ranging from Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) to Melville McNaghten, the Assistant Chief Constable appointed after the murders. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed Jack to really be Jill who did the murders disguised as a midwife. One popular theory is the 'Royal Conspiracy'. One part is that Queen Victoria's grandson Prince Albert Victor insane with syphilis did the murders. An alternate version was that the Prince secretly slept with the prostitutes so to cover this up the royal physician Sir William Gull murdered them. The theory goes on to say that as he was a Mason and the murders were part of an elaborate ritual, (this was the plot to From Hell). Today we are no closer to knowing who Jack really was as we were in 1888.
Sexism and Xenophobia
|Contemporary depiction of the Ripper. Note how he is portrayed using Jewish stereotypes.|
Throughout this post you would have noted how people described Jack as sounding 'foreign' or how contemporary suspects were mainly Jewish. Robert F. Haggard and Sander L. Gilman have both discussed how xenophobia became deeply entwined with the Ripper case. The night when Catherine Eddows was murdered a piece of her apron was found near a wall where written in chalk were the words: The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing. Locally a Jew named known as 'the Leather Apron' was supposedly behind the killings. As mentioned earlier xenophobia and anti-Semitism was rampant in British society. Blaming a social outcast was the perfect for the police and press. Social Darwinism itself originated in Britain and Jews faced intense intense discrimination. Associated with radical left-wing politics and not from Britain, (most Jewish migrants came from Poland), many people were eager to see Jews blamed for the murders. Even today there is some legacy of this. Aaron Kosminski possibly being the killer after a new bit of evidence was discarded by criminologists as the method linking him to the killing is seen as not being accurate. This did nothing to stop noted anti-immigrant paper The Daily Mail from running the story.
Sexism played heavily in the media and police reports on the murders. As the victims were prostitutes the media played up how Jack must be sexually deviant and was taking his frustrations out on women. Judith Walkowitz has identified ideas of sexual danger in the Ripper case. We can see a 'Madonna-Whore' complex emerge. People were eager to claim kinship with some of the victims and witnesses tried to play down that the victims drank or were streetwalkers. However, at the same time fears of female sexuality played heavily into the contemporary narrative. The late-nineteenth century was a time of increasing emancipation for women with the emergence of what has now been called First-wave Feminism. Fears of women's autonomy emerged which Walkowitz argues could explain the idea that Jack could really be Jill. Men sometimes even claimed to be the Ripper to extort women, regardless if they were a prostitute or not. A tailor named James Henderson while drunk threatened Rose Goldstein with a 'ripping' if she did not go with him and was soon arrested, (although this could do with the fact that he hit her with his cane). Henderson was fined just forty shillings as he was drunk despite Goldstein appearing in court in bandages. This one case just shows the attitude that Victorian London had towards women.
Jack the Ripper is a unique case in history. A case featuring brutal murders where the murderer went uncaught surrounded by media mania, misogyny and xenophobia. It is understandable to see why after almost a hundred and thirty years Jack the Ripper remains a key cultural figure. Through these factors we remember Jack the Ripper and not the London Monster or the Ratcliff Highway Murders.
The sources I have used are as follows:
-Jack the Ripper and the East End edited by Alex Werner, (particularly the Introduction by Peter Ackroyd)
-Jack the Ripper: Media, Culture, History edited by Alexandra Warwick and Martin Willis
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