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Jack the Ripper: More Than a Serial Killer

Updated on December 4, 2012
HLKeeley profile image

HL Keeley has received a Bachelors degree in middle grade education. She is currently teaching high school.

Kitty Genovese
Kitty Genovese

The East End during the 1880s was overcrowded with poverty. Disease was running rapid. “It was feared that the unwashed masses would tumble out of their dark alleys and bleak hovels, sweep beyond their geographical containment and submerge civilized society. A working class uprising and revolution was an imagined reality that waited just around the corner” (Begg 1). Jack the Ripper came at the perfect time. He became the figure of these fears. Who was this man? Was he in fact just one man? Like in all investigations, the investigator must look at the evidence and the victims.

August 31, 1888, a man hid in the shadows stalking his first prey, a young Mary Nichols. At around 3:40 in the morning, a man named Charles Cross was on his way to work when he found the Mary Nichols’ dead body on Bucks Row. She was still warm and perceived to be barely breathing. Along with another carter by the name of Robert Paul, they decided to alert the first police officer they found, not realizing that her throat was sliced viciously to the point where it was barely attached. Police Constable John Neil was the one to make the discovery. He sent a passing Police Constable John Thain for Doctor Llewllyn. Another PC came to the scene and was sent for reinforcements. With practically the entire police force, the investigation began with Dr. Llewllyn reported that she was indeed dead, but not for more than a half hour. This stumped the police constable because he was on patrol at this time. He did not see or hear anything.

On September 8, 1888 a little before 6 am, John Davis a resident of 29 Hanbury Street found the body of Annie Chapman in the passageway behind his residence. He found two workmen to come out and help. She was lying on the ground between the steps and the wooden fence mutilated. Unlike Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman’s last week was laid out by eye witness testimonies. Even that night, many had seen Annie with a man in a dark overcoat. The descriptions vary by eyewitness. Some did not see his face, but knew it was a man by stature. Annie was well known in the area for her “business” ventures. Her body was just as ferociously mutilated. Her head was decapitated, and her body shown signs of rape. Neighbors flogged the scene and soon many people were stopping to see what was going on. Annie Chapman’s womb had been cut out and taken by her killer.

On September 30, 1888 around 1 am, Louise Diemshutz found the body of Elizabeth Stride leaning on the wall of the club he worked at. Her body was covered in blood, and her throat was savagely cut. By this time, the murders have gotten attention. There was a crowd around Elizabeth Stride’s body when the police showed up. At 1:16 am, Dr. Blackwell pronounced Elizabeth Stride dead. When given accounts of Ms. Stride’s whereabouts before her murder, the testimonies all say she was being cozy with a man. The man, though, no one could agree about what he looked like.

On the same night when Elizabeth Stride was discovered, Catherine “Kate” Eddowes was released from the police station where she being held from a drunken night. She was released around 12:55 am under the name of Mary Ann Kelly. At 1:44 am along Mitre Street, a police officer found Catherine Eddowes’ dead body lying in a pool of her blood. A nearby doctor pronounced her death. Any police officers that were nearby were ordered to search the area.

On November 9, 1888 at 4 am, the body of the youngest of all the victims Mary Kelly was found. She was a well-liked, beautiful girl. The only negative attribute spoken about the young girl was that she was occasional tipsy. Neighbors ignored the cries of “murder” in the early morning. At 10:45 am, the landlord John McCarthy went to go collect rent from Mary Kelly along with his assistant Thomas Bowyer. When there was no answer, Mr. Bowyer went to the broken pulling back the curtain to find the room covered in blood. Mr. McCarthy not believing Mr. Bowyer went and saw to his unbelief the room covered in blood and the mutilated body of Mary Kelly. Her body and face were so mutilated that her lover, Joseph Barnet, identified her by her eyes and ears. Her internal organs were taken out and placed next to her.

These were the main five victims that are believed to have been killed by Jack the Ripper, but upon further investigation there are a total of eleven possible victims: two murders before Mary Nichols murder and four murders after Mary Kelly’s murder, although many believe that Mary Kelly was the last victim. Newspapers were using the topic to gain readers to the paper. Many believe that the four victims after were copycat killings or used by the newspaper as a “Ripper” killing.

How did a man with many faces get the name “Jack the Ripper” when his identity is still unknown? After the night Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered, Jack the Ripper was not a term used for the killer. Before these murders, he was known as ‘Red Fiend’, ‘The Whitechapel Murderer,’ and ‘Leather Apron.’ On September 27, 1888, a letter was sent to the Central New agency. The letter was addressed as “Dear Boss,” and signed by “Jack the Ripper.” The police were skeptical about the legitimacy of the letter until the two women were killed on September 30, 1888. It was as if he was proving to be the writer of the letter. With the publishing of the letters, many hoax letters were being sent in delaying the police. The second letter came thanking the delayed publishing of his letter. He said that if they did not, then the murder of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes would have been prevented. The second postcard along with the similar red pen handwriting included bloodstains.

Journalists began denoting the legitimacy of the letters publically stating that it was a ruse devised by a journalist to bring more attention to the Central News agency, a company that was not the most popular news company. More letters arrived, but it was not until October 16, 1888 that the second most famous letter arrived to Mr. George Lusk, the President of the Mile End Vigilance Committee. It was the letter “from Hell.” Previous letters threatened that body parts would be mailed to the police, but that was all they were ‘threats.’ A letter would contain drawings of the body part with the jagged markings of mutilation, but no real body parts. Mr. Lusk’s name appeared in the papers alongside “Jack the Ripper.” On October 4, 1888, a man turned up at Mr. Lusk’s doorstep. The man was directed to the tavern where Mr. Lusk was at the time. The man had questioned Mr. Lusk about the police’s routine in finding the killer. When the man tried to get Mr. Lusk alone, Mr. Lusk refused because the appearance of the man was so hideous. Mr. Lusk claims that the man acted bizarrely. He claims that the stranger intentionally dropped a pencil ordering Mr. Lusk to pick it up. The stranger went for something in his pocket, but noticing that Mr. Lusk saw the motion played it off. Mr. Lusk gave the stranger the slip shortly after. On October 10, Mr. Lusk reported to the police that there was a strange man lurking by his house.

Mr. Lusk gets two letters from the Ripper which began to frighten him. The last of those two letters closes with “Bye, bye boss.” On October 15, Miss Marsh was working at her father’s leather shop when a man stopped in asking about the address of Mr. Lusk because of the reward. She told him the street, but could not tell him the number. The next day, Mr. Lusk received a package in the mail. It was addressed to him, but the package only had the street number. In the package was a piece of kidney and a letter “from Hell.” The letter was taunting him and claimed that the rest of the kidney was eaten by the killer (Jones).

There are many suspects to who could have been the killer. There are many different descriptions of the man that people saw. How do so many people see the killer, but see a different man every time? Could it be that Jack the Ripper was actually Jack the Rippers? “For Jack the Ripper was not one man but three, two killers and an accomplice” (Knight 15). During these times, it was suspected that the women were picked at random. This thought fueled the fear that no one was safe to walk the streets. New evidence though shows that four of the five women knew each other. If the police detectives at time compared notes, they would have noticed that Catherine Eddowes used Mary Kelly’s name when leaving the police station. Then Mary Kelly the most brutal of the murders was the last victim. Can that be a coincidence? Her murder shows passion, but it also shows that she was the true target for Jack the Ripper (Knight 15-17). Could Catherine Eddowes have been a mistaken identity? If this is true, then Jack the Ripper had to have access to the police records. Catherine Eddowes was released when Elizabeth Stride was found, so how could have Jack the Ripper known that Catherine used Mary Kelly’s name? Of all the victims, Elizabeth Stride was the only victim that was not mutilated in the abdomen. It looked like an interrupted Ripper killing (Jones).

There were hard suspects at the time, but the lack of physical evidence and many mistakes makes this case unsolvable. If anyone does know anything, most likely the evidence will be kept hidden (Begg 315). Jack the Ripper is infamous for not being known, but most importantly he is famous for more than just murdering five women. He brought light on the terrible circumstances that the East End was experiencing. People were already living in fear. Jack the Ripper was famous at the time, but yet the women were still walking the street. These people’s lives were already that bad. For women to survive, they had to sell their bodies in exchange for a place to sleep. This is seen in the case of Annie Chapman. She went out looking for a man to pay for at least one night sleep (Jones).

“This isn’t an exaggeration or an attempt to give Jack the Ripper greater importance than he deserves. Many saw the hand of the social reformer in the Ripper crimes, most famously George Bernard Shaw, who letter to The Star newspaper is often quoted: “SIR, – Will you allow me to make a comment on the success of the Whitechapel murderer in calling attention for a moment to the social question?”

The quote continues about how newspapers were asking for the blood of the lower class previously. Now here someone is doing exactly what they were saying. At least, at the time that was what was being perceived (Begg 1-2).

This case presented many problems to the police that they had to acknowledge. One was the area layout. It was filled with alleyways creating a labyrinth like map. This gave difficulty in predicting the next location of the murders. There were too many responders to the scene. The head of the investigation did not actually go to the scene and see the concrete evidence. Also, there were too many people in charge giving orders that evidence was lost. Scenes were cleaned too fast washing away any hair or other biological evidence of Jack the Ripper, which in modern times could help in identifying him. Granted, this was before forensics and computers, but the suspects could have been condensed down to color of hair. He could have cut himself when slicing one of the women’s throats. They had the technology back then to differentiate blood (Jones).

How do you present this topic to a group of middle school students? This is a gruesome topic, but how do you make them relate to it. I really like that this case has so many different solutions and theories connected with it. For English, the students might be reading a book about England’s royalty at that time. This case can show that England is not just about royalty. Just like in America, there is poverty everywhere. For History, this would be a good topic to fuel discussion, but to bring it home ask the students whether or not this is possible to happen again. It has happened where the murderers have been caught. For Science, the students can learn about how science has grown in the past 150 years to the point where we can identify them by a strand of hair and DNA. They can see how much technology has grown.

This topic is important for students to learn because poverty is very prominent in the United States and the world, especially in western North Carolina. Asheville has a lot of homeless people. Homeless children live under bridges. I want to move back up to New Jersey where there are a lot of homeless people. The East End of London was a mirror image of New York City and the northeastern part of New Jersey when immigrants flooded Ellis Island. This could be an introduction for them to learning about the time era in different parts of the world. They can compare what was going on.

What really stuck out to me was that during the Mary Kelly killing, the neighbors ignored the cries of murder. Six hours later she was finally found. I would then introduce the students to the Kitty Genovese murder. This murder took place in 1964. My mother was two at the time. This happened about 48 years ago. Kitty Genovese was stabbed near her apartment in New York City. About 38 people heard it, but no one stopped it. Only one person called the police (Long).

What would the students have done? Why would that many people not want to call the police? Is it responsibility as a human to come to the aid of another?

Works Cited

Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History. London: Longman, 2004. Print.

Jones, Richard. "Jack the Ripper Biography." A&E Networks Television, 2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <>.

Knight, Stephen. Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. New York: McKay, 1976. Print.

Long, Tony. "March 13, 1964: No One Helps as Kitty Is Slain." Conde Nast Digital, 13 Mar. 2009. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <>.


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