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Jack the Ripper's Legacy: 15 Minutes of Fame

Updated on September 14, 2016

Everyone longs for their own 'fifteen minutes of fame,' a brush with stardom that would place them in the spotlight for one fleeting moment. Unfortunately, fame and fortune take more luck breaks than the average person has in a lifetime. But in the Autumn months of 1888, one man found an open door onto the stages of history. Since that time, Jack the Ripper has been considered one of the most elusive killers in the annals of crime. Even today, undaunted pursuers seek to decipher his identity and solve the mystery behind the man.

The Victims

Jack the Ripper enjoyed his crime spree in the Whitechapel district of London's East End. "It is unclear just how many women the Ripper killed [but] it is generally accepted that he killed five". Most commonly accepted as the first victim, Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols was found slit across the throat and stomach on August 31, 1888. Nichols' death began a clueless trail of slayings that spanned some four months. The second fatality, Annie Chapman, occurred on September 8th with the double murder of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes shortly after on September 30th. And though October passed uneventfully, Mary Jane Kelly met her death at the Ripper's hands on November 9th.

Elizabeth Stride, Ann Chapman, Mary Ann Nichols, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly
Elizabeth Stride, Ann Chapman, Mary Ann Nichols, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly | Source

The Method

Like any serial killer, Jack the Ripper appeared to follow an almost meticulous pattern in selecting his victims. His first four were all quite similarly "...impoverished women, forced to rely on prostitution as a means of income", and they all ranged in age from 42 to 47. These women had all suffered cruel and torturous lives and had succumbed to the "...downward spiral of drink and prositution". The final victim, however, did not fit snugly into the Ripper's type. Mary Kelly, a young and attractive 25-year-old, was unlike the other victims. Though still a prostitute, Kelly "...would have better served the prestigious West End clients as opposed to working the grim streets of the East End".

Montague John Druitt
Montague John Druitt
Sir Melville Macnaughten
Sir Melville Macnaughten

The Identity

Though great speculation remains about the true number of victims the Ripper took beyond the accepted five, there is even greater doubt and conjecture over the actual identity of the killer. There are some common names among most lists of suspects, but each source contributes its own ideas and suggestions creating an almost endless compilation of hypotheses.

In 1888, anyone and everyone was rightfully considered a suspect in these murders. The mastermind at work behind the mysterious Ripper wanted to remain undiscovered and, therefore, left few to no clues. However, the investigative forces of the time were able to assemble some minimal information that provided them the grounds they needed to explore the nooks and crannies of London for the killer. In 1894, with clues and speculations assembled, "...Sir Melville Macnaughten, then Chief Constable, wrote a confidential report in which he names the three top suspects". Many sources cite Macnaughten's report and suspicion of one Montague John Druitt, but there is little conclusive evidence, save Druitt's December 1888 suicide and Macnaughten's labeling him as "...sexually insane," that make him a likely candidate.

Macaughten's two other suspects, Aaron Kosminski and Michael Ostrog, are subject to various personal descriptions. Kosminski is described as both "...a docile and harmless lunatic that heard voices" and as a man who "...had a great hatred of women, with strong homicidal tendencies". Ostrog is referred to as "...nothing more than a demented con man" in one source, and in another, he is a "...trickster who went by numerous aliases". In any case, there does not seem to be evidence for anything for than a faint suspicion of either man.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence
Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence

Perhaps the most outrageous of all on the list of possible Rippers is the name of Price Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence and the Queen's grandson. Reasons for this suspicion are as unclear as the evidence for Kosminski and Ostrog, but "[scandal] has always been welcome at the expense of royalty". From accusations of an illicit love affair to indications of homosexual tendencies, it is clear that the search for a solution at the Prince's expense was a desperate authoritative ploy to close the case.

The Mystery

The mystery surrounding the case of Jack the Ripper fosters many speculations and theories, and many 'facts' are accepted opinions of various writers. These proposals have been marketed with the authors' vain hopes of solving the case and gaining instant celebrity. With this obsession, a "[cult-like] interest...that has really never left" and endured now for more than 120 years, Jack the Ripper has become a highly commodified societal trademark.


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