Written By: Karla Cortes
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Jack the Ripper, also known as “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron”, is an unknown serial killer reported in Whitechapel, London England. Ripper’s victims, known as “The Canonical Five”, were five female prostitutes who were found with their throats slashed, genital-areas mutilated, abdomens mutilated, organs removed, and their faces distinctively mutilated near the East End of London. Jack the Ripper allegedly claimed his victims from 1888 to 1891.
Mid 19th Century Britain
During the time that the murders were committed, Britain was going through a big change with the influx of Irish and Jewish immigrants. In 1882, Whitechapel became incredibly overpopulated, which worsened housing conditions and became a brewing pot of poverty, crime, and violence. As a result, the influx of crime also heightened brothels and increased prostitution where up to 1,200 women in Whitechapel gave these services. Whitechapel became known as a “den for immorality” by 1888 after press got wind of an unknown serial killer who was murdering women known as Jack the Ripper.
The Canonical Five
Records show that at least eleven women in Whitechapel were murdered between April 3, 1888 and February 13, 1891. Of the eleven murders, five murders heavily showed that one individual was responsible for their murders. These murder victims were named “the Canonical Five” because all five women were murdered in a similar fashion and within a short period of time of one another. Although five were reported to have been killed by Jack the Ripper, it is unknown how many Jack the Ripper actually killed before, during or after this three-year period. Further, although Jack the Ripper may have been the suspect of additional investigations, the below five murders were the most significant and memorable of his victims.
Mary Ann Nichols, the first of the Canonical Five but not to be mistaken as the first in the series of Whitechapel murders, was found with two deep slits on her throat, her lower abdomen ripped open by a jagged wound, and several other incisions at approximately 3:40 AM on August 31, 1888. Nichols’s body was found on a street now known as Durward Street.
Annie Chapman was found at approximately 6:00 AM on September 8, 1888 with two deep throat slits, the abdomen entire open, and a removed uterus. Chapman’s face and chest were reportedly bruised, but later investigation proved that this was due to a quarrel prior to the murder.
Elizabeth Stride, or “Long Liz”, was found at 1:00 AM on September 30, 1888 with a deep laceration across the neck, yet no other signs of mutilation. This led to uncertainty on whether or not she classifies as one of Ripper’s victims. Stride’s body was found in Dutfield’s Yard.
Catherine Eddowes was found at approximately 1:45 AM on the same night as Elizabeth Strides body. The press and police coined Eddowes and Stride to be a “double event” where the two must have been attacked back to back by the same killer. Eddowes was found with her throat completely severed, abdomen ripped open, face mutilated, and the left kidney and major part of the uterus removed. Eddowes was found at the entrance to a tenement in Goulston Street where her bloody apron was hung, and an anti-Semitic word was graffitied above her.
Mary Kelly, the last of the Canonical Five, was found to have been the most brutally mutilated and youngest of the five at approximately 10:45 AM on November 9, 1888. Kelly’s body was found with her throat severed all the way down to the spine, face brutally mutilated, and her abdomen entirely open and emptied of its organs including the heart. She was found on her bed in Dorset Street, Spitalfields.
Police started forming committees and groups in order to find the man known as Jack the Ripper immediately during and after the Whitechapel murders that included Ripper’s victims. This led to the interrogation of witnesses in relation to the Canonical Five. One witness, after Chapman’s murder, described seeing her with a dark-haired man with a “shabby-genteel” appearance. Stride’s witnesses saw her with a fair, shabbily-dressed man while others say the mysterious man was dark and well-dressed. Other witnesses described the man as being about 5’5 tall, contain a black mustache, sandy eyelashes, and dressed in a morning suit with a derby-like hat. Eddowes’s witness described seeing a fine-haired man with a shabby appearance as well. Of course, with so many descriptions, it was difficult to create a dispositive appearance of Jack the Ripper.
The press weighed in heavily and ultimately was what pushed forces to act on the murders. Jack the Ripper became the first celebrity killer because of the press. Rumors soured throughout the press and many media outlets had received letters of the writers supposedly being the killer. These letters taunted the police and caused disputes amongst the city police which drove them mad. The name Jack the Ripper itself came from one of the many letters sent in but was shortly known as a hoax. A letter later deemed the “From Hell” letter, was posted to the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and had a human kidney attached to it.
Finding the killer had become absolute chaos. People in Whitechapel started accusing each other, and the police blindly attempted to condemn just about anyone accused. Xenophobia and anti-Semitism began to unveil both by the public and officials. Since forensic science was at its infancy, and methods on preserving crime scenes were in its early stages, much evidence that could have helped find the Ripper was destroyed. In this age, bystanders were allowed to wander around the crime scene, which meant that any blood flow patterns or footprints could have been destroyed. Objects that could be incredibly important, were moved or tampered with, even contaminated. Not only did these factors stray the police into the wrong direction, but at the time, sunlight was incredibly vital to properly seeing and locating evidence. Since the crimes were committed at the dead of night, investigators only had light from small lanterns and streetlights to aid them. Had there not been so many missteps with the police investigations, Jack the Ripper arguably may have been identified and caught.
Who is Jack the Ripper?
To this day, no one was able to unmask the man or woman behind the name, Jack the Ripper. Hundreds of theories have surfaced dating as far back as the year of the murders in 1888. The murders themselves are not proven to be by the same killer, yet assumptions derived from documentations have linked these five murders to one killer. Although Jack the Ripper has yet to be uncovered, he can be credited for the many stories, movies, myths, and series that we have today whose creators have been inspired by his/her crimes. What makes this murderer so significant from others is that this murderer could have been anyone and that question remains and may always remain unanswered.
If you are interested in seeing Whitchapel, London for yourself and would like to see the crime scene locations for yourself, there are numerous tours available if you are planning a trip to London any time soon. One tour group is the Jack the Ripper Tour which is located in the heart of London. You can access the tour groups link HERE.
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