Jack the Ripper
The horrors began in the early morning hours of August 31, 1888. At roughly 3:45A.M., while walking down a deserted, dimly lit street in London’s East End, a market porter named George Cross stumbled upon what he took to be a tarpaulin-wrapped bundle. Peering closer, he saw that the sprawling heap was the butchered body of a woman, later identified as a forty-two year old prostitute named Mary Anne Nicholls. Her throat had been slashed, her belly slit, her vagina mutilated with stab wounds.
Though no one could have suspected it at the time, the savage murder of Mary Anne Nicholls was a grisly landmark in the history of crime. Not only was it the first in a string of killings that would send shock waves throughout London and eventually the world, but it also signified something even more momentous – the dawn of the modern age of serial sex-murder.
A week after the Nicholls atrocity, the mutilated remains of Annie Chapman, a wasted forty-seven-year-old prostitute suffering from malnutrition and consumption, were discovered in the rear of a lodging house a half mile from the site of the first murder. Chapman’s head was barely attached to her body – the killer had severed her neck muscles and nearly succeeded in sawing through her spinal column. She had also been disemboweled.
The true identity of the killer would never be known. However, several weeks later, the Metropolitan Police received a letter by a writer who claimed to be the culprit and signed his note with a sinister nom de plume. The name caught on with the public. From that point on, the mad butcher of Whitechapel would be known by this grisly nickname – Jack the Ripper.
Two days after police received the Ripper’s letter, the killer cut the throat of a Swedish prostitute name Elizabeth Stride. Before he could commit any further atrocities on the victim, he was interrupted by the sounds of an approaching wagon. Hurrying away, the Ripper encountered Catherine Eddowes, a forty-three-year-old prostitute who had just been released from a police station, where she had spent several hours sobering up after having been found lying drunk on the pavement. The Ripper lured her into a deserted square, where he slit her throat. Then, in the grip of a demoniacal frenzy, he disfigured her face, split her body from rectum to breastbone, removed her entrails, and carried off with her left kidney.
The final crime committed by the Ripper was also the most hideous. On the evening of November 9, he picked up a twenty-five year old Irish prostitute named Mary Kelly, three months pregnant, who took him back to her room. Sometime in the middle of the night, he killed her in bed, then spent several leisurely hours butchering her corpse – disemboweling her, slicing off her nose and breasts, carving the flesh from her legs.
Following this outrage, the Whitechapel horrors came to an abrupt end. The Ripper vanished forever, stepping out of history into the realm of myth.
Since then, armchair detectives have proposed a host of suspects, from a kosher butcher to an heir apparent to the English throne. Most of these “solutions” make for colorful reading, but the Ripper’s true identity remains what it has been for a hundred years – a tantalizing, probably insoluble mystery. Ripper Theories
There is a basic (and disheartening) law of police work: if a case isn’t cracked right away, then the odds of ever solving it rapidly shrink to zero. So the chances of coming up with the solution to a hundred year old crime are essentially less than nil. Still, that hasn’t stopped a host of armchair detectives from offering up theories on the most tantalizing murder mystery of all – who was the knife-wielding serial prostitute killer known as Jack the Ripper? For the most part, these theorists are harmless cranks, like the people who spend their time trying to prove that there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll, or that Amelia Earhart ended up in a Japanese nunnery. The most likely truth is that – like virtually every other serial killer in history – the Ripper was undoubtedly a complete nonentity whose only remarkable trait was a staggering capacity for violence. But – as is so often the case with reality – that simple explanation is infinitely less satisfying than more colorful alternatives. Following are some of the more entertaining hypotheses put forth by various “Ripper-ologists”:
- The Mad Russian. Supposedly Rasputin himself wrote a book called Great Russian Criminals in which he claimed that Jack the Ripper was actually a Russian doctor named Pedachenk, who was dispatched to London by the tsarist police in an effort to create consternation in England and embarrass the British authorities.
- The Black Magician. The Ripper was actually Dr. Roslyn D’Onston Stephenson, a self-styled conjurer obsessed with the occult, who supposedly committed the East End murders as part of a satanic ritual.
- The Jewish Slaughterman. A shochet, or Kosher butcher, decided to use his carving skills on women of the night.
- Jill the Ripper. The homicidal maniac was not a man at all but a demented London midwife.
- The Lodger. An unnamed boarder in London roominghouse acted suspiciously at the time of the Ripper murders and might have been the East End fiend. Although the vaguest of the Ripper solutions, this theory has distinguished itself as the basis for four entertaining movies, including an early Hitchcock thriller.
- The Deadly Doctor. A man named Dr. Stanley committed the murders as an act of revenge, after his son contracted syphilis from a prostitute.
- The Lethal Lawyer. A failed attorney named Montague John Druit committed the Ripper crimes, then drowned himself in the Thames.
- The Polish Poisoner. A multiple murderer named Severin Klosowski (aka George Chapman), who poisoned three of his wives, presumably committed the Whitechapel slayings out of his pathological hatred of womankind in general.
- The Evil Aristocrat. HRH Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence – Queen Victoria’s grandson and heir to the British throne – went on a killing spree after he was maddened by syphilis.
- The Crazed Cotton Merchant. A diary that surfaced in the early 1990s “revealed” that the Ripper was a drug-addicted businessman named James Maybrick. Unfortunately, the diary was declared a hoax by renowned document experts.