Victims attributed to Jack the Ripper (L-R): Mary Ann Nicholls, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.
Jack the Ripper lives in lore, an icon of butchery, the most infamous murderer in history. But what of his hapless victims? Who were they?
The legend of Jack of the Ripper – the first serial killer in recorded history – conjures up visions of fog shrouded streets, the sound of footsteps clicking loudly and menacingly on cobble-stoned alleys, visions of a fiend with evil eyes, thin fingers and a black medical bag dangling from them. The London tours that celebrate his life feed off that image.
Despite the dozens of books written about Jack the Ripper, books crammed with speculation about his identity and his motivation, the fact is no one knows anything about the actual man who committed the most infamous murders in crime annals. The only thing positively known about the Ripper is who his victims were. Over time, they've been all but forgotten. Who were they?
Over a period of six weeks in the late summer and early fall of 1888, the Ripper went on his rampage, killing and mutilating five prostitutes with an escalating fury. Despite the largest manhunt in London history, he managed to elude arrest even though he killed two of his victims within a stone's throw of canvassing bobbies. Unlike almost all other serial killers, he vanished into thin air, disappearing as abruptly as he had arrived.
The murders occurred on weekends, his stalking done on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights, suggesting a man who held a decent job working regular hours. How is it possible that so few clues were found? How could a man drenched in blood so simply disappear? How could he escape when one third of the police force, both undercover detectives and bobbies in uniform, were stationed in and near dozens of pubs and rooming houses, patrolling the same routes throughout the area every 15 minutes? Did he escape through the ancient but still vast underground labyrinth of London's sewage system? Or was he himself a policeman?
The horrific murders sent fear throughout London, not just in the East End where they occurred. It probably didn't help anyone's peace of mind that Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde was playing at London's Lyceum Theatre. Unlike poor Mr. Hyde, Jack was not an ogre. He might have been an over controlled, hedonistic murderer, but he surely did not look like one. He must have been charming, if not an out and out handsome specter of a man, for he managed to convince women, painfully aware of the dangers of a monster in their midst, to go off with him. He probably looked as nondescript as today's Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.
Though the police more than likely did not realize it at the time, they did create what could be loosely termed as a psychological profile of the killer, though it was based more on conjecture than viable proof. Because his victims showed no evidence of struggle or defensive wounds, it was suggested the killer was an inoffensive and respectable looking man who struck not only swiftly, but powerfully. Experts also suggested their man was a solitary eccentric, a man of great physical strength (after all, it takes a lot of strength to nearly decapitate a human head), suffering from homicidal or erotic mania and possessing a vengeful, brooding nature. The object of the attacks, they proposed, was neither rape nor murder, but mutilation.
One hundred years later, in 1988, the Institute of Forensic Sciences prepared an FBI psychological profile of the Ripper. The main characteristics are as follows: male in his late 20's, a local resident of the area. He was believed to be employed and probably free from family obligations, as he kept rather late hours on the weekends. He was likely to have been in trouble with the police in a lesser capacity than murder, and was probably a loner. He was seen as having been abused as a child, perhaps by his mother. Really? Sounds a bit like the 'profile' the authorities had developed in 1888.
Though many law enforcement advances had been made by that summer in 1888 and crime scene photographs were generally taken, there still remained the common belief that a photograph of the victim's eyes would reveal the killer in them. So much for scientific advancement. But it took time to adapt to new crime detection methods and detectives in 1888 did not have the luxury of DNA evidence or tools that could be utilized to examine microscopic evidence such as tissues, hair or clothing. Though blood could be tested to determine whether it was of animal or human origin, blood typing was not yet practiced. Still, what forensic medicine had been developed proved valuable. Though the method of establishing the time of death was fairly new in 1888 -- it was supported in court even though body temperature was still determined by touch and not yet by thermometer -- so was the fairly uncertain calculations used to estimate the onset of rigor mortis. The police did have the ability to identify posthumous bruising, the cause of death, and the ability to determine the nature of murder weapon used. In addition, the measurements of the knife wounds inflicted on Ripper victims allowed investigators to identify the type of instrument he used to murder and mutilate the women.
At the time, London's East End and Whitchapel sections were considered to be the dumping grounds of society. Slum buildings, lodging houses (over 233 in Whitechapel alone), and dilapidated shops lined crooked and narrow cobble-stoned streets. Traders pushing loaded carts crowded the streets by day, hawking their wares while day workers roamed back and forth to slaughterhouses and meat markets, sometimes covered in blood. Sanitation was practically non-existent and the resulting filth and stench permeated the air hovering over the entire area. What would possibly lure Jack to such a place? The main attraction would appear to be the 62 known brothels and over a thousand prostitutes – no one knows exactly how many prostitutes plied their trade because many women resorted to 'casual prostitution' once in a while to make ends meet. For serial killers in general, and for Jack the Ripper in particular, prostitutes are the easiest prey.
Mary Ann Nicholls
The first woman to be positively identified as a Ripper victim was Mary Ann Nicholls. Though several books and historians claim three victims came before her, others dispute the possibility, citing that one 'Jane Doe' given the name 'Fanny Fay' was fictitious. The other two possible victims, Emma Smith and Frances Coles, are mentioned in the 'Whitechapel Murders' file of the Metropolitan Police, although at the time they weren't believed to have met their demise at the hands of the Ripper.
Mary Ann Walker was born in 1845, making her 43 when she was murdered. At 19 she married William Nicholls and bore him several children, but around 1877 William ran off with another woman. Subsequently, Mary Ann began to drink. In 1880 they were divorced, William keeping the children. He paid Mary Ann a small living pittance until 1882 when he found out she was making a living as a prostitute. By 1888, Mary Ann, the mother of five children, still remained remarkably young looking for someone forced to live in such dire straits. At 5'2", with small features, high cheekbones and gray eyes, she probably had little trouble finding clients. But, unfortunately, during the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 31, she became the Ripper's first victim.
Police Constable John Neil walked his beat, passing by Buck's Row, just off Whitechapel Road at 3:30 that morning. A lone gas lamp at the end of the street provided feeble light and enough shadows to hide anyone who did not wish to be seen. All was quiet, no drunken disturbances, no brawls, just a dark and narrow, filthy street winding around dilapidated hovels and slaughterhouses. Upon his return to the location 10 minutes later, Neil found Mary Ann, her throat slit from ear to ear. It wasn't until after she'd been carted to a makeshift mortuary that jagged incisions were found in her abdomen. Early conjecture was that Mary Ann had been murdered by one of the many gangs roaming the East End, a theory the police were quick to abandon a few nights later when the mutilated body of a second prostitute was discovered on Hanbury Street, less than a mile away.
Annie Smith was born in Windsor in 1841. After her marriage to John Chapman in 1869, the couple lived in West London. Shortly before one daughter's death in 1882, Annie abandoned her family. Friends and family members claimed her marriage was destroyed by Annie's alcoholism and promiscuity, but her acquaintances disagree. Either way, she eventually ended up in Whitechapel, and by May of 1888 lived in a lodging house on Dorset Street. "Dark Annie" Chapman was also a small woman, 5' tall, with dark brown hair and blue eyes. She led a rough life hawking her crochet work, selling flowers and other trifles, only occasionally resorting to prostitution to pay for a bed to sleep in each night. She spent the week following the attack on Mary Ann Nichols arguing off and on with a woman named Eliza Cooper. The argument, with occasional blows traded, left Annie with a black eye and bruises around her chest. On the evening of Sept. 7 and the early morning hours of Sept. 8, she reportedly told the deputy of the lodging house, who asked for her doss money, 'Don't let the bed. I'll be back soon.' (For a more complete transcript of the account, see 'Jack the Ripper, A to Z' by Begg, Fido & Skinner.) She never returned, though she was seen at about 5:30 on the morning of the 8th talking to a man outside of a house at 29 Hanbury St. Just before 6 a.m., her body was found in the backyard of the property. No effort had been made to hide her body, and oddly enough, what most witnesses who saw her body remembered were her striped wool socks, which peeked from beneath her rumpled skirt. Her face and tongue were swollen, pointing to her being choked to death, and two incisions on her neck had nearly decapitated her. Her abdomen had been ravaged, intestines lifted from the abdominal cavity and placed on her shoulder, her female organs removed and missing.
Residents of Whitechapel were now painfully aware that a madman lurked in their midst, but what could one do to protect oneself against the unknown? Almost three weeks passed without another attack, but just as the population began to hope the mad killer had moved on, the reprieve ended and he struck again, only this time with increased ferocity.
Elizabeth Stride, a 45-year-old woman of Swedish descent, had also been married, but the relationship was considered over even before the death of her husband in 1884. She ended up living from time to time at a common lodging house in Whitechapel from as early as 1882. By 1888, she had been arrested and convicted many times for drunkenness. On the evening of Sept. 29, she was briefly seen at her lodging house before leaving, and according to witnesses, apparently in a cheerful mood. She was spotted on several other occasions during the night and into the early hours of Sept. 30, the last time at approximately 12:45 a.m., when she was seen with a man outside Dutfield's Yard on Berner St. At 1 a.m., a man drove his horse and cart into the Yard, only to discover Elizabeth's still warm body. Police Constable William Smith, who's beat encompassed Berner St., saw a man and a woman talking together at about 12:30 a.m. In hindsight… well, who's to say? Elizabeth's throat had been slit. Her autopsy recorded bruises on her shoulders, supporting the belief that she had been pressed to the ground and held there while her throat was cut. Perhaps due to the arrival of the cart and horse into the Yard, no additional mutilations were found on Elizabeth's body. But the night was still waning.
A short time later that night, Catherine Eddows, a 46-year-old with three children, was out and about on the darkened streets. She and her common-law husband also had separated due to heavy drinking and occasional bouts of violence that erupted between them. She had just returned to London from a brief period of hop picking in Kent. She told the manager of her rooming house that she had 'come back to earn the reward offered for the apprehension of the Whitechapel murderer.' After being warned to be careful, she replied, 'Oh, no fear of that.' ('Jack the Ripper A to Z')
At 8:30 on the evening of Sept. 29, she was arrested for drunken misconduct and taken to Bishopsgate Police Station and thrown into a cell to sleep it off. At 1 a.m. on Sept. 30, she was released. At 1:35 a.m., she was seen talking to a man near an entryway into Mitre Square, her hand resting on his chest. At 1:45 a.m., Police Constable James Harvey walked by the Square, but seeing or hearing nothing within, did not enter.
Police Constable Edward Watkins had entered the square from the opposite side at 1:30 a.m. On his first pass through, he shone his lamp into the corners and alleys leading off in three different directions, but saw nothing. On his second pass, he saw the body in the southwest corner and reported that 'she had been ripped up like pig in the market' and that her entrails 'were flung in a heap around her neck.' (For a complete account of witness statements, see 'Jack the Ripper – The Complete Casebook' by Donald Rumbelow) She was still warm. As with the others, her throat had been slit. Her intestines lay over her right shoulder and another short length of intestine lay on the other side of her body. Her face had been savagely mutilated, her eyelids cut, her nose and cheeks gashed. The tip of her nose was gone and her lips and mouth suffered knife damage as well. The autopsy discovered her womb missing.
Then another brief lull in the spree of murders. In early November, the Ripper attacked again, once again escalating the ferocity of the attack.
Today, it is understood and accepted as scientific fact that serial killers usually begin to degenerate, their grasp of control slips, and their passion and need for killing increases and accelerates. The murders grow closer together, as compared with the need of a drug addict who discovers that he must continually increase his dosage of a particular drug to maintain even a thread of 'normalcy' in his everyday life. So, it can probably be accepted that Jack the Ripper was on the verge of self-destruction and breakdown the night he met Mary Jane Kelly and went with her to her humble dwelling in Miller's Court in the wee hours of Nov. 9, 1888.
Mary Jane Kelly
Mary Jane, 25, was the youngest of the Ripper victims, yet her life had been no easier than those lived by the others. She met and lived with a man named Joseph Barnett, but they lived a nomadic lifestyle, continually forced to move due to drunkenness and rent owed. They eventually ended up at 13 Miller's Court on Dorset St. Mary Jane and Barnett were known to be a nice couple that only got into trouble if they became drunk. Her friends testified that Mary Jane had confided to them that she was afraid of the killer stalking victims in Whitechapel and was thinking about moving. She waited too long.
On the evening of Oct. 30, Barnett left Mary Jane, and though he continued to be friends with her, personal conflicts made it impossible for them to remain together. He gave her money when he could, but more than likely she drank it away, for she was once again forced to resort to prostitution to repay debts incurred even though she was in the first trimester of a pregnancy.
Barnett spent a few moments with her on the evening of Nov. 8 before Mary Jane took to the streets. Throughout the night, she was spotted by acquaintances on several occasions until around 2 a.m. when she was seen going into her room with a man. Three women who lived in the room above Mary Jane's woke in the pre-dawn hours when they heard a cry of 'Murder!' from her room below.
Mary Jane was found at 10:45 that morning, lying on the bed in her room. Her throat had been slit, her head nearly severed. Her abdomen had been sliced open, both breasts removed. Her left arm, like her head, remained attached to her body by flaps of skin. Her nose had been cut off, her forehead skinned, as well as most of her legs, which were also flayed open to the bone. Intestines and other internal organs had been removed and her liver was found between her feet. Muscle tissue from her legs, along with her breasts and nose, were piled onto a nearby table. Due to the lack of defensive wounds, it's clear that she offered no struggle and was quite possibly killed while she slept. The time of her death was determined to be sometime between 3:30 and 4 that morning.
Mary Ann 'Polly' Nicholls… 'Dark Annie' Chapman… Elizabeth 'Long Liz' Stride, Catherine Eddows and Mary Jane Kelly… brutally murdered, ravaged and then forgotten, almost an afterthought to the memory of the madman who so brutally murdered them. Annie Chapman was buried at Manor Park, Elizabeth Stride in Pauper's Grave number 15509, in East London Cemetery. Catharine Eddowes was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Ilford, while Mary Jane Kelly was buried at Walthamstow Roman Catholic Cemetery.
The search for the identity of Jack the Ripper continues. Medical/suspense fiction writer Patricia D. Cornwell has been bitten by the 'Ripper-bug', and has been conducting forensic studies of her own on documents still on file in Scotland Yard and elsewhere. But time has a way of hiding secrets, and some facts may never see the light of day. Any explanations of why Jack the Ripper began his rampage and why he stopped, if he did, will most likely never be answered.