So here we are at our inaugural post for “Real Life Chillers”. And if you’re going to kick off a series like “Real Life Chillers” right, you want to start with the Great Granddaddy of them all: Jack The Ripper.
Most people have heard the name Jack The Ripper, but not as many people know the story behind the name. I suspect that most people reading this blog do, but let’s take a moment to bring the newcomers up to speed.
Jack the Ripper was a serial killer who terrorized London in the autumn of 1888. He taunted the police, he mutilated his victims, he shocked all of Victorian society. He was never caught and never identified, and despite numerous theories with varying degrees of evidence, he probably never will be. With only five “canonical” victims – that is to say, only five victims that are almost universally agreed to be genuine Ripper victims – he may seem unimpressive compared to more modern serial killers, but the sheer ferocity and gruesomeness of his murder spree makes him a figure of terror even today, synonymous with gaslight and London fog.
It probably helps that he committed his five canonical murders in less than three months.
That’s the part that most people who know anything about Jack The Ripper know. Now let’s get into the details that make him a true chiller.
Jack the Ripper operated almost solely in the Whitechapel district in the East End of London. The neighborhood was impoverished and very violent, filled with whores and thugs. All of Jack’s victims were middle-aged prostitutes, all of whom were killed with a long, thin knife. There is some evidence that they were strangled into submission first. It is generally agreed that he had some surgical knowledge, or at least a great deal of practice using that knife—some of the mutilations he performed were surgically difficult, especially in a hurry in the dark.
Although there are only five “canonical” victims, a number of attacks before and after have been attributed to the Ripper by various people at various times, some more convincing than others.
The murders were preceded by a series of slash-and-run attacks in 1887. No one made the connection at the time, but modern profilers know that most serial killers experiment a bit before starting on their rampage proper.
August 7, 1888: Martha Tabram murdered. Uncertain if she is an actual Ripper victim, as she was stabbed 39 times (mostly in the breasts, belly, and groin area), but not dissected as later victims were. Very strong possibility that she was the last “experiment” before the true rippings started.
August 31, 1888: Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols murdered. First of the canonical Ripper killings. Last seen alive at 2:30 AM, found at 3:45 AM, still warm. A police officer passed through the area at 3:15 AM and saw nothing unusual. No sounds heard by people who live nearby. Her throat is cut down to the vertebrae. Abdomen slashed repeatedly.
September 8, 1888: Annie Chapman. Second canonical Ripper killing. Last seen alive at 5:30 AM, talking with an unidentified man. A few minutes later, a young carpenter entering his back yard at 27 Hanbury St to use the outhouse hears voices on the other side of his fence. Only word he can make out is a woman saying “No!” He then hears something falling against the fence. Annie Chapman’s body is found in the yard of 29 Hanbury St. by 6:30 AM. Throat severed, nearly decapitated. Abdomen laid open: intestines removed but not taken. Uterus and its appendages, including top part of vagina and bladder, removed with one stroke of the knife and taken.
September 27, 1888: “Dear Boss” letter received at Central News Agency:
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.
Jack the Ripper
Dont mind me giving the trade name
PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha
Dismissed as a hoax until it was discovered that a portion of Catherine Eddowes’ ear was cut off in the Double Event. First letter to use the name “Jack the Ripper.”
September 30, 1888: The Double Event. Third and Fourth canonical Ripper killings. Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes. Stride murdered at approx. 1 AM, but the Ripper is interrupted and forced to flee:
1:00 AM: Louis Diemschutz, a salesman of jewelry, entered Dutfield’s Yard driving his cart and pony. Immediately at the entrance, his pony shied and refused to proceed — Diemschutz suspected something was in the way but could not see since the yard was utterly pitch black. He probed forward with his whip and came into contact with a body, whom he initially believed to be either drunk or asleep.
He entered the Workingman’s Club to get some help in rousing the woman, and upon returning to the yard with Isaac Kozebrodsky and Morris Eagle, the three discover that she was dead, her throat cut.
It was believed that Diemschutz’s arrival frightened the Ripper, causing him to flee before he performed the mutilations. Diemschutz himself stated that he believed the Ripper was still in the yard when he had entered, due to the warm temperature of the body and the continuingly odd behavior of his pony.
I suspect Mr. Diemschutz spent the rest of his life glad he didn’t turn on the light.
Stride’s throat was deeply slit, but the Ripper had no chance to mutilate her. Frustrated, he picked up and murdered Catherine Eddowes by 1:45 AM. She was killed by a deep cut to the throat. Then her face was slashed to bits and her kidney and uterus were removed. Her bloodstained apron was found several blocks away. Written in chalk on the wall above it was: “The Juwes are the men who will not be blamed for nothing.” This was erased by police chief Sir Charles Warren before it could even be photographed, allegedly to prevent anti-Semitic riots. Rumors of conspiracy and police cover-up have circulated ever since.
October 1, 1888: “Saucy Jacky” postcard received at Central News Agency:
I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off. ha not the time to get ears for police. thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.
Jack the Ripper
Sent to the Agency before the papers reported that a Double Event had taken place.
October 3, 1888: The Whitechapel Mystery. Headless and limbless torso of a woman found dumped in a vault that was soon to be a section of the cellar of New Scotland Yard. Arms later found in the Thames. Never considered a Ripper killing by the police, as a result of different style of mutilation. Was, however, considered related to the Pinchin Street Murder. Woman never identified.
October 16, 1888: “From Hell” letter received by George Lusk, the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance committee:
I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk
Of all the Ripper letters, this is the one considered most certain to be genuine, as it contained a piece of kidney from a sufferer of Bright’s disease—like the kidney that was taken from Catherine Eddowes.
November 9, 1888: Mary Jane Kelly. Last canonical Ripper victim. Murdered in her own rented room (most likely after bringing the Ripper back to her room as a customer). Mutilated to the point of utter destruction.
Picture on this page. You’ve been warned.
His crimes having reached a furious peak, Saucy Jack disappeared back into the Victorian night. No one knows where he went. If modern serial killers are any indication, he didn’t just stop. Even the final sacrifice of Mary Jane Kelly, bloody as it was, wouldn’t have sated his addiction to murder. He may have died in any one of a thousand ways, he may have been imprisoned for another crime, or he may have simply left London.
Or maybe not.
There were killings that came after Mary Jane Kelly. Killings that didn’t quite match the Ripper pattern, but which nonetheless hinted that the horror might not be over…
December 20, 1888: Rose Mylett. Not considered a Ripper victim because she was strangled, and not mutilated. Nevertheless, she was a known prostitute and found less than two miles from the Ripper’s center of operation.
May, 1889: Elizabeth Jackson. A known prostitute who lived in Sloane Square. Parts of her body, identified by scars, were sporadically found in the Thames from May 31 to June 25. Only considered a victim by the New York World.
July 17, 1889: Alice McKenzie. Last seen alive at 11:40 PM on the 16th. A police officer walks through Castle Alley at 12:20 AM, stays three minutes, sees nothing suspicious. When he returns 27 minutes later, he finds her body. The pavement under her body is dry, so she was killed sometime between 12:25 and 12:45 AM, when it started to rain. A woman who lived in a room that overlooked the entire square heard nothing. Killed by a slash to the throat, abdomen slashed. Debate over whether this was a Ripper killing, as neither set of slashes are as deep as Jack’s were. Also, certain bruises indicate that the killer was left-handed, as opposed to the Ripper, who was right-handed.
If it was not the Ripper, it was certainly a copycat.
September 10, 1889: The Pinchin St. Murder. Woman’s naked body, minus head and legs, found under a railway arch in Pinchin St. Abdomen heavily mutilated, some rumor that the womb was removed. She had been dead for some time, as she was heavily decomposed. The date of death was given as September 8, the one-year anniversary of Annie Chapman’s death. Believed to have been killed in the nearby Back Church Lane (known as Dark Lane because it was uninhabited and very dangerous) and moved to where she was found. Identity never confirmed, though she has been tentatively identified as Lydia Hart, a prostitute who vanished several days before the body was discovered. Unconnected with the Ripper killings, because “the genitals were not attacked.”
February 13, 1891: Frances Cole. Evidence as a Ripper victim: Whitechapel prostitute with her throat deeply cut. Evidence against: Dull weapon, no abdominal mutilations. At 25, younger than the average victim.
April 24, 1891: Carrie Brown. Murdered in a room of the East River Hotel in Manhattan. Strangled and mutilated, though exact details of her injuries are unknown (one doctor said that it seemed her attacker had tried to completely gut her). Argument against being a Ripper victim is obvious. Still, if MO’s could be matched, the Ripper world would be rocked.
For more (lots more) information on Jack the Ripper, see: