The late 1880s had seen an influx of immigration into London, especially into the East End, which included Whitechapel. This influx led to a drastic worsening both of economic opportunities and of housing availability. A distinct and desperately poor underclass began to develop, and many women began to turn to prostitution in order to support themselves and their families. Tension in the region also increased exponentially as the city approached 1888, especially racial tension. Attacks against women grew more and more frequent, which makes it difficult to determine which victims were killed by Jack and which were killed by gangs, clients, or lovers.
Eleven women lost their lives in similar ways at around the same time, and have been connected with the case at various times. However, those who study the Ripper case traditionally narrow his victims to five, commonly referred to as the "canonical five", who were murdered between late August and early November of 1888. The first, Mary Ann Nichols, was found on August 31st in Buck's Row with her throat cut and abdomen mutilated. The second, Annie Chapman, was found on September 8th at 29 Hanbury Street, with similar injuries and her uterus missing. The third and fourth, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, were found on the same day, September 30th, and were the victims of the so-called "double event". Both had slit throats, but Stride was not mutilated, possibly because her killer had been interrupted. Consequently, Eddowes sustained far more mutilation, especially to her face. The fifth and final canonical victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was found in her room at 13 Miller's Court on November 9th. Of all the victims she was the most severely mutilated.
It has been suggested at various times that the Ripper killed as many as 13 other women in addition to the canonical five. Many of these connections were probably made by overzealous newspaper writers who were seeking to increase readership. Indeed, at least one victim, called "Fairy Fay", appears to have been invented altogether. Most of these other victims were not considered by police officials at the time to be victims, and of those that were the nature of their killing was sufficiently different to suggest that they were not the victims of the same killer. Two victims, Annie Millwood and Ada Wilson, survived, and the motive in the Wilson case seemed to be robbery; Emma Smith was attacked by several men and raped; Martha Tabram was stabbed but not mutilated, and appeared to have had intercourse with her killer; two others, the Whitehall Mystery and the Pinchin St Murder, were dismembered and beheaded; Annie Farmer appeared to have inflicted her wound herself to hide her thievery; another, Rose Mylett, was simply strangled and may not have been murdered at all; Elizabeth Jackson was found dismembered and is unconnected to the case aside from contemporary speculation; Alice Mackenzie was stabbed twice in the neck but did not have her throat slit; Frances Coles had her throat slit but the weapon was blunt, not sharp like the Ripper's knife; Carrie Brown was killed in America, and little is known of her wounds, but 1891 was several years past the canonical victims and seems like a long cooling off period for a lust murderer like the Ripper. Overall, none of the supposed victims can be conclusively proven to be victims of Jack the Ripper, though speculation during and after the crimes was rife. Probably the fact that they were ascribed to him at all was because of the Ripper hysteria that gripped London and the world at the time.
Many of the Ripper's supposed victims can be eliminated based on an analysis of his modus operandi, the way in which he committed his murders. Each of the canonical five was killed early in the morning of a day falling around the weekend, and also around the beginning or end of a month. His kills were characterized by deep throat slashes that often went to the vertebrae, mutilation of the abdomen and genitalia, removal of internal organs, and facial mutilation that progressed along with the murders. The Ripper is noted to have grown progressively more violent as the murders progressed, staring with simple abdominal mutilation in the case of Mary Ann Nichols, and finishing with the extreme mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly's entire body. He used a sharp knife, probably one that was thin and long, between 6 and 8 inches.
It is believed that before he killed his victims he would strangle them to unconsciousness, then lower them to the ground. From there he would sit or crouch on their right side and begin his cut on the left, directing the spurt of blood away from himself. He would perform his mutilations while on the right side of the body, while straddling it, or possibly while at her feet, which would seem to be corroborated by the fact that many of the victims had their legs pushed up. It was believed that the Ripper had some degree of surgical or anatomical knowledge, as he often took an internal organ as a trophy. Though the Ripper was almost certainly a sexual killer, he never had intercourse with or raped his victims, and never masturbated at the scene.
A contemporary offender profile was produced by Dr Thomas Bond who was the police surgeon at the time and who personally examined Mary Kelly's body. It is the oldest surviving offender profile. Unlike many others at the time, Bond did not believe that the killer possesed any anatomical or surgical knowledge, going so far as to say that even a butcher would have more knowledge about human anatomy than the killer. He believed that the killer was solitary, and probably suffered from satyriasis, an excessive sexual drive, which manifested itself in attacks of “homicidal and erotic mania”
Over a century after the murders a psychological profile was produced by the FBI, based on the evidence available to them. They concluded that the Ripper was a white male probably between 25 and 30 years old. He was a loner who lived, and probably grew up in, Whitechapel. They believed that his mutilations were carried out in order to “neuter” the victims, that is to say, to remove the thing about them which he feared and hated. His crimes were determined to show a great deal of anger, and also to be sexually motivated. He was probably a disorganized offender, who operated without a great deal of foreplanning, choosing to act on the spur of the moment.
In the years since the murders there has been a great deal of speculation as to the identity of Jack the Ripper. This has gone from the men turned up by the investigations of the police to the apparently random guesses by some more current theorists that Jack the Ripper was just about any famous person alive at the time of the murders.
Contemporary police opinion focused on a number of men. M.J. Druitt was the favourite suspect of Assisstant Chief Constable Melville Macnaghten. However, a great deal of the evidence presented by Macnaghten was shown to be incorrect. Inspector Frederick Abberline favoured George Chapman, a man who had killed three of his wives. However, Chapman killed his wives with poison, and it is extremely unlikely that a killer would vary his modus operandi that wildly, especially a sexual killer like the Ripper. Other contemporary suspects include Aaron Kominski, a Polish Jew who was committed to an insane asylum shortly after the murders; Michael Ostrog, a Russian con-man and sneak thief; John Pizer, a Polish Jew who was known as "Leather Apron" and who was believe by Sergeant William Thick to have committed a series of minor assaults on prostitutes; James Sadler, the lover of one of the non-canonical victims, Frances Coles, was briefly suspected but found to be out of London at the time; and Francis Tumblety, a quack doctor from America was suspected by Chief Inspector John Littlechild.
There was also rampant speculation in the press and the public as to the identity of the killer. Some of the more popular guesses included: William Henry Bury, who strangled and mutilated his wife, Ellen, a former prostitute, and was executed in 1889; Dr. Thomas Neill Cream was a secret abortionist who was alleged to have uttered "I am Jack the..." as he was executed for a separate murder, however he was imprisoned in Illinois for an unrelated poisoning murder between 1881 and 1891; Thomas Hayne Cutbush who suffered from delusions probably caused by syphilis and was committed to an institution in 1891 after stabbing one woman and attempting to stab another; Frederick Deeming, who killed his first wife and four children in 1891, then his second wife after emigrating to Australia, all by slitting the throat; Carl Feigenbaum, who slit the throat of a woman in New York City in 1894 and whose lawyer later asserted he was Jack the Ripper, although there is no evidence he was in Whitechapel in 1888; and Robert Donston Stephenson, who was a newspaper writer and occultist who asserted the murders were done for black magical purposes.
There has been a great deal of speculation from writers after the case, many of them fantastical and few consistent with the real evidence. One of the more popular theories is that Jack the Ripper was created as part of a "Royal/ Masonic Conspiracy". This theory, first presented in 1978, held that Prince Albert Victor stayed with a friend, Walter Sickert, and met a Catholic shop girl, Annie Crook, who he married and impregnated. Because of the shame this relationship could bring onto the royal family, Queen Victoria contracted Sir William Gull, a physician-in-ordinary and Freemason, to murder anyone who knew about this embarrassing relationship. This theory has been widely discredited, but remains immensely well-known in popular culture. Similar theories suggest Prince Albert Victor himself was the Ripper. This theory was first presented in 1962, and has absolutely no corroborating evidence. Indeed, the Prince was out of London for all of the murders. Nonetheless the theory has remained in the public conscience, probably because of the sensationalistic nature of the story. Walter Sickert has also been implicated, and suggested at some points to be tied into the Royal Conspiracy. However he was probably in France at the time, and is not considered to be a real suspect. Well-known author Lewis Carrol was suggested as a suspect in a 1996 book. He is not considered to be a real suspect by any Ripperologists. Another slightly less popular theory holds that the murders were committed by a woman, the so-called "Jill the Ripper", and was first postulated by Inspector Abberline and put in print as early as 1959. This theory hinged on the idea that Jill was a midwife who was able to walk around the streets covered in blood without seeming suspicious, however this ignores the fact that the Ripper would have been covered in relatively little blood. It has been suggested that Jill may also have been a back-alley abortionist who was contracted by Kelly. This was thought to explain why Kelly's clothes were found neatly folded by her bed, but later evidence has shown that Kelly was not pregnant at the time of the murder, nor were any other victims. It was also suggested that being a woman, or appearing to be a woman, might have made it easier for the killer to approach the victims. However, the Jill the Ripper theory is considered to be fairly weak, and as the Ripper murders were quite sexual in nature the chances of the killer being a woman, who almost never commit sexual murders, is highly unlikely.
Suspicion has also fallen on several men who were close to some of the victims, including Joseph Barnett and George Hutchinson. There have also been a few men who have come forward either claiming to be Jack the Ripper, or claiming to know his identity. Most of these men were determined to be insane or to be attention-seekers. Many other men have been suggested over time, several of them having murdered women at some point before or after the canonical five. Most of these theories, however, completely ignore the facts of the case and make incorrect assumptions and claims about both the cases and the suspects. The fact is that we may never know the identity of the killer, and it is entirely possible that he has never even been identified as a potential suspect.
Hundreds of letters were sent to the investigators during and after the murders. Most of these were immediately discarded as hoaxes, though a few were believed to be from the actual killer. Though presently the veracity of these letters have been called into question, they have still become an important element of the Ripper mythos.
The first such letter, the "Dear Boss" letter, was sent on September 27th to the Central News Agency, who forwarded it to Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard received the letter two days later. It was considered a hoax until the double event the following night, when the promise of the writer to cut off the victim's ears was partially carried out on Catherine Eddowes. In recent years it has been suggested that the removal of Eddowes' ear may have been accidental. Nonetheless, the "Dear Boss" letter was the first to use the name Jack the Ripper for the killer.
The "Saucy Jack" postcard was received on October 1st, again by the Central News Agency. The handwriting appeared similar to the previous letter, and made reference to it, as well as to the murders of the previous night. Some have suggested that there is no way the writer could have known about the double event or of the contents of the previous letter, though others have suggested that a hoaxer could have gleaned the details from early news reports.
The final letter is arguably the most famous, the "From Hell" letter, which was sent on October 16th to George Lusk, who was the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. Along with the letter he was sent a three-inch box which contained half of what was determined to be a human kidney. The letter asserted that it was part of the kidney that was taken from Catherine Eddowes. Medical examination concluded that it was similar to Eddowes' kidney, but the examination was not conclusive. Some reports said it showed signs of Bright's Disease, of which Eddowes was a sufferer, while others said that the length of the renal artery matched that left in the body. Others suggested that there was no renal artery attached to the kidney. The author of the letter asserted that he had fried and eaten the other half of the kidney. This letter is notable in that it was not signed "Jack the Ripper", but instead read, "Signed Catch me when you can, Mishter [sic] Lusk"
Goulston Street Graffito
Another notable possible correspondence from the killer was found on September 30th after the discovery of Eddowes' body. A piece of bloody apron was found in the stairway of a tenement on Goulston Street under a sentence chalked on the wall, which read, by most accounts, "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing". The graffito was discovered around 2:55 a.m. by PC Alfred Long. Sir Charles Warren, the Police Commissioner, ordered it to be sponged off of the wall, which it was around 5:30, ostensibly to prevent anti-Semitic riots from erupting in the area.
It is unknown if the graffito was unrelated to the killer who dropped the apron incidentally, if the graffito was written by the killer for some reason to identify himself, or if it was written by the killer to cast blame either away from himself or onto the Jewish population for some other reason. It has been noted that the phrasing of the graffito as it has been noted by the police who discovered it bears some similarity to Cockney speech, and if written by the killer would suggest that he was fairly uneducated. The exact phrasing is unknown, but it was written in cursive script. The arrangement on the wall is unknown and has been represented in various ways by different sources.
It has been suggested by some, erroneously, that the word "Juwes" refers not to Jewish people, but to the killers of Hiram Abiff in Masonic legend, Jubelo, Jubela and Jubelum. It is in fact not a Masonic term. Despite this, it has been seized upon by proponents of the Masonic conspiracy theories as proof of the involvement of Masons in the murders.
In Other Media
Jack the Ripper has been a figure of fascination since the very first canonical murder occurred. Though he was not the first serial killer by any means, he was the first to gain a popular nickname, and the first whose murders were so thoroughly categorized and sensationalized by the media. Serial killers after him are frequently given nicknames, and many have been given names based on his. Though his kill count is relatively low in comparison with other killers, his legacy has far overshadowed any other serial killer, and interest in his crimes has extended over a century beyond them.
Literally hundreds of works of fiction have been created in the years since the murders, many of them creatively reinterpreting the facts of the case, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Most of the works offer an answer to the question of the Ripper's identity. The first works of literature based on the case began to be published almost as soon as the third and fourth murders were committed, with a short novel published in October of 1888. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, did not himself write any Ripper-based fiction, though he was interested in the case and was a proponent of the Jill the Ripper theory. However, there has been a great deal of Ripper-based Holmes stories written after his death, as well as a film, A Study in Terror. One of the more well-known stories, The Lodger, was published in 1911, and later inspired the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name as well as four other adaptations. From the 1920s onwards purportedly nonfictional works began to be published which claimed to know the identity of the killer and which presented supposed evidence for the claims. The veracity of the evidence provided varies wildly, and most of the studies published were shown to be inaccurate.
Film & Television
Several film interpretations have been made, with the first being the Alfred Hitchcock version of The Lodger, which was followed by several other rehashings of the same story. After this several other films were made, many of which sacrificed the facts of the case in order to create a more suspenseful or interesting story. Many of the interpretations featured Jack the Ripper as a member of the upper class or aristocracy, and many more are focused on the royal conspiracy. Jack the Ripper stories continue to be made, often focusing on the lurid details of the crimes and of the sexual aspects. In 2001 a poorly-received movie adaptation based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore was released. There have also been several television adaptations in which the murders are rehashed. In the popular television show Star Trek episode "Wolf in the Fold" it was suggested that a disembodied entity, "Redjac", that feeds on fear was responsible for several instances of serial murder, including the Jack the Ripper case. The Ripper has also appeared on popular shows such as The Twilight Zone, Get Smart, The Sixth Sense, Babylon 5 and The Outer Limits, as well as being the subject of episodes of true crime shows, miniseries and one-off documentary shows.
One of the most well-known comic adaptations of the Jack the Ripper story is found in Alan Moore's From Hell. This version of Jack the Ripper is revealed to be Sir William Gull, acting on the behalf of the royal conspiracy. The royal conspiracy version of the Ripper also appeared in Blood of the Innocent and a Hellblazer story called "Royal Blood". In Gotham By Gaslight Batman hunted the Ripper in New York City. An issue of Masters of Kung Fu, had a story, "Red of Fang and Claw, All Love Lost", featured the Ripper as an experiment of Fu Manchu. The Ripper also appeared in Doom Patrol, Wonder Woman: Amazonia, a Justice League of America story, Whitechapel Freak, in a volume of A Treasury of Victorian Murder, Hellraiser #7 - Under the Knife where he became a Cenobite, and in Judge Dredd in the story "Night of the Ripper!".
There have been several songs based on the killings, and at least one band with a name based on him, Jack and the Rippers. These types of songs based on the killings are especially popular with metal bands. A musical, Jack the Ripper: The Musical, was written in 1974. In the mocumentary This Is Spinal Tap, the fictional band discusses creating a rock opera based around the murders, which they intend to call Saucy Jack. A 1996 rock opera, Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, depicted the Ripper as just an ordinary man, unlike many of his portrayals as someone famous.
Jack the Ripper has also made several appearances in video games, the first of which occurred in 1987, where he appeared in an eponymous text adventure game. He appeared in two 1992 games, Master of Darkness and Waxworks. He first appeared in the World Heroes series in World Heroes 2: Jet. A 1996 game, Ripper, has a copycat killer in 2040s New York. Similarly the 2003 game Jack the Ripper focuses on solving a new series of Ripper murders in New York, this time in 1901. He is a minor character in Duke Nukem: Zero Hour. He is a major villain in Shadow Man and MediEvil 2, the latter of which depicted him as a nonhuman. He also appeared in Jack Bros. In 2007 the game Mystery in London: On the Trail of Jack the Ripper combines the story with that of Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, while 2009's Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper continued the fine tradition of combining the Ripper case with Holmes.