A simmering and seething slum, London’s East End in 1888 was almost unrecognizable from its modern incarnation. The streets ran freely with the filth and detritus of almost a million of London’s poorest citizens. In such dire economic straits, as many as 1,000 residents worked as prostitutes either full or part-time. Police presence in the East End was almost non-existent, which allowed a madman to easily cut a path of murder and mutilation over three months. The moniker he gave himself has become etched in history: Jack the Ripper.
In the almost labyrinthine unlit alleys of the East End, a killer was on the loose. Early in the morning on August 31st, 1888, a carman heading to work delivering goods around the city spotted what he believed to be a tarp, lying on the street in front of a stable entrance. As he got closer, he realized it was actually a woman. In the gloom of the early morning, he initially thought her to be unconscious, perhaps under the influence of a bit too much strong drink.
This woman is Mary Ann Nichols. A part-time prostitute fighting with a severe alcohol addiction, she had resorted to prostitution after finding herself unable to hold a job due to her drinking. In letters to her father and ex-husband, she revealed that she was trying her best to do better, before completely falling off the map roughly a year before her encounter with the ripper.
When police arrived on the scene, they illuminated the scene with a lantern and learned that she was far from unconscious. Her carotid artery had been slashed twice. After examination, it was found that both cuts were more than deadly. Their depth reached all the way back to her vertebral column. The body had been brutally slashed and defaced postmortem. Surprise is expressed due to the relatively bloodless condition of the crime scene, with reports stating that there were less than two cups of blood found. Police begin to assume that they’re dealing with someone experienced in cutting: A surgeon or a butcher.
But, the mortuary assistant made a mistake in the handling of Nichol’s body. Per standard procedure for a death, the body was stripped and washed before it could be properly examined in full. This lull in judgment would haunt the early days of the case, as much vital evidence was probably washed away by the careless assistant.
The prostitutes in the area were questioned. One name kept coming up: Leather Apron. Leather Apron was the nickname given to a man who prowled the streets at night, robbing prostitutes with a knife. He would threaten to “rip them up” if they didn’t give their earnings to him. In the hunt for Mary Ann Nichol’s killer, Leather Apron was a solid early suspect. Police had a description but hadn’t made their collar when The Ripper struck again.
On the morning of September 8th, John Davis, a resident of a boarding house opened the back door to find a terrible sight. Annie Chapman, laying in the small alleyway, her throat slit. She was still wearing the handkerchief she had donned the night before. Many reports state that the handkerchief was tied around her throat to “stop the head from rolling away.” But that just seems to be sensationalism.
The police were summoned and cordoned off the area. Annie’s body was removed and taken for examination. It was found that her uterus had been expertly removed, and was nowhere to be found. Police gave strict orders that the body not be touched after it was taken to the morgue. The mortuary assistant who had previously stripped and washed Mary Ann Nichol’s body was told directly by the police to not make the same mistake twice. A short time after police left, the body was stripped and washed, explicitly against the orders of the police.
September 10th: a Sergeant working his beat in the East End, spots a man who matches the description of Leather Apron. The man, John Pizer, is taken into custody on the spot. Pizer provides alibis for both of the murders and is let go.
September 27th: A letter addressed to simply “The Boss” arrives at the Central News Agency in London.
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.
Jack the Ripper
Don’t mind me giving the trade name. Wasn’t 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”
The police initially wrote this letter off as a hoax. They were confident that they hadn’t received actual correspondence from the killer. That is, until the morning of September 30th.
Louis Diemshcutz was ending a long day at roughly 1 a.m. When he pulled his pony cart around a bend towards home. His pony stopped and would go no further. He hopped down to inspect what had spooked the horse so badly. There, he found Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride. Her throat had been cut, and she had been left to die.
Curiously enough, there had been a witness who possibly saw her murderer. Israel Schwartz was walking down the street when he saw who he claims was Elizabeth Stride, accompanied by a 5’5″, dark-complected man with a small, neat mustache. He said that the man swung Stride into a doorway and she began screaming. Schwartz thought he was seeing a domestic dispute and moved across the street to avoid getting involved. He then stated something very curious.
He claimed that the second man was lighting a pipe and watching Stride with the other man. After a barked command from the man assaulting Stride, the other man allegedly began following Schwartz. He lost him and gave his statement to the police.
In retellings, the story Schwartz (who did not speak fluent English) told started to show minor inconsistencies. In October of 1888, an internal police memo admitted that they were not searching for the second man described by Schwartz. No one, to this day, knows why police did not pursue further information.
About the time Stride’s body was found, a completely different crime was occurring halfway across the city. Catherine Eddowes, a known prostitute was frankly drunk out of her mind. She had gathered a crowd of onlookers by imitating the shrill bleat of a fire truck. She was taken into custody and remanded to the Bishopgate jail.
At 1:45 AM, a police officer on his beat found Eddowes again. She was not rabble-rousing this time. Her throat had been slashed. The police roused doctor William Sequeira to examine the body. In a break with accepted theories at the time, he stated that the ripper had no great surgical experience and only a basic understanding of anatomy.
Two women had been killed roughly an hour apart. Everyone was on high alert. As Eddowes had been killed just inside the official London city boundaries, the London police were now on the case as well.
October 16th: 1888: Another letter is delivered. It contained a piece of a kidney. This letter, known colloquially as the “From Hell” letter is still discussed today. Doctors of the time had varying findings relating to the kidney. Some claimed it was only three weeks old, and therefore must have been removed from Catherine Eddowes. Others fire back and say that the kidney had been preserved in strong spirits, meaning it could have been taken by any sick-minded med student with a flair for pranks. To this day, it is not certain whether the letter was real or a hoax.
November 9th: Mary Kelley is behind on her rent. Her landlord sends his assistant to collect. He get no answer at the door, and instead checks the window. He returns and tells the landlord all he saw was a lot of blood. When the room was opened to be investigated, what remained of Mary Kelley was found. She had been torn apart. Some parts of her were under the bed or across the room. Her face, from the eyes down, had been savagely mutilated. The only indication that the pile of viscera before them had even been human was her eyes, wide open and staring through them.
After this discovery, the Ripper allegedly never killed again. Not in any way that was noticeable to the police or public. Some later murders were tenuously linked, but the M.O. Varied so much that the Ripper connections were dropped.
Who was Jack the Ripper? Many scholars, professional, and amateur investigators have looked into it in the nearly 150 years since it all occurred. Many theories have been posited about who the Ripper may have been. Some are quite…eccentric.
One theory claims that the Ripper was actually Albert Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria. Dr. Thomas Stowell wrote an article claiming that Albert Victor was the ripper, and that he committed his grisly crimes due to madness caused by syphilis. He would go on to claim that he mutilated the corpses in the same way the royal family would dress a deer on a hunting trip. This theory gained enough steam that the palace actually offered Stowell an unrestricted look into their archives to gather evidence. He never took them up on the offer.
In the 90’s, author Richard Wallace wrote a book claiming that Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, was the Ripper. He claimed that if you took the letters from the book, they could be used to spell out phrases that implicated Lewis in the murder. The thing is, you can take the letters from any book and make them spell other things. That is how letters work.
Modern media has portrayed the Ripper as everything from a ghost to a time traveler. In reality, the closest researchers have gotten is a silk shawl, bought at an auction in 2007. The shawl, which was allegedly found, covered in blood and semen next to the body of Catherine Eddowes, was tested in 2019. The scientists who did the test came back with a match for an Aaron Kosminski, a Polish barber and one-time suspect in the Ripper murders.
Some push back on this finding as well. They believe that any DNA found on the shawl should have long since degraded, and that no one can trace its origins before 2007 when it was bought at auction. The owner of the shawl, Russell Edwards, a prominent author who has written about the Ripper, seems positive.
“I’ve spent 14 years working on it, and we have definitively solved the mystery of who Jack the Ripper was.”
But…what do you think? Who was Jack the Ripper? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @DreadUnsolved or on Instagram @DreadTheUnsolved. I’m also on Facebook. You can send me your Ripper tips to TheUnsolved@DreadCentral.com
Thanks for watching.