Jack the Ripper
by Ben Johnson
For three months in 1888, fear and panic stalked the streets of London’s East End.
During these months five women were murdered and horribly mutilated by a man who became known as ‘Jack the Ripper’, although some believe the true number to have been eleven.
Whitechapel in the East End was like a festering sore on the face of Victorian London in the late 19th century.
The overcrowded population lived in hovels, the streets stank of filth and refuse and the only way to earn a living was by criminal means, and for many women, prostitution.
The only relief from this miserable life was a bottle of gin bought for a few pence, to give blessed oblivion.
The ‘terror’ started on Friday 31st August when the body of Mary Ann Nicholls, aged 42, was found in Bucks Row (now called Durwald Street). Her face was bruised and her throat had been slashed twice and nearly severed. Her stomach had been hacked open and slashed several times. She was subsequently acknowledged to be the first of the ‘Ripper’s’ victims.
On the 8th September the second victim was found. She was Annie Chapman, a 47 year old prostitute. Her body was found in a passageway behind 29 Hanbury Street, her few possessions laid out next to her body. Her head was almost severed and her stomach torn open and pulled apart. Sections of skin from the stomach lay on her left shoulder and on the right shoulder, a mass of intestines. Part of the vagina and bladder had been carved out and taken away.
On 28th September a letter was received at the Central News Agency signed ‘Jack the Ripper’, threatening more murders. The name caught the public imagination when it first appeared in the newspapers and was used ever afterwards. Whitechapel was now in uproar – riots broke out as hysterical crowds attacked anyone carrying a black bag as a rumour had spread that the ‘Ripper’ carried his knives in such a bag.
The 30th September was a grim day. The ‘Ripper’ carried out two murders within minutes of each other.
Elizabeth stride was the unfortunate woman, also a prostitute, who was found first, at 1am, behind 40 Berner Street. When found, blood was still pouring from her throat and it seemed that the ‘Ripper’ had been disturbed at his grisly business.
At 1.45am. the body of Catherine Eddowes, 43, was found just a few minutes walk away in an alley between Mitre Square and Duke Street (now known as St. James’ Passage). Her body had been ripped open and her throat slashed. Both eyelids had been cut and part of her nose and right ear were cut off. The uterus and left kidney were removed and entrails thrown over the right shoulder.
A trail of blood led the police to a doorway nearby where a message had been chalked. It read, “The Jewes are not the men to be blamed for nothing”. For some inexplicable reason, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren ordered it to be rubbed out! So what could have been a valuable clue was destroyed.
The horror of the double murder gripped London. Rumours now began to circulate – the ‘Ripper’ was a mad doctor, a Polish lunatic, a Russian Czarist and even an insane midwife!
Another letter was received by the Central News Agency in which the ‘Ripper’ said he was sorry he had not been able to send the ears to the police as he had promised! Catherine Eddowes’ left ear had been partially severed.
On the 9th November the ‘Ripper’ struck again. Mary Jeanette Kelly was the youngest of the women murdered: she was just 25 and an attractive girl. She was found in her room at Millers Court which ran off Dorset Street (now Duval Street). Mary, or what was left of her, was lying on the bed. The scene in the room was appalling. The rent collector who found her said, “I shall be haunted by this for the rest of my life”. Mary’s throat had been cut, her nose and breasts cut off and dumped on a table. Her entrails were draped over a picture frame. The body had been skinned and gutted and her heart lay on the table.
The panic and public outcry caused by this murder led to the resignation of Sir Charles Warren, Chief of Police.
Mary was the last of the ‘Rippers’ victims. His reign of terror ended as suddenly as it began. For a hundred years, various names have been suggested as the killer of these women.
Two convicted murderers claimed to be the ‘Ripper’ but both were proved to have been elsewhere at the time. Even a member of the Royal family was named! The Duke of Clarence, the eldest son of Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra, was viewed with a certain amount of suspicion but he was cleared when it was found that he had been on other engagements at the crucial times.
The name that is mentioned most often is that of a depraved lawyer, Montague John Druitt. He disappeared after the last murder and his body was found floating in the Thames on December 31st 1888.
Was he the Whitechapel butcher – who knows?