Jack The Ripper

The Whitechapel Murders and those of Jack the Ripper are not generally one and the same. Over a period of three years towards the end of the nineteenth century a number of prostitutes were murdered under different circumstances - the murder of prostitutes was not an especially unique occurrence during those times but several of the murders drew particular attention on account of the savagery with which the victim\'s bodies were mutilated. Within the Whitechapel Murders was a cluster of murders that demonstrated sufficient similarities as to suggest that they were committed by the same person. One of the first instances of serial murder was thus identified and sensationalised in the media as the work of ‘Jack the Ripper\', nicknamed on the strength of a letter, probably a hoax, sent to the Central News Agency and claiming responsibility for the killings. Jack the Ripper was a man, and the killer surely was a man, who did not have the intention to merely kill his victims; he needed to mutilate them. Such was the savagery of his attacks and the enthusiasm of the press, that he successfully terrorised the environs of Whitechapel in East London for several years. In spite of an extensive investigation of the killings, Jack the Ripper was never apprehended nor convincingly identified.

The Ripper murders were conducted against a backdrop of appalling social deprivation and unimaginable poverty amongst the poor of East London. The advent of industrialisation resulted in widespread unemployment and with no social support other than from charities many people could afford neither food nor lodgings for days on end. The employment situation was even worse for women and it is little wonder that many had no alternative but to resort to prostitution as a source of income.

The newspapers of the day were as colourful and inaccurate in much of their editorial reporting as the police forensic investigations were limited through lack of investigative techniques. Even the identification of bodies was dependent largely upon facial recognition, distinguishing marks, or papers on the corpse. Misidentification of bodies, either by accident or design, especially those subject to decomposition and including the very many corpses pulled from the Thames, must have been commonplace.

Fingerprinting was still in the process of being developed. A classification scheme appeared in 1901 and first used in a trial in the UK in 1902. Dental records were non-existent and blood grouping only developed after the identification of the different types in 1901. From that it became possible to serologically identify other body fluids. DNA was not discovered until 1953 and the unique identification of individuals by DNA profiling did not follow until 1985. In 1910, an important principle of forensic science was established by Edmund Locart who suggested that every contact leaves a trace; a criminal will always carry away with him some trace from the scene of the crime and will leave behind some trace of his presence. This is the very foundation of forensic science that has led to the development of ever more sophisticated techniques to detect increasingly smaller traces of uniquely identifiable material. But those investigating the Whitechapel murders had the benefit of none of these techniques so they did the best that they could. Unfortunately it was not sufficient at the time to lead to the arrest and conviction of the man responsible, but at least the investigators left behind a record of their findings and deliberations.

Speculation inevitably outweighs fact by a considerable margin in an issue such as this but these pages are concerned only with the facts of the cases that were made available through newspaper reports of the inquests and public documents released at the time of the murders, or later by the Public Records Office. This is an attempt to unravel the tangle by an objective and empirical examination of information from crime scene and post mortem examination of the victims. Pre-digested information such as speculative newspaper reports, and statements from witnesses other than those called in a professional capacity have been avoided since theirs is largely subjective testimony that confounds more than it informs.

I have not attempted to identify a named suspect as a consequence of my conclusions. In the course of an objective appraisal it is quite wrong to start with