Jack the Ripper – An Enduring Legacy

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Jack the Ripper. Three words that still have the power to send shivers down the spine.

Between August and November 1888, five women were brutally murdered in the Whitechapel area of London by an unknown assailant. Despite there being a number of suspects, nobody was ever proven to be the killer.

These killings were part of “The Whitechapel Murders” – a series of 11 killings that took place between April 1888 and February 1891.

Although unclear whether all 11 murders were committed by the Ripper, the five murders in 1888 – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – were most likely to be linked, and latterly became known as ‘the canonical five’.

The legend of Jack the Ripper is something that has endured, and a walking tour in London – now offering virtual tours owing to the COVID-19 pandemic – aims to get you as close to the murder sites as possible.

But even with the advent of modern technology and improvements in policing methods, it’s highly unlikely we’ll never know Ripper’s true identity. With so many suspects added to the list, including Prince Albert Victor of the royal family, who could be the real killer?

Could they have a background in medicine, or were they more butchers and slaughterers?

As the Ripper’s victims were often found to be brutally dismembered, one line of inquiry took police down the avenue of exploring anybody with medical connections.

Initially, police had looked for any medical students who had spent time in asylums. Although soon ruled out, it didn’t completely exclude anybody with a medical background.

Coroners at the time were of a consensus the killer possessed some anatomical knowledge, though with differing views on how much knowledge they had.

There was a feeling the killer could have simply been a butcher, and Dr. George Bagster Phillips, a police surgeon who had examined Annie Chapman’s body, stated the killer could have used tools used for automate your posting-mortems. He did however concede that said tools could have also been “used by slaughter-men, well ground down.”

Was the killer local?

With all murders taking place in Whitechapel, police were convinced they were looking for someone who had knowledge of the local area.

The police interviewed over 2,000 people, investigated 300, and detained 80, and yet despite this nothing in their interviews presented anything firm to identify a definitive suspect.

The Ripper’s killings almost always took place at weekends, suggesting the murderer could have had a job during the week. Indeed, in recent years experts have claimed to have pinpointed where they lived. However, the killer could have traveled to London – something which gains credence from the length of time between each event.

Who were the prime suspects?

Aaron Kosminski was perhaps the most well-known of the Ripper suspects. Although not officially named as a suspect at the time, his surname was mentioned in police memos with a number believing him to be guilty.

The biggest piece of evidence however came in the form of a bloodied shawl found at the murder scene of Catherine Eddowes. Bought at auction in 2007 by author Russell Edwards, a DNA test was requested to be run. The results were published by Edwards in a 2014 book, with the biochemists behind the tests publishing their findings in 2019 in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Montague John Druitt was another suspect, and the favored suspect of Melville Macnaghten, who became Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police in 1890.

Born into an upper-middle-class family, Druitt was educated at Winchester College and the University of Oxford. He spent time working as a barrister, supplementing his income by working as an assistant master at Blackheath School – but was dismissed from the school for a reason unknown.

On the face of it, Druitt seems like a well-to-do gentleman with no sinister connection to the Ripper murders. However, after the final murder in the canonical five, rumors circulated the Ripper had drowned in the River Thames. Druitt was found drowned in the Thames on 31st December 1888 in an apparent suicide, just a few weeks after the final murder.

It was also suggested by members of parliament that the killer was the son of a surgeon – as Druitt was – and although no names were mentioned, descriptions pointed to Druitt.

Macnaghten’s private memoirs also named Druitt as being a prime suspect, with Macnaghten having private information which proved Druitt’s guilt – although the details around this still remain a mystery.

With many suspects named, but no concrete proof, it’s possible we might not ever get the definitive answer to the one question people want to know – who was Jack the Ripper?



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