True Grue: The Unsolved Mystery of “Jack the Ripper”
Welcome to “True Grue,” a weekly article that dives into real life, harrowing horrors. For the interest of good taste, this graphic feature aims not to be exploitative, but rather informative, and rest assured, there are many different territories that will be strictly off-limits. But for those with a hungry mind and a strong stomach, read on at your own discretion…
For over 125 years, the mystery of Jack the Ripper has captured the curiosity and fear of people around the world, with his (or possibly her) identity left only to our own speculation and the evidence which points in numerous directions. Also known as “The Whitechapel Murderer” and “The Leather Apron,” Jack the Ripper has only five confirmed murders attributed to his name but still is talked about, written and fictionalized today as much as, or even more than, most figures in history. Yet for every quality that one may attribute to the Ripper, whether it be allegations of surgical knowledge to religious sadomasochism, there would be a contradictory quality which gave the Ripper an almost mystical twinge to his legend.
But to understand the crimes of the supposed Jack the Ripper, one must understand the environment that was conducive to his particular brand of murder. In 1888, Whitechapel had become a cesspool of crime and poverty following an influx of immigrants and refugees which heightened the economic underclass. Alcoholism, racism and desperation were on the rise, and many women turned to prostitution to support themselves financially. Considering there were up to 1,200 prostitutes working in Whitechapel and too many violent citizens worthy of accusation, Jack the Ripper had plenty of cover to commit his acts of depravity.
The first murder took place on August 31st, 1888, in the early morning, when police discovered the body of Mary Ann Nichols, a reputed prostitute known for her costly drinking habits. Nichols had two fatal knife wounds to her throat, followed by a post-mortem slash across her abdomen revealing her intestines. When discovered, her arms will still warm, revealing that less than thirty minutes had passed between her murder and her discovery. Police were surprised by the lack of blood on the crime scene, but then later surmised her blood had soaked into her hair and clothing.
A police veteran of 25 years, Inspector Frederick George Abberline took on the Ripper case, having Nichols body identified a day after the crime and questioning three horse-slaughterers in the nearby area. However, Abberline was facing an uphill battle as two unrelated murders upon prostitutes had happened earlier that year and there had been no witnesses to the crime, almost as if it happened silently and without provocation. And overnight, a simple yet brutal murder case became legend as the outcry for justice for all three murders lead to the common belief in a bloodthirsty, night-prowling maniac.
A week later, on September 8th, 1888, the body of Annie “Dark Annie” Chapman was found in a backyard across from Spitalfields Market. Chapman was a poor soul, homeless, suffering from tuberculosis, and having turned to prostitution following the death of her children and husband. Much like Mary Ann Nichols, Chapman’s throat was cut twice and her abdomen was also slit open from which her uterus was removed. However, the crime was a much riskier proposition than that of Nichols, considering the five lodgings above the crime scene that could have witnessed the crime and the fact that the crime took place in the daylight of the early morning. At her last spotting, Chapman was noted to have been with “a dark-haired man of shabby-genteel appearance.”
But once again, the lack of evidence blocked Abberline from making any real developments in the case. The findings of a shred from a leather apron earned the killer the title of “The Leather Apron” among gossip circles in the town, causing many false accusations, the most prolific being a local man named John Pizer who had previously served time for stabbing and was in hiding. However, the removal of the uterus became a central curiosity of the crime, as police believed that the killer must have known surgical skills to find and identify the uterus with Chapman’s body.
However, on September 30th, 1888, the killings took a unexpected and terrifying turn, as two bodies of prostitutes were discovered in what the police and media described as “The Double Event.” The first victim was Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, who had become a prostitute before the economic downfall of Whitechapel and was known as a pathological liar to cover up her stutter, failed marriage and origin. Stride was found around 1 a.m., supposedly within minutes of her murder which may have prevented her killer from going into his complete routine. But most importantly, Stride was spotted near midnight with a short, mustached caucasian, carrying a small suitcase, though his complexion and dressings were debated among different witnesses.
The second victim was Catherine Eddowes, a mother of three who had run off from her husband and had taken up casual prostitution while living with another man. Before going out for a drink that evening, Eddowes had taunted her lover that she would not fall prey to the ripper, then known as the “Whitechapel Murderer.” After being incarcerated briefly for public drunkenness, Eddowes left a club later in the night with a man described as “fair-moustached… wearing a navy jacket, peaked cloth cap, and red scarf.”
When found, Eddowes had her throat slashed just like all of the previous victims, but the severity of her other wounds were strikingly more vicious than expected. The killer had mutilated her face, removed several intestines through a horizontal gash, severed many more, and clipped off her ear. Following these killings, the population of Whitechapel was sent into a full-on frenzy.
After these killings, the editor of the Central News came to the police with a letter dated from September 27th, signed “Jack the Ripper” and predicting the clipping of Eddowes’ ear. The letter was followed by one that arrived on October 1st, talking about the “double event” and how he couldn’t kill his first victim with his signature ritual. These letters, with matching handwriting, gave the Ripper his name and caused vigilante groups across Whitechapel to grow.
On October 16th, a third letter was sent to George Lusk, the leader of the Mile End Vigilance Committee, containing a portion of what was identified of a human kidney, supposedly belonging to Eddowes as the kidney belonged to someone with Bright’s disease, from which Eddowes suffered. That letter, posted “From Hell,” has gone on to be the most debated and notorious of the Ripper letters.
After a month of inactivity, normalcy returned to Whitechapel, and prostitutes who had formerly been in hiding had returned to their marketplace. Among them was Mary Kelly, a prostitute known for her notoriously good looks, who had been living with her lover in strained conditions until November 9th. When her landlord sent his assistant to acquire Kelly’s rent, the assistant returned swiftly and demanding a constable.
In her apartment, where Kelly had conducted her prostitution following the Ripper killings, Kelly’s body was found. Kelly had her throat slit, after which the Ripper mutilated her body beyond recognition. Her torso and legs were completely stripped of skin, her intestines and blood strewn across her bed while her face was eviscerated. But beyond all, Kelly’s heart was missing, having been taken by her murderer. Constables and surgeons alike agreed that this was once again the work of Jack the Ripper.
This would be the last “canonical” murder in the Ripper killings, despite up to 11 murders being connected to the Ripper throughout history. Suspects landed all over the place, from accusations of a Royal Conspiracy and the Occult to scorned ex-lovers and institutionalized criminals, but none would ever definitively be tied to the crime. To this day, despite the efforts of Abberline and years of retrospective investigations, the identity of Jack the Ripper is still unknown. For those curious, you can see the not-safe-for-work crime scene photographs, the Ripper letters and newspaper coverage of Jack the Ripper below.