From 1887 to 1891, 18 women were brutally murdered, most in the Whitechapel area of London, England. These murders, referred to collectively as the “Whitechapel Murders” may have been the work of several killers or a single person who is known only by the name “Jack the Ripper.”
Historians typically agree that five victims, the “canonical” victims, were in fact killed by Jack the Ripper. These women, all murdered in 1888, were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Kelly. Kelly, whose murder was the only one committed in the privacy of an indoor room and was by far the most brutal, is the final generally accepted Ripper victim. The other 13 women cannot be proven as Ripper victims, as Jack was certainly not the only killer to use knives or mutilate his victims.
While there is not much disagreement over the identities of Jack the Ripper’s victims, the killer’s own identity is a subject of much debate. Was he a famous person, perhaps royalty? A disgruntled client who set out to avenge the sexually transmitted disease he caught from a prostitute by murdering other women of the night? Or was he actually a she?
Famous people who have been set forth as possible Ripper suspects include Prince Albert Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria. He was not considered a suspect for nearly 100 years after the Ripper murders, and though the theory that he suffered from syphilis, which drove him insane and to murder, is plausible, official records show he wasn’t in the area when the canonical victims were murdered.
Another famous Ripper suspect is Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Ripper biographer Richard Wallace put forth this theory in his 1996 book “Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend,” in which he claims Carroll left clues to his identity as the Ripper in anagrams found in “The Nursery Alice” and “Sylvie and Bruno,” two of Carroll’s lesser-known works. Most scholars dismiss this theory, pointing out that anagrams can be found for just about anything, including Wallace “confessing” to the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and taking credit for William Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Artist Walter Sickert was implicated by author Patricia Cornwell in her book “Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed.” Sickert also was named as a possible suspect in a royal conspiracy to conceal the identity of Jack the Ripper. As with Prince Albert Victor, however, evidence suggests that Sickert was not in London at the time of the murders.
One point that was frequently brought up during the Ripper investigations was that the killer had to be someone with anatomical knowledge. This was based on the fact that the killer seemed able to quickly and easily remove internal organs such as Eddowes’ kidney and Chapman’s uterus. This has led some Ripper researchers to suggest that perhaps the killer was a woman, possibly a midwife. A midwife would have the necessary knowledge of the human body to commit the mutilations and would be able to move about unnoticed, even in bloody clothing, due to her gender and profession. Others dismiss this theory, pointing out that the murderer would not necessarily have been blood-soaked because the victims throats were most likely cut from behind and the mutilations done post-mortem.
With over a century gone since the Ripper murders took place, and all possible suspects and witnesses long dead, it is doubtful that the Ripper’s true identity or even the full scope of his or her crimes will ever be known. However, the mystery surrounding the case will likely keep speculation and amateur sleuthing going for many years to come, perhaps even to the 200th anniversary and beyond.