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To those who understand the time and place of this lower class haven in late 19th century England also understand the grisly connotation that surrounds the very mention of Whitechapel. It conjures visions of cobblestone streets saturated with black shadows, devoid of light from the paltry streetlamps.
The ring of horse hooves, carriage wheels, hobnailed shoes, and the trim clip of small feet, women’s feet. The darkness clothed his acts, his movements, and his every horror, concealing his identity forever beyond the scope of science, technology, and even the greatest minds known to modern society.
One man? It is supposed, and incredible that one man can accomplish brutal acts of terror time and time again with no trace. Victorian society was at once appalled, terrified, and fascinated with one man: Jack the Ripper. His legacy has only increased with the years that have passed since his victims fell beneath the wrath of his long slender blade.
Late nineteenth century London news was dominated with a series of brutal and unique murders, at least five women were found in successive months with their throats slit and bodies mutilated. Murder was not uncommon in the East End, it was the graphic nature of the killings that set Jack aside from all the rest and assured his place in history as one of the most well known serial killers.
The five victims popularly attributed to the Ripper were killed in a short but frenzied few months. Between August and November of 1888, Polly Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Katherine Eddowes, Elizabeth Stride, and Mary Jane Kelly all lost their lives to what one London reporter wrote, “…when the human monster actually rises for a moment to the surface and disappears again, leaving a victim dead and disemboweled…”
All the victims were prostitutes living in the East End, and the majority spent what money they earned or were given on alcohol. Liver disease as well as poor hygiene and malnutrition contributed to the short life of most London lower classes in the nineteenth century. Many prostitutes were alcoholics and consumed themselves with drink; washing away some of the deplorable conditions of their with the very tonic that would eventually kill them.
Whitechapel District was of the lower class of London. The culmination of the wretched and the poor on its “dark and silent byways and back lanes” earned it an “evil” reputation only added to with the Ripper murders.
Those who were able to find work slept in beds with a roof over their head. Most work was found in factories that served as grandfathers to the sweatshops of today’s third world countries. Tailoring and textiles represented a major percentage of production during this time. Most could only afford to rent a bed in a lodging house surrounded by dozens of their fellow lot.
Still it was a better case than those who could not pay for the night indoors, who were relegated to sleep outside in the alleys piled on one another for warmth. As one London reporter ventured down to the East End in November of 1888, he expresses the dichotomy of the class system, “…he may get a momentary shuddering sense of what humanity may sink to when life is lived apart from the sweet, health-giving influences of fields and flowers, of art and music and books and travel, of the stimulus of interesting enterprise, the gentle amenities of happy hours and intercourse with the educated and the cultured.”
Most women who found a source of income from prostitution were lumped into the substandard of the Victorian ideal. Respectable women by this time were widely regarded as “angels in the house”, according to Woman and the Demon the Life of a Victorian Myth, by Nina Auerbach.
The ideal Victorian woman was of a moral stature far above the Victorian man, on a proverbial moral pedestal that she had no inclination of how to adapt to successfully. “The ‘normal’ or pattern Victorian woman is an angel, immune from the human condition and, unlike her feebly well-intentioned male counterparts, endowed by definition with suprahuman powers.”
These angels were likened to beings of a high moral purity and incapable of absorbing the impurities of mass society. Men being of a lower and much less pure moral stature were deemed capable of handling such situations. They were, according to themselves, more appropriately corruptible by the reality of the Industrial Revolution and the monstrous change it rendered on society. Being placed on this moral pedestal put impossible standards on women.
These mortal women must live up to the standards of the divine, and without the luxury of a steady income and a husband, maintaining moral purity would take a miracle. Those who were not of the angel class became the fallen women, fallen from the grace of the Victorian eye. Those who had the cold shoulder of favor turned from them, were an integral part of the lower class but as was the rest of the lower class, wholly ignored.
So a woman, fallen from her pedestal of purity and angelic quality would render herself vulnerable to those predatory men with immoral intentions. Men like the Ripper who may have wished to eliminate the fallen woman, women who were poor, uneducated prostitutes, and the women who no longer fit the ideal of Victorian society.
The Industrial Revolution, the great oppressive force that further separated the rich from the poor and dually changed the lives of everyone who was swept up in its midst, rendered a majority of its population isolated from one another. The rich dwelled comfortably in their part of town and rarely heard or took interest of the poor and low class inhabitants that survived day by day on the opposite side of the Victorian world.
The Industrial Revolution reduced laboring humans in a life’s work to cogs in a machine, no longer valuable enough to mold a craft such as carpentry or cabinet making but suitable enough to sew buttons on an endless supply of jackets. This shift in industry nearly eliminated apprenticeships or the skilled worker to make room for factory workers, the unskilled. The resulting isolation infected generations of workers.
A man who in his own mind is totally cut off from society may have no outlet for his predispositions or perverse tendencies, as the Victorian moral code would not allow. He then would be in a position of need. A need to feed those tendencies in a manner all his own, apart from normal and rational means might lead such a person to the back alleys and doorways of Whitechapel, to courtyards filled with shadow and the prone form of a lone woman.
Jack the Ripper has been profiled as a man alienated from society. A man who was cut off from the rest of the populous because the black desires of his mind craved to express himself. The supreme result of his expression ideally ending with the individual no longer feeling alienated, but once again accepted. These are crimes of a sexual nature; with those victims that Jack was able have enough time to finish his act had their sexual organs removed or mutilated. The sexual desire that may have promulgated his violent attacks only alienates the attacker even more.
These lower-class prostitutes were easily lured into danger by the wiles of a well-dressed man. A man who regarded their lives as disposable and worthless save for his own machinations. The bodies of his victims were dumped or left in open high traffic areas, allowing a short matter of time for them to be found. The women were often found to be still warm, indicating the murderer’s recent escape.
Discarded with their clothes rumpled and disturbed, covering the ghastly horror of the shredded bodies beneath, but only just. Many times they were assumed to be drunk or passed out, the bleak night and feeble light in the streets covering the viscous wounds that would be openly apparent in daytime. He was bold, quick, skilled, and confident, and uncontrolled.
His acts of mutilation lasted a few minutes, maybe more, enough to finish the deed in less than fifteen minutes or the time it took the duty constable to walk his route. He left the bodies because they were supposed to be found, he made no effort to conceal them or to hide his acts, only his identity. He shows knowledge of anatomy with the removal of specific organs, the liver, uterus, kidney, bladder, and other complex parts.
He is skilled with dissection with the ability to do so in the dark in as quick a time as five minutes. He is cunning and knows both his victims and pursuers, he manages to murder the women with no sound, slitting their esophagus and vocal cords and then bleed them with little or no blood to be found on objects other than the victim. He would be able to get away without notice at night, in the dark, a coat concealing what bloodstains may be on his person.
What is interesting about the Ripper is that in a series of grisly murders he managed to dissolve the Victorian composure, his victims being of the lowest and most despicable stature forced attention into that corner of London that most well to do tried their best to forget. The inability of the police to catch up to the Ripper turned public attention on the effectiveness of London police.
The Ripper managed not only to elude patrolling constables but also witnesses and skilled detectives with many years experience in the East End. Only a few descriptions of suspicious characters were given at the time of the murders, but without conclusive evidence connecting these men with the act, or names, police had little to go on. One witness, mentioned in Donald Rumbelow’s Jack the Ripper, a Complete Casebook, described after the Mary Kelly murder that he had seen her with a man, curiously well dressed for the area, at an age of mid-thirties, five foot six, pale complexion, dark hair and a moustache.
He was wearing a long dark coat with collar and cuffs, and a dark jacket underneath, a waistcoat with a thick gold chain, dark trousers and button boots, with a white shirt and black tie. He looked quite respectable. The man kept his dark hat over his eyes. While it was an unusual sight for a respectable man to be found in the East End, it was not entirely unheard of, slumming had become popular in the early 1880’s.
Leading men of wealth into the cheap districts for a night of drinking and debauchery. According to Rumbelow, the description fits most of the Ripper suspects, namely M.J. Druitt, a doctor in his early forties from a good family, and disappeared around the time of the murder of Mary Kelly. He was later found in the Thames river apparent suicide, but was noted for being sexually insane.
It should be pointed out that Druitt bears a remarkable resemblance to the Duke of Clarence. The Duke was another suspect that also fit the description, but was dying of syphilis at the time of the later murders. George Chapman, also known as Severin Antoniovich Klosowski, was a Polish immigrant who came to England in 1888. He had been a surgical student in Poland for five years and worked in Whitechapel as a barber surgeon, a position at that time that served both needs usually found in the poorer districts.
Chapman was convicted of the murders of three women by arsenic poisoning and was hanged in 1903. The disparity between Chapman and the Ripper is modes operandi, Chapman poisoned his victims in cold blood and the Ripper crimes were much more ghastly with strangulation and mutilation. Dr. Neill Cream was a convicted murderer of four London prostitutes by strychnine.
He was alleged to have yelled, “I am Jack the-” Just as the trapdoor was released at his hanging in 1892. However, he was serving a life sentence in Illinois from 1881 to 1891. He also had an alleged double believed to be committing the murders in Whitechapel.
The true identity of the Ripper will undoubtedly never come to light, a series of murders that occurred over one hundred years ago leave investigators with little to go on. Notes, papers, and files that have not been destroyed by the police over the years have only partial completeness or are totally missing. There is only speculation as to the killer and a seemingly unending supply of suspects with no hard evidence.
The temporary nature of lodging houses and bars was a detail that worked for keeping the Ripper’s identity hidden. False names, pseudo-names and nicknames were highly prevalent as well as lack of concrete evidence such as documents. One could rent out a lodging bed with cash and leave at will, with little or no record.
The victims proved hard enough to identify, fellow prostitutes were called in to identify the women. They carried every earthly possession they owned but identification. In light of these circumstances the police and investigators were faced with an uphill battle in a quest for a killer. He successfully escaped detection but not fame, the name of Jack the Ripper is unknown but his deeds remain indelibly etched in the fabric of London history.
Jack the Ripper continues to lurk in films, books, plays, and even musicals. The public can tour the very streets and courtyards where his victims were found and can be guided along in his footsteps in the safety of time with years separating them from the time when he preyed on destitute women.
If one were to stop and listen, perhaps at the right hour of night in the shadows one might still be able to imagine the sounds of horse hooves and drunken crowds, the bustle of the East End, and the slash of a sharp blade ringing through soft flesh.