Let’s start from the beginning. In the autumn of 1888, a series of brutal murders in the east end of London lit a flame that sent shock waves reverberating around the civilized world and caused a scandal that struck right to the heart of the British establishment.
London in 1888 was the world’s largest capital city. Queen Victoria sat upon the throne of England and ruled an Empire that was ever-expanding. She had recently celebrated 50 glorious years as a monarch.
Her subject seemed confident, entrepreneurial and determined. The city of London, the financial boiler room that powered the empire and its expansion, reflected the supreme confidence of the age, yet right on its doorstep made the district of White Chapel.
A sordid crime-ridden quarter where vice, violence and drunkenness flourished and where 76000 residents lived in abject poverty. Whitechapel had the capital’s worst slums, worst overcrowding and the highest death rates. It was also an immigrant district. The 1880s had seen a huge influx of Jewish fleeing persecution in Russia, Poland and Romania.
Parts of Whitechapel had the appearance of a foreign town whose inhabitants, mostly lower-class Jews spoke their language and dressed differently to the other citizens of the east end. Inevitably, this led to a certain amount of racial tension as these immigrants were accused of taking English jobs and English homes.
Whether they are Jews or gentiles, all those who lived in the area shared one thing in common, life as a daily battle for survival. For the women, there were few career opportunities and those that were available paid a pittance barely enough to cover the cost of a bed in a common lodging house and certainly not enough to pay for food. So, many of them turned to prostitution not out of any real choice but out of a necessity to survive.
On the surface, Victorian London may have seemed very confident and eminently respectable, but beneath that surface, there lurked a general feeling of extreme unease. At around 3:40 AM on August 31st of 1888, a carter named Charles Cross was walking along Bucks Row in Whitechapel. When in a gateway he saw, what it took to be a bundle on the ground. Thinking it was a tarpaulin that might prove useful, he went over to inspect but stopped in his tracks when he saw it was a woman lying there.
Moments later, he heard footsteps behind him and turning saw another carter Robert Paul approaching. Nervously the two men approached the silent form and stooped down over the body. Charles Cross felt the woman’s hands. They were quite cold. Robert in the meanwhile was leaning over trying to see if he could detect any sign of breath. He couldn’t but when he touched the chest, he fancied it moved slightly.
Paul wanted to sit the woman up but Charles Cross didn’t want to touch the body any further. So, they covered the body and went on their way to agreeing to tell the first policeman they met, of their find. But what neither man could notice in the darkness was that the woman’s throat had been cut so savagely that her head had almost been severed from her body.
When inspector Spratling arrived to take down the description of the deceased, he discovered something that had so far eluded everyone. Beneath her bloodstained clothing, a deep gash ran through her abdomen. She had been disembowelled. Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror had begun.
The woman’s name was Marry-Ann(Polly)Nichols. A 43-year-old prostitute, who had earlier been ejected from a nearby lodging house because she didn’t have the money needed to pay for a bed. Since the murder had taken place on the eastern fringe of Whitechapel, responsibility for its investigation fell to the officers of the metropolitan police’s J division.
However, there had already been two previous murders that year in the very heart of Whitechapel and they will be investigated by detectives of H division by inspector Edmund Reed. On the very day of the Polly Nichol’s murder, With three murders now stirring up a genuine panic in the neighbourhood,
Scotland Yard sent in one of its finest detectives, inspector Frederick George Abeline, a man who knew the east end of London and its underworld intimately. On the streets of Whitechapel, Reed and Abilene were in a desperate race against time to catch the killer before he struck again. Their inquiries amongst the local prostitutes turned up a likely suspect in the form of a man, whom the local streetwalkers knew simply as Leather Apron.
It is right to find him if only to eliminate him as a suspect. The police began door to door enquiries around the common lodging houses of the neighbourhood. But their investigation suffered an unexpected setback when either local gossip or the unguarded comments of their officers brought news of their suspicions to the attention of the press. On the 5th of September, the star newspapers ran an article that would terrify the residents. That article proved frustrating to the police, who had hoped to keep their suspicions a closely guarded secret.
The press article’s headline read “Leather Apron the only name linked to the Whitechapel murders. The strange character who prowls about after midnight. The universal fear among women was slipped feet and a sharp leather knife”. The press campaign to alert the public had resulted in the Leather apron going into hiding and so the police operation was greatly frustrated.
On the 7th of September, the advertiser sat down to pen his article for the next morning’s edition. Referring to Mary Nichol’s murder case, he wrote-“ the murderer must creep out from somewhere. He must patrol the streets in search of his victims“. In the early hours of that same morning, after the journalist had written his chilling prediction, but before the newspaper had hit the streets, the Whitechapel murderer struck again.
On the 8th of September, two workmen walking along Hanbury street were suddenly startled when the door of number 29 burst open and a wild-eyed old man stumbled into the street and then he cried “come here. Nervously, they followed him down the passageway and looking into the backyard they saw the body of Anne Chapman lying between the steps and the fence. And there in the corner of the yard, lay a freshly washed leather apron.
On 10th September Sergeant William Thicke went around to number 22 Mulberry street and arrested a man named John Pisa. There was little doubt but the police were convinced that Pisa was the man known as leather Apron but the police soon ruled him out and he was also allowed to publicly clear his name during Anne Chapman’s inquest.
It was in that inquest that Dr George Baxter, the police surgeon who examined Anne Chapman’s body, raised the chilling possibility that the killer had removed her womb and he suggested that the reason for her murder may well have been to obtain that particular part of her anatomy.
Furthermore, the speed with which he did it and the skill displayed, hinted that he may well have possessed some anatomical knowledge. The police themselves were rapidly coming around to the view that the murderer was probably a lunatic and that he possibly possessed surgical knowledge.
To that end, several medical students who had recently spent time in asylums were traced and interviewed. However, like so many avenues of enquiry, this also led to a dead end. The police were criticized by the press and public for their inability to catch the killer.
The investigation was hampered by the fact that his victims were all prostitutes. He struck in the dead of night in out of the way places as far as can be ascertained. There was no motive aside from the grim satisfaction of mutilating his victims.
He was able to prevent those victims from crying out and thus alerting attention to their plight. He left no clues behind him, nor was it an accomplice to inform him.
The fact that his victims were prostitutes meant they would take him to the very places where they knew they were safe from interruption. On the 30th of September the body of Elizabeth Stride, Jack the Ripper’s third victim, was discovered. She only had her throat cut. There was no anatomical mutilation.
On the same day, a prostitute named Catherine Eddos who had earlier been arrested for drunkenness was released from Bishop’s Gate police station. A little after 1: 30 AM, three Jewish gentlemen noticed a man and a woman standing on a nearby corner, and being closer to the couple he had observed a little more. He was later emphatic that the woman he had seen was Catherine Eddos.
The man he said was aged about 30. His height was between five foot seven and five foot eight. He had a fair complexion and a fair moustache. Since the two were chatting quietly and nothing was suspicious about them the three men continued on their way. But at 1:45 AM, a body was found lying in the Square’s south corner. It was the mutilated body of Catherine Eddos.
The city police were already on a hunt to find the killer and three detectives were searching passageways just a few streets away. And yet the killer had succeeded in striking right under their noses and had then melted away into the night.
News of the double murder crackled through the metropolis like wildfire. Thousands of sightseers flocked into the area and blocked the approach to Mitre Square. Burner Street meanwhile was said to have been like a sea of heads from end to end.
Those who had houses or businesses that overlooked murder sites, openly charged admission for ghoulish spectators to gaze down upon the crime scenes. To carry on with the inquiry, the detectives went about in disguise.
Door to door enquiries was was disembowelled around the common lodging houses and over two thousand residents were questioned and 80 thousand handbills were distributed around the streets asking that any suspicious person be reported to the police. 76 butcher and slaughterhouses were visited and the characters of their employees ascertained. Even sailors from nearby docks were investigated. Despite these disembowels, the killer continued to remain at large.
The days that followed the double murder event saw one of the most important developments of the entire saga. Because it was during this period that the Whitechapel murderer was given a name. In the wake of the double murder cases, a letter got permitted to be released. Which, on the 27th of September had been sent to the central news agency written in red ink. It boasted mocking terms and the letter was addressed to “The Boss”. Chillingly, the letter was signed “Jack the Ripper”.
In the latter days, the letter came to be known as “ The Dear Boss” letter. The police, however, thought that the letter was genuine and it came directly from the murderer. Later on, after numerous investigations, it was found that the “dear boss” letter was most unlikely to be written by the murderer.
The letter did not do anything to unmask the killer. Instead, it inspired imitations and the police found themselves to be swamped by a wave of bogus “Jack The Ripper” correspondence.
Thus, the time and resources of the already overstretched detectives were wasted. On the 13th of November, the police began a massive search in some of the areas of the worst slums. They scrutinized every knife they could find and interviewed hundreds of landlords.
However, the killer evaded detection and the letters purporting to come from him continued to frustrate the police investigation. October Passed with no further murders and by early November, the area as a whole had breathed a huge sigh of relief as it seemed that the nightmare had ended.
In the early hours of the 9th of November, a 25-year-old lady named Marry Kelly was heard singing in her room. Little did she know that she would be the victim of Jack the Ripper. On the 10th of November, Marry Kelly’s landlord went to her room to collect her overdue rent and found her mutilated body in her room. The fresh panic that was gripping the capital even snapped the patience of Queen Victoria who fired up an angry missive to her Prime Minister Lord Salisbury.
In the weeks that followed the panic, and fear that had gripped the neighbourhood throughout the autumn began to abate as the residents turned their attention once more to their everyday struggle for survival and the press began to focus on other matters and other areas. But, the mystery behind all these killings is still unknown. Was he a Psychopath who got satisfaction in killing women or did he kill the women for the organs? People still want to know who “Jack the Ripper” was. Well, that’s a secret we will never know.