Whitechapel, borough of London. We are at the end of the nineteenth century when a series of terrible crimes will shock the entire population. This is the story of a cynical, ruthless serial killer and one of the greatest mysteries.
1888. In Whitechapel, everyday life is characterized by poverty and criminality. Due to the lack of work, there are many tramps in the neighborhood and prostitution is quite in vogue.
The summer is almost over when suddenly a hazard surfaces worsening the situation, something totally unexpected and terrifying.
August 31st. Buck’s Row. It is 3:45 am when two men see the body of a woman lying unconscious on the street.
Witnesses warn the police, that once arrived on the spot certify her death. It is a murder. The victim was deeply slit from ear to ear and stabbed several times in the abdomen.
Later it will be possible to trace her identity. Her name is Mary Ann Nichols, she is 43 and works as a prostitute. Her murder is apparently inexplicable. Nobody imagines that it will be the first in a chain of brutal killings that will challenge significantly the agents’ work in the following weeks.
September 8. Another body is located on Hanbury Street. Annie Chapman, 47, another prostitute.
The situation is definitely shocking. In this case, the victim’s throat was severed so deeply that she was almost decapitated. Her stomach was opened and her internal organs were laying on her shoulders. The private parts have also been mutilated. A frighteningly ferocious crime, the work of an insane mind clearly knowledgeable in anatomy.
The police try to tighten the circle, but the situation does not improve.
September 28. A letter arrives at the Central News Agency in London, signed by a person using the pseudonym “Jack the Ripper”.
The content of the letter, written in red ink, leaves everyone speechless:
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly
Jack the Ripper
Dont mind me giving the trade name
PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it. No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha
The alarm is triggered immediately among the investigators. A few days later, the killer comes back again in a night of death and terror that will mark forever the entire neighborhood.
September 30th. Berner Street. Around 01:00 at night, the body of a prostitute, Elizabeth Stride, is found. She was slaughtered and her blood is still gushing from the wound, an indication that the crime occurred moments earlier. The killer was very lucky not to be caught. That night he decides that he will not stop there.
Only 45 minutes pass when a second body comes up, Catherine Eddowes. Her throat was slit and her stomach quartered. The killer also attacked her on her face, cutting off her eyelids, part of her right ear and nose. The uterus and kidney were removed.
Jack the Ripper managed to claim two victims in a very short span of time. The killer is pushing the envelope every time more. He must be caught as soon as possible.
On October 1st another letter arrives:
I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off. ha not the time to get ears for police. thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.
Jack the Ripper
Communications don’t stop here.
On October 15, the head of the Whitechapel Supervisory Commission receives another letter, which bears the famous heading “From Hell”:
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif[e] that took it out if you only wate a whil[e] longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk
Along with the letter there was also a box containing half of a human kidney. Catherine Eddows had a kidney removed.
The origin of the letters has never been discovered and to this day it is not clear whether work of the murderer or born from the mind of some mythomaniac. What is sure is that they made the whole story even more disturbing.
November 9th. A new victim is discovered in Millers Court. Mary Jane Kelly, 25 years old. Her body is found in her apartment.
Again the details are gruesome. Mary was slaughtered, her nose and breasts cut and placed on the nightstand next to her bed. The intestines and vagina were removed. Her heart was removed and taken away by the killer. A murderous fury beyond all imagination.
After this terrible act, the criminal career of Jack the Ripper seems to stop as suddenly as it had begun.
In the end, the confirmed victims will be five, generally enclosed in the definition of Canonical Five. Some theories argue that the serial killer is responsible for other murders that occurred between 1888 and 1891 and that the final tally could go as high as 15.
During the investigation, many people are observed and the list of suspects is quite long. Below are some of the most famous.
The first suspect was Montagne John Druitt, a lawyer who committed suicide in late 1888. The timing of the suicide suggested a connection with the crimes that stopped shortly before. However, no evidence of guilt or significant evidence was found against him.
William Henry Bury, 29, draws attention to himself after he strangled his wife to death and inflicted post-mortem wounds to her abdomen on October 4, 1889. During the time of the murders, Bury resided in Bow, near Whitechapel.
He was eventually convicted and hanged for the murder of his partner, but no evidence to support the theory of his involvement in the murders of Jack the Ripper.
Another suspect was Joseph Barnett, a former fish transporter and cohabitant of the latest victim Mary Jane Kelly. The two separated after an argument as Mary had returned to prostitution to earn a living.
The killer was particularly furious on that occasion and the murder took place in a locked room. According to supporters of his guilt, the man killed the four previous victims to discourage his partner from leading that lifestyle. The plan would not work and eventually Joseph would vent his anger on the ex-partner, effectively ending his murderous career.
Even for Barnett, however, no decisive element was ever identified.
Coming to the present day, there have been new changes recently.
On 7 September 2014, a shawl was analyzed, presumably belonging to one of the victims, on which an unknown genetic profile was isolated.
Continuing with the analysis and making comparisons, a compatibility with Aaron Kosminki, a suspect already at the time, would have emerged. Kosminski was a Polish-born barber who owned a shop in Whitechapel. He suffered from mental disorders and for this reason he was hospitalized in an asylum after the end of the crimes. He spent more than 25 years in mental institutions before dying of gangrene in his leg in 1919.
After the recent news, public opinion was divided. Some are convinced that Kominski was really the killer and that genetic analyzes have made it possible to identify the perpetrator after more than a century.
However, other scholars refute the results obtained questioning the reliability of the tests performed and highlighting the fact that the trace analyzed is mitochondrial DNA and therefore not ascribable solely to a single person.
More than 130 years have passed since Jack the Ripper’s last acknowledged crime and the matter remains unsolved. An assassin evanescent and elusive like a shadow, whose identity remains one of the biggest knots in the crime news yet to be solved.
We wonder whether his name appears among the endless list of suspects, or he managed to escape that list too, just as he managed to escape capture.
Perhaps we will never know the identity of the subject that sowed panic in Whitechapel for over three months, brutally ending the lives of at least five women and starting an enigma that continues to be discussed.
This story is part of the book
The insane stories of the worst serial killers of all time