THE HUNT FOR Jack the Ripper
William D. Rubinstein reviews the achievements of the ‘Ripperologists’ and lends weight to the argument surrounding the Ripper Diaries.
The brutal murders of five prostitutes in London’s East End in
the autumn of 1888 by an unknown killer who came to be called ‘Jack the Ripper’ are probably the most famous unsolved crimes in history. During the pastforty years a plethora of theories has been offered as to the identity of the Ripper. In recent years, the Ripper industry has mushroomed: it is likely that more has been written on this case than on any other staple of amateur historiography (the true identity of Shakespeare and the Kennedy assassination possibly excepted). The number of books about Jack the Ripper published internationallyshows this dramatically: 1888-1909–nine; 1910-49–five; 1950-69– four; 1970-79–ten; 1980-89–twelve; 1990-99–thirty-nine. Most of these offer original ‘solutions’ to the question of the Ripper’s identity. There has also been a stream of films, television programmes and novels. Two high quality British journals, The Ripperologist and Ripperana, are devoted to the subject, as are two others in America.The ‘Cloak and Dagger Club’, with a membership of over 220, is devoted almost exclusively to presenting talks and seminars on Jack, almost always with the aim of identifying the killer. The five prostitutes were stabbed to death in Whitechapel between August 31st and November 9th, 1888, always late at night. Then, for unknown reasons, the killings stopped. Each of the women—Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols(August 31st, 1888), Annie Chapman (September 8th), Elizabeth Stride and Catharine Eddowes (both September 30th, about half-a-mile apart), and Mary Jane Kelly (November 9th)—was not merely murdered, but horribly mutilated, with organs removed and a strong possibility of cannibalism. The last victim was mutilated almost beyond recognition. Even today, the photographs of the bodies are still deeplyshocking. Jack the Ripper is often said to have been the first ‘serial killer’ (apparently random, sequential murders of the same type of victim) in the modern sense. Nothing like this had ever been 1
known before in Britain. As the killings unfolded, fear gripped the East End, a near-riotous situation developed, and hundreds of extra police were drafted in to patrol the streets of Whitechapel.Although the Ripper was reportedly seen by several witnesses, he was never caught, and seemed time and again to slip through the dragnet like magic. While the police had many suspects, in the final analysis they remained baffled. Among those suspected were doctors, or slaughtermen (the, removal of the victims’ organs implied anatomical knowledge), Jews or other foreigners from the large localcommunity of recent immigrants, Fenians, lunatics and eccentrics of all shades, local workingmen, and associates of the murdered women. No one was ever charged. Since 1888 dozens, perhaps hundreds, of candidates have been proposed as the Ripper, ranging from dukes to dustmen, from Oxford scholars and millionaires to lunatics. Whitechapel, adjacent to the City of London, and only a mile from the Bankof England, was synonymous with urban poverty and squalor. It was often known to middle-class Londoners as the ‘Abyss.’ Nevertheless, it is important not to exaggerate conditions there. According to Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People in London, (1891–1903), the 90,000 inhabitants of Whitechapel (out of 900,000 in the East End) did indeed have the highest percentage in poverty of anyLondon district (47 per cent), but nearly 53 per cent were living in what Booth described as ‘comfort’, that is, enjoying a normal working-class standard of living or higher. The district had a normal infrastructure of local government, shops, businesses, transport, and services. Many of the recent Eastern European Jewish and other immigrants were upwardly mobile in a determined way, working hard...