The year was 1888.
The place was Whitechapel, east London, England.
In a year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and the height of the British empire a single person would thrust the world into the next century. A single murderer, a serial killer would push social change and create a legend that is still mysterious and compelling today.
From a letter that started “Dear Boss” referring to George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, the name was born. Whether it came from the killer we will never know, but it was crudely signed “From Hell, Jack the Ripper.”
Between August and November of that year is believed to be the Ripper’s main period of activity. During that time seven or more kills are attributed to Jack, with five that cannot be questioned.
Called the Canonical Five, their deaths shocked people around the world with the sheer brutality and the Ripper’s ability to kill so savagely and then seemingly blend into the night. It did not help that crime scene investigation was still in it’s infancy with the exception of the French legend Eugene Francois Vidocq in 1857 who incidentally inspired both Sir Authur Conan Doyle with his character “Sherlock Holmes” and Victor Hugo with his character “Jean Valjean.”
The Canonical Five were, in order…
Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly
Named the Whitechapel Murderer and Leather Apron for a piece of cloth that was left at the crime scene of Catherine Eddowes (though it could have also been a piece of her own clothing) the number of possible suspects are numerous.
Many are connected to aspects of the crimes and a few have confessed but with no final conviction ever publicly made.
William Henry Bury caught the attention of Ripper investigator Frederick Abberline for the fact that Bury had killed his own wife in a similar way to the death of first victim Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols.
Thomas Neil Cream who had been a killer in both North America and England, and was a doctor with the knowledge of anatomy that would have assisted in the killers more vicious trademarks famously had the last words while being hung “I am Jack the…
There is the Royal Conspiracy, portrayed by Johnny Depp in the movie “From Hell”, which involved members of the freemasons leaping to the defense of the Royal family who were being blackmailed by a prostitute.
There was polish immigrant George Chapman who had poisoned three of his wives before being hung in 1903. Like Thomas Cream he had a high degree of medial knowledge which is still debated as to whether necessary. Many maintain that a butcher could have been just as effective, provided the person had the strength to inflict the wounds that were done so deeply and quickly. The change in way of killing makes Chapman also potentially unlikely.
Francis Tumblety was another possible killer who knew Whitechapel well. Arrested for gross indecancy he collected uteruses and pretended to be a doctor. He fled London in November 1888 at the end of the murders though his kind of kill never came up again in the North American cities where he fled to, something unusual for a serial killer.
Most famous and considered very possible was Aaron Kosminski, a 23 year old polish immigrant who was certified insane in 1891 and was committed an asylum. His name first appears in a police constables memo as a possible killer with a strong hatred of women and homocidal tendancies. One theory is that the police themselves kept his incarceration quiet as no good could come from the suggestion that a polish jew was guilty of something that had already incited antisemtic and racial hatred in the London streets. Kosminksi also resembled a man who ran from a constable during one of the murders. But there is also every possibilty that his connections to the murders was put in place to create the perfect hated scapegoat so even with recent findings involving the DNA of a decendant of Kosminski we will never know.
In The Quiet City I will bring in my own version of the ripper again, one connected to Whitechapel but in very new and hopefully unexpected way.
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