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The Real Jack the Ripper

Cutting Through the Fog of the  Jack the Ripper Myth

Richard JonesThe Real JTR is honoured to have Richard Jones, Best Selling author, broadcaster, historian and all round Ripper authority, writing an exclusive introduction to the Ripper case for this site. As well as all the above, Richard is also the man behind the best Ripper walking tour out there and so if you want to walk in the killer’s footsteps give his site a visit at jack-the-ripper-tour.com



The Hunt for Jack the Ripper
by Richard Jones




The other night I watched an episode of “Criminal Minds” in which the team addressed a group of criminology students about a serial killer whom they had hunted for, I believe, a period of 20 years before eventually catching him.

Individual team members told the audience how their investigation had developed and how bits and pieces of evidence gradually came together to give them an idea of the type of suspect they were looking for – likely childhood traumas that had led that suspect to begin his crime spree and then on through his various murders to tracing him and bringing him to justice.

The wonders of a criminal investigation done for television: hunted, sorted and jailed in less than sixty minutes!

It set me wondering about what would happen if the detectives who handled the Jack the Ripper investigation - Abberline, Reid, Anderson, Swanson and, just because I hate leaving him out, Warren - were to be asked to undertake a similar lecture? What insights would they be able to give those students into the type of suspect they were looking for, and would the claim, that many officers who worked on the case made, that the killer’s identity was in fact known to them actually stand up to close scrutiny?

I honestly believe that it is safe to say that the hunt for Jack the Ripper is the longest running man hunt in criminal history. Indeed, it is safe to say that it is still going strong over 125 years after the crimes were committed!

Admittedly, the police themselves long ago gave up on the case and closed their investigation. But thousands of amateur sleuths have since been happy to pick up the gauntlet and run with it and, in so doing, have contributed an awful lot of useful information about the most famous murder spree in criminal history.

But what of the original investigation carried out by various members of the Metropolitan Police in 1888? How effective was it and, more importantly, is it possible that they missed vital clues and pieces of evidence that allowed Jack the Ripper to slip through the net and evade justice?

The first important point to make about the Victorian detectives is that they weren’t hunting Jack the Ripper, but were hunting the person responsible for a series of crimes that were officially known as the Whitechapel Murders.

As a result, the neat and tidy figure of the so-called “canonical” five victims was an unknown concept to the likes of Abberline and Reid. Nor did they have the luxury of the oft quoted time frame of August 31st 1888 to 9th November 1888. As far as they were concerned any murder, or even attack, that took place in the East End of London in the late 1880’s and the early 1890’s had the potential of being another atrocity by the Whitechapel Murderer.

So, as far as the police at the time were concerned, the first murder was that of Emma Smith, carried out in early April 1888. Now, Emma Smith almost certainly wasn’t a victim of the killer we now know as Jack the Ripper. Indeed, she survived the initial attack and was, therefore, able to reveal the fact that she had been attacked by a gang. However, her death, or, as it became, murder, is significant in several respects.

Firstly, she is the first name to appear on the generic Whitechapel Murders file that encompasses the canonical five (Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly) as well as several murders that may, or may not, have been the work of the ripper.

Secondly, the fact she claimed to have been attacked by a gang most certainly influenced the early stages of the police investigation into the Jack the Ripper crimes, as the police evidently believed that the murders were gang related.

However, in May, June and July, 1888, the police probably paid little heed to the death of Emma Smith and had, no doubt, come to see it as one of the many violent crimes for which the area was infamous at the time.

But then, in early August, 1888, Martha Tabram was murdered in George Yard, one street away from the corner where Emma Smith had been attacked. The attack on poor Martha was as frenzied as it was savage, and multiple stab wounds peppered her upper body.

Although Martha’s death most certainly caused consternation in the area, the police were still of the opinion that a gang was responsible.

This belief was still held a few weeks later when, on August 31st, 1888, Mary Nichols was murdered in Buck’s Row and the Jack the Ripper crimes, as we now know them, got underway.

In the wake of the Mary Nichols Murder the belief that a gang was responsible began to waiver, not just amongst the police but amongst the local populace and the press at large also. This was the period when the police investigations amongst the local prostitutes yielded the likely sounding suspect “Leather Apron.”

Unfortunately, the Leather Apron scare backfired alarmingly in that press speculation that he was a member of the local immigrant community led to racial unrest in the area, and the police were forced to face the alarming prospect that there might well be anti-Jewish rioting in the vicinity.

As a consequence, they began substituting witness descriptions of suspects being “of Hebrew appearance” with the more generic “of foreign appearance.” This was the main reason why, all conspiracy theories aside, Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ordered the erasure of the Goulston Street graffito.

If there was a time when we can say that the actual investigation began in earnest, it would be in the wake of the murder of Annie Chapman on 8th September 1888.

This is the period when Inspector Frederick George Abberline was brought back to the area to head up the on the ground investigation and when Chief Inspector Swanson, at Scotland Yard, was put in overall charge of reading and assessing every bit of information that came in on the case. Thus, by mid-September 1888, the team was in place that would go to work on the mystery, and which would devote an enormous amount of time to trying to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Of course, at this time, one of the most important names in the entire murder spree was yet to make an appearance. In early October 1888, the police released a letter which had been sent to the head of a London News Agency in late September 1888. The letter, written in gloating terms, purported to come from the perpetrator of the recent East End murders and it taunted the police about their inability to catch him.

But, it also bore the chilling signature “Jack the Ripper”, a name that the press and public alike latched onto. As a result the Whitechapel Murders were turned into an international circus and the unknown miscreant responsible for them was suddenly elevated to the realm of legend.

Thus the hunt for “Jack the Ripper” effectively began in early October 1888 and it has, more or less, been going on ever since!
Based upon the FBI profile, take this site's Autumn of Terror tour (audio if desired). Let Jack tell you about himself, Whitechapel and, finally, his view on the canonical five murders! Jack Ad PDFHoward Brown, proprietor of the JTR Forums, top Ripper newspaper sleuth and relentless researcher, has kindly allowed me to republish one of his articles that originally appeared in ‘Ripperologist Magazine’. If you haven’t yet joined the JTR Forums I would urge you to do so - you’ll be made more than welcome! Click pic. for the PDF of How’s Marketing the Ripper.

The Reality of the Ripper

Jack the Ripper, the architect of the autumn of terror, 1888, in Whitechapel, East London; a faceless bogeyman that dozens of theorists have since tried to pin an identity to. Theories range from the futile to the fantastic, too few of them focussing on what we have learned from Jack’s modern-day counterparts.

This website’s aim is not to add yet another fanciful face to the ever-growing gallery of the 'not guilty', but it will hopefully sketch a helpful silhouette of the Whitechapel Murderer; a likely profile that Jack will fit in to. Modern experts know infinitely more now about the nature of such killers than the antiquated Victorian police ever could have – a knowledge that has stemmed, sadly, from the apparent abundance of serial killers we have nowadays.

With, admittedly, some very occasional discrepancies, these serial killers tend to fit a mould. You don’t have to be an expert to see this pattern evolve: just a little research into other notorious killers will reveal similar people from similar backgrounds committing similar crimes.

Jack the Ripper is not unique; he is not something special. He is just one of history's many maladjusted murderers. Unfortunately, however, he was one who was never caught. As  a consequence, until his real name and nature are known, his myth and legend will live on.

New Writing on the Wall:

(click here for the latest Killer Questions)

New Killer Question Article Added:
Joseph Barnett Was Jack The Ripper?

New Clip Added to the JTR Theatre:
Whitechapel Walk London

New Killer Question Article Added:
Kosminski DNA - Oops!

New Killer Question Article Added:
Why The Gaps, Jack?

Shop The Ripper: Best Buys...


the real jack the ripper

It Begins...

Many of the sections below employ John Douglas’ FBI profile of the Ripper as their foundation. Profiling is not an exact science and I’m sure that even Douglas would agree that it’s unlikely that he’s one hundred percent correct with his outline of the killer. Nevertheless, I feel that if we are to ever unmask the Whitechapel fiend, it is better to know what kind of man we are looking for first, and I think Douglas’ profile is strong enough to get us close.

A profile’s aim is not to identify a culprit directly; it is a tool which helps to narrow down the field: it looks to identify a personality type rather than a person. Profiling’s merits have been called into question a number of times since its advent, but even if we only allow it a fifty percent hit rate, that’s got to be better than the big, fat zero we’ve managed to achieve by picking random suspects out of the air for the last 125 years!

With this in mind, proceed through the sections opposite and below and ask yourself: realistically, who would have fitted the profile? Using this method you will see many of the usual suspects' candidacies for being the real Jack the Ripper evaporate. But you will also find a tiny minority that fit rather well.

questions

"Killer Questions" is a part of the site which deals with miscellaneous aspects of the Whitechapel Murders. Anybody is free to write a short article here on any facet of the case which they find interesting or intriguing. Click the button above to visit the archive or post a comment, or click here to see the latest Killer Questions.

theatre

The JTR Theatre has free documentaries, interviews and other films connected to the Ripper case. More will be added in due course. Click the button above to enter.

Jack

The three sections below focus on the man, his environment and, finally, the series of murders themselves – all surmised from the possible mind-set of the murderer and all worded in the first-person.  Of course, these autobiographical works are fictional. They are there simply to echo the opinions of various modern-day criminal profilers and ripperologists on what the Whitechapel Murderer would  have been like. 

Click the relevant button to proceed...

Victims

These sections relate more to the victims of the Whitechapel Murderer. They include a short biography of each of the 'canonical' five, their respective post-mortems, and a map showing the locations of the murder scenes. It should not be forgotten that these women had their lives taken by the fiend, and whether or not we question their lack of moral scruples, they certainly didn’t deserve such horrible demises.

Click the relevant button to proceed...

Suspects

The suspects: is Jack amongst them? In these three sections you’ll find Douglas' FBI profile of Jack the Ripper (PDF); the compatibility with the profile of the suspects; and, finally, my own opinion. I will be adding more suspects over time and so it's worth checking back now and again to see how the new faces measure up against the FBI test. I will only be adding suspects where there is enough historical data available for them.

Click the relevant button to proceed...
jack the ripper victims fbi
whitechapel post mortems suspects
autumn of terror map opinion

The Latest 4 Killer Question Comments...

Joseph Barnett Was jack The Ripper?

If you’ve visited this site’s ‘Suspects Page’ then you will have seen that Joseph Barnett scores higher than any other suspect when compared to my checklist so far. I am certainly not the first to notice that he fits rather well with an FBI profile: more than one author has published a theory with Barnett as the murderer over last few decades. The most notable example of this idea is contained within the well-researched book Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth by Bruce Paley (available at this site’s Jack the Ripper store). Even though it is a ‘suspect’ book, Bruce’s attention to detail and meticulous approach should be applauded, even by those that don’t necessarily agree with all of his ideas (I am one). Anyway, who was Joseph Barnett?

Joseph was born in 1858 within a stone’s throw of the centre of Whitechapel. His father, John, died of pleurisy in 1864, and his mother, Catherine, apparently abandoned the family shortly afterwards, leaving Joseph to be brought up by his brothers along with his sister. Joseph, like his brothers (and father before him), would eventually find work as a fish porter at Billingsgate Market, a hard but relatively well-paid job that he would keep until the July of 1888 when he apparently lost his license – possibly due to theft.

Just over a year prior to Barnett losing his position, he’d met a young lady by the name of Mary Jane Kelly. The pair had decided to live together and had stayed at several locations in the East End before finally settling at 13 Miller’s Court, Dorset Street. Of course, it was at this address on the ninth of November, 1888 that Kelly’s mutilated body was discovered – apparently the fifth and final victim of Jack the Ripper. Just nine days before the murder, Kelly and Barnett had had a bitter argument (possibly because of Kelly inviting a prostitute to share their small room) and Barnett left, taking up lodgings in Bishopsgate. Despite the row, Barnett apparently seemed to stay on good terms with Kelly, visiting her often and giving her money over those few days before her death.

And so was Barnett Jack the Ripper? Possibly. I know that’s pretty non-committal, but it is better than a ‘definitely not’. He does, as Paley first pointed out, fit in to many of the niches that various criminal profiles suggest a serial killer such as the Ripper should fit in to: age; location; local knowledge; minor disability; and dysfunctional family upbringing to name but a few. And he did seem to, at least, dislike prostitutes and resented Kelly going out on the game to make ends meet after he’d lost his job. But if he was the Ripper, why did he stop when serial killers don’t tend to unless they have no choice? (Barnett lived at liberty until his death in 1920s.) It could be argued that the very occasional serial killer does ‘retire’: it has been known to happen when the police get too close to identification, and, of course, their attention did go in Barnett’s direction after his (X) girlfriend was murdered at his former home. This, I believe, is a very remote possibility for the cessation of the murders. But what I certainly don’t believe is that the crimes had any real motive external to the perpetrator’s sordid fantasies. Paley suggests that Barnett started the murders, in part, to dissuade Kelly from prostituting herself out on the dangerous streets – that’s one hell of an extreme deterrent and a theory that I can’t subscribe to.

Joseph Barnett is overall, I believe, a good candidate for the role of the Ripper, despite some shortcomings. The trouble with him is, like all other suspects in the case (if the latest Kosminski findings do prove to be inconclusive), there’s nothing solid to go on. He fits the bill very well as far as profiles are concerned, but aside from that and the fact that he was Mary Kelly’s lover, what else do we have? It’s quite possible that as Kelly’s boyfriend he was known to at least some of the other victims and, as such, was trusted by them more than most at the time, giving him an advantage over them. But this is just speculation – we need something more than that. If some small piece of hard information would magically appear to us that at least hinted at his proximity or connection with one of the other murders then, in my opinion, Barnett would go straight to the top of the tree! In the meantime, he will just have to remain as one of the few good suspects in a very big, bad bunch!

Kosminski DNA – OOPS!

In a couple of previous articles I wrote on the Kosminski/Eddowes DNA shawl subject (now both in the Killer Questions Archive), I echoed the opinion of many others that further confirmation from independent experts was needed before we could begin to take the matter seriously. Well, several such experts have since come forwards and, rather than supporting Dr Louhelainen’s testing, have found major errors in his results. (Dr Louhelainen’s DNA research is the cornerstone of author, Russell Edwards’ book: Naming Jack the Ripper In which Kosminski is “conclusively” identified as the killer.)

As it stands at the moment, Edwards is still defending his case, but these latest revelations must be quite a blow to him – they will surely dent further sales of his book! But even if I give the author every benefit of the remaining doubt, I cannot say that I feel sorry for him. I’m not much of a scientist, but I do understand peer review and what it is there for. These mistakes, if they are upheld, would have been spotted long before now in peer-reviewed papers and the relevant corrections could have been made before the book went to print – if it was still worth printing, that is!

With a theory that has its foundations so firmly embedded in cutting-edge science, why did scientific review get left out of the loop until now? Why, I wonder, did newspaper articles and book-publishing come first? Could it possibly be due to a real lack of confidence that other experts would concur with Dr Louhelainen’s results as has been now shown? If this is the case, then the whole affair is one of the most devious and dirty marketing tricks that we’ve seen in Ripperworld – and I’m sure we’ve all seen a fair few! It would amount to a con: selling as many books as possible to the public on a false premise before the truth dawns!

I hope this is not the case, but I’ve got a nasty feeling inside of me. It is now up to Edwards, Louhelainen and the publishers to allay my suspicions and to reassure those that bought the book that they didn’t hand over their money for nothing!

Why The Gaps, Jack?

As the Ripper’s attacks increased in ferocity, so did the gaps in between them if we just consider the canonical five victims and class Stride and Eddowes as one event. This, like many other facets of the murders, gives rise to much speculation. There are so many possible combinations as to why these longer gaps occurred that it’s difficult to know where to begin – especially with so few facts at our disposal: it’s like a Rubik’s Cube, but one where we don’t even know what the solution should look like before we start! We can only try different ideas and see if any progress is made…

A simple theory to begin with is that Jack found it more and more difficult to find a suitable victim and/or location after each successive murder. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to act, but that with an increasing number of police on the beat and with the heightened public awareness that a repeat killer was on the prowl, his odds constantly decreased in attaining a successful and secret slaughter: he had to wait longer and longer for a suitable opportunity to come his way. If we consider this to be the actual case, then it might go some way to explaining Mary Kelly’s indoor demise. If this were so it may hint at Jack actually doing a bit of preplanning to find a woman who he knew would lead him to a location off of the streets. This doesn’t really fit the profile of a disorganized serial killer with “blitz-style” attacks, but that doesn’t mean it should be completely discounted: it is unlikely that he killed his victims wherever he came across them; he seems to have had the presence of mind to be led by them to a safer spot. It’s not too much of a jump, I feel, that with this rational notion of some kind of security in his mind, and with the streets becoming ever riskier places in which to commit murder, he devised a pretty basic plan to avoid the danger.

The above is possible but by no means certain. And so what other of the numerous possibilities are there that might sensibly explain the gaps? One is that Jack just sensibly kept his head down after each new outrage he’d committed. A serial killer is not usually a pre-programed maniacal robot that likes to stick to sick schedules! Most have enough sense to take the police and their investigations into account – you wouldn’t have so many serial killers in history if they didn’t! And so even though the Ripper might have had the urges to strike again in the meantime, it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have been able to resist them until he felt safer. This echoes the first theory but with a touch more deliberation on Jack’s part: maybe he didn’t even contemplate committing another murder after each attack for some time, knowing it that would be an imprudent act to do so with alertness levels raised.

Another option, of course, is that Jack’s gruesome appetite became sated for longer periods with each new bloodier murder. And yet another idea is that the police came too close for his comfort at a certain point or points in their investigation: was he almost apprehended during the night of the double event?; was he questioned?; did he leave a clue behind somewhere that he thought would lead them to his door?; did he erroneously think that they were on to him? There are so many alternatives and combinations thereof!

One last thing to be considered when assessing the reasons for the evermore spaced murders is Jack’s own normal day to day life. We have no idea of what that entailed, but, of course, it could be this rather innocuous reason that interfered with his pattern of killing. His work; for example, if he had any, may have got in the way. His wife, if he had one, may have impeded him. His disease, if he had one, may have needed periods of treatment. I know these last suggestions may seem trivial and even a little facetious, but that’s life – small things in it do make us all detour from what we’d like to be doing often. And serial killers, infamous or not, are not immune to its twists and turns any more than we are. There is always the chance that something completely bland and mundane hindered the killer – he was, after all, a real person with a real life which was not scripted by Hollywood!

And so without even looking too hard for the reasons for the increasing gaps in the C5 murders we see that we already have many possible ideas. The chances of the truth being contained in just one of these theories is remote – a combination of the above factors may come into play or, quite possibly, none at all! The permutations are endless. We twist and turn the Rubik’s Cube this way and that just hoping for some solution or, at least, a pattern that fits.

Do JTR’s Victims Get a Fair Deal?

Who was jack the Ripper and where did he live? How did Jack kill and why did he stop? What did the Whitechapel Murderer look like and what did he wear? All very common questions, I’m sure you’ll agree – but what of the poor victims? Do they get any respect at all from the Ripperological community, or are they treated much like a series of Dr Blacks or Mr Boddys in Cluedo?

As with most intriguing niches in life (and death) there is a mixture of stances taken up by individual investigators. With the Ripper case some, undoubtedly, don’t give a damn about the women involved and see them just as numbered clues in the grand ‘Whodunnit’ game. These people wouldn’t have read beyond the title of this article because it’s not directly about their precious Jack! Others in the field, however, do much research into the plight of these poor women and find their lives equally, if not more, interesting than the lives of the possible suspects. It is thanks to these people that so much more is known about the victims and their respective backgrounds than, more or less, any other common women from 1888 Whitechapel. Historical knowledge in general has also benefitted by these researchers’ efforts.

And so we have at least these two separate outlooks upon the lives of the victims and their worth. To completely ignore the backgrounds of the victims, I believe, is folly and is usually a good sign of a Cluedo player’s mentality – who cares about Dr Black or Mr Boddy – Whodunnit? This attitude, when applied to the Autumn of Terror, does show a very real disrespect for the very real victims of very real murderers. Most good researchers, however, I believe have a very balanced view on things. Even though their ultimate aim might be to uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper, they don’t dismiss the victims as mere props. They also don’t sit in judgement on these poor women’s lifestyles because they have learned through their investigation just how hard these people’s lives were!

The Whitechapel Murders happened a long time ago and their impact upon society is but a distant echo in the world today. Time has also diluted the reality of the lives lived and lost back in 1888. The line between fact and fiction has always been a hazy one in the Ripper case, but we must bear in mind that there would be no Ripper case if it wasn’t for the very definite price paid by several unfortunates over a century ago. Always remember that these women were infinitely more real and corporeal than Jack the Ripper myths were or ever will be. Our respect for them should follow suit.


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