In my early 20s I took off on what was then an Australian right of passage – a two-year working holiday in England.
Now, for many and varied reasons I didn’t stay very long, but it was enough time to fall in love with Soho, Oxford St and the Piccadilly line on the tube. I also stumbled across Buckingham Palace, which I imagined to be in the country but which was actually in the heart of the city.
The place I loved most, though, was The London Dungeon. Forget chapels and cathedrals, this was much more my cup of tea with its focus on the dark and macabre side of history. Just take infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper.
I think there’s something incredibly intriguing about a murderer who could hold the entire city – particularly Whitechapel – hostage in such brutal fashion and then slip into the shadows without being identified, let alone brought to justice.
But while everyone from Hollywood to historians have thrown up plenty of theories on his identity – author Patricia Cornwall even published a book claiming he was painter Walter Sickert – his victims seem to hold less interest, perhaps because most, if not all, of them were prostitutes.
So today I decided I would like to know their names. And while some people believe Jack’s kill tally was 11, the official total stands at five, all murdered during a three-month reign of terror in 1888. Here they are:
- Mary Ann Nicholls, 42, killed August 31
- Annie Chapman, 47, killed September 8
- Elizabeth Stride, 44, and Catherine Eddowes, 43, killed September 30
- Jeanette Kelly, killed November 9
All of the women were horrifically mutilated. Catherine, for one, had her throat slashed, both eyelids cut and part of her nose and right ear cut off. Her uterus and left kidney were removed and her entrails were thrown over her right shoulder. This led police to suspect the killer must have had surgical training, but as history shows he was never found.
Here’s some other Ripper facts I found at the Dungeon site.
- On September 30, the day he killed two women, police followed a blood trail to a doorway, where a chalk message read: “The Jewes are not the men to be blamed for nothing”. However Metropolitan Police head Sir Charles Warren ordered the words to be rubbed out, thereby destroying what could have been a valuable clue.
- Letters from a writer or writers claiming to be the murderer were received by media outlets and Scotland Yard. The From Hell letter, sent to George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, included half a preserved human kidney, supposedly from one of the victims.
- During the hunt for the killer, more than 2000 people were interviewed, “upwards of 300” people investigated and 80 people detained
Suspects for the crimes are many and varied, including Prince Albert Victor.
You can read more about them, and the case itself, at a site called Casebook: Jack the Ripper. Very interesting.