The Whitechapel murders
In Adrian Room’s An A-Z of British Life (1990: 184) one can read that Jack the Ripper was “the nickname given to the undiscovered murderer of at least seven women in London in 1888.” The number seven might be a bit too high, but it is sure that he killed at least five prostitutes and mutilated four of them brutally. The so-called “canonical five” are Mary-Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. They were murdered in London’s East End, which “was at one time famous for its docks […] and notorious for its slums” (Room 1990: 110). The East End, especially the district of Whitechapel, where “nearly two-thirds of its population lived below the poverty line, while 13 per cent faced daily starvation” was the perfect place to commit these crimes. It was a place, where “prostitution and crime were inseparably linked” (Evans & Rumbelow 2006: 37).
The autumn of terror 1888
The victims were all killed with a throat-cut and (apart from Elizabeth Stride) were then mutilated in the lower body parts. The brutality of these mutilations increased with each murder. Whereas the first four victims were killed on the streets, Kelly was murdered in her room, where the culprit had enough time to fulfil his perverse desires. After this, his ‘highlight’, he vanished from the scene. Police was clueless, the press reported worldwide, letters from all over the country came in, allegedly written by the murderer, and even Queen Victoria commented on the crimes and the living conditions in the East End. Known as the first serial killer, the Ripper went down in history, and the fascination that surrounds him and his time lasts until today, as we can see in this blog.
I became a Ripperologist in 2007, when all of a sudden I typed the name „Jack the Ripper“ into Google. From this point on, I was hooked. There is an ongoing fascination for the case that keeps inspiring many amateur investigators called “Ripperologists.“ It should be made clear that the fascination is not about the crimes themselves. What the murderer did was gruesome and terrible. It is the whole mystery of the case, along with the time and place it occurred. The more you try to find out about the Ripper murders, the more you see paths along the main road that lead into other interesting directions. Once you take a route, you may find it hard to not get lost on your way, as many more sideways open up from there. The interest in the case produced some fiction dealing with the Ripper. Movies, series, and books invite you to take every direction you want – be it a certain suspect or a certain area of special interest. It is all there.
The Jack the Ripper tour in February 2019
In February 2019 I did a tour to the murder sites in the East End. I started at 6pm in the evening. The area is still rough and at times one should be a bit careful. The main roads are all busy, the side streets are empty and one still gets a very good glimpse in how the area and the atmosphere in 1888 must have been like. I started at the Aldgate East Station. From there I walked just up the Whitechapel High Street until I came across the „White Hart Pub“ on the left side.
Severin Klosowski also known as George Chapman used to work as a hairdresser and barber in the basement of the White Hart Pub in 1888. Klosowski was a junior surgeon from Poland. He left for America in 1891 and came back in 1892. He owned several pubs and became famous for murdering his three wives with poison. He was hanged in 1903. Klosowski is a (very unlikely) suspect in the Ripper case. Allegedly, Inspector Frederick Abberline, the leading investigator in the Ripper hunt, believed him to be the Ripper. When his ex-sergeant George Godley had arrested Klosowksi, Abberline alledgedly said: „You’ve got Jack the Ripper at last!“
Right next to the pub is a small passage that leads into Gunthorpe Street. If you follow the dark passage you come right through to…
This is where Martha Tabram met her murderer. Martha Tabram was murdered on 8th of August 1888 in the George Yard Buildings. She and another prostitute, Pearly Poll, were seen that night, drinking with two soliders in various pubs in the area. The couples split – probably to have sex – and Martha’s dead body was found the next morning on the first floor landing of George Yard Buildings. She was stabbed 39 times. This does not fit the modus operandi of the Ripper, who killed his victims through strangulation and then a cut to the throat. However, some believe that Martha Tabram was a victim of the Ripper.
Just around the corner is the former junction of Osborne Street and Brick Lane. Emma Smith was attacked there on 4th of April 1888. A gang attacked and robbed her and inserted a blunt object into her vagina. She could walk back to her lodgings, was taken to the London Hospital, but died of her injuries. I would pass the Royal London Hospital on my way up Whitechapel High Street to the first „canonical“ crime scene.
The Royal London Hospital was also home to Joseph Merrick, better known to the world as the Elephant Man, another historical character that shaped and was shaped by the Victorian period. He lived from 1862 to 1890, and “his grotesque appearance and ginormous head made him an outcast.” He was unable to earn for his living and people were scared by his sight; “after joining the freak show in his early twenties, news eventually reached Frederick Treves, a surgeon in the London Hospital.” Dr Treves examined him and “invited him to live in the Royal London Hospital. After a high profile fund-raising campaign, he was given a room in the hospital where he began to attract visits from prominent members of society, including Princess Alexandra” (Hartung 2002: 160). At the age of 27, Merrick died in his bed. There are some who believe him to be the Ripper, but these assumptions can’t be taken seriously.
If you pass Whitechapel tube station and walk just a little further up the road, you come across The Blind Beggar pub. This pub has no relation to the Ripper murders, but is known for its connection to the notorious Kray brothers, “Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the twin brothers who ruled the East End in the fifties and sixties” (Jones 2002: 28). They dealt with “the general business of drugs, prostitution, and ‘protection’ racketerring” (Ackroyd 2000: 271). At the same time they were famous night club owners and surrounded themselves with high-class celebrities and politicians. On the 9th of March 1966, Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell in „The Blind Beggar“ right through the eye, whilst the music box was playing „The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore“.
Just opposite is Sidney Street, famous for the „Siege of Sidney Street“ in 1911, a shootout between police and army forces and Latvian revolutionaries. Before the gunfight, there was a series of events, beginning in December 1910, with an attempted jewellery robbery in Houndsditch, in which three policemen and the leader of the Latvian immigrant gang were killed and two persons wounded. During the siege, Winston Churchill, who was Home Secretary back then, was also at the scene. The hourse burnt down in the end, rumours are that the two revolutionaries burned down the house they were hiding in, when they realized they were losing.
Just behind Whitechapel tube station, go into Brady Street and you will find the first first „canonical“ murder site.
Mary Ann „Polly“ Nichols (1845 – 1888)
In 1888, the East End was a melting pot of poverty and violence. It was the heart of darkness, the abyss, in which many immigrants lived. All this in the heart of the British Empire. In the East End people tried to survive, often spending their money on gin. Women worked as prostitutes to earn the money for a bed in one of the many lodging houses. „Polly“ Nichols was one of those women. She was a drinker and had left home and her five children in 1880. On the night to Friday the 31st of August she was seen leaving the „Frying Pan“ pub in Brick Lane. A little later she was in a doss house in Thrawl Street, but she had no money for a bed. She told the landlord „I’ll soon get my doss money – see what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now!“ At 3:40 am her body was found in Buck’s Row by two working men and PC Neil. Her throat was cut and there were stab wounds in her stomach and her genitals. A small pool of blood had formed underneath her and soaked in her hair and her clothes.
Buck’s Row was renamed Duward Street shortly after the murder due to the many spectators that wanted to visit the murder site. Although there were many warehouses and houses nearby, nobody had heard anything. When I came to visit the street was closed further down, so I couldn’t make my way straight to Hanbury Street (the next location). Polly’s body was found by the school, just about where the blue building site door stands.
Annie Chapman (1841 – 1888)
„Dark Annie“ was a small woman with curly hair and a thick nose. She was seen on the 8th of September at about 5:30am with a man in his forties in Hanbury Street. He wore a deerstalker and was later famously described as „shabby genteel“ and „of foreign appearance“. A passing woman heard them talking. The stranger asks Annie „Will you?“ At 6am a lodger of Hanbury Street 29 walked into the back yard and found Annie’s dead body. Her throat was cut. She was lying on her back, her intestines placed over her right shoulder. Due to the wounds, the police believed the murderer to be a slaughterman. There are also rumours that the murderer could have anatomical knowledge. Maybe it was a surgeon? The name „Leather Apron“ was given to the murderer. The whole of the East End, the whole of London, was on its feet now. A serial killer was on the loose.
The night of the „double event“
The name „Leather Apron“ changed soon. Hundreds letters arrived at Scotland Yard, many of them seemingly written by the killer. They were all written by the public. One of them was taken seriously, as it included details only the culprit could know: On the 29th of September, the „Dear Boss“ letter arrived at Scotland Yard. It was signed with „Jack the Ripper“. The murderer had a name.
Elizabeth Stride (1843 – 1888)
As you walk down Commercial Street, you pass the Old Spitalfields Market on the right hand side and on your left hand side you pass the Ten Bells, the pub where the Ripper victims used to drink. Right next to it is Christ Church, Spitalfields, the „centre“ of all the Ripper murders. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of Britain’s finest architects. Hawksmoor’s buildings have become famous for their pagan symbols and their connections to mystery and crime. I did a tour along his churches the next day. The tour entry will follow soon.
You walk down Commercial Street and cross Whitechapel High Street. Leman Street begins here. The former Leman Street Police Station was located down the road. The investigators, such as Frederick Abberline and Edmund Reid, used to work there. It is an important setting in the great TV series „Ripper Street„.
I walked on along Commercial Road and then took a turn to the right into the former Berner Street, now Henriques Street. This is the scene of the murder of Elizabeth Stride.
The night of the 30th of September 1888 would become famous as the „double event“, as there were two murders that night.
Elizabeth „Long Liz“ Stride was born in 1843 in Gothenburg, Sweden and came to London in 1866. She was seen by various people with various men around Berner Street. Located off Berner Street was Dutfield’s Yard, right next to the International Working Men’s Educational Club, a socialist club. PC Smith saw her at around 12:35am with a man he described as 28, 5’7“, wearing a deerstalker and with a dark complexion. He carried a parcel wrapped in newspaper. Shortly after, Israel Schwartz walked along Berner Street and saw a woman being attacked by a man in front of Dutfield’s Yard. Another man was standing on the other side of the road. When the attacker saw Schwartz, he yelled „Lipski!“ and the other man started to follow Schwartz. Schwartz panicked and ran away. He described the attacker as 30, 5’5“, with fair complexion, dark hair, a moustache and a black peaked cap.
15 minutes later, at 1am, Louis Diemschutz rode his cart and pony down Berner Street and into the yard. His pony backed away. He shone his light into the yard and saw Elizabeth Stride’s dead body. Only her throat had been cut. Diemschutz ran into the Jewish club to alarm the other members. It is widely believed that he disturbed the Ripper. He might have still been in the yard when Diemschutz arrived. The Ripper could not finish his work, so he searched for his second victim that night..
Catherine Eddows (1842 – 1888)
The Ripper crossed the „border“ to the City of London, the square mile. Through this, another police force started to investigate. London has two police forces: The City of London police operates in the Square Mile, and the Metropolitan Police operates in the rest of London, with its headquarter Scotland Yard. By entering the City, the Ripper made the two police forces working with and against each other, as their Commissioners were rather rivals than allies.
The Ripper found his second victim that night in Mitre Square. Catherine Eddowes had claimed that she knew who the Ripper was. She was arrested on the evening of the 30th of September for being drunk. After she slept in her cell, she was released at 1am. PC Watking entered Mitre Square on his patrol walk at 1:30 and saw nothing. At 1:35am three men came out of the Imperial Club in Duke Street. At the corner of Duke Street and Church Passage (see picture), they saw Eddowes with a man described as age 30, 5′ 7“, medium build, fair hair and moustache, and with peaked cap.
At 1:45 she was found dead in Mitre Square by PC Watkins (see spot below).
Catherine’s throat was cut (she was almost beheaded), her intestines were placed over her right shoulder, her left kidney was removed. The killer also mutilated her face. There were cuts to the eyelids, the top of the nose was cut off, and two triangular cuts were on her cheeks. The Ripper had fled the scene across the border again, as he left message in…
In this doorway, where there is a Fish and Chips takeaway now, a message was found that same night. It is assumed that the Ripper fled Mitre Square and headed towards Goulston Street. There are two versions to the message, as it was wiped away be the police forces without being photographed. The message was antisemite, which in an area where many Jews lived, was seen as a risk. Beneath the message, a piece of apron was found. It belonged to Catherine Eddowes‘ apron.
I ran into two guided Ripper tours. It started to rain and I bought fish and chips there and stood in that exact doorway, waiting for the rain to stop and enjoying my meal. Inside the restaurant they had a copy of the message and many Ripper suspects‘ photographs on the walls.
On the 1st of October, a postcard arrived, beginning with „Dear Boss“ and signed with „Saucy Jack„. It was also taken seriously. Nowadays it is believed that the letter and the postcard (and therefore the name „Jack the Ripper“) were the clever inventions of a journalist. The murders were in the press all over the world, making the Ripper the first serial killer known worldwide.
On the 15th of October, George Lusk, founder of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee received a parcel. The letter in it was entitled „From Hell“ and the package included a kidney, presumably of Catherine Eddowes. It had a different handwriting than the „Dear Boss“ letters, but was also claimed authentic.
The rain didn’t stop, so I grabbed the leftovers of my meal and headed towards my last destination…
Mary Jane Kelly (1863 – 1888)
Mary Kelly was the youngest of the Ripper’s victims and the only one killed indoors. After the „double event“ and the following hysteria, the Ripper waited some time to strike again. The whole of October nothing happened, but what happened in the night from the 8th to the 9th of November in Miller’s Court off Dorset Street was and is beyond imagination.
Mary Kelly had her own little room in Miller’s Court, off Dorsett Stride. The site lies off Commercial Street on the one side and Old Spitalfield’s Market on the other. On that fateful night Mary was seen taking a customer into her room. At 1am she was heard singing „A Violet From Mother’s Grave„. At 2am, George Hutchinson, who knew Kelly, saw her outside with a man he described as age 34/35, 5’6“, dark eyes and hair and carrying a parcel. At 4am two neighbours in Miller’s Court heard a faint cry „Oh murder!“, but did not react for such cries were common in the area.
The next morning, a rent collector discovered her dead body through the window of her small ground floor room. She was lying on her bed. Only at 1:30pm the door was broken into. Nobody present ever forgot what they saw. The Ripper had had several hours to „work“ in the room. Mary’s throat was cut, her face so mutilated it was unrecognizable. Her uterus, kidney and one of her breasts were placed by her head. Her liver was placed between her feet, her intestines were placed over her right shoulder, her spleen over her left. Parts of the abdomen and thighs were on the bedside table. Her heart was absent.
Some witnesses claimed to have seen Kelly the morning after the murder. She remains the most mysterious of the victims. After the murder in Miller’s Court, the Ripper vanished. Of course, there were murders in Whitechapel afterwards, but none of them fit the modus operandi of the Ripper.
I walked up to Brushfield Street and was greeted by THIS at the end. Christ Church. „Nicholas Hawksmoor, your tour will come tomorrow“, I thought.
“…we were almost lost in theories; there were so many of them” Inspector Frederick Abberline.
Of course, there are many Ripper suspects. The myth and mystery have grown since 1888 and it doesn’t seem to stop. A selection of (very unlikely) suspect:
- Montague John Druitt
- Aaron Kosminski
- James Maybrick
- Dr. Tumblety
- Walter Sickert
- The Royal Conspiracy theory
None of them was it. We will never know who it was.
Since the gruesome murders and the influence they had on police, society, press, etc. his shadow looms large over the East End. And it will probably never stop. The chances to find out who he was are becoming increasingly smaller as time progresses. On the other hand more suspects enter the stage, the more time passes. In some respect this is a good thing: There is no solution. Actually we do not want to find out who he is, because all of the mystery and all of the fascination would melt away. The way the culprit in the series „Whitechapel“ is presented is a good take on this: He is somehow faceless (he even has no hair and eyebrows), he has no identity. But by choosing different identities at the same time, he is somebody, he is everybody. And that is what Jack the Ripper is. He is nobody and everybody at the same time.
Alan Moore sums up the fascination for the Ripper murders in From Hell very nicely:
Five murdered paupers, one anonymous assailant. This reality is dwarfed by the vast theme-park we’ve built around it. Truth is, this has never been about the murders, not the killer or his victims. It’s about us. About our minds and how they dance (Moore & Campbell 2006: Appendix II: p.22, panels 6-7).
And that is what it is all about.
Thinking of „From Hell“: I did the „From Hell“ tour two days later. A blog entry on that will follow. But after the Ripper tour the only thing I did was having a beer in „The Ten Bells“.
List of references
Ackroyd, Peter (2000): London. The biography. London: Chatto & Windus.
Evans, Stewart P.; Rumbelow, Donald (2006): Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard investigates. Stroud: Sutton.
Hartung, Heike (2002): “Walking and Writing the City: Visions of London in the Works of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair”. In: Onega Jaén, Susana; Stotesbury, John A. (Hg.) (2002): London in literature. Visionary mappings of the metropolis ; [papers at the fifth conference of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE) in Helsinki, August 2000]. European Society for the Study of English; Conference of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE). Heidelberg: Winter (Anglistische Forschungen, 309).
Jones, Steve (2002): London… The Sinister Side. 13. udgave. Notthingham: Wicked Publications.
Moore, Alan; Mullins, Pete; Campbell, Eddie (2006): From hell. Being a melodrama in sixteen parts. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.
Room, Adrian (1990): An A to Z of British life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.