A Brief History 2017-07-22T22:56:23+00:00

A Brief History

Below is a brief history of the worlds most notorious serial killer… Jack the Ripper


London, 1888. The capital of the British Empire and the richest and most powerful city on Earth. Yet in this city lies the East End, the most impoverished and lowest place imaginable. At the heart of the East End is Whitechapel, an area where unemployment and homelessness is rife. Hundreds cram in to dilapidated Doss Houses each night, men and women survive on a diet of meagre food and gin and crime and vice are everyday occurrences and entirely necessary to survive. Jack London described it as “the abyss” and he was right. Charles Booth’s poverty map of London had large parts of the area coloured in black, indicating “Lowest Class, Vicious, Semi-criminal.” In the Autumn of 1888 we are shone a light through the murky darkness of history, as the attention of the world became fixed on this shamefully ignored warren of grimy streets, as this was the hunting ground of Jack the Ripper.

The Whitechapel Murders

The Whitechapel Murders were committed between April 1888 and February 1891 in, or around the area of Whitechapel London. The Whitechapel Murders file contains eleven murders, all of whom were desperate women, forced at times to sell their bodies on the streets in order to survive and afford food, meagre lodgings and a glass of gin to help numb the pain of their existence. Many originally lived in more well off circumstances and had their lives ruined by alcoholism, troubled marriages and familial loss. It is generally believed that five of these women were murdered by Jack the Ripper.

Early Murders?

Emma Smith – 3rd April 1888 (d. 4th April)

In the early hours of the morning Emma Smith was attacked on the corner of Brick Lane and Osborne Street, Whitechapel. Her attackers robbed and brutally assaulted her, inserting a blunt object (most likely a stick) into her body. She managed to make her way back to her lodging house, from where she was escorted to the London Hospital. There she died the next day at 9am  from peritonitis resulting from her internal injuries. It is not generally believed that she was the victim of Jack the Ripper, but that her attackers were a gang of thugs.

Martha Tabram – 7th August 1888

Found at 4.45am on a landing of George Yard Buildings. Martha had been stabbed 39 times in the body and neck, with particular attention paid to the lower abdomen. She had been reportedly seen in the company of a soldier but her killer was never located. Over the years there has been some debate as to whether she was an early victim of Jack the Ripper.

The canonical five victims of Jack the Ripper

Polly Nicholls – 31st August 1888

Found murdered in Bucks Row at 5.30am with two deep wounds to her throat; her windpipe had been severed. Upon later examination in the mortuary it was discovered that she had also been mutilated, with a deep jagged wound on her abdomen, several shallower incisions and three or four violent cuts downwards on the right side. She is generally agreed to be the first victim of Jack the Ripper.

Annie Chapman – 8th August 1888

Found murdered in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields shortly before 6am. Her throat was cut from left to right, and she had been disembowelled with her instestines thrown over her shoulder. The killer had taken her uterus. There has been some debate among doctors at the time as to whether the killer displayed anatomical knowledge.

The Double Event

A little over three weeks passed after the murder of Annie Chapman, but in the early hours of 30th of September, the Ripper would return to strike twice in one night. This has become known as ‘The Double Event’.

Elizabeth Stride: 1.00am – 30th September 1888

First victim of the “Double Event” she was found murdered in Dutfields Yard, Berner Street. Her throat had been cut from left to right, but she had not been mutilated. Blood was still flowing from the wound, suggesting that she may have been killed just minutes before. It is generally believed that the killer may have been disturbed before he could complete his signature mutilations, which is why he killed again the same night. However some Ripperologists have theorised that the murder may have been an unrelated killing, and not the work of Jack the Ripper at all.

Catherine Eddowes: 1.45am – 30th September 1888

“Found murdered in Mitre Square just 45 minutes after the discovery of Elizabeth Stride. This was the only murder committed within the borders of the City of London”. Throat slashed from left to right, face and abdomen mutilated, intestines removed and thrown over her shoulder and her left kidney and most of her uterus had been removed and taken by her killer. At 3am a piece of her apron apparently taken by her killer was found in the doorway to the Wentworth Model Dwellings, Goulston Street, Whitechapel saturated in blood and fecal matter. Above it scrawled on the wall in chalk was the writing “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing”. On 16th October George Lusk, chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee received a package and letter containing half a kidney.

The Final Kill

Mary Kelly – 9th November 1888

She was discovered at 10.45am, however due to conflicting witness reports, and the infancy of forensic science, there are contradictory opinions as to her actual time of death. She had been severely mutilated. She was killed by a slash to the throat, her abdominal cavity had been cut open and her viscera removed. Her breasts had been cut off, her thighs stripped of muscle, and her face hacked so much that she was unrecognisable.  Her former lover, Joseph Barnett, could only identify her by her hair and eyes. Mary Kelly is generally believed to be the final victim of Jack the Ripper.

The Murders Continue?

Rose Mylett – 20th December 1888

Found strangled in Clarke’s Yard, off Poplar High Street. Debate between doctors and police about whether she was murdered or accidentally hung herself in a drunken stupor.

Alice McKenzie – 17th July 1889

Found murdered in Castle Alley, Whitechapel. Her throat was cut and she had abdominal wounds, but they were not as deep as though in the canonical series. There was divided opinion at the time about whether she was a Ripper victim.

Pinchin Street Torso – Found 10th September 1889

Torso of an unknown woman found under a railway arch in Pinchin Street, Whitechapel. No other body parts found. Not considered a Ripper case, but believed to be related to other “Torso murders” in London at the time.

Frances Coles – 13th February 1891

Last murder in the Whitechapel file, found murdered under a railway arch known as Swallow Gardens between Chamber Street and Royal Mint Street Whitechapel. Minor wounds to the back of the head consistent with being thrown to the ground and throat cut. No other mutilations.

The Police Investigation

The initial two Whitechapel Murders were investigated by Inspector Edmund Reid of H Division (Whitechapel). The Polly Nichols murder was investigated by Inspector Spratling of J Division initially, but Scotland Yard felt that more experienced officers were needed and seconded Inspectors Frederick Abberline, Henry Moore and Walter Andrews from Central Office to the case.

Abberline had spent 14 years as a detective in Whitechapel before moving to the Yard and would become the officer whose name was most associated with the investigation.

On the same day, James Monro resigned as head of CID (over an unrelated disagreement with the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren) and was replaced by Dr Robert Anderson on the 1st September. Anderson went on sick leave and extended holiday to Switzerland on September 7th, which combined with the head of H Division, Superintendent Thomas Arnold going on holiday on September 2nd, left the enquiry without an overall head so Chief Inspector Donald Swanson was appointed to coordinate the investigation from Scotland Yard.

During the course of the investigation more than 2,000 people were interviewed, 300 investigated and 80 detained. The police were seriously hindered by a lack of technology, knowledge and experience. Forensic science was in its infancy. Blood typing was still 12 years away from being discovered (and DNA evidence a century), fingerprint evidence was not used in England until 1902, crime scenes were cleared as quickly as possible, bodies were sometimes left unattended before autopsies to be stripped and cleaned by mortuary attendants, CCTV was science fiction and the police had no experience of this type of crime – what today we would classify as serial killing. All they could do was ask questions and hope someone had seen something of relevance or slip up under questioning and deploy men to the streets and hope to catch the killer in the act.

A suspect is named

A major breakthrough came on 10th September when John Pizer was arrested for being Leather Apron whom the newspapers had identified as being the killer. Pizer however had an alibi for the murders and was allowed to appear at the Chapman inquest in order to publicly clear his name.

During this time thousands of letters were written to the police. Some claimed to be from the killer. Others accused people. Some offered helpful (and not so helpful) tips to the police to help them catch the police. Among the standout ones are one accusing Sergeant William Thick of H Division of being the killer and another suggesting that it may be a crazed orang-utan (ala Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder in the Rue Morgue).

Rewards are offered

The subject that seemed to be raised the most often was the idea of a reward to anyone who helps apprehend the murderer. The Home Office replied in no uncertain terms that such practice had long since been discontinued since it was felt to do more harm than good, but that did not stop private individuals (such as the MP of Whitechapel) putting money forward, as did vigilance committees (such as the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, composed of local businessmen and chaired by George Lusk) raising and offering funds for this purpose, as well as patrolling the streets to help the hunt for the murderer (whether this helped or hindered the police investigation is another question).

The City police enter the investigation

On September 30th 1888 the investigation took another turn as a second police force became involved. London has always had two police forces – the Metropolitan Police that polices the majority of the capital, and the City Police that polices the square mile of the City of London. Catherine Eddowes murder occurred in the Mitre Square, in the borders of the square mile, bringing them into the investigation previously involving H and J divisions of the Met.

The City Police had been preparing itself for a murder being on their “patch” – putting extra patrols at their Eastern borders since the series began and being more vigilant on men seen with prostitutes. However, this did not stop them releasing Catherine Eddowes from police custody on the night of her death – she had been held for several hours at Bishopsgate Police Station for public drunkenness after police had found a crowd around her while she lay in the road on Aldgate High Street, the press at the time have suggested that the reason the crowd had been attracted was because she had been doing an impersonation of a fire engine in the street – the sad irony being if she had been on Met territory they would have kept her locked up for the night instead of releasing her when deemed sober enough to care for herself.

The City police (unlike the Met) were their own entity and did not report to the Home Secretary. Because of this the Home Secretary had to write to the City to ask for an update into their investigation four weeks later as they had not been kept in the loop (nor did they have any obligation to be).

The City’s investigation appeared to run on similar lines to the Met (the report to the Home Office after a request for information is unfortunately one of the few records of their investigation that survived WWII), and a City officer attended nightly briefings with the Met at Leman Street Police Station.

A controversial decision

It was also on the night of Eddowes murder that perhaps the most controversial action by the police took place. Sir Charles Warren, commissioner of the Met Police, choose to have the graffiti (potentially left by the killer fleeing the scene of Eddowes murder) erased off the wall before they could be photographed.

He justified his actions by trying to avoid violence and riots by a bloodthirsty population he felt would seek vengeance on Jews after reading the words (the riots in Trafalgar Square in 1887 dubbed “Bloody Sunday” which were exasperated by his mishandling of the situation probably fresh in his mind). Warren was heavily criticised by the City police, politicians, the press and some of his own officers for erasing what may have been one of the only pieces of evidence left by the killer. Regardless of the reasons, this decision has spawned many conspiracy theories and ideas of police coverups.

Send in the Bloodhounds

The police, eager (or perhaps) desperate to try new measures to try and catch the murderer recruited two unlikely new detectives to their ranks to aid in the hunt. Their names – Baranby and Burgho, two bloodhounds from Scarbrough. Their use had been suggested by several letter writers at the time and Warren witnessed (and personally took part acting as quarry) in several trial runs in London at the start of October. Warren was satisfied with their results (though some newspapers reported that Warren and the bloodhounds got lost in the fog on Hyde Park, this story appears to be completely fictitious) and ordered that they be immediately brought to the scene of the next murder before the location was investigated by police. Further experiments showed that they were incapable of tracking through crowded city streets however, and the police decided against purchasing the dogs – a decision that was not made known to the detectives on the ground in H Division.

Robert Anderson returns home

During the time of the Double Event Anderson was of course still on holiday, but that soon changed following the negative press attention he was ordered to return to London. On the 6th October he took over control of the investigation from Swanson and became the most senior police officer directly involved in the case. In later years Anderson (and Swanson) would both claim the case had been solved.

As October progressed Sir Charles Warren was fighting a battle with the government, particularly the Home Office and Home Secretary Sir Henry Matthews, to whom he as directly responsible. When one MP announced in the House of Commons that Warren should seal off Whitechapel and forcibly search every single building, he publicly retorted that he would be happy to do so, but as the Home Secretary could not order order him to commit an illegal act he would first require assurances from the government he would not be punished for breaking the law.

This battle reached it’s culmination when Warren wrote a highly critical article in Murray’s Magazine criticising his control of CID and praising vigilante’s on the streets of Whitechapel. This brought him an official rebuke from the Home Office for publicly discussing his office without official clearance, causing Warren to resign on the 8th November stating that he felt unable to effectively do his job if he could not publicly respond to criticisms. The following day Mary Kelly was murdered and police waited three hours before entering her room for the bloodhounds to arrive, before being informed that they were not coming due to a dispute with the owner and that Warren had resigned.

Home office pardon

On November 10th the Home Office offers a pardon to anyone who provides information that leads to the capture of the murderer, other than the murderer themselves (an idea originally proposed by both George Lusk and Sir Charles Warren at the start of October). The Home Secretary appoints James Monro as Warren’s successor. Despite popular opinion and the ideas of conspiracy theorists, the police presence and investigation in Whitechapel did not wind down immediately after Kelly’s murder and the boots on the ground investigation continued well into the New Year. In February 1889 the extra plain clothes police patrolling the streets were reduced.

Final days

Further murders occurred in 1889 and 1891, but they did not generate the same fear and panic that the earlier murders did. While the investigation was never officially closed, there are few entries in the files following 1891.


Hundreds or even thousands of letters were written to the police, press and prominent people in the case in 1888 and even the years that followed. They claimed to be the from the killer himself and were full of lurid penny dreadful-esque prose and mocked the police for their inability to solve the crimes. Most (if not all) of these are today considered to be forgeries (and the police at the time treated them as such too), but some Ripper authors have assumed some (or sometimes even all of them!) to be genuine. Three letters are of particular note.

The Central News Agency received a letter on the 27th September addressed to “The Boss”. They forwarded it on to the police on the 29th September.

“Dear Boss,

I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly
Jack the Ripper

Dont mind me giving the trade name

PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha”

It is from this letter we get the name Jack the Ripper. The police initially treated the letter as a hoax and did not publicly release, but rethought this after the Double Event on September 30th (especially as Eddowes had one earlobe severed, possibly fulfilling the letters promises).

On the 1st October a postcard was received, in the same handwriting and referencing the first letter.

I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off. Had not got time to get ears off for police thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.

Jack the Ripper

The police erred on the side of caution and released fscimilies of both communications in the hope a member of the public would recognise the writing. However, many senior police officers suggested after the murders that both these letters were a hoax by a local journalist trying to keep the story alive.

Both of these letters vanished from the police files in the years following the murders. The Dear Boss letter was returned in 1987 but the Saucy Jacky postcard is still missing.

On the 15th October George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee received a letter and parcel. On opening the parcel he found half a human kidney. The letter read:

From hell
Mr Lusk
I send you half the
Kidne I took from one women
prasarved it for you tother pirce
I fried and ate it was very nise I
may send you the bloody knif that
took it out if you only wate a whil

Catch me when
you Can
Mishter Lusk.

It has been theorised that this letter could have been a hoax sent by medical students (a theory suggested at the time), but some Ripperologists feel that if any letter is genuine it would be this one. Which makes it more interesting to note that it is not signed Jack the Ripper, the name by which the killer would become known.

This letter also went missing from the police files, it’s current whereabouts unknown.


Well over 100 names have been suggested as Jack the Ripper, here are a few of the more well known ones:

Montague John Druitt – A barrister and school teacher found drowned at the end of December 1888

Aaron Kosminski – A lunatic caged in an asylum, supposedly positively identified as an eyewitness who refused to testify.

Sir William Gull – The Queen’s physician, committed the murders to cover up an illegitimate Royal baby as part of a Masonic conspiracy

Severin Klosowski (aka George Chapman) – A polish barber surgeon and publican who lived in Whitechapel, hanged in 1903 for poisoning three of his wives.

Francis Tumblety – An American quack doctor said to have a hatred of women.

James Maybrick – Himself the victim in an infamous Victorian murder case, the supposed writer of the Diary of Jack the Ripper.

Walter Sickert – Artist who liked to paint dark scenes featuring violence and murder.