London, 1888 and a humble meat cart driver, Charles Allen Lechmere is about to discover a most grizzly and terrifying find, the body of Mary Ann Nichols. This most brutal encounter would begin a murder investigation that 130 years later would still turn the blood cold and create a horrifying killer whose name would ingrain itself into history with mythological proportions, Jack the Ripper.
Britain’s most enduring and infamous serial killer has wrongly been dubbed the world’s first. This would be factually untrue, but to say that Jack the Ripper is the world’s first modern day serial killer would be a more appropriate title. For never had a series of murders enraptured the public consciousness or press with such feverish attention before.
To those who are fortunate to not know of the Ripper’s crimes, (and there aren’t many of them) they accumulated in the well-known Whitechapel murders. There has always been a confusion about the Whitechapel Murders and the crimes of Jack the Ripper. Police records state that the murders in Whitechapel began with Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram, at the time believed to not be associated with the Ripper murders, although the latter has been linked to the serial killer.
The murders of Jack the Ripper are associated with the ‘Canonical Five’, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Ann Kelly. It was these five victim’s deaths that would terrify the residents of the East End of London and endure decade after decade of mystery.
Of all the facts and conspiracies, and there are many, the one circumstance that is undeniable is the illusiveness of the perpetrator. Jack the Ripper was and never has been discovered. There have been over 300 suspects ranging from intriguing leads to the down-right ridiculous. Everyone from a Polish hairdresser, a Royal Prince and even the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick have been accused, but no-one, including professional investigators and ‘Ripperologists’ have been able to conclusively prove who brandished those most deadly of blades.
It is this element that has paved the way for Jack the Ripper to take on an almost mythical image. The top hat, long black coat, horse drawn carriage, and black leather medical bag have become synonymous with the killer, even though it is highly questionable whether the real Jack looked anything like this. Most of the early witness testimonials state otherwise. Though with Jack the Ripper the sensationalised narrative has, to some, frustratingly overwhelmed the factual truth.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this stems from the most notorious and highly disputed conspiracies, the royal connection. Instigated in the 1970’s by Joseph Gorman, the Jack the Ripper tales would take a shocking and, at the time, convincing turn. Gorman had claimed that he had been told that Sir Walter Gull, Queen Victoria’s physician had committed the murders and a subsequent cover-up had followed.
He stated that his Catholic grandmother had married Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence and bore a child of whom Gorman believed was his mother and as the legitimate daughter, was the rightful heir to the throne. His claim extended to the belief that the Ripper murders had been staged as part of a conspiracy to hush up any potential scandal by killing those who knew of the birth.
The claims of Gorman have since been disregarded as nonsense stating that Sir William Gull was too old and ill to be galivanting around London butchering innocent women. And like so many other claims to the killings, the mystery of Jack the Ripper continued unabated and unsolved.
130 years have passed since Jack the Ripper committed his horrific killings and the interest has seemed to grow with every year. Ripper Tours around London’s East End are more popular than ever, even though the landscape of the city has changed irrevocably since the Victorian days. Yet still in their thousands, tourist flock to the sights of where the unfortunate women were slain. It’s as if they wish to garner a feel for the times, the fear and panic that must have ensued through the population of the Capital. Not much remains of the original areas of Whitechapel as modern-day development wipes out the cobbled streets and old slums. Except for ‘The Ten Bells Pub’, the frequented drinking stop-off of the Ripper’s victims, barely anything is left. Though as the brick and lamps vanish what does persist is the enduring eerie feeling these famed murders have left behind.
Jack the Ripper has seen through a century of intrigue, investigations, conspiracy, protests and sadly similar modern-day murders and still his brutal legacy survives. There are two reasons for this. One, the murders themselves. The five victims and the ruthlessness of each of their demise shocked a Victorian London and we still feel the vibrations of this today. In particular, Mary Ann Kelly who is regarded in popular culture as the Ripper’s final victim. Her death was notoriously vicious and the black and white photographs of the murder scene, even after 130 years, still shock and horrify.
The second and perhaps most potent addiction of the Ripper case, is it remains unsolved. Ol’ Jack was never brought to justice and in turn his victims were never rewarded theirs. It is the unanswered and perhaps now unanswerable question of who Jack the Ripper was, that has allowed the murders to stalk the public consciousness for all this time.
Instead, for the last 130 years we have had to fill the blanks, create suspects and even wild stories to fulfil the unfinished narrative that will always evade those in search of the identity of the killer. It is this that ultimately allows Jack to survive, to lurk within the shadows of our deepest fears as a ghoulish killer, a murderer of mythical proportions never to be found and never to face the horror of his most ruthless work.