Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Monster's Mind: Jack the Ripper

by Regina Jeffers

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a BIG Matthew Macfadyen fan. So, needless to say, I am anticipating the premiere of "Ripper Street" on BBC America on January 19 at 9 P.M. And yes, I do realize "'Ripper Street' is a BBC mini-series set in Whitechapel in London's East End in 1889, six months after the infamous Jack the Ripper murders."

That being said, I thought we could take a look at the definitive serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Many consider "Jack" the most terrifying of killers. The pure ferocity of Jack's crimes continue to fascinate us over a century later.

The killer we know as Jack the Ripper made his first appearance on 31 August 1888 with the murder of a prostitute named Mary 'Polly' Nichols. Mary's was the third killing of a prostitute in London's East End, and despite its brutality, it did not initially attract attention. However, a week later, another prostitute, Annie Chapman, known as 'Dark Annie,' met a similar death. Mary's throat and torso had been slit open, and there were stab wounds to the genitals. Polly also sported a slit throat, but with Polly, the Ripper  had disemboweled the woman, even going so far as to drape her entrails over Polly's shoulder and to cut her vagina and ovaries. The precision of the cuts immediately led investigators to believe that the killer had medical training and was familiar with dissecting bodies in a post-mortem room.

On September 30, the killer upped the ante when he killed twice in one night. Elizabeth Stride, a seamstress and part-time prostitute, was the first victim. 'Long Liz' was done away with by a knife wound to the throat. Unlike Mary and Polly, though, Elizabeth displayed no other markings. Most experts believe the Ripper was interrupted in his mutilation of Elizabeth's body. Dissatisfied, Jack the Ripper struck a second time in the same evening. He killed prostitute Catherine Eddowes with characteristic brutality. For example, the killer had removed Catherine's kidney. In addition, someone had written on the wall of the building behind which Catherine was found this cryptic message: 'The Juwes are not the men that will be blamed for nothing.' Uncertain what the message meant, an investigating officer had the message removed, claiming he wished to avoid anti-Jewish hysteria.

Shortly before the double murder, the Central News Agency had received a letter reportedly from the killer. CNA ignored the first letter, but a second one arrived within hours of the first. In it, the note's author signed the letter 'Jack the Ripper.' The moniker brought the expected sensationalism. Two weeks later, a third letter arrived. This one was directed to the attention of George Lusk, head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. This third letter was, obviously, from a different author. The note showed the writer to be less literate than the first two and more disturbing. The return address simply said "From Hell," and inside was a slice of human tissue, one the writer claimed to be part of Eddowes' removed organ.

Another three weeks passed before the Ripper struck again. Mary Kelly, like the others, was a prostitute, but a different mode of operation occurred. Mary Kelly was killed indoors, in a room in Miller's Court. Her body was the most brutalized. The killer had partially skinned Kelly, disemboweled her, and many of her organs, including her uterus and a fetus taken from it, were displayed like trophies about the room.

Victorian London held its breath and waited another murder, but none came. A knife murder of a prostitute occurred in 1890 and again in 1892, but neither displayed the characteristic savagery of the Ripper's murders. As quickly as he appeared, Jack the Ripper was gone.

Many theories as to the Ripper's identity have risen from time to time. Some of the suspects have included Queen Victoria's grandson, Prince Eddy, who was thought to have taken his revenge on prostitutes because he had "earned" a case of syphilis from a prostitute. Then there is the idea that Sir William Gull, the Queen's surgeon, had conspired to cover up an illegitimate child that Prince Eddy had conceived with a Whitechapel girl. Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell reportedly spent $8 million of her own money to prove the Victorian painter Walter Sickert was the murderer. We shall likely never know the true identity of the world's most infamous murderer. I particularly found the 2006 BBC News article on "Jack the Ripper's Face Revealed," which uses modern profiling techniques to discover the face of the killer.

18 comments:

  1. Fascinating, Regina. There was some suggestion he was an American. Although Cornwell failed to find any DNA on letters held by Scotland Yard, written by a man purporting to be the Ripper, to compare with samples taken from Sickert's desk and canvasses, she found one letter had the same unusual watermark as Sickert's writing paper, provided by his stationer father.

    "If a jury then had seen that," she said, "they would have said 'hang him'." From an article in the Guardian.

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    1. That is interesting, Maggi. I must find the article to read.

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  2. Living in that time in that area of London must have been terrifying. The methods of police work were so basic that a smart killer like that was nigh unstoppable. I get the shivers when I think of him.

    Interesting post!

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    1. The new series "Ripper Street" shows the increased use of "forensics" in police work. I find that interesting, and, of course, having the pleasure of looking at Matthew Macfadyen and listening to his seductive voice is a plus.

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  3. Monstrous, but interesting. Good post.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by today. I am pleased you found the post interesting.

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  4. What fascinates me most about JTR is the fact that he really *should* have been caught. When you read about the details of his murders, he took unbelievable risks, and, in at least several cases, just missed being caught literally red-handed. The sheer foolhardy arrogance of his methods is peculiarly chilling.

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    1. I am certain the "thrill of the kill" was compelling.

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  5. Great post, Regina! I am eagerly awaiting the new series as well, partly because of the time period and partly because of Matthew Macfadyen! Thanks!

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    1. Oh, Lana, we speak the same language. In my March release of The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy there are numerous murders, but none so horrid as those described above.

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  6. Have watched the first few episodes of 'Ripper Street' I can say it is excellent. It feels quite authentic, and I especially like the rather Victorian language - it's very lyrical - hope you enjoy it too.

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    1. Carol, I have purposely avoided watching the episodes online (although it has been very tempting to do so). It will be my Saturday night pleasure!!!

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  7. I am so excited about this show..just dvr it..so I don't miss it..Thanks for the heads up!!

    Kimberlee
    www.girllostinabook.com

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  8. I understand that the show is a bit gritty, but done very well. Like you, I'm looking forward to the show, and although it takes place some six months after the Ripper murders, it has a wonderful Victorian feel to it.
    Thanks for joining me today, Kimberlee.

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  9. I have my DVR set too! And like you Regina, I'm watching it for my love for Matthew!! Although, the time period and the events (murders) are very interesting too! I wonder what happened to Jack -- if he just stopped, was killed or died of some sickness. I wouldn't think someone that brutal would just stop, they seem to be driven.

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  10. The composite photo in that 2006 article does not seem all that distinctive. JTR could have been anyone, really- a proper English gentlemen, an Italian or Spanish gentleman even (from just his appearance.)

    Thanks for this post. I too have been waiting for Ripper Street as well for many reasons (one being its star!)

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  11. JACK THE RIPPER book is amazing and I hope everyone goes out and gets it :)

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