In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jack The Ripper: 120 Years Later

One of the greatest mysteries in the history of crime is the true identity of Jack The Ripper. The cunningly elusive killer laid waste to London’s East End in the fall of 1888 by brutally murdering five prostitutes. On the hundred and twentieth anniversary of the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Katherine Eddowes (known as the ‘double event’), I submit to you this little piece on the most infamous serial killer in history.

Dozens of theories have surfaced over the years, naming everyone from British royalty to famous writer Lewis Carroll. One hundred years after the original crimes were committed, a two-hour special aired on British television called The Secret Identity of Jack The Ripper. Hosted by Peter Ustinov, it was here, in front of a panel of experts, that included historians and members of the FBI and Scotland Yard, that the five prime suspects were named in the interest of deducing which of them was most likely Jack. Robert Donston Stephenson and Sir William Gull – who was the Royal physician at the centre of the conspiracy outlined in Stephen Knight’s controversial 1976 book The Final Solution, which was also the impetus for Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel From Hell, later adapted into the 2001 film starring Johnny Depp – were quickly discounted due their old age and frailness. Gull had suffered a stroke a few years before the murders so, even if assisted, would not have had the physical strength to perpetrate the crimes.

The evidence was far more substantial against Prince Albert and Montague John Druitt (their main suspect) though. Druitt’s body washed up on the shore of the Thames a few months after the last killing and Scotland Yard were so sure the case was closed, that they told the vigilante committee that the streets were safe and they could cease their patrols. Alas, both the Prince and Druitt both had airtight alibis for one or more of the Ripper murders.

This only left one man. A polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski, who was so far out of the public eye, that not even one photograph exists of him. He was a paranoid schizophrenic known for his hatred of women. The most compelling piece of evidence against him was that an eyewitness, having seen him in the company of Kate Eddowes shortly before her death, positively identified him. Alas, Kosminski was never charged because the witness would not testify, citing that he didn’t want the condemnation of a fellow Jew on his conscience. When Kosminski was put under surveillance (and later institutionalized for the rest of his life), the murders stopped. The only thing that doesn’t jive with this theory is that Kosminski lacked the surgical skill to perform the kinds of wounds to which the victims were subjected. There was also some confusion about possible mistaken identity between Kosminski and another man named David Cohen. The panel of the 1988 documentary all agreed (as do I) that Aaron Kosminski was most likely Jack The Ripper.

Despite this, there were still many who did not buy Kosminski as Jack and the search continued. Then, in 1992, the so-called Ripper Diary surfaced. Published the following year by Shirley Harrison as The Diary Of Jack The Ripper, it featured detailed accounts of the crimes and a final confession that the author was indeed Jack. The alleged author of the diary was a man named James Maybrick, a wealthy Liverpool cotton merchant. Although he never mentions himself by name, investigation into the information presented in the diary does conclusively point to Maybrick being the author. Maybrick died the year after the Whitechapel murders, allegedly poisoned by his wife, Florence.

The diary was heavily criticized upon its release and quickly put under the microscope. Expert Kenneth Rendell pointed out that some of the vernacular used in the diary was definitely not of the nineteenth century and tests later conducted on the ink suggested it was written recently and in one or two sittings, not the several over time that the entries stated. Though the diary is nowadays a widely dismissed document, there are still a small number of Ripperologists that maintain its authenticity.

The next and most recent entry into the always-expanding book of theories was the 2005 book Uncle Jack. A few years previous, writer Tony Williams had unintentionally discovered a connection between Jack The Ripper and his grandmother’s great-great-uncle Dr. John Williams. In Uncle Jack, he posed that the five women were used as guinea pigs, dissected in order to further the doctor’s medical research.

Here is a summary of the evidence Williams compiled that ties his distant relative to the Ripper.

-John Williams was a doctor, specializing in obstetrics.
-Based on the cutting pattern of neck wounds inflicted by the Ripper, he was left-handed. The statue of Williams in the National Library Of Wales in Aberystwyth shows him holding an item in his left hand, suggesting he also was a southpaw.
-All five victims were killed within a fifteen minute walk from the infirmary that Williams was thought to have worked at.
-Williams performed a documented abortion on a Mary Anne Nichols (the first victim) in 1885.
-Williams wrote a letter to a colleague saying he was attending a clinic in Whitechapel on the night Annie Chapman (the second victim) was killed.
-Chapman was said to have visited an infirmary after getting into a bar brawl a few nights before her death. Williams, though not documented, is thought to have worked in an infirmary in Whitechapel during the murders.
-Pills were found on Chapman’s body. Where would she have gotten those, if not from a physician?
-Liz Stride (the third victim) was a resident at The Lying-In Hospital in Waterloo in 1881-82, when Williams was also known to have worked there.
-Kate Eddowes (the fourth victim) was also at the Lying-In Hospital in June of 1887. She appeared in a study that year on Bright’s Disease – an afflction of the kidneys – that Williams would have been aware of through a colleague. Eddowes was the only victim to have her kidney removed. Why would this have been done if the killer didn’t have prior knowledge of her particular ailment?
-From records, we see that Williams was not at his usual post at University College Hospital on Aug 31 and Sep 25, both around the dates of the murders of Nichols, Stride & Eddowes.
-Relatives spoke of Williams having an affair with someone named Mary.
-Mary Kelly (the final victim), at the same time, was known to have lived in Kingsbridge and keeping the company of a ‘gentleman’ and resided five minutes away from the Williams’ home.
-A witness said Mary Kelly was spotted the night of her murder with a man about thirty five, five-foot-six, with a moustache and a thick coat. The witness also mentioned a red stone on his coat. After Williams’ death, a friend of wrote about as he had known him in the 1880’s. He said “he was of middle height, robust build, he wore a frock coat, silk hat, stand up collar and a dark silk tie held by a pin set with a red stone.
-During 1888, Williams specifically asked to have weekends free from UCH. Then in 1889, he asked for the opposite, requesting Saturday morning shifts. Finally, in 1890 he asked to no longer perform ovariectomies, which was not only his specialty, but also the Ripper’s M.O.

This all adds up to some very compelling evidence. Of course, like the Maybrick diary, the pundits were quick to pick apart this theory, discounting many of the above points as conjecture. Shortly after Uncle Jack was published, Ripperologist Jennifer Pegg wrote a few articles discrediting Williams’ book. She outed the Mary Ann Nichols abortion document as a forgery and maintained his link to Mary Kelly was an exaggeration, if not pure fallacy. Under further scrutiny, it appears that Uncle Jack is as much fiction as The Final Solution was. Any new angle that comes along is automatically discounted because I think all these historians either want their theory to be the correct one, or they just don’t really want to know at all. If the case was ever solved, what would all those scholars do then?

So, the mystery continues. When it comes right down to it, we know very little about Jack. Even his infamous moniker was fabricated by the press in order to sell newspapers – all the letters sent to the authorities during the crimes have all since been proven as fakes. Jack was a ghost, able to seemingly disappear into thin air. Based on the constable patrols at the scene of the Eddowes murder, Jack would have had less than TEN minutes to perform his ghastly deed, yet no one saw or heard anything.

With each passing year, the likelihood of ever knowing the truth, dwindles just a little more. For more info on the crimes and numerous theories, check out

No comments: