Tag Archives: Jack the Ripper


I went on David Charnick’s excellent The Ripper Enigma for the second time recently.  In this walk, David does not set out to sensationalise the Jack the Ripper murders (the newspapers of the time did enough of that).  What he does is to set the scene of life in that part of Victorian London, and explains why the victims were vulnerable.  It is an excellent tour and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in social history, or just an interest in history, in fact.  Check out David’s website for more details:


It is no secret that the police of the day were baffled.  Yes, there were a lot of arrests but all of the suspects were released without charge.  To this day, there are numerous theories abounding, but no-one knows who Jack the Ripper was, nor why s/he stopped so suddenly.  And we probably never will.

All this got me wondering though, what would happen if there were to be another Jack the Ripper phenomenon today.  Would the police fare any better?  Let’s look at the facts.

Definition of a Serial Killer

Or, probably, more correctly, a serial murderer.  According to the FBI, serial killings are not new, and have been documented since the nineteenth century, although they are known to have occurred way before then.  They are estimated to make up only 1% of all murders.  (A not-very comforting thought that we might all want to remember is that most murders are committed by someone the victim knows…)

The FBI defines a serial murderer as someone who kills two or more victims, and the events in which those killings take place are separated by time.  It also says that there may be more than one offender.

Although there is some dispute as to whether there were five, seven or even only four victims, I think we can agree that whoever s/he was, the Ripper was a serial killer, and, in all probability, acted alone.  I say this because, from witness sightings, the victims were only seen with one person, a man.  Not definitive proof, I know, and in those cases, where there was a time lag between the last sighting of the victim and the body being found, who knows what might have happened?  However, on the balance of probability, it is likely to have been only one person.  (I also know that the burden on proof in criminal cases is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ but since this is not a trial, I’ll go with the lower standard.)

The Ripper’s “Dear Boss” letter

Why do I suggest that the Ripper might have been female?  There are a couple of theories out there that suggest that Jack was actually Jill.  One, that I read about many years ago, was that the killer was an abortionist whose work had gone wrong, so she made it look like murder so that they could stay in business.  Personally, I don’t buy that.  All but one of the Ripper killings took place outside and why would anyone have been performing abortions outside?  Doesn’t make sense to me.

Another theory that David referred to was that the murderer was a woman who couldn’t have children.  Most of the victims were professional prostitutes (as opposed to women who used prostitution as a casual means of supplementing their incomes).  They would not have wanted children.  A woman whose mind had become deranged because she was unable to give birth might have felt that these women deserved to die.  To be honest, I don’t buy this theory either.  Not because it isn’t possible, I just think that’s it unlikely a deranged woman would have been more chaotic in her behaviour.

Forensic Evidence

Whether the Ripper left any DNA is anybody’s guess, but it is irrelevant, since the police in the 1800s did not have the benefit of DNA analysis.  It was used for the first time in the UK in 1986, almost 100 years after the Ripper.  If it were to happen today, the forensics team would check the victim’s body for fibres and hair (although hair is only of use if the root is still attached).  They’d also check for semen and saliva.  These would be useful if the police had a suspect, but they wouldn’t actually help catch the killer, unless the killer was already on the DNA database, in which case, happy days.

Fingerprints were around at the time, but they weren’t used by police until later.  Nowadays, a crime scene would be routinely dusted for prints, but remember, all but one of these murders was committed outside.  It depends on the actual materials from which the areas where the bodies were found, but t might be possible to obtain fingerprints from brick etc.  Not so in the 1880s when techniques were still in their infancy.

The scene would also be check for footprints nowadays, which might be of use, depending on the type of shoe the killer wore – trainers are good for sole prints.  However, the man with whom the victims were seen didn’t look as though he’d have been wearing trainers.

Crime Scene Contamination

If you watch any TV cop shows at all, particularly those made in the UK, you will see that the police and all the forensic staff all wear paper suits over their day clothes.  They cordon off the area as soon as possible.  They do this for the simple reason that they don’t want to contaminate the crime scene.  The mantra in forensic investigation is Locard’s Exchange Principle – “Every contact leaves a trace.”  What this means is that when two objects come into contact with each other, each will take something from the other, or leave something behind.  Thus the paper suits, which are uncontaminated when they are first put in and will prevent fibres, pet hairs, and so on, from being left at the crime scene.

In the case of the Ripper murders, all the crime scenes were contaminated in some way.  In the case of the first murder, when the first people on scene pulled down the skirt of Polly Nichols, they contaminated the scene.  We don’t know how long the bodies were in situ prior to being found – plenty of time for scene contamination from any animals that might have been around.  The point is, even today, this wouldn’t have been a great start for the police investigation.


Mitre Square, the scene of one of the Ripper Murders

The FBI now agrees that there is no generic profile for a serial murderer, which makes sense when you think that there is no generic profile of a human being.  However, most serial killers are not social misfits who hide themselves away.  They often have families, jobs and seem, to all intents and purposes, to be just like you and me.  And often overlooked by the police for this reason.

Why did the killings stop?

Something else we will never know, maybe Jack himself was murdered?  The FBI says that some serial killers stop killing before they are caught, and may never be caught.  There are lots of reasons for this, including greater participation in family activities, but also maybe even just moving away.


Of course, if these killings took place today, the police would do the usual thing, set up a team, conduct house to house enquiries, and maybe, just maybe, there would have been more people around to have witnessed the crime, and possibly CCTV.  They would learn early on that some of the victims knew each other and they’d do the usual background checks and they would interview everyone who had seen the women on the night in question.  They would have create an e-fit of the suspect and it would be publicised in the press, television and probably social media.  Crimewatch would be a great medium.  They’d rely on someone coming forward with some information.  They might get lucky.  Or they might not.  There are no guarantees.


© Susan Shirley 2017



Sheena and I met up today, the first time this year. We went on David Charnick’s Jack the Ripper walk and then down to Brick Lane for a curry.

David’s walk was not a big- standard Ripper walk, I think it is reasonable to say it included, and perhaps, focussed on, a social commentary on life at the time. Particularly life for poorer women.

Life was hard for women of all classes back in the nineteenth century, I’ve written about this before:


Life was particularly hard for the poor and ill – educated.  It was often a hand-to-mouth existence and prostitution was a common means of making enough money to survive. (I not sure that this doesn’t still happen but it was certainly prevalent back then.) Apparently, there were professional prostitutes and casual prostitutes. Again, I’m not sure much has changed. I’ve known a few working girls over the years, and, if I’m honest, can’t say I haven’t thought about it myself, when times have been hard. I didn’t do it, because I’ve been lucky enough to have other ways of earning money, but I can understand why women would do this. I need to remember that next time I’m having a bad day.

David didn’t try to take us to the same places that some Ripper tours do, although that is no criticism of other tours – as he rightly said, most of the actual murder sites are gone now, through redevelopment.  I was pleased that we didn’t go to them all, because although you can get close to some of the murder sites, I think there is only one where you can really get a feel for what it was like to live in those days.

We started at Whitechapel station, where David made it clear to us that it would not be a gore-fest, nor one that suggested a number of possible suspects. David made it clear that he would not propose a theory as to who had committed the crimes, which is a really interesting take on these walks. I have done a couple before, where they do, and find it frustrating because none of us can prove or disprove the theories, and there are many of them. David was true to his word, this was no gore-fest, but a tour of historical interest.

This was originally a hostel, now student accommodation.
This was originally a hostel, now student accommodation.

So how many victims were there? It is generally accepted that there were five victims, although back in the day, the scandal rags newspapers tried to increase that number to eight. Personally, I’m not sold on the fifth, although I do understand how serial killers can escalate in their violence.

The generally accepted victims are:

Mary Ann Nichols, died 31 August 1888

Annie Chapman, died 8 September 1888

Elizabeth Stride (Long Liz), died 30 September 1888

Catherine Eddowes, died 30 September 1888

Mary Jane Kelly, died 9 November 1888

The reason I’m not sold on Mary Jane Kelly being a victim is because she was found in her home, not out on the streets like the others. As I’ve said, I know serial killers escalate, I’ve watched Criminal Minds, and I’ve also been to a couple of lectures by FBI analysts, so maybe I’m wrong, maybe she is a true victim. I think London back in those days was pretty violent, so I think it’s important not to get hooked into the general violence of the day.

The fact is that whoever tries to reconstruct the crime now, we will never know the exact number if his victims (four, five or eight or more) and we will never know for sure who committed the crimes.


This restaurant was the site of Ye Frying Pan, one of the pubs known to have been frequented by some of the Ripper victims.
This restaurant was the site of Ye Frying Pan, one of the pubs known to have been frequented by some of the Ripper victims.

When the walk finished, we went for an early dinner at “our” Aladin  in Brick Lane.  We had the regulatory papadoms to start, then Sheena had chicken naga with garlic rice and I have chicken balti vindaloo with peas rice.  We had onion bhaji as a side. I’ve never had the balti vindaloo before and honestly, didn’t notice much of a difference between that and the usual, but it was still very good. I think I’ve said before that the Aladin is not licensed so we Prosecco in Tesco after the walk. As usual, if was a good meal, freshly cooked and very tasty.


Our feast at the Aladin
Our feast at the Aladin

I was pleased that Sheena enjoyed this walk as it was her first with David. I doubt it will be her last, and I’m glad that we had a good meal. They are so sweet in that restaurant. We were nursing our wine and they had to ask us to leave because they needed the table. If it was in a restaurant where I was paying for the wine, I would not have been crazy about leaving, but in the circumstances, we couldn’t really complain. We will be going back there again before too much longer, I have no doubt.


© Susan Shirley 2015


I went on another walk last Sunday, this was one called The Dark Side of the Green. The tour guide was David Charnick of charnowalks.co.uk who is an extremely knowledgeable person. I’d recommend him as a tour guide for this reason.


This building was previously Bethnal Green Police Station
This building was previously Bethnal Green Police Station

The walk was around Bethnal Green, hence the “Green” in the title. The “Dark Side” is in the title because all of the places we stopped at were associated with crime in one way or another. Villains who played a part in the tour were Arthur Harding, The London Burkers, The Krays, Benjamin Russen, Ginger Marks and Valline and Doyle. You need to do the tour to find out about them all, but trust me, I learned a lot.

The church where Reggie Kray married Frances Shea
The church where Reggie Kray married Frances Shea

For those of you who don’t know, Bethnal Green is an area in East London, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Even though I live East, I’ve always had a perception that East London is poorer than the rest of London (a guy I used to go out with used to say he always knew when he hit East London because the houses were closer together and the gardens were smaller) and that the crime rate is higher. To be fair, the bit about the crime rate being higher is not accurate. The crime rate varies a bit across the whole of London, depending upon the resources being thrown at it.

This was where the Krays went to school
This was where the Krays went to school

I can’t absolutely prove what I’m about to say, but I suspect the reason that East London has always seemed to have a crime association has something to do with the docks, which are (were) all over the east side of the London, being nearer to the Thames estuary. All of those goods, some very high value, being imported and unloaded in East London were just ripe for the picking. Which explains why the likes of the East India Company built high walls around their docks and armed convoys took the goods into the City.

The tour was not close enough to the river (by which I mean the Thames) to cover the things I am about to write, but a woman who was quite notorious in the 17th century was Damaris or Damarose Page.


Page started working as a teenage prostitute, went to court for bigamy in 1653 and was acquitted. She was also charged with murder for an abortion that went wrong, and was convicted of manslaughter, but she escaped execution because she was pregnant at the time. It seems that the morals of the day prohibited execution of pregnant women. Page’s fortunes improved as the East End became more prosperous, and business must have been good because she became one of the famous prostitutes (bawds, as they tended to be called in those days) of her time. Samuel Pepys described her as, “the great bawd of the seamen.” She may well have been the inspiration behind Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders.

Another bad’un with an East End association because of his apprenticeship to a butcher in Whitechapel is Dick Turpin. Dick was an Essex boy and got himself into a gang when he was in his 20s. (Nothing really changes, does it?) He graduated from his part in poaching and selling the proceeds to robbery. It seems the gang was quite successful for about five years, but then one of them started singing like a canary to the fuzz and the remaining gang members split. (Ok, there weren’t any police then, but the story sounds so much better that way.)

Turpin carried on his life of crime and graduated to stealing horses, which was lucrative until you got caught, because it was punishable by death. Turpin was eventually arrested in 1738 and tried in York. He was found guilty and executed on 7 April 1739.

Finally, there’s someone infamous in the whole of London, not just the East End,
Jack the Ripper. Jack is believed to be the killer of five prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London, although there are some who believe he killed more than this and some that don’t think all five are down to Jack. Theories abound as to who Jack really was, from the writer Lewis Carroll to Sir William Withey Gull (Queen Victoria’s physician) to the Duke of Clarence, and many more besides.

Clearly I wasn’t around in the 17th and 18th centuries (no, seriously, I am NOT that old) so I don’t have photographs of the people mentioned, so I’ve included the ones I took on the walk.

It’s one of those mysteries that I’d really like to get to the bottom of, but I honestly don’t think that will happen. Scientists thought they’d cracked it with DNA but then, earlier this year; it turned out there had been an error in the processing.  Still, maybe it will feature in a future novel…


© Susan Shirley 2014