TWO – THE VICTIMS
Critics have claimed that the supposed victims of Jack the Ripper have become celebrities for a modern generation that lacks sympathy. The photographs of the slain bodies of the murdered women are now in the public domain and are essential to any book about Jack The Ripper. Some readers will examine those photographs more than once and perhaps look at the photographs before they read any of the text. There will be readers who are disappointed that the pictures are not in colour and frustrated because it is not possible to identify the removed organs amidst the bloody mess.
The interest in Jack the Ripper has persisted for various reasons. There is the social significance of the crimes in an exceptional historical period. The tale is also a compelling mystery for amateur detectives. But it cannot be denied that the violence of the crimes of The Ripper has been relished by ghouls and sadistic misogynists. The critics are right to complain about attitudes to the murdered women. The victims, though, are not the alleged celebrities. In Britain the vast majority of people are unable to give the names of the women, and just as many become confused when asked about the supposed number of the victims. For many readers and viewers their memories of the films and books are vague. The fate of the women has claimed attention but only as part of an overall drama. People move on to the next movie or book. Little respect is shown to the victims by film directors. Middle-class actresses have overacted and created caricatures. Heather Graham as Mary Kelly in From Hell is an exception but that happens in a movie that is romantic fantasy. The victims deserve respect but they also need to be remembered. Resisting neglect is as important now as it was back in 1888.
The Nemesis of Neglect is the title of a cartoon that was published in Punch magazine. The illustration was drawn by John Tenniel. He illustrated the first edition of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The connection between the Ripper and Carroll in the work of Tenniel may be evidence of a civilised conscience and concerns or it may be something sinister. In the British Library the creator of the accompanying verse is identified as nothing more than Punch. The cartoon and the verse had compassion. The poem referred to ‘the slum’s foul air’ and concluded with ‘the murderous crime – the nemesis of neglect’. The poem and cartoon appeared in Punch on the 29th of September 1888, eleven days after a letter to The Times from Sidney Godolphin Osborne. The signature was reduced to SGO. Osborne described Whitechapel as a community ‘begotten and reared in an atmosphere of Godless brutality’. According to SGO, the people of Whitechapel had become ‘a species of human sewage, the very drainage of the vilest production of ordinary vice.’ We may have doubts about the word ordinary but we get the point. Mary Shelley argued something similar in Frankenstein, which was published in 1812. Then as now improvements in technology were making some people rich and others poor. Shelley pleaded for nurture to rescue people. In the case of Frankenstein and his creation neglect produced a monster. For the people of Whitechapel at the end of the 19th Century indifference from the affluent enabled the ‘vilest production of ordinary vice’. The names and number of the victims of Jack the Ripper need to be remembered.
Inevitably there is debate. Some of the arguments about the number of victims are fanciful. If we assume that Jack left the country and continued his evil ways, the increase in numbers becomes exponential. We believe what we want to believe from the legend. An American, Martin Fido, is credited with introducing the term ‘the canonical five’. The phrase refers to those murders most likely to have been committed by Jack the Ripper. As there are other women that could qualify as victims of the Ripper, there should at least be consensus over these five. There is not.
The drama around the five murders is intensified by the timetable. The first of the five was killed on 31st August 1888, and the last was discovered on the 9th of November 1888, two victims a month. Sensation is added by ‘the double event’. On the 30th of September 1888 two women were slain in the early hours of the morning. When discovered, the first victim was alive and still bleeding. Perhaps the modern NHS and ambulance service would have rescued her life. Instead, the victim was proclaimed dead by a doctor sixteen minutes after her wounds were noticed. The second victim that morning appeared three quarters of an hour later. The conventional opinion is that Jack the Ripper was disturbed during the first murder and, not satisfied, he found his second victim. But the wounds, location and doubts about the weapon used in the first murder that night have led some to challenge the notion of the double event. Others are not only reluctant to weaken a good story; they think the doubters are being fanciful. Neither side has convincing arguments. We believe what we want to believe.
In ascribing victims to serial killers the selection of criteria is important. Nothing beats a solid confession and reliable witnesses but Jack the Ripper was slippery, his crimes generated hysteria and the London streets were dark and foggy. All that is available to analysts are time or dates, location and method. The murders that occurred outside London are weakened further by details. When a murder in Gateshead is suggested and we note that the boyfriend was hanged for the murder, we realise that some people are too willing to indulge an imagination.
There were nine murders of women in the East End of London between April 1888 and February 1891. The first murder deserves to be discounted because the victim told a doctor that she was attacked by three men. The last murder occurred almost three years after the explosion of violence in 1888. This leaves two victims not included in the ‘canonical five’.
The first of these two victims was discovered a mere 24 days before the first of the ‘canonical five’. The method of killing was a little different. The throat was not cut, and the body was not mutilated. The woman, though, was a victim of what has been described as a frenzied attack. Even serial murderers have to begin somewhere. The second of the murders not included in the ‘canonical five’ happened in 1889. Not as late as the murder of 1891 but less than a year after the series of killings in 1888. The body was mutilated but the injuries divided both medical and police opinion. Those unwilling to believe it was the work of Jack the Ripper may have had political reasons for denying the return of the murderer. It is not irresponsible to credit Jack the Ripper with seven killings. The truth is that we will never know the exact number. Some of the killings may have been the actions of a copycat. Jack the Ripper killed more than one woman, and for some it is at least four, and for others at least seven. We are all affected by our imaginations.
Three murders occurred that did not conform to the methods we associate with Jack the Ripper. Between 1887 and 1889 headless torsos appeared in London. All three belonged to women. Limbs that could be matched to the torsos also appeared at random. One of the torsos was discovered while building work was being done on the foundations of New Scotland Yard and around the time the police were being criticised for not solving the crimes of the Ripper. 1888 was not a good year for the Metropolitan Police. The imaginations of policemen must have been affected by these discoveries. It is an odd coincidence that headless female torsos popped up in the Thames while an unknown killer of women roamed the streets of Whitechapel. Some present day imaginations are also affected. Since Jack the Ripper there have been serial killers with diverse interests and tastes. When we imagine Jack the Ripper, we have to wonder what he did at home. What happened on the streets of the East End was savage but perhaps Jack the Ripper was more twisted than we realise and unknown horror happened in the privacy of his home.
Two of the three torsos belonged to unidentified women. The third belonged to a woman called Elizabeth Jackson. The names of the seven victims in Whitechapel, some of whom may or may not have been murdered by Jack the Ripper, are as follows- Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelly and Alice McKenzie. They all had difficult lives and, when they were murdered, they were doing what they had done in the previous months, trying as hard as they could to get to the end of the day. These women deserve to be remembered. Before they were murdered they were given little thought.
Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.