In the spirit of the horror and true crime genres, over the next several weeks in its blog, The Chamber is remembering the horrific murder spree of the infamous Jack the Ripper during the late summer and early fall of 1888. At 10:00 a.m. (US Central Time) on the anniversary of each of the five “canonical” murders (August 31, September 8, September 30, and November 9) , The Chamber will run a documentary on Jack the Ripper from YouTube along with a few other esoteric tidbits of information. So grab the tea or coffee of you choice and a light breakfast and join us for should be four intense yet fascinating mornings.
Jack the Ripper is probably the most famous serial killer in the English-speaking world. 134 years after his killing of five prostitutes (a puny number compared with the serial killers of the late 20th century) his name still instills fear, shock, and trepidation. Undoubtedly, the terror associated with his name comes from the way he killed, as he suddenly materialized out of the darkness in a nearly empty street to brutally and viciously butcher a woman with apparently intense hatred in only a few minutes and then disappear back into the darkness like a phantom. This idea of a sudden and incredibly violent death out of nowhere must strike a primal fear in nearly everyone and this fear is compounded by the Ripper’s anonymity. As Lovecraft famously said:
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknownH.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)
Another terrifying perspective on the Ripper murders is that they show a purely evil side of human nature. Again, the Ripper’s anonymity magnifies this when one considers that this evil could be lurking in anyone, even people we consider harmless and inoffensive, but it is hidden so well that we might never recognize it until our throats are already cut.
Why then should we want to remember the Ripper? One would think that we would forget something like this that is so far in the past that it can no longer affect us, but that is not the case. While the Ripper without doubt died decades ago (unless you believe the Ripper is eternal as in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Wolf in the Fold”), there is nothing to say that it could not happen again but perpetrated by a successor. So, perhaps it is best that we remember “Saucy Jacky” to keep us from being too comfortable in our lives and we foolishly start to believe that a sudden, gruesome demise out of nowhere could not happen to us.
Almost thirty years ago, I started on a novel about a fictitious serial killer and I researched the backstory by reading everything I could lay my hands on about serial killers until, after a few years, the research became so nauseating that I put it all aside and did not start on it again until recently. While I am no forensic psychologist and have no college credits in forensic psychology, I believe this research did give me a modicum of insight into the nature of serial killers and a rudimentary familiarity with the basics of how their minds work. I will do my best to apply this in my layman’s analysis of certain aspects of the Ripper case as this series progresses. I can offer no solid answers to any aspect of the Ripper case, but I do hope to pose some questions to which you will enjoy finding the answers on your own.
The first question I pose to you is: where did The Ripper originate? How did he come to be “Saucy Jacky”?
Modern forensic psychology can develop a basic profile of the Ripper (late 30’s to early 40’s, probably Caucasian, probably isolated, possibly quiet, probably rather poor, though he could also be from the upper middle class, probably comes from a broken home, probably tortured small animals as a boy, if he was indeed a boy, and gradually progressed to murdering adult women to whom he was sexually attracted). How accurate is this profile? No one knows or probably will ever know, but this is probably one of the best descriptions we can have of the Ripper to date.
Jack did not spring out over night as a serial killer. Abilities like his develop over many years, usually starting with tormenting pets and strays and then children and then, finally, adults. So it is likely that the Ripper had several more victims well before the murders in Whitechapel began. Indeed, the five victims most commonly associated with the Ripper and known as “the canonical five” as they are almost certainly the work of one man (or of one woman). There are a few others before and after the cases of the canonical five that might have been the work of the Ripper, but they could also have been the work of someone else as well, because they were not committed in quite the same style as that of Saucy Jacky. This may be because the Ripper was developing his style at the time, and because the science of forensics was in its infancy, thus what we would consider pertinent details of many cases today were not recorded. Therefore, the true tally of the Ripper’s victims will probably never be accurately known.
I believe you will see this development as you watch these videos. The first murder of the Ripper’s, that of Mary Ann Nichols, was violent, but it was nothing compared with the final murder, that of Mary Jane Kelly, whose gruesomeness is still legendary. You will also notice that the Ripper gradually learns to find his victims in increasingly isolated areas, where he is able to take more and more time with his unholy work.
Of course, this makes me wonder if, after the Mary Jane Kelly murder, the Ripper was never caught because he developed his black art to such as a degree that police investigations of the period were simply insufficient to catch him. So far as anyone knows, Jack may have gone on killing for decades. In fact, some theories as to why he stopped pose this very question, with one even stating that he came to the US and pursued his work over several states.
With those few points now brought into the open, I will now let you start your own visit into the world of Jack the Ripper during the late summer and early fall in late Victorian-era London.
For more information on Jack the Ripper, this Wikipedia article provides a summary of Jack the Ripper’s murder spree. For more excellent Jack the Ripper YouTube videos, follow this link to “Missing Evidence: Jack the Ripper” and “Unmasking Jack the Ripper”, whose producers limited them to be played only on YouTube
More superb videos on Jack the Ripper are available to you on The Chamber’s Jack the Ripper Playlist on YouTube.
Sketch of Inspector Frederick George Abberline (1843-1929) in 1885. He was the lead investigator in the Ripper murders. He was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the movie “From Hell”. See the trailer below for more information.