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Jack The Ripper : The Killer & His Crimes & Jack The Media Star

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  • Jack The Ripper : The Killer & His Crimes & Jack The Media Star

    Jack the Ripper - The Killer and His Crimes

    It was in November 1888 that the final grisly murder took place attributed to 'The Whitechapel Murderer', now commonly known as 'Jack the Ripper'. In the Part One of a two-part article, David Stuart Davies looks at the history behind this notorious killer.

    ‘I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I get buckled - Jack the Ripper’

    London, 1888. It was the autumn of terror when an unknown killer who became known as Jack the Ripper stalked the darkened streets and murdered a series of prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of the city. His crimes were brutal and apparently without motive. The fact that he was never captured or that his identity was never established for certain has brought this vicious killer international notoriety and a dark legendary fame which has eclipsed the memory of his victims.

    It began on 7 August when a cab driver found the first victim, 39-year old Martha Tabram in George Yard Buildings situated between Whitechapel and Spitalfields. An autopsy revealed that the woman had been stabbed nearly forty times in her throat and abdomen. There is a debate amongst Ripperologists as to whether this murder was in fact the first of the Ripper murders, but the similarity between the savagery of the crime and the following five murders does suggest to many experts that it was the first of the fiend’s killing spree.

    Indeed, the grisly murder of a second prostitute twenty four days later bore striking similarities to the Tabram slaying. A laundry mark on her petticoats identified the woman as Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols. Then In the early hours of 8 September a market worker discovered the body of another woman in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. Her body had been eviscerated, a portion of her uterus had been excised, while her intestines had been draped over her shoulders and her legs splayed wide to degrade her even in death. Like the first two victims Annie Chapman worked as a prostitute.

    At the inquest witness Elizabeth Long testified that she had seen Chapman speaking to a man near the crime scene whom she described as being around forty with dark hair and a foreign ‘shabby genteel’ appearance.

    For a while, all was quiet on the streets of Whitechapel and residents began to relax and then on 30 September there were two more horrendous murders. The first victim was 44 year old prostitute Elizabeth Stride. The killer was disturbed in his gruesome task and fled but, within an hour, the body of a second woman was discovered. She was later identified as Catherine Eddowes. Her corpse had been severely mutilated: The left kidney and part of the womb was missing; and the Ripper had sliced off the tip of her nose and eyelids and carved triangular incisions into her cheeks.

    That same night a constable on patrol in the area discovered a cryptic message scrawled on a wall: ‘The Juwes are the men that will be blamed for nothing.’ Police Superintendent Thomas Arnold, fearing that the graffiti would spark anti-Semitic rioting, ordered that the message be washed away.

    The high level of attention that the killings received in the press led to a number of hoax letters being sent to the newspapers and the police. However, one in particular was taken seriously by the authorities. It was sent on 27 September and written in red ink. Claiming to come from the killer, the writer promised to ‘clip the ladys ears off’ his next victim. The autopsy of Catherine Eddowes revealed a mutilated earlobe.

    The letter was signed off with the first use of the grisly soubriquet Jack the Ripper, a term that soon fell into common parlance. The police distributed copies of the letter among the public hoping that someone would recognise the handwriting.

    The Ripper’s final victim was Irish street woman Mary Kelly. This murder was particularly notable for two reasons: Kelly was murdered indoors rather than on the street and the mutilation of her body was unprecedented. The victim’s skin had been stripped from her legs, her breasts and internal organs had been removed, including her heart and arranged around the corpse, while her face had been made unrecognisable by the number of gashes it had received. After Mary Kelly’s death the murders stopped. It was as though, with this last desecration, the fiend had satiated himself.

    The swiftness of the attacks, and the manner of the mutilations, led to speculation that the murderer had the skills of a physician or butcher. However, others disagreed, and thought the wounds too crude to have been carried out by a professional. The alibis of local butchers and slaughterers were investigated, with the result that they were eliminated from the enquiry. Over 2,000 people were interviewed, ‘upwards of 300’ people were investigated, and 80 people were detained but no one was ever charged with the crimes.

    Over the years there have been many theories as to the identity of the Ripper. For a time even one of Queen Victoria’s grandsons, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence was suspected of the murders, working in tandem with his physician Sir William Gull – but no real proof could be established, as was the case with the many other individuals in the frame. One thing is for certain: no matter how unlikely the names of those on the ever expanding lists of suspects might be, the ongoing challenge of identifying Jack the Ripper has helped to keep this series of crimes at the forefront of criminal and social history for over 125 years.

    And the search for the Ripper’s true identity carries on today. As recently as 2011, a British detective, Trevor Marriott, who has long been investigating the Jack the Ripper murders was denied access to uncensored documents surrounding the case by the Metropolitan Police because, it was stated, they contained protected information. In 2014, Russell Edwards, an author and amateur sleuth claimed that he had proven the identity of the Ripper by DNA results obtained from a shawl belonging to one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes. The reports have yet to be verified, but Edward asserts that they point to Aaron Kosminkski, a Polish immigrant and one of the prime suspects in the case.

    Such is the fascination with this shadowy unknown creature that he has become the central character in a whole series of films, novels, and TV dramas, all designed to thrill, entertain and frighten audiences. I shall be examining this aspect of the character in part two: Jack the Ripper: the Media Star.

    ************************************************** ********************

    Jack The Media Star

    In the second part of his article, David Stuart Davies looks at the fictional re-tellings of his grisly deeds.
    The crimes of Jack the Ripper were so dramatic and mysterious that it was, perhaps, inevitable that the character should become the focus of various fictional re-tellings. The fact that his identity was never discovered also heightened the appeal of the character. The rich Victorian period, the mist enshrouded environs of Whitechapel and the grotesque elements of the crimes are meat and drink to the creators of dark entertainment. There is room here to touch on a few of the most notable entries in this particular aspect of the Ripper phenomena.
    Let’s start with Sherlock Holmes - after all he was investigating horrible crimes around the same time as the Ripper was stalking the streets. There have been two movies which have pitched the famous detective against Jack. A Study in Terror (1964) starring John Neville as Holmes, who reveals that the disturbed son of the Duke of Shires is the crazed killer. In 1979 there was Murder by Decree in which Christopher Plummer as the Great Detective unmasks a plot by the government and the Freemasons to cover up the real identity of the murderer who has ‘royal connections’. The plot of this movie involves the notion that Edward, the Duke of Clarence, the queen’s grandson, had fathered a child with a prostitute and the authorities attempt to eliminate both the child and its mother in order to protect the monarchy. It was an idea that was taken up by other versions of the story. This theory was based on Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, a book written by Stephen Knight, first published in 1976. The royal connection was resurrected in the 1997 movie The Ripper.
    Holmes is actually revealed as the Ripper in Michael Dibdin’s novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (1978). In this tale Holmes suspects the killer to be his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. The surprise ending reveals that Holmes has invented the character of Moriarty due to insanity, and was himself committing the crimes.
    Other novels such as The Whitechapel Horrors (1993) by Edward B. Hanna and Dust and Shadow (2009) by Lyndsay Faye take a more traditional route in having Holmes investigating the murders and catching the culprit.
    Jack has also become a film star in his own right. Jack the Ripper was a 1959 feature produced and directed by Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker, and was loosely based on the theory that the Ripper was an avenging doctor. In 2001 there came From Hell loosely based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. In this movie, Brad Pitt plays Inspector Abberline, a sympathetic police officer whose consumption of drugs causes him dream scenes from the murders. The plot has elements from Murder by Decree including the Freemasons and the supposed royal connection with the crown.
    One of the strangest movies to feature the notorious serial killer is Time After Time (1976) in which the author H.G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper to the 20th Century when the serial murderer uses the writer's Time Machine to escape to the future.
    Perhaps the most enjoyable and historically accurate version of the Ripper saga was Jack the Ripper, a TV movie starring Michael Caine. The film was produced to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Whitechapel murders, and was originally screened on British television in two 90-minute episodes, broadcast on consecutive evenings, in October 1988, to coincide with the dates of some of the original events, advertising itself in advance as providing a solution to the century old mystery using newly discovered original evidence. The broadcasts were a cause célèbre in English television production in the late 1980s, and gained high audience viewing figures with critical acclaim. Caine, who won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV, plays Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline of Scotland Yard who is assigned to investigate the murders. There is no shortage of suspects. These include the American actor Richard Mansfield (appearing in the play Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in London); police surgeon Dr Henry Llewellyn; socialist agitator George Lusk; Queen Victoria's clairvoyant Robert Lees; the Queen's grandson Prince Albert Victor (again); and Dr Theodore Dyke Acland, the son-in-law of Sir William Gull, Royal Surgeon to Queen Victoria and expert on diseases of the brain. Abberline faces huge obstacles as he searches for the truth - and hindrance from his superiors. The killer is finally unmasked as Sir William Gull (Ray McNally). Jack the Ripper ends with the following disclaimer:
    In the strange case of Jack the Ripper, there was no trial and no signed confession. In 1888, neither fingerprinting nor bloodtyping was in use and no conclusive forensic, documentary or eye-witness testimony was available. Thus, positive proof of the Ripper’s identity is not available. We have come to our conclusions after careful study and painstaking deduction. Other researchers, criminologists and writers may take a different view. We believe our conclusions to be true.
    New theories regarding the Ripper’s identity continue to surface all the time. Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell came up with Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed in 2002. This nonfiction book presents the theory that Walter Sickert, the British painter, was Jack.
    Marie Belloc Lowndes' book The Lodger was published in 1914, only two decades after the Ripper murders on which it is based, and has been made into five films: Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), The Lodger (1932), The Lodger (1944), Man in the Attic (1953) and The Lodger (2009). Hammer Films made it a family affair in their movie Hands of the Ripper, (1971) in which the Ripper's daughter played by Angharad Rees grows up to become a murderess after she sees her father kill her mother.
    This piece has only touched the tip of the Ripper iceberg: there are many other books, plays, documentaries, TV and cinema films out there touching on this dark legend. Don’t worry if you missed any of them, there will be another along any moment now…
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