Who was Jack the Ripper and how many victims were there? Suspects, facts and theories for the Whitechapel murders

JACK the Ripper was an infamous serial killer who sparked public imagination — and mass hysteria — like no other murderer before or since.

His victims, working women in the impoverished East End of London, were ruthlessly butchered over a four-month bloody spree of violence — but no one was ever caught, keeping the harrowing story alive for generations.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Jack the Ripper was the pen name that signed off on a chilling letter alleged to be from the killer printed in London newspapers at the height of his terror.

Five women —  Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly — are widely held to have been victims of the Ripper, although later murders were attributed to him.

All were murdered in the most brutal fashion imaginable around the Whitechapel area between August and November 1888.

Their bodies were utterly mutilated, many of them being disembowelled. Chapman's uterus was taken, Eddowes had her uterus and a kidney removed and her face mutilated, while Kelly's body was completely destroyed and her face hacked away.

Such was the fear at the time that the streets of London emptied after nightfall, leaving the once bustling Victorian capital deathly silent while the Ripper roamed the streets.

How many people did Jack the Ripper kill?

Jack the Ripper committed at least five murders in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End.

All of the victims were prostitutes and all of their corpses had been mutilated.

Mary Ann Nichols

Mary Ann Nichols was the first canonical victim of Jack the Ripper.

She was a 43-year-old prostitute, married with five children.

On August 31, 1888, at 3:40 am, a carman named Charles Allen Cross was walking to work when he discovered what he initially believed to be a tarpaulin lying on the ground in front of a gated stable entrance in Buck's Row, Whitechapel – approximately 150 yards from the London Hospital.

Nichols lay on her back with her eyes open, her legs straight, her skirt raised above her knees, and her left hand touching the gate of the stable entrance.

There was no obvious initial indication she was murdered, with Cross telling the constable: "She looks to me to be either dead or drunk, but for my part, I believe she's dead."

But doctors later discovered Nichols suffered two deep slash wounds to the throat, inflicted from the left to the right of her neck, before her murderer had mutilated her abdomen.

Annie Chapman

Annie Chapman was the second canonical victim.

Although previous murders linked to Jack the Ripper had received considerable press and public attention, the murder of Annie Chapman generated a state of panic in the East End of London.

On September 8, shortly before 6:00 am Annie's mutilated body was discovered by an elderly resident of 29 Hanbury Street named John Davis.

Her body was lying on the ground near the doorway to the back yard, with her head six inches from the steps to the property.

Doctors were quickly able to establish a definite link between Chapman's murder and the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, which had occurred over a week earlier.

Chapman also had her abdomen mutilated, and a blade of similar size and design had been used in both murders.

Elizabeth Stride

Elizabeth Stride is thought to be the third murder victim of Jack the Ripper.

Unlike the other four victims, Stride had not been mutilated following her murder, leading some historians to suspect Stride had not actually been murdered by Jack the Ripper.

However, Stride's murder took place less than one hour before the murder of the Ripper's fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes – within walking distance.

And her act of murder is suspected to have been disturbed by an individual entering the crime scene upon a two-wheeled car.

Stride's body was discovered at approximately 1:00 am on Sunday September 30 by Louis Diemschutz on Dutfield’s Yard – a narrow yard situated between No. 40 (the International Working Men’s Educational Club) and No. 42 Berner Street.

Diemschutz noticed a body in the road after driving down the poorly lit yard with his horse and two-wheeled cart.

Blood was still flowing from a single knife wound inflicted to Stride's neck and, although her hands were cold to the touch, other sections of her body were either slightly or "quite" warm – suggesting Stride was killed shortly before Diemschutz got to the yard.

Catherine Eddowes

At 1:44 am on Sunday September 30, Eddowes's mutilated and disembowelled body was found lying on her back, with her head resting on a coal hole in the south-west corner of Mitre Square by the square's beat policeman, PC Edward Watkins.

Later that night, at approximately 2:55 am, a blood-stained fragment of Eddowes's shawl was discovered at the passage of the doorway to a building nearby.

This section of shawl was also contaminated with sections of faecal matter.

On the wall above the section of shawl was a crude chalk graffito—the letters measuring approximately three-quarters of an inch—commonly held to have read: "The Juwes are the men that Will not be Blamed for nothing".

The message suggested a Jew or Jews in general were responsible for the series of murders, although it is unclear whether the graffito was actually written by the murderer upon dropping the section of shawl, or was merely present at the location.

Mary Jane Kelly

Mary Jane Kelly is widely believed to have been the final victim of Jack the Ripper.

At the time of her death, she was approximately 25 years old, working as a prostitute, and living in relative poverty.

On the morning of November 9, Kelly's landlord, John McCarthy, sent his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, to collect the rent – Kelly was six weeks behind on her payments, owing 29 shillings.

Shortly after 10:45 am, Bowyer knocked on her door but received no response.

He then attempted to turn the handle, only to discover the door was locked.

Bowyer eventually made it into the room and discovered Kelly's extensively mutilated corpse lying on the bed.

She is believed to have died between three and nine hours before the discovery of her body.

What happened to Jack the Ripper?

Scotland Yard was inundated with criminal investigations in rough East End leaving them overstretched and under-resourced.

Their lack of arrests and the continuing murder spree led to widespread criticism verging on derision of the police effort to catch the Ripper.

Volunteer citizens put themselves forward to try to help with the case and the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was formed.

Its members patrolled the streets looking for suspects and hired private detectives to bring the menace to an end.

Top of the list of suspects were local butchers and surgeons because of the brutality of the killings — the Ripper was clearly not averse to blood.

Even Queen Victoria was made aware of the harrowing killings and formed her own theories that the Ripper must be a butcher.

The fact that many killings took place on weekends or public holidays also suggested the killer was a regular worker who lived nearby.

While investigations proved fruitless at the time, "ripperologists" are still trawling through evidence to find the true identity of the killer.

The number of named suspects reaches over one hundred.

Among them is cotton merchant James Maybrick who died a year after the last of the Ripper murders.

A diary allegedly belonging to him detailed the murders but its authenticity is disputed.

Thomas Cutbush, a violent criminal, is also among the list of suspects. He worked in Whitechapel at the time of the killings and allegedly harboured a hatred for prostitutes and a grim fascination with medicine and surgery.

Respected poet Francis Thompson is alleged to have carried out the murders because he wrote about killing people, had surgical experience and was known to be close to one prostitute in the Whitechapel area at the time.

The Ripper case was the first to cause a worldwide media frenzy, and fervent speculation continues to this day.

Indeed, in January 2018 the mystery seemed to have inched closer to being solved when an expert matched the handwriting of two letters claiming to be from the killer.

Hundreds of such letters were sent to police and media, and their origin has remained a mystery with many believing they were written by journalists in an attempt to boost circulation.

But a scientific study seemed to shed new light on the mystery, focusing on the 'Dear Boss' letter, in which the name Jack the Ripper appears for the first time, and the 'Saucy Jacky' postcard.

It found similar linguistic constructions in both letters, such as the phrasal verb 'to keep back', as well as similarities in the handwriting.

A recent theory which came to light in February 2018, is that the Ripper may have been a Dutch serial killer and sailor.

Crime historian Dr Jan Bondeson named Hendrik de Jong as a prime suspect.

De Jong murdered two wives in his homeland and is believed to have travelled to London regularly.

Another suspect to emerge is the American serial killer HH Holmes.

Lawyer Jeff Mudgett, is the great-great-great-grandson of Holmes, who murdered at least nine known victims.

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