Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Ultimate Role Model

Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper

The year was 1888 and Londoners flocked to Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, playing on the West End. stage. But real life events as bloody and dramatic as those of fiction were starting on the other side of town. In the seedy area populated by poor immigrants and desperate prostitutes known as Whitechapel in London's East End, someone began to attack prostitutes with an intense barbarity.

The first victim was Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, an alcoholic and the 45-year-old mother of five. Just after 1 a.m. on Friday, August 31, Polly went out into the street to earn the four pence she needed for a bed for the night. A friend saw her at 2:30 a.m., and an hour later, she was found murdered. Her skirt was pulled up to her waist, her legs were parted, and severe cuts into her abdomen and throat appeared to have been made by a long-bladed knife. In fact, her head was nearly severed from her body. Whoever had killed her had first controlled her by grabbing her around the neck and had come at her quite suddenly in a blitz-style attack. To investigators unfamiliar with sexually compulsive violence, there appeared to be no motive. (Former FBI profiler John Douglas indicates in his book The Cases that Haunt Us that the sexual nature of this attack is clear to the experienced eye.)

The next victim was Annie Chapman, discovered on the morning of September 8. Her dress was pulled up over her head, her stomach was ripped open, and her intestines had been pulled out and draped over her left shoulder. Her legs were drawn up, knees bent as if posed, and spread outward. Her throat was cut, too, with what appeared to have been a sharp surgical type of knife with a narrow blade and it looked as if the killer had tried to separate her neck bones. Since there was no sign of a struggle, it appeared that once again she'd been quickly subdued. It also appeared that small items like coins and an envelope had been arranged around her as if in some sort of ritual, and a closer inspection showed that the bladder, half of the vagina, and the uterus had been removed and taken away.

A note that arrived on September 29 raised hopes of a communication and possibly a lead. Signed, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," the author claimed that he was "down on whores" and would continue to kill. Yet in retrospect, as the Biography video, "Phantom of Death" points out, most experts (called Ripperologists) believe this message was the work of a tabloid journalist trying to drum up further sensation. Nevertheless, the moniker stuck.

The night after the note, two more women were fatally attacked.. The ripper slashed the throat of Elizabeth Stride, 45, only a few minutes before she was found, but then disemboweled Catherine Eddowes less than an hour afterward. Some believe that he was interrupted in his night's work with Stride and managed to finish with Eddowes, although she, too, was quickly found. The killer was growing bolder . With Eddowes, the intestines had been pulled out and placed over the right shoulder, the uterus and one kidney had been cut out and taken, and the face was oddly mutilated. Two upside down Vs had been cut into her cheeks, pointing toward the eyes, her eyelids were nicked, and the tip of her nose was cut off. And, of course, her throat was slashed.

Then came a letter "from Hell" to the head of the Whitechapel vigilante organization, with a grisly trophy: half of a kidney that turned out to be afflicted with Bright's diseasea disorder from which Eddowes had suffered. The note's author indicated that he'd fried and eaten the other half. It was believed that his note was definitely from the killer and he even offered to send "the bloody knife" in due time. He closed with the taunt, "Catch me if you can."

The police realized they were dealing with a killer who was driven by some kind of rage, who attacked at random, and who seemed to be unstoppable. They were stymied. In October they stepped up patrols, particularly on the 8th and the 30th in case those dates had signficance to the killer. But there no more murders that month.

Any hope that the killer had ceased his rampage were dashed when police arrived at the room of Mary Kelly, 24, the final victim. The room was splattered with blood. She apparently had invited a man into her room and closed the curtains in preparation. At some point the killer pulled the sheet over her head and stabbed her through it. He slashed open her throat and then ripped open her lower torso, pulled out her intestines, and skinned her chest and legs. Police found a severed breast on the table next to her, decorated with the tips of her nose and ears in the mocking rendition of a face. Her abdomen had been emptied and its contents spread all over the bed and thrown around the room. Her heart, too, had been removed and was missing, and flesh had been cut from her legs and buttocks clear to the bone. Doctors estimated that his frenzy had gone on for around two hours.

To many Londoners, this killer was the devil himself. He'd savaged five women with an unmatched frenzy, attacked in darkness, eluded police, disappeared as by magic, and even sent a note "from Hell." He was evil incarnate, and some say he ushered in the age of the serial killer, many of whom surpassed him in number but none more brutal. Yet some certainly have tried, and they, too, adopted the demonic cloak.


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