Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Profile of Jack the Ripper

A Succession of Murders

Mary Ann
Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, victim

The murders seemed to begin in August with Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, killed on Friday, August 31, just after 1:00 A.M. She was 42, alcoholic, a mother of five, and a prostitute. As she went out to earn money for lodging, someone grabbed her and slit her throat with two powerful strokes. When found at 3:40 in the morning, she was on her back, her skirt was pulled up to her waist and her legs were parted. She'd been cut ear to ear, all the way to the spinal cord, nearly severing her head from her body. On the left side of the neck, just below the jaw, a four-inch long incision started at the ear. Two inches below that, the second cut ran to eight inches.

Her estimated time-since-death was about half an hour before she was found. The autopsy revealed a deep incision along the abdomen and other types of mutilations, along with several downward cuts along the right side of the body. She also had bruises on her jaw and face, as if from finger pressure or a punch. The abdomen was cut open from just below the ribs, going along the right side below the pelvis to the left of the stomach. There were also two small stab wounds to the vagina, left to right. The doctor estimated the weapon to be a stout knife with a 6-8-inch blade, such as a tradesman, e.g., a shoemaker, might use. Once identified, it was clear that the last person to see her alive had seen her about an hour before she was killed, of a mile away. She was in good spirits and appeared to be drunk.

Martha Tabram, victim
Martha Tabram, victim

Several weeks before that, early in the morning on August 7, Martha Tabram, also a prostitute, had been found on the first-floor landing of a building, stabbed thirty-nine times with at least two different implements. She was killed where she stood and dropped to the floor. No one in the area heard her cry out, though a night watchman and three officers were nearby.

The next victim after Nichols was Annie Chapman, 45, discovered on the morning of September 8 behind a lodging house a place frequented by prostitutes for a quick bit of business. She was found half an hour after being seen alive. In fact, she'd been haggling with a man with the look of a foreigner, reportedly around age 40.

Annie Chapman, victim
Annie Chapman, victim

Chapman was now dead, her dress pulled over her head, her stomach ripped open, and her small intestines pulled out and draped over her right shoulder. Two flaps of skin from the lower abdomen lay in a mass of blood above the left shoulder. Her hands were raised in a defensive position, as if protecting her throat, and her face was smeared with blood. Her legs were drawn up, knees bent as if posed, and spread outward, with her feet flat on the ground. Her jaw was bruised and her throat was cut twice in a jagged manner, from left to right and back again, and quite deeply. The killer had used what appeared to have been a sharp surgical type of knife with a narrow blade (not the shorter knives used by tradesmen) and it looked as if he'd tried to separate her neck bones. In addition, her swollen face and protruding tongue indicated asphyxiation.

A handkerchief, later determined to have been on Chapman that evening, was tied around the neck, Since there was no sign of a struggle, aside from blood spatter about fourteen inches high on a nearby fence, it seemed that, like the other victims, she'd been quickly subdued. A pocket carried under her skirt had been cut open at the front and side, and a comb and paper case lay close by. Pennies, two new farthings, and two rings from her fingers had been arranged at her feet as if in some ritual, and a closer inspection showed that the pelvis, two-thirds of the bladder, half of the vagina, and the uterus had been removed in a quick sweep and taken away. An envelope stamped London, August 1888, bore the letter 'M' and a seal from the Sussex regiment. Two feet away was a water-sodden leather apron, without any bloodstain.

Those who knew the victim said she'd been ill the previous week and though she usually drank only on Saturday nights, that Friday evening before her death, she'd been drunk. She had insisted that she would be getting the money that night for her bed.

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