|A Ripper Notes Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.|
By Dan Norder
Dan Norder is the Executive Editor of Ripper Notes.
Imagine you are a detective investigating a series of prostitute murders. Journalists have been covering the crimes quite extensively, and you have been hard pressed, for a variety of reasons, to keep details about the killings secret from the public. When another woman turns up dead, how would you determine if she is a victim of the same killer's twisted psychological urge to murder and mutilate or the result of some equally sick individual who read about earlier cases in the news and is trying to copy them?
Your first idea might be to look for any noteworthy details about the most recent killing that match the features of the previous murders that have not become publicly known. That would definitely be a logical approach to take, and detectives who find themselves in similar situations usually follow it. But let's say that you are unlucky enough to be investigating cases which have had most every detail - including the method of attack, the size and location of all the wounds, and everything else done to the bodies after wards - well publicized far and wide thanks to a coroner who demanded they be revealed during the inquests and newspapers that decided sales were more important than keeping the information quiet. What other aspects might be worth examining? Well, if you could not prevent the facts from becoming public knowledge in the first place, you could look at information that was published about the crimes that was not accurate. If a new murder is committed and contains features that match the details given in widely reported but false news accounts, then you would know that something rather extraordinary is happening. This is exactly what appears to have occurred with the Jack the Ripper crimes. Although few people have ever commented upon them, there are actually quite a few disturbing similarities between the mistakes that local newspapers published about the Whitechapel murders and what actually happened in the subsequent killings. Specific actions demonstrated in the deaths of Mary Jane Kelly, Catherine Eddowes and Annie Chapman had already been credited to the killer in press reports before they happened.
An Intriguing Message
For all the atrocities that were committed upon the body of Mary Jane Kelly, there is one that is most often cited as having been kept a closely-guarded secret by the police: the fact that her heart had been removed and taken away from her room in Miller's Court. Working under the premise that researchers in any academic field should present a hypothesis and then dispassionately explore the positives and negatives of the idea, we could, as I did in a thought experiment a few years ago, propose that any message that claims to be from the killer and asserts that he took a human heart away with him might be considered as having come from the actual murderer.
It turns out that there is such a message. Page 156 of Stewart P. Evans and Keith Skinner's Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell has a photograph of a postcard that fits this criteria. Although the authors call the card "intriguing" it has not been the subject of much discussion.
Addressed to "Mr. James Fraser, City of London Police Offi ce," the body of the text reads (with the spelling and capitalization as in the original):
you may trouble as long as you like
for I mean doing my work I mean
pollishing 10 more off before I stop
the game. So I don't care a dam for
you or any body else. I mean doing it.
I aint a maniac as you say. I am to
dam clever for you
Written from who you would like to know
But the most interesting parts of this card are the illustrations. At the bottom is a rather crude drawing of a knife that is labeled, matter-of-factly, "my knife." At the top are three additional images. The fi rst is a blackened-in outline of a heart, which has the word "hart" next to it. The second is a cartoon face with the text "poor annie" running sideways next to it. The third is two circles with thick outlines labeled "rings" above it. The text "I have those in my Possesion good luck" sits at the far right.
So let's take a look at the arguments in favor of the authenticity of this communication. We have a message written as if it were from the killer and, perhaps notably, that does not use the Jack the Ripper name that is often believed to have been created in a hoax letter by a journalist. The card's author claims to have removed a human heart and taken it away from a crime scene. The fact that the Ripper did remove that organ from Mary Kelly was not well publicized at the time. The arguments against this message having been from the killer are more persuasive. First and foremost, with all the different organs and other body parts listed in various alleged Ripper letters as being a target, mentioning a heart could be merely a coincidence. There's also the problem that the card doesn't specifically say that the heart was taken from Mary Kelly and, in fact, strongly suggests otherwise. While the date on the postmark did not survive (it was on the corner that is now missing), most of the message seems to be referring to aspects of the Annie Chapman murder. Her rings were taken from the scene (a fact which was widely reported), and the 'poor annie' undoubtedly must indicate Chapman and not Kelly.
Digging around through newspaper articles in the press reports section of Stephen Ryder's Casebook: Jack the Ripper site (at www.casebook.org/press_reports/) shows that there were, in fact, reports that Chapman's heart had been removed. Already on the same day of her murder, Sept. 8, 1888, the Star wrote that "the throat was cut, and the body ripped open, but the horror was intensified by the fact that THE HEART AND LIVER WERE OVER HER HEAD." [emphasis as in the original]. Similarly, headlines in the Evening News of that same date shouted, "THE ENTRAILS AND THE HEART CUT OUT," with the accompanying article later stating that "her bowels, heart, and other entrails were lying at her side." Among the other papers that presented this same information were the Woodford Times of Sept. 14 and the East London Observer of Sept. 15.
The origin of the idea that Chapman's heart had been removed from her body is unknown, but we can make some educated guesses. We can be reasonably sure that these news reports did not uncover actual case evidence that the police had otherwise managed to keep secret. Despite Dr. George Bagster Phillips' stated belief that it would be "a very great pity to make this evidence public" (going so far as to call revealing the details "highly injudicious"), once Coroner Wynne Baxter pressed him on this point, it appears, based upon the contents of internal police records, that he gave full and accurate details of the murder. It is all but certain that if Chapman's heart had actually been removed by her killer there would be some reference to this fact in the existing police statements. It seems far more reasonable to think that the journalists simply got this, like many other alleged facts that were published at the time, wrong. Perhaps they interviewed one of the people who saw her body before the police arrived and that individual had confused some part of the intestines for other organs. It could also have been just another example of a wild rumor that came from nowhere but made it into print anyway.
Although it isn't highlighted in any book on the topic, the concept that the killer was out to literally steal his victims' hearts became quite well known.
This wasn't just some minor mistake that was published and then forgotten. The idea continued to pop up time and time again.
One particularly interesting incident related to this was described in the Star on Sept. 12, 1888:
IN THE POLICE COURTS TO-DAY.
His Imagination Fired by Hanburystreet. A woman living in Whitechapel asked at Worship-street for protection against her husband, who had threatened to cut her heart out and burn it. - Mr. Saunders: But he would not do that. It would be no use to him. - Applicant: But he says he will. - Mr. Saunders: Well, I will send an officer to caution him.
There's probably no way to know, but I wonder if someone in the police later recalled this threat after the Mary Kelly murder. What initially may have sounded like nothing of any importance may be seen in an entirely different light after a victim was found dead with her heart missing in a room with a recently used fireplace. This could certainly explain why the police returned to Miller's Court to sort through the ashes for clues - but of course there are other possible reasons as well. The papers, having created this legend in the first place, continued to promote it with similar incorrect claims about the murder of Catherine Eddowes.
Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper of Sept. 30th and the Freeman's Journal and Daily Commer cial Advertiser of Oct. 1st both stated in reference to that murder that the "whole of the inside of the murdered woman, with the heart and lungs, appeared to have been wrenched from the body" and that they were found "scattered about the head and neck." Of course that was true for her intestines, but, again, official records show that it was not true for her heart or lungs. The Freeman's Journal explicitly notes that the information that these organs had been scattered about the scene came from the Press Association, which means that it was also included in a number of other papers.
Another reference to the heart legend is more well known, but its significance has typically been overlooked. The Times of Oct. 4th ran a letter by a writer calling himself Nemo. In it, the author argued that the "mutilations, cutting off the nose and ears, ripping up the body, and cutting out certain organs - the heart, &c. - are all peculiarly Eastern methods and universally recognized..." Some commentators have suggested that the mention of the heart here was just a mistake of the author. Others have claimed that the killer himself wrote this letter and was giving a hint about his intentions for the future. Based upon the previous references it should be clear that the writer simply picked up this misinformation from one of the newspaper accounts.
The myth was still going strong up through the end of that month. For example, the Evening News of Oct. 29th reported: "It is stated that the words, 'I shall do another murder and will receive her heart,' have been found written in chalk on the footway in Camplin-street, Deptford." One day later the Poplar Police Station was said (by later reports in the Evening News and the Illustrated Police News) to have received a letter claiming to be from the killer that read: "Dear Boss - I am going to commit three more murders, two women and a child, and I shall take their hearts this time. - Yours truly, Jack the Ripper."
Considering what happened to Mary Kelly less than two weeks later, it would be understandable how someone might wonder if one or both of those threats came from the killer. In the context of a long line of earlier references to removing hearts, however, it seems far more likely that they were both written by hoaxers. There is some room for doubt, though, in that both messages are worded in a way that suggests that taking that organ would be something new instead of a repetition of a feature of an earlier killing.
What is the significance of all of this? Well, besides documenting a widespread mistaken belief about the killer that somehow seemingly went unnoticed before I started tracking these references down a few years back, there's the question of what this might tell us about the murder of Mary Kelly.
Was Kelly the Victim of a Copycat?
I've always been quite skeptical of the idea that the person responsible for the Nov. 9th, 1888, murder of Mary Jane Kelly wasn't the same person who killed the earlier victims. In fact, it'd be fair to say that I went beyond mere skepticism to sheer disbelief.
The fundamental problem with believing that Kelly was killed by a copycat has always been coming up with sensible reasons why her murder should be singled out as different from the others that would outweigh the rather overwhelming similarities between them.
The arguments in favor of considering her death as unrelated to the others have always seemed rather weak. The fact that she was killed inside instead of outdoors would seem to depend solely upon where each victim practiced prostitution - it's likely that the Ripper never pre selected any crime scene and merely found himself wherever each woman happened to bring him. Being mutilated more severely than the others is a logical end result of being in a private room, and it's also in line with the increasing violence demonstrated in most of the previous murders. Her relative youth is certainly a difference, but it's also one very likely to have been insignificant to the killer. And having had an ex-boyfriend, or two, who might possibly have had a motive for killing her under the right circumstances is really no different from any of the other victims.
If you pick any of the other women named by Melville Macnaghten as the ones he considered to be the only true victims of the killer (usually referred to as the "canonical five" Ripper victims, though Robin Odell's term of the "Macnaghten Five" is more fi tting), there are all sorts of other artifi cial reasons to separate them.
Chapman had gotten into a fight with another woman shortly before she was killed. Eddowes, at least according to some dubious reports, claimed to know the killer. Nichols had recently acquired a new bonnet. Stride was from Sweden. Any of the murder scenes can be cut off from the rest by drawing arbitrary lines on a map (though Kelly's location would be the one most difficult to so separate). Each of the murders and all of the victims were different enough from every other one to be unique in some way or another. Instead of just picking things to try to exaggerate differences, we need to focus on those things which are most significant. When we do, the reasons for considering Kelly a Ripper victim are quite persuasive. Being the most severely mutilated is not really a difference but the most compelling indicator: what are the odds that someone else capable of that would be in that area at that time? Kelly's crime scene was between the places where Eddowes and Chapman were killed, and anyone who has walked between those locations can tell you how surprisingly close together they are. If you go by the killer's signature, Kelly, Eddowes and Chapman are clearly most closely linked because they all were gutted and had organs removed. If you want to further narrow it down, Kelly and Eddowes were the only ones with facial mutilations. These are all very telling clues.
Deciding that a crime was committed by a copycat killer should be based upon some quantifiable and significant difference. The murder of Jane Beadmore on Sept. 23, 1888, is a good example. It included vicious knife slashes that targeted her neck and opened up her abdomen so that her intestines were found protruding. Both the methods and the date clearly have strong similarities to the earlier killings of Nichols and Chapman. But, significantly, the crime happened not in the crowded East End of London but almost 300 miles away in the village of Birtley. And, as Alan Sharp pointed out in Ripper Notes #25 in "A Ripper Victim That Wasn't: The Capture of Jane Beadmore's Killer" - also found online at www.casebook.org/ dissertations/rn-beadmore.html - the man responsible, William Waddell, was captured and successfully prosecuted. Waddell confessed to the crime before his execution, claiming he had been influenced by reports of the Whitechapel murders. Besides location, other main indicators of a copycat at work are significantly different dates or major differences in the killer's signature. Again, all of those criteria in the case of Mary Jane Kelly point strongly to the idea that the person who killed her also killed Catherine Eddowes and Annie Chapman.
Granted, there is always the slight chance that Kelly was killed by someone else, but why even bring it up for consideration if that chance isn't more likely than that of any of the others?
I may be a bit cynical, but a number of the people who suggest that Kelly was killed by someone other than Jack the Ripper seem to be doing so for reasons that are suspect-based instead of evidence-based. Donald Rumbelow, for example, explicitly states in Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates (coauthored with Stewart P. Evans) that his favored suspect is Timothy Donovan, arguing that "Mary Kelly has to be excluded from the Ripper equation because Donovan died shortly before she was murdered." He admits, however, that his opinion here could be chalked up to "unreasoning instinct" taking over. While I greatly value his incalculable contributions to the field, that isn't much of an argument against Kelly's inclusion as a Ripper victim.
I don't want to suggest that everyone who separates Kelly out is doing so to force facts to fi t a theory. There's clearly more to it than just that. I do, however, think the trend can be chalked up to two main reasons. First, some of those who think Dr. Frances Tumblety was the Ripper chose to ignore the Kelly murder when it was argued that he was in jail when she was killed. Second, the people who blame Joseph Barnett have argued so long for a domestic angle to the killings that it appears as if some people have just given up and handed them the Kelly murder as some sort of bizarre consolation prize.
But of course guessing someone's motives is difficult, especially when it's uncertain whether an argument was created to fit a conclusion or the conclusion arrived at because the argument was genuinely convincing. That's why debates should try to stick to the merits of the arguments themselves. And it was a result of trying to do just that which caused me to reconsider whether Mary Kelly's murder was committed by a copycat.
After looking at all the reports of the Whitechapel killer removing his victims' hearts, for the first time I had what could be solid evidence for an imitator at work in that case. It wasn't just that there were some random differences in what happened to Kelly compared to the earlier killings. The most defining characteristic of the Kelly murder was something that, while a completely new detail among the medical reports of the ongoing murders in the East End, was also something that had already been widely discussed in the news media.
In short, if someone had wanted to try to mimic the methods of Jack the Ripper but only had news reports to work from, this is exactly the sort of result we should expect to see.
I personally think that this, while certainly far from proof that Kelly's murderer was a copycat, is probably the most reasonable argument that has been made in its favor so far.
While not convinced that it was anything more than a coincidence, I admitted to others on the Casebook message boards and in some emails that I had reconsidered my strong stance against the copycat theory and softened it somewhat, pointing out the curious nature of the news reports about hearts having been removed in the Chapman and Eddowes murders. Although I had announced back in 2004 that I would be writing an article about this topic, it soon became clear that I should spend more time researching the theory. I wanted to see if there was a way to test the hypothesis before presenting it as a serious possibility.
It's important to remember that the significance of any fact, piece of evidence or potential clue can only be weighed in context with other information. We can't say, for example, how likely any witness description is to point toward any specific suspect without considering how many other people could also be a match. Similarly, the ultimate importance of there having been widespread reports of the Whitechapel murderer removing the hearts from his victims before it ended up actually happening can only be determined based upon a comparison of other distinctive actions and previous incorrect news items. I needed to see if any other Ripper murders duplicated false but widely reported features of the earlier killings. And this is where things got a little eerie.
Was Eddowes the Victim of a Copycat?
Catherine Eddowes, with a couple of exceptions, has always been accepted as a genuine victim of Jack the Ripper. If we can find aspects of her murder that were not present in earlier cases but were mentioned, inaccurately, in previous news reports, then the problem of Mary Kelly's heart having been removed is not a unique one. There are three main differences with the Eddowes murder that could meet this criteria.
Perhaps the most defining feature of the Eddowes murder is that her kidney was missing. While there was never a case in which a victim had the exact same body parts taken as were taken from the previous victim, this case was probably closest. The kidney removal was new, but her uterus was also missing, which matches, at least partially, the murder of Annie Chapman.
Although there was not, at least as far as I have discovered, any widespread public belief that the killer was out looking for human kidneys, certainly the idea that he was removing organs was quite well established by this point. The papers had widely publicized the theory argued by Coroner Baxter at the end of the Chapman inquest that the murders were committed in order to harvest human organs. An argument could be made, though perhaps a bit forced, that the kidney was removed in the Eddowes case as a direct result. An even more speculative notion would be that Eddowes' killer was familiar with the reports that her liver had been removed (it was that organ and a heart that were said to have been found by Chapman's head in the Star article previously discussed) and had tried to copy that but could not tell the difference between a kidney and a liver.
These sorts of arguments, while not inherently any worse than the idea that Kelly's killer removed her heart because of the earlier reports, certainly are not well supported by the evidence.
A second aspect of this murder, however, is much more promising. In a move that was unique in this series of crimes, the killer took part of Eddowes' apron as he escaped and then left it a relatively short distance away on Goulston Street, near (sometimes said to be directly under) a message on the wall (or possibly the door jamb) of a tenement building. This was, of course, the famous Goulston Street Graffi to. It was written in chalk and, according to police constable Alfred Long's notebook, read: "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing."
What is remarkable about this fact is that reports of the Chapman murder three weeks earlier also featured claims that a message had been left by the killer. The Times of Sept. 10th, 1888, for example, although admitting the report was uncorroborated, repeated the rumor that "the murderer left a message on the wall in the yard, which was made out to read, 'Five; 15 more, and then I give myself up.'" Other newspapers made similar claims, often without any sort of disclaimer that it might not be true.
Police documents make it quite clear that no such message was found at the scene of the Chapman murder, but I think there should be no great mystery how this mistaken notion came about. Part of an envelope was found by her body, and the way it had been torn left some letters of an address visible. The police originally thought this may have been left by the killer. Thanks to the way stories get distorted as they are retold, the envelope could have quite easily been the original basis for the rumor of a message on the wall. This hypothesis would seem to be confirmed by the fact that the Daily Telegraph of Sept. 10th mentioned that one version of the story making the rounds said the message had been found "written upon a piece of paper that was picked up." Although the Pall Mall Gazette of the same date concluded that the story was false, other papers were more irresponsible. It was still being repeated in some papers as if it were true months and even years later.
Worse than that, reports of other chalk messages claiming to be from the killer soon became numerous. Especially notable is the Sept. 29th Evening Times report that police had discovered a message in chalk claiming to be from "Leather Apron" (the common nickname for the killer until the publication of the Dear Boss letter made "Jack the Ripper" famous) that read "Five more, and I will give myself up." It was accompanied by a drawing of a man pointing a knife at a woman. The Echo of the same date confirmed the story and specified that the message was discovered on Kingsland Road.
Less than 24 hours after this story was published, Catherine Eddowes was dead and a portion of her bloodstained apron was found by another chalk message. We are yet again faced with an example of a widespread but mistaken belief about what the killer did at the Chapman murder that apparently came true as part of a later killing. If the person who killed Eddowes in the early morning of Sept. 30th wrote the message found on Goulston Street, it seems quite certain that he was doing so in imitation of, or as a response to, the earlier news reports.
Now, granted, there are some commentators who believe that the apron may have just been dropped coincidentally in a location near where a chalk message already existed and that the killer did not write it. It could be argued that the very reason the police had thought the writing was significant was specifically because of the ongoing belief that the murderer would write messages on walls. This is certainly plausible. It'd be nice if there were another example of Eddowes' killer having copied earlier news reports... and I think there may very well be. The third major difference between Eddowes and the previous Whitechapel murders is that her face was mutilated. Although we tend to look at the series of killings with the benefit of more than a century of hindsight and the disadvantage of having had the "canonical five" drummed into our heads so that it's difficult to see beyond its constraints, back in 1888 the public was caught up in the day to day rumors of other attacks and killings. One of those was the case mentioned previously: the murder of Jane Beadmore. Although we now know that she was killed by a copycat, police were originally unsure and news accounts presented her as though she were part of the Whitechapel series. In fact, even as late as after Mary Kelly's death, the Beadmore case was still being included in some papers' lists of the known victims of Jack the Ripper. And, although her killer confessed to being inspired by reports of the deaths in London's East End, he got one aspect wrong: he cut her face.
The Beadmore murder was on Sept. 23rd, and London newspapers covered it that week. The Illustrated Police News printed an artist's depiction of the corpse - including facial mutilations - on Sept. 29th. Then, sometime before 1:45 a.m. on the 30th, the murderer of Catherine Eddowes made the first facial mutilations in the Whitechapel series.
Was this act inspired by news coverage of Beadmore's death? It's uncertain, but it does seem very plausible, especially if the message in Goulston Street was based upon earlier news accounts. This may also impact the argument that facial mutilations mean the killer personally knew the victim. That was true of Beadmore (Waddell was her ex-lover), but it could have been imitation of that crime at work with both Eddowes and Kelly. At the very least, the claim that Kelly's killer copied earlier news reports cannot be accepted as proof of a different killer in that case without admitting the same possibility with Eddowes. So, what do we have here: Two different copycat killers responsible for one death each? Someone who murdered both Eddowes and Kelly but not the earlier victims?
Just a series of bizarre coincidences?
Or something else?
Well, perhaps continuing the search for evidence of imitative behavior in previous murders might help answer that question.
The Problem with Stride
Elizabeth Stride has always been the odd one out in the Macnaghten Five. She is the single example of a decrease in severity between attacks. We won't find anything like a missing heart or facial mutilations to work with in this case. There might, however, be other aspects of her murder that are worth examining. Two different articles (Bernard Brown's "New York, New York" and Tom Wescott's "A Murder in the Neighborhood") in issue #27 of Ripper Notes briefl y discussed a man named William Seaman. He is noteworthy for two reasons: having robbed and severely beaten the shopkeeper of a store in Berner Street on Sept. 8th, 1888, (the same day Annie Chapman was killed) and then for viciously stabbing and killing two people during another robbery nearly eight years later. Although we know that Seaman could not have been responsible for Stride's death, it seems a rather odd coincidence that both events happened on Berner Street, and relatively close to each other at that. The store that Seaman robbed was at #82 Berner Street. The club at which Stride was killed three weeks later was at #40. About halfway between these two locations, in front of #63, is where Stride was reportedly seen kissing a man (the one who uttered the now-famous "You would say anything but your prayers" quip) about an hour before her death. The distance can be walked across in only a couple of minutes.
Assuming that the person who killed Stride also killed Eddowes, there's also another curious coincidence to be considered. Their murders are collectively referred to as the "double event" thanks to that phrase being used in the "Saucy Jacky" postcard. But the public had already heard about a previous double murder, one that turned out to be false. The Evening News of Sept. 8th reported: "Shortly after ten o'clock, this morning, a rumour was current in the East-end, that the body of a young woman, with her throat cut, had been found in the graveyard attached to St. Philip's Church, at the back of the London Hospital." Killing two victims on the same day was thus already a feature of the ever-widening legends about the crimes. If Stride and Eddowes are both victims of the same man, it's possible he got the idea of a double murder from this rumor and then later made it happen for real. This could be yet another example of a copycat effect at work.
Mythmaking and Chapman's Murder
We have seen that some of the most memorable aspects of the Kelly, Eddowes and Stride cases match inaccurate news reports and rumors about Annie Chapman's murder. The question now becomes whether there were any earlier myths that might have influenced what happened to Chapman.
The Sept. 8th murder is probably most notable for being the first case in which part of a victim's body was taken. Books typically mention that her uterus was missing, but we also know from medical testimony that parts of her belly wall and bladder were also not present. I have looked for any example of a news report covering the pre-Chapman Whitechapel murders (which, according to the press and public perception at the time, includes not only Mary Ann Nichols but also Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram) that might have suggested anything similar. I momentarily thought it was significant that Coronor Baxter asked at the Nichols inquest if any of her organs had been removed; even though the answer was no, just raising the idea might suggest it as something the killer would be likely to do, and, as we have seen, expectation often become reality. But the Nichols inquest continued for so long that this question was actually raised after Chapman had already been killed.
If we were to keep trying to find some source that might have suggested the idea of removing organs there would be no end to the possibilities if we force something to fit, but picking anything with any similarity out of thin air is not the same as finding an actual indication of a causal relationship. Although those kinds of arguments are common in this field, they aren't very persuasive - or at least they shouldn't be. What we've been trying to find are events with a significant chance of being directly related. It looks like we come up short on the issue of Chapman's uterus and other missing parts.
On the other hand, some authors have suggested that the organs weren't actually taken by the killer. Paul Begg's Jack the Ripper: The Facts offers up a scenario in which Chapman's missing parts might have just been lost somehow between the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street and the mortuary. Authors Bob Hinton and Trevor Marriott have separately presented arguments to try to explain the disappearance of the organs without requiring that the killer was responsible - though their ideas are not confi ned to the Chapman case and have not been well received by other researchers. If any of these explanations are correct for Chapman but inapplicable with Eddowes, then the first case of organ removal in the Jack the Ripper series can be pushed back three weeks - well beyond the point when people around the world already thought of it as a defining characteristic of the killer.
Of course, in fairness, none of those possibilities seem to be very reasonable ones to me. But then I don't think we need to establish that all of the major features of the Whitechapel killings were likely to have been imitations of earlier news reports to present an argument that some sort of copycat effect was at work. The existence of a few reasonably strong indicators should suffice, and I would suggest that the heart removal, the facial mutilations and probably the message on the wall should qualify. I also think that there's another major one we haven't looked at yet.
Probably the most memorable aspect of the Chapman murder to the individuals who saw her body in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street was that she had been gutted quite severely: her intestines were pulled out and placed up by her head. The shocking nature of this act is all too often forgotten. Because of the medical testimony that Mary Ann Nichols' intestines were protruding from a large knife wound in her body, Chapman's evisceration has been considered to be nothing more than a simple progression in the level of violence. I think that conclusion misses an extremely important point.
The fact of the matter is that we don't know that Nichols was disembowelled by her killer. The protruding intestines were only noticed after the corpse was brought into the makeshift mortuary. No, I am not suggesting that she was eviscerated by some disturbed mortuary worker, a medical student fi shing for organs, or anything of that sort. But what most people fail to consider is that intestines are coiled up inside a body pretty tightly, and if they aren't being actively held in they can and do spill out all on their own. The opening was described by Dr. Llewellyn as a "very deep wound" that was "jagged." We also must keep in mind that the body had been jostled quite a bit before it was fully examined. At the very least it had been picked up off the street (probably bent at the waist in the process), placed on an ambulance (which at that time was little more than a fancy wheelbarrow), carted off to a building a fair distance away, and then picked up again and carried inside to a table. Honestly, it's no wonder her intestines were protruding after all that.
The cursory examination by the doctor and police at the scene of the crime didn't look at her abdomen because her dress was covering it up. Earlier, though, when Charles Cross and Robert Paul found her body, the dress was pulled up above her stomach. While it was certainly very dark at the time, the two men could make out some features. They knew, for example, that the shape on the ground was a woman, and they could see that her dress was in a position that would expose her groin if anyone should happen by with a light. They did not report seeing her intestines exposed, though it's likely they would not have noticed. After pushing the dress down to protect her modesty, Cross and Paul left in search of a constable. If she had been left uncovered, there would be no question one way or another if she had been disembowelled on the pavement of Buck's Row. Based upon what we do know, however, I think she probably wasn't. If the killer had actually pulled out her intestines, even just a little, I think they would have been much more exposed than they were by the time they were finally examined.
Either way, the papers were certainly guilty of exaggerating her condition. The Evening News and the Star of August 31st, for example, both reported that: "She was immediately conveyed to the Whitechapel mortuary, when it was found that besides the wound in the throat the lower part of the abdomen was completely ripped open, with the bowels protruding." By Sept. 1st the Star had already progressed to referring to Nichols as "the woman who was found yesterday morning in Buck's-row completely disembowelled and with her head nearly gashed from her body".
Regardless of whether her intestines were protruding in Buck's Row or if that only happened later, Nichols was not "completely disembowelled." That is, however, a reasonable description of the condition in which Chapman was later found - and, for that matter, Eddowes and Kelly as well. Is that a coincidence? It might be, but I suspect that it wasn't.
Bringing the Legend to Life
Although we started out looking for signs of a copycat killer, the evidence points to something much more startling than that.
Many commentators have fought back against the prevailing myths and nonsense in this case by limiting themselves (and, by extension, those who read their books) to a very narrow view of what is worthy of study. This happens in many different ways, but nowhere is it more evident then in the rush to declare certain attacks as being unrelated to the Jack the Ripper case.
For many years now the field has used the "canonical five" list of victims as our common frame of reference in discussing the Ripper's motives despite the fact that there's no solid reasoning to rule out most of the other cases in the White chapel murder files (or even other possibilities). Comparing those aspects that are most unique in a killer's signature results in a list of those murders with the strongest links to each other, not an excuse to just declare all other cases irrelevant. Worse than that, the trend in recent years has been to try to remove even more names from the list of accepted victims. Certainly there is room for an open mind, but in some cases the claims have gone way beyond that. Some have argued, for example, that it's not only within the realm of possibility that Stride or Kelly was killed by someone other than the Ripper (which, while true, could also apply to all the other victims as well) but that it's likely that a copycat was responsible. The basic problem here is that every time someone tries to split off another case with the rationale of trying to be realistic about the evidence, the end result is essentially the opposite. Any attack that we believe was not related to the Ripper has to have been committed by someone else. Just as it's unreasonable to assume that Jack was responsible for every murder across England (or the rest of the world) for a decade (or even longer, according to some theories), it is equally ridiculous to expect that there were three or more mutilation murderers active all within one square mile in the autumn of 1888, not to mention an additional mob of individual killers with similar methods working separately in the East End over a five year span.
But what about all of the examples of the murders mysteriously matching important details of earlier incorrect news reports? The killer would certainly know that he hadn't disembowelled Nichols, mutilated Beadmore's face, left a message on a wall in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street or removed Chap man's heart. If those weren't true aspects of the Ripper's desires, why do very similar actions then turn up later as actual events? Although some (primarily Peter Turnbull in the book The Killer Who Never Was) have argued that the whole series was just an epidemic of copycats, I think there's a more logical conclusion.
If one accepts the possibility that some one could be influenced by the news media to commit a murder in a specific way, the next thing to consider is who would be most likely to do so. We know from studies (see Loren Coleman's book The Copycat Effect, though I would caution that some of the author's conclusions seem unsupported by the evidence he cites) that the desire to act out in some way can be expressed via methods that differ from the original incident, as demonstrated in a statistical increase in suicides after news coverage of school massacres or accidents with significant fatalities. The people who mimic the most violent actions, however, are those who were already unstable to begin with, individuals who knew they wanted to do something quite dramatic but were looking for inspiration. For all the talk over the years about how the media-created legend of Jack the Ripper has influenced popular culture and other killers over the ages, most people have seemed to miss that the influence would have worked both ways. In the massive hysteria surrounding the murders as they happened, the person who would have logically had the most reason to pay attention was the killer himself.
A lot of people seem to operate under the belief that the Whitechapel murderer's urge to rip the bodies open and remove body parts was fully formed in his head from the very beginning of his rampage. This is not how serial killers operate, however. They might start out knowing they want to attack someone, or even roughly what kinds of depraved acts sound most interesting, but they learn what they like to do by trying different things out and then seeing what works and what doesn't. If Jack had attacked Nichols without the desire to pull out parts of her body, the nature of the public response could have influenced what he did in later killings. If this theory is correct - and I offer it up as nothing more than one potential way of explaining what happened back in 1888 - then we would need to rethink what we thought we knew about the killer. It would also raise a couple of additional possibilities to consider.
The first is that there could be some other ways the killer tried to imitate his own legend that we haven't yet identified. Perhaps the killer did end up writing one or more of the Ripper letters. But, as mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the difficulty there is determining how to separate a genuine message by the killer from all the rampant hoaxing that was going on.
The second is potentially more significant. If the killer didn't come up with the idea of gutting his victims on his own, it's possible it was never his primary desire. After the carnage in Miller's Court, where he had unrestricted access to any parts he wanted but took only one, he may have decided that such extensive mutilations just weren't worth the risks for what he got out of them. If there's any truth to this - and it is something that has happened with other serial killers - then he may have returned to the motivations which prompted him to start killing in the first place. If so, any murders after Mary Kelly would probably more closely resemble what happened to Mary Ann Nichols. If the killer had been unsuccessfully trying to live up to his inflated reputation and then decided to continue killing on his own terms he may have finally found a way to surpass his own legend. Conversely, all the authors who have tried to state unequivocally what the Ripper did and did not do by tossing out what they consider to be long-standing misconceptions about the case could have been chasing the myth instead of the man. But, when it gets right down to it, if it's possible for irresponsible journalists to inadvertently print accurate details about murders that hadn't even happened yet, no matter whether it was all just a remarkable coincidence or if there is some more meaningful explanation, then it's clear that there are still whole new ways for the Jack the Ripper case to continue to surprise and confound us.
Thanks to Tom Wescott and Kelly Robinson for their suggestions on this article.