The Ipswich "Ripper" Murders and Jack the Ripper
by Stephen P. Ryder
There is a great deal of interest lately surrounding the events unfolding in and around Ipswich, to the north-east of London. As of December 12th, the bodies of five women have been discovered. Each body was found naked, dumped near roadways either in small bodies of water or in nearby woodlands. The victims are women - prostitutes from Ipswich's red-light district - each between 19 and 29 years of age. The cause of death has been determined to be asphyxiation in one case and "compression of the neck" in another, with no conclusions yet released about the remaining three.
The press has dubbed the killer the "Ipswich Ripper," and the number of press inquiries made to this website has been enormous. As such I thought it would be prudent to lay out some of my answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Is the Ipswich killer imitating Jack the Ripper's crimes?
Its impossible to say for sure, but I find no compelling evidence so far that leads me to believe that the Ipswich killer is "copying" Jack the Ripper, or taking any real cues from his original crimes. The fact that two of the Ipswich victims (Tania Nicol and Annette Nicholls) had last names similar to that of the first Ripper victim - Mary Ann "Polly" Nicholls - is almost certainly pure coincidence. The killer's modus operandi (asphyxia and "compression of the neck") appears to be quite different from that of the original Ripper, whose primary goal seems to have been the slashing and mutilation of female bodies.
Certainly the killer, like most people in the English-speaking world, knows something about Jack the Ripper and his deeds, but I don't see any reason to believe that this plays much of a role in his thinking or behavior.
Can any lessons learned from the study of Jack the Ripper be applied to the Ipswich murders?
There are some very general parallels that can be drawn between the two cases.
Victimology - in both cases, the victims are prostitutes of a certain age-range (19-29 for the Ipswich killer, 39-46, with one exception, in the case of Jack the Ripper). This is not unusual in cases of serial murder, however, as prostitutes are easily approachable and will willingly follow strangers to dark and secretive places for the purposes of anonymous sex. This makes them an easy target.
Time frame - the Ipswich killer struck down at least five women in roughly six weeks. Jack the Ripper killed perhaps five or six women in a space of about thirteen weeks. Both cases are somewhat atypical when compared to modern cases of serial murder, where weeks, months and even years can pass between crimes. This seems to point to an exceptionally strong compulsion to kill on the part of the murderer; almost as if he's in a "frenzied" state.
Appearance and Personality - the last two victims in Ipswich almost certainly were aware that a prostitute-killer was stalking the area. One victim, Paula Clennell, was even interviewed on television about her reaction to the crimes just days before her murder. She said in the interview she was "a bit wary" about getting into cars with strangers, and yet even with her heightened sense of awareness, the killer seems to have had no difficulty approaching her and convincing her that she would be safe with him. To me this would indicate that the Ipswich killer fits the usual profile of most serial killers - including, in my mind, Jack the Ripper - namely, that he is a white male, late 20s or 30s, outwardly normal, perhaps even personable in character. For the killer to have managed to procure at least two more victims in the midst of an already widely-publicized media frenzy, he would almost have to be of this type; normal enough to put women at ease, and make them feel relatively comfortable in his presence.
Why is it so difficult to catch criminals like Jack the Ripper and the Ipswich killer?
In standard murder cases, the usual motives of jealousy, hatred or greed usually come into play, and police can find a shortlist of people who may have had troubled relationships with the victim, or who stood to gain from their death.
In cases of serial murder, particularly that of prostitutes, it is quite a bit more difficult, as often no previous relationship exists between the killer and his victim. They are essentially strangers to each other, and so even if a witness description comes forth or even a DNA sample is found, the killer will likely not be found in the usual short-list of friends, neighbors, co-workers and lovers to whom such samples are generally compared.
For this reason, murders of this type are extremely difficult to solve. Serial killers will sometimes have careers spanning years or even decades, and when they are caught, it is often on a technicality. Peter Sutcliffe (the "Yorkshire Ripper") and David Berkowitz ("Son of Sam") are two perfect examples. Both were captured as a result of traffic violations.
Many others, like Jack the Ripper, are never captured.
Stephen P. Ryder, Editor
Casebook: Jack the Ripper