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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 74, December 2006. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
A Life Less Ordinary:
The Victims of Jack the Ripper on the Big Screen

“The Introduction”

Jack the Ripper has been a popular theme at the movies and the website, Hollywood Ripper, states that there have been a total of 38 Ripper productions and 18 ‘faux Ripper’ movies. The site compares this to just seven about Ed Gein (apparently the second most popular serial killer in Hollywood). We have looked at six films produced over the past six decades and compared these depictions of the victims of Jack the Ripper with each other and with reality. The films focused on are Jack the Ripper (1959), A Study In Terror (1965), Murder By Decree (1979), Jack the Ripper (1988), The Ripper (1997) and From Hell (2001). Each of these films represents a different decade from the past sixty years and so help to show the evolution of the victims’ portrayals. While we are examining the portrayals in these movies not only against each other but also against known facts, we accept that some degree of artistic license is used when making films, even though the events therein are based on facts.

“Life On The Edge”

It is one of the enduring ironies for those who explore the Jack the Ripper mystery that while Jack is clearly the focus of most studies and his victims only necessary but neglected bit players, we know much more about his victims than we do Jack. Part of the reason for this is that Jack was never caught and despite the arguments of many for whom ‘the truth has been revealed’, we still have no good idea who he was or what his life was like.

Indeed, among many of the favoured suspects there is a positive paucity of information. For example, Aaron Kosminski remains an almost total cipher; a troubled teenage immigrant who ghosted through Whitechapel for a few years and then spent his remaining years in a mental hospital. The record is hardly better for Joseph Barnett and although there are a certain number of public records (even cricket scores) pertaining to Montague John Druitt, his personal life and the devils that drove him to suicide remain hidden to all but surmise.

Among the more famous suspects (who often seem to be suspects only because they were famous) like James Maybrick, Walter Sickert and even Prince Albert Victor, we have a great deal of information as to what made them tick, but none of that knowledge suggests the sort of mental tic that drove Jack to murder. In contrast, diligent research over the years has revealed much about the lives of his victims—and none of it is very pretty.

Coroner Wayne Baxter, in his summation to the inquest into the death of Polly Nichols, may have been the first to see a common and disheartening thread within the fabric of the victims’ live. Referring to Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Nichols and Annie Chapman (who had been murdered before the Nichols inquest closed) Baxter said:

All four victims were women of middle age, all were married and had lived apart from their husbands in consequence of intemperate habits, and were at the times of their death leading irregular lives and eking out a miserable and precarious existence in common lodging houses. (1)