In 1888 occurred the series of crimes called the "Jack the Ripper" murders. They all took place in the East End of London, and all the victims were prostitutes ; and here let me say that the secrecy and solitude of this profession often renders detection of these murderers quite impossible.
There were seven Ripper murders altogether ; six occurred within quite a short period and the seventh two years later. In nearly every case the throat was cut and the bodies were mutilated. The abdomen was slit open in the middle line, and certain of the viscera were removed. One curious feature was that on the ground in the quiet courtyards where some of these murders were committed there was sometimes found a singular collection of articles placed by the side of the body, such as farthings, a match, a comb, and other trivial things.
On one night two of these murders were committed within four hundred yards of each other, and some writing was found chalked up on a wall about Jews. The audacity of the murderer was astonishing, for whilst all London was agog with excitement, and all the police were on the qui vine, and hundreds of amateur detectives were prowling about the East End every night hampering the police, the murderer still continued his ghastly work undaunted-and always in the same locality and upon the same class of women, and with the same technique.
Many were the arrests, and many the theories, and many the bogus confessions by the weak-minded who are always so ready to claim public attention in this way. But the murderer was never caught. He was only seen on one occasion, and the mystery remains unsolved to this day, despite many proffered explanations.
Then suddenly the murders ceased, and they have never recurred. The most reasonable theory to my mind is that the man was a homicidal lunatic with some anatomical knowledge, acquired either as a butcher or a medical student, who obtained physical gratification from murdering women and slashing their bodies about with a knife. As his insanity increased he became suicidal and probably jumped into the Thames, just "a man unknown" of whom so many are fished out of the water by the Thames Police. That he was insane is, I think, certain. The very ferocity and frenzy of his methods point to that conclusion, as do the slashings of some of the bodies and organs and the disposition in some cases of viscera and small articles arranged, as I have said, in a kind of order by the side and at the feet and head of the victims.
In the Mitre Square murder, which he _ must have accomplished in the astonishingly short time of eleven minutes, he cut the throat, opened the abdomen, removed one kidney, the uterus, and the left colon. Then he cut off the tip of the nose, made vertical slits under each eye, notched the liver, reflected a triangular flap of skin from each cheek, and ended by arranging a thimble, a-comb, an empty mustard tin and a farthing on the pavement at the poor woman's feet. A portion of this woman's apron was missing, but it was found blood-stained in an adjoining stairway on the wall of which was chalked up : "The Jews are not the ones to be accused for nothing", the writer having evidently wiped his bloody hands on the torn-off piece of apron before writing.
On this same night he had already murdered another woman in Berners Street a mile away, but had been disturbed there and consequently had not had time to complete the ritual of mutilation.
Dr. Gordon Brown, the City of London Police Surgeon, was a friend of mine, and it was from him that I obtained these gruesome details. He was good enough to offer to show me the scenes of these horrible murders, and very kindly allowed me to bring some friends. So on 19th April, 1905, we all met at the Police Hospital, Bishopsgate. The party consisted of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Professor Churton Collins, H. B. Irving, Dr. Crosse, myself, and three City detectives who knew all the facts about the murders.
We were shown the actual places where each crime was committed, and en passant got a very interesting sight of the East End Jews in all the excitement of the eve of the Passover. The crowd of alien Jews in Petticoat Lane was amazing. It was impossible to hold up an umbrella, so dense was the crowd, and it was most difficult for our party-to keep together. There was no wheeled traffic at all, for-the whole street was packed densely from side to side and from end to end with masses of excited foreigners buying and selling strange articles of food, howling, shouting, laughing, and pushing one another about.
Most of the married women wore black wigs, the idea being that they should conceal their charms from the eyes of all save their lawful husbands. Many of the women carried hens under their arms, on their way to a booth where we saw them pay a halfpenny each to have the hen's throat cut by a priest according to ritual with a clean knife without a notch in the blade which was carefully shown to and inspected by all his patrons. There were other booths where fowls could be plucked for a small charge, and others where unleavened cakes could be bought, and we--actually saw a cattle stall in Whitechapel containing fifteen cows. Here came Jewish girls with jugs and with instructions from priests and parents to see that the cow was milked direct into their clean jugs. Thus, I thought at the time, does Moses still act as unqualified assistant to the Medical Officer of Health in the East End of London.
The scenes of the murders all presented one common characteristic. They were all as dark and obscure and secret as possible. Nearly all of them, however, were evidently selected as being places from which it would be easy to slip away unobserved. In Bucks Row, for example, there were easy alternative exits. In Mitre Square there were no less than five. In Hanbury Street the scene was the backyard of a common lodging-house, approached by a passage but giving a ready exit into any one of three neighbouring backyards, and thence into the street. Castle Street was similarly chosen for the same reason, and although Miller's Court in Dorset Street seemed to be a trap, yet one had to remember that in this case the Ripper went into the victim's own single room instead of conducting his operations, as in other cases, in the open street. This latter place was a dismal hole seen on a dark, wet, gloomy afternoon. It consisted of one very small room, with a very small window, a fire, a chair and a bed. It was sombre and sinister, unwholesome and depressing, and was approached by a single doorstep from a grimy covered passage leading from Dorset Street into a courtyard. Indeed, it was just the sort of mysterious and foul den in which one would imagine dark, unspeakable deeds would be done. Yet it was only a stone's-throw from the busy Whitechapel Road.
It was here that Mary Ann Kelly was done to death. She was seen to enter the courtyard about midnight accompanied by a man with his overcoat collar turned up, thus muffling his face. Later she was heard carousing, evidently drunk, and she was singing "The violet I plucked from my dear mother's grave" at about 2 a.m. Later still a cry of murder was heard in the room above coming from Kelly's den, but it excited no alarm, not being in the least unusual.
The next morning her body was found amid a scene which for sheer horror beggars description. A rude curtain had been stuck up with a couple of forks over the single window, so that the monster inside might for once enjoy a complete and undisturbed orgy. The fiend had literally ripped poor Mary Kelly's body to pieces. Every organ had been dissected ; but I will not inflict on my readers the details of the shocking, grisly operation which was performed in that charnel house that night.
I saw the police photograph of the mass of human flesh which had once been Mary Kelly, and let it suffice for me to say that in my twenty-seven years as a London Coroner I have seen many gruesome sights, but for sheer horror this surpasses anything I ever set eyes on.
It is easy to imagine and to draw a mental picture of the scene enacted in that room that night. The lamp appeared to have been knocked over, or to have burned out, for the fireplace showed signs of a very large fire, having burnt there, doubtless to provide the murderer with the necessary light he would require for his operations after the lamp was extinguished. This fire must have been a fierce one, for the spout of the kettle had fallen off owing to its having boiled dry and the solder having melted. The hat and clothing of the poor woman had been used to feed the flames. A couple of clay pipes were found inside the fender, and one can picture the scene with the murderer and his victim carousing by the fireside, the kettle on the hob, the frequent renewal of the jovial glass, the friendly pipes, the pathetic song, and the fiend every now and again taking a sidelong glance at his victim, all unconscious of her approaching doom.
For some months after this the "Ripper" rested. Such a repast took time to digest. But again he. must have felt the insane impulse to kill, for a second series began.
Castle Street was the scene of an undoubted "Ripper" crime. A murder under a railway arch was perhaps doubtful, but the discovery of the headless trunk of a young woman under another railway arch was evidently his handiwork. There was the same abdominal cut, the same evisceration, the same cutting of the throat and the same mutilation. Her legs had been amputated at the knee joints and the body was nude. Therefore it had probably been brought to the spot in a sack and shot out in the darkness.
All the scenes of these murders were dark, secret places. Perhaps the murderer became familiar with them because he was taken there by women who knew and used them for their own purposes. He was probably disturbed at times, thus saving many lives, but it left him with an intimate knowledge of this circumscribed area. However, he could not have been taken by his victim to the scene of this last murder. He must therefore have been acquainted with the spot.
Did he live in Whitechapel ? Most probably not, but he may well have gone there by daylight to examine the locality with a view to his coming exploits.
Amongst the theories put forward was one by Arthur Diosy, a member of "Our Society". He thought the murders were the work of some practitioner of "Black Magic". According to him, amongst the quests of these people in the East is the elixir vitae, one of the ingredients of which must come from a recently killed woman. Diosy got quite excited when he heard of the bright farthings and burnt matches which he said might have formed the "flaming points" of a magical figure called a "pentacle" at each angle of which such points were found, and according to ritual certain "flaming" articles had to be thus disposed. Diosy said later that he had paid a visit to Scotland Yard to place his theories before the authorities, but had been received without enthusiasm, as one can well understand.
There seems little doubt that the real explanation lies, as I have said, in some insane medical man, possibly a Russian Jew living in the East End, who was a lust murderer, a Sadist, whose insanity increased until it culminated in the wild orgy of Dorset Street and was followed by his own suicide in the Thames.
|Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Ripper Media: Inquest by S. Ingleby Oddie|
|Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Ripper Media: The Life and Memoirs of John Churton Collins|
|Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 3 December 1888|
|Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown|
|Press Reports: Times [London] - 2 May 1863|
|Press Reports: Times [London] - 20 January 1928|
|Press Reports: Times [London] - 21 January 1928|
|Witnesses: Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown|