Solving the Puzzle of Jack the Ripper
In August 1888, the dwellers of London’s East End arose from sleep to find their lives a little darker than before. Mary Ann Nichols, a prostitute, had been viciously murdered, nearly decapitated by two cuts to the throat, her abdomen displaying multiple cuts (Begg 46). Over the next three years, ten other women would be murdered in the Whitechapel area. While there is no definitive proof linking these murders to one killer, analysis reveals that six of them display similarly rare crime characteristics: mutilation of genitalia, prostitute victims, and posing of bodies (Keppel, et al. 18-9). Five are commonly attributed to Jack the Ripper (1-2).
Though they may not have been well known in life, these women—Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly—would be discussed for the next hundred years. What is it about these cases that have captured the curiosity of so many people for so long? Crime historian Donald Rumbelow answers: “What fascinates people is not the murders themselves. It’s the puzzle. Who? Who did it? Why weren’t they caught? It’s that puzzle that teases everybody” (“Jack”).
During the past century, more than two hundred suspects have been offered as solutions to the puzzle. These individuals come from various professions, ethnic races, social strata, and economic standings. In police correspondence, Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten appears to list three suspects by name, M.J. Druitt, Kosminski, and Michael Ostrog, saying that any of them are “more likely than Cutbush to be the killer” (Ryder). After analyzing this memorandum, investigative journalist Paul Begg suggests that these names were arbitrarily selected just to show that Cutbush was not a likely suspect (171). This is simply one example of confusion surrounding the identity of the killer.
The most likely suspects include Walter Richard Sickert, a Danish artist; Severin Klosowski (also known as George Chapman), a Polish immigrant; and Francis Tumblety, an American quack doctor. It has also been proposed that the speed with which the murders were committed combined with the subsequent evasion of police suggest that more than one person might have been involved. Forensic psychiatrist David Abrahamsen asserts that Prince Albert Victor Edward and James Kenneth Stephen committed the crimes together (104).
Keppel’s study of serial killers reveals that the Ripper murders were committed by someone with a high need to exert control over his victims. This was displayed “through the use of a knife to penetrate the victims’ bodies and desecrate their sexual regions” (18) along with “posing and mutilation [of the bodies] … leaving them on display in sexually degrading positions with the wounds exposed” (19). In light of this study, Jack the Ripper must exhibit the characteristics of a need to dominate, aggression towards women, and picquerism, which is defined as “gaining sexual satisfaction from stabbing or blood letting” (Schroeder).
Walter Sickert is one suspect who fits this description. In a recent book, popular fiction crime novelist Patricia Cornwell makes a case for Walter Sickert as Jack the Ripper. He was an actor “gifted at disguise,” a painter, and a writer with a “penchant for changing his name” (3). Cornwell suggests that Sickert had some sort of abnormal formation of his genitalia, not only leaving him “incapable of an erection” but also rendering him without “enough of a penis left for penetration” (5). She claims that Sickert developed an egotistical self-concept and a meanness towards women, qualities which, combined with a seeming inability to feel, above average intelligence, and a penchant to manipulate others, make Sickert a likely suspect (50-2).
Cornwell’s study of Sickert’s artwork reveals “morbidity, violence and a hatred of women” (12). She contends that some of the depictions are all too similar to actual Jack...