Jack the Ripper is a name that brings to the mind brutal and grotesque killings, and the romantic legend of a cloaked menace with a tall hat in the dark English alleys of Whitechapel. The image of him has been very greatly stereotyped by films and books alike, and only a true enthusiast has the right mindset to accept the less well-known possibilities. Indeed, the enigma of the murders have given rise to breed of enthusiasts who call themselves "ripperologists", determined to discover the real identity of the Ripper himself. The mystery has not had any new light shed on it since the actual investigations. Jack the Ripper is still the same name without a face; the one that has both struck fear and interest amongst those who know it.
The primary point from which ripperologists began was the murders themselves the situation of the bodies, the witness accounts etc. They were forced to work with hard-to-access evidence that were sparse due to years of destruction and mishandling. Before we step into the actual murders, a point to note is that while it is still debatable as to how many victims should be attributed to Jack, we shall look at the 5 canonical murders that are widely accepted to be the Ripper's work; namely Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols, Annie Chapman, Kate Eddowes, Elizabeth Stride and Mary Kelly.
Mary Ann Nichols [31 August 1888] A prostitute like the rest, separated from her husband William Nichols. Was found on Buck's Row by a passer-by, and was seen to have been spending a lot of time prior to her death with a sailor who gave her a "jolly bonnet".
Annie Chapman [8 September 1888] A well-educated and quiet woman, was found at the back of a lodging house on Hanbury Street, where no effort was made to conceal her body. Separated from her husband, had a tendency of getting drunk and being violent.
Kate Eddowes [30 September 1888] One of the double murders in the same night. Lived with a John Kelly but was in fact married to Thomas Conway. Was in police custody prior to her death.
Elizabeth Stride [30 September 1888] Born a Gustafsdotter, married a John Thomas Stride after moving to Hyde Park. After allegedly losing them in an steamer accident, she lived with a man named Michael Kidney. Was visited by ripper suspect Dr. Thomas Barnardo along with other prostitutes prior to her death, who recognised her body at the mortuary.
Mary Kelly [9 November 1888] Only victim to have been killed in her own room, quite different from the Ripper's MO. Lived in a lodging house with her husband Joseph Barnett who left when she wanted to let a fellow prostitute stay with them. Was allegedly the prettiest of all the victims.
Whitechapel was located on London's East End, serving to remind the rest of the nation who were enjoying their lives that the dredges of society still existed; as Arthur Morrison describes it in his Tales of Mean Streets, the place is "an evil plexus of slums that hide human creeping things". It was the part of London that pretended never existed. As such, the conditions of the town could not be worse. The largest problem brought about by poverty is housing, or the lack thereof. Sometimes, as Andrew Mearns observes, there might be two or more families living in a single room of a lodging-house, along with a number of livestock that belonged to them. The people lived in the financial region of "poor to very poor", where workhouses asked for a lot of hard labour and gave little in return. Employment was scarce and unreasonable landlords made things worse with their high rents. The streets housed many families on a regular night. The victims mentioned above were forced into prostitution by circumstance, like many of the women of the town.
The poverty brought much more appalling trends among the people of Whitechapel. Children could be seen on the streets committing blatant incest because of the close quarters in which they have had to watch their parents or their lovers have sex...
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