Who Was Jack the Ripper?

who was jack the ripper

Recently I wrote a post exploring what is considered to be the final murder committed by Jack the Ripper, you will want to check that out before you read through this as there are facts I draw on from that assessment when giving you my feedback on the likely identity of Jack the Ripper. Let’s ask the all-important question, who was Jack the Ripper?

Existing Suspects – Who was Jack the Ripper?

There are already so many people suspected of being Jack the Ripper, from the faintly plausible to the downright absurd. In my opinion, none of the named suspects was actually Jack the Ripper, rather these often are fanciful names that are picked out of a hat and then made to fit the facts rather than the other way around. Then, these names are built on with wild speculation more often than not because die-hard “Ripperologists” and historians have different opinions so spend as much time tearing other theories apart as they do creating their own.

This results in final candidates for Jack the Ripper being dubious to say the least, as there is always something someone has dug up that makes it unlikely or impossible for that individual to be Jack.

What Do the Facts Tell Us About Jack?

The facts of the case are quite simple when we look at them and they already give us a fairly good idea about who Jack must have been beyond the mysticism and speculative fantasy. By looking at the facts we can easily draw very rational and logical conclusions about Jack and who he was.

Anatomical Knowledge – Who was Jack the Ripper?

Jack had it, need convincing? Read my Mary Kelly post as I spend a large portion of that explaining why. Assuming you have read that then it is clear he possessed knowledge about the internal workings of a body, location of organs, and how to sever them.

This means that any suspect proposed by anyone without the knowledge would not fit with actually being Jack. I am aware for example of locations of organs in the body with modern schooling, in practice though, I would likely be useless at discerning a kidney from another organ in the dark, and even less able to excise one from the front because if I were actually tasked with removing a kidney, I would go in through the back.

How Feasible is it Jack the Ripper had no Anatomical Knowledge?

Fishing out a kidney among all of the other internal organs which would have been wet, coated in blood and other fluids would be near impossible for any person without experience in doing so.

That means that Jack had a job (or previously had a job) that entailed knowledge of anatomy as well as how to practically apply that knowledge (it is one thing to know where an organ is, it is completely different to know how to remove that organ). This could have been a doctor, medical professional, undertaker, slaughter-man, butcher… etc

Immediately we have a very select group of people.

Let’s Narrow that Down Further Though…

One thing that has been a blight on the anatomically aware Jack is the fact that various medical professionals at the time were debating whether or not he was a doctor or medical professional. That is because Jack’s knifework was not surgical. In other words, he had removed organs but not in the manner that would be associated with the medical profession.

Some doctors were sure he possessed medical knowledge and testified at inquests under oath that he had it. Others under oath said he didn’t. This all boiled down to the level of skill exhibited. The facts themselves tell us that Jack wasn’t a doctor or anyone that worked in the human medical capacity.  If he was, then as mentioned, the kidney is accessed from the back or side, but he didn’t access it in that way.

Was Jack the Ripper a Butcher?

Who does access organs in that way? That’s easy to make a logical deduction, Jack worked with animals, specifically those that are consumed for food. When a slaughter man or butcher cuts open an animal, they slice down the front as Jack did and remove the organs from the front, as Jack did. The reason for this is to preserve the cuts of meat at the back and flanks of the animal.

Given that Jack was adept to removing organs quickly with efficient cuts (though not surgical) it is very safe to assume Jack the Ripper was a butcher or slaughterman or someone working in the meat industry.

Prevalence of Butchers in East End London

In Victorian London, meat was heavily consumed, there were entire (and very large) markets dedicated to the sale of meat. Here are the big three meat markets and meat quarters within close proximity to the murder sites.

Old Spitalfields Market – The New Spitalfields Market stands today on the site of the original historic market, and it is well worth a visit if you’re in the area with a diverse range of wares on offer from clothing to a lovely oyster bar. The historic market was a wholesale market and was used for the sale of livestock and animals as well as the meat itself among other things.

Butcher Row – This was an entire street, dedicated to butchers and the sale of meat that was at the heart of Whitechapel. Nowadays it is common to have a single butcher (if that) on a high street, back in 1888, they had entire streets and areas (butcher’s quarters) dedicated to the trade.

Aldgate and Smithfield Market – Aldgate is very close in relative proximity to Whitechapel and also had a booming meat trade with a large area of it dedicated to the preparation and sale of meat. Further afield, Smithfield Market which is further toward central London was and is a vast meat market. Smithfield Market was serviced heavily by traders from Aldgate and Whitechapel because of the sheer quantities of meat and livestock being sold there.

Further supporting the proposition that Jack was working in the meat industry is that no one would bat an eyelid about a man known to work in the meat industry would be walking around at odd or unusual hours wearing an apron and covered in blood. Many meat workers would start work very early in the morning as well.

What Else Do We Know About Jack?

jack the ripper overlooking crime

There are three other facts that we know about Jack.

He Was Local to Whitechapel

Some of the proposed suspects are said to have travelled into Whitechapel to commit their murders. This doesn’t fit with the facts from the case. Whitechapel in 1888 was densely populated (I mean extremely and heavily populated) and was a maze of backstreets. Sometimes this is overlooked, but it is no exaggeration to call Whitechapel a complex warren of streets. At the times when patrols were stepped up in the effort to catch him in the act, navigating these backstreets would have been crucial to committing a crime. Knowing which locations to take victims to and feeling confident in those locations to commit the crime also point to a local man.

Although not always the case (Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Tobin) most serial killers operate from a central location and fan out as far as is comfortable (but far enough away from their house) to commit their crimes.

Narrowing Down His Location

Eliminating Elizabeth Stride (see Mary Kelly blog post) Jack killed north of Whitechapel Road. That suggests his home was located north of Whitechapel Road as he knew that area of Whitechapel best. As mentioned, with Whitechapel being such a confusing maze of streets, even a native would be able to get lost easily in an area of Whitechapel that they weren’t altogether familiar with.

If you’re reading this and live in a fair-sized town you will know from experience that there are some parts of your own town that you would get lost in because you aren’t entirely familiar with them.

Butcher’s Row and Whitechapel

Coincidentally and speculatively, Butcher’s Row was north of Whitechapel Highstreet and situated near Aldgate Highstreet. There was also a policeman at the time who noted that they suspected a man living in Butcher’s Row of being Jack the Ripper (which has erroneously been tied to another suspect Kosminski) and that this man was removed to an asylum after strong suspicion that he was Ripper. Also coincidental is that the killings stopped after this.

I won’t go as far as to say that this is where Jack the Ripper lived as there is a great degree of speculation involved to do so; I am confident, however, that Jack the Ripper worked in the slaughter or butchering of meat and lived north of Commercial Street.

Jack the Ripper was a Man

Two reasons that this is an unequivocal fact.

  • Jack was a strong individual, a couple of the post-mortem reports note very heavy bruising about the victim’s body as well as the ability to cut very deep into the skin, muscle, etc with ease (one slash) and keep his victims subdued at the same time. Working girls of the time were not dainty ladies, they were street-hardened and rugged, often fuelled by alcohol. They had lived extremely hard lives and survived up to that point in a very harsh and violent environment. It doesn’t wash with me that another lady would possess the strength or the street-smarts of these women to overcome them physically and subdue them quickly.
  • The second point is more convincing that he is a man although the strength is a very valid assertation. Serial killers select victims in sex crimes according to sexual preference. Women will kill men (Aileen Wournos), Gay men will kill men (Stephen Port) and straight men kill women (numerous examples). Jack removed sexual organs and there is no doubt that these crimes were sexually motivated. Ergo – Jack was a straight man.

He Did Not Walk Around in a Frog Coat/Trench Coat and a Top Hat

jack the ripper drawing

For a start, top hats were not common in Whitechapel, they were expensive and very much a status symbol. The media began portraying Jack the Ripper as some kind of gentleman, probably from the early reports of medical knowledge and thus the doctor with the bag and top hat became the iconic image of Jack.

Whitechapel was a fairly close-knit community in terms of status. The overwhelming majority of people were poor labourers or even destitute. Walking around in a top hat would have immediately made you a target to street gangs (kids that pick-pockets) as well as made you stand out like a sore thumb. Jack probably dressed in a flat cap and looked exactly like everyone else. While everyone was out chasing the bogey man he was blending in and benefiting from the mass hysteria.

Is There Anything Else that the Facts Tell Us About Jack?

From the above information, we have a fairly accurate picture of Jack the Ripper already, in fact from this information it is probably possible to collate a small pool of suspects using census records. Here is what we have ascertained so far;

  • He was a man that lived north of Commercial Street
  • He was local to the area and dressed like a local
  • He was a butcher or slaughter-man or worked in an occupation along those lines either at the time of the murders or previous to them.

Can we narrow this down further? Well potentially, there are some facts that are very interesting and could be used to further profile Jack the Ripper.

A Sex Crime with No Sex

Every single victim of Jack the Ripper had no “sexual interference” nor was seminal fluid found at the scenes. On face value this is unusual.

That is if we are to believe that information.

Can We Believe the Information About Sexual Assault?

For me, it stretches the realms of belief to have a doctor testify that there had been no evidence of sexual assault especially as the occupation of these women was to have sex with people and some of the victims had been working before Jack got to them.

That means these women were either turning traditional tricks (whereby they would fool a punter into thinking they were having sex) or that the doctors weren’t accustomed or aware of concluding whether a sexual attack had taken place. Bear in mind that even by modern standards in some rape cases, it can be difficult to establish an assault has taken place.

Erroneous Conclusions and Crime Scene Preservation

Either the doctors got it wrong, or Jack was impotent. There is no in between here as these were sexual crimes, typically accompanied by a perpetrator masturbating (BTK). The only rational conclusion is that either all of the doctors didn’t know or have evidence of sexual assault so said there was none or that Jack left no trace of sexual assault because he physically couldn’t.

It is also worth being dubious about the no semen at crime scenes as the crime scenes themselves were not preserved, and the bodies removed in haste. The crime scenes were dark even upon discovery and the gas lanterns used to cast light over them would not be at all ideal for picking out forensic details.

Modern Forensic Techniques to Find Semen are Painstaking

To find semen at a crime scene, forensic technicians use a black light (because semen isn’t always visible under normal lighting). Once they identify potential areas of semen, they collect a sample. Even if the light fluoresces, it doesn’t immediately indicate the sample is semen, it could be other bodily fluids or organic matter.

Once a sample is collected, it is then sent to a lab where further analysis is needed to ascertain whether the sample is in fact semen.

The jury is out on whether Jack raped or sought sexual gratification during his crimes, he might not have done because he was unable to, or he could have done but the forensic diagnostics lacked the accuracy to determine whether he had. Any case that has a prostitute with no signs of sexual intercourse after having been with punters should raise a few alarm bells about the medical examiner’s capability to make such determinations.

Jack Was a Creature of Habit

When we look at the injuries Jack the Ripper caused and the barbaric nature of his crimes it is easy to assume he was just a maniac that instilled chaos through his actions. But, Jack the Ripper was a very structured serial killer, even by modern standards.

He stuck to his MO almost religiously and though many killers do this, many of them also change things or do things differently from one crime to the next. Jack uniformly strangled and then cut his victims throats. He didn’t mess about with experimentation or adapt his killing method from one victim to the next as so many killers do. The mutilation was the goal, but the method for dispatch was rigorously adhered to.

This alone doesn’t point to a very structured killer, other traits about his crime do.

Weekends and Bank Holidays

Jack only killed at the weekend or on bank holidays which isn’t too remarkable except it does tell us that he had a busy working life and the opportunity to go out and kill only presented itself on the weekend or bank holidays. We know from this that Jack the Ripper was not only employed but that he was able to function (psychologically/mentally) in order to consistently hold down that job.

Lunar Phases

Jack not only waited for nights that fell outside of his working hours, but it is safe to assume he skipped weekends where there was a bright moon in the sky. Jack only killed at times when the moon was completely dark or very slight.

From this, we can easily infer that Jack liked the cover of darkness and he felt safest killing on nights when it was more difficult to see. This in turn probably caused much of the error represented in the many witness statements as it would have been very difficult for witnesses to discern physical details about Jack.

The last point on structure is relatively unknown even among the “Ripperologist” circles. It is also for me the most crucial aspect that Jack used to decide when it was best to kill.

Jack the Ripper Killed in the Rain

Killing in the rain has many advantages and Jack was very environmentally aware. Rain limits visibility further and accompanied by the dark moon it would give additional cover.

Furthermore, rain is incredibly good at washing away blood, etc and making his way safely from the crime scene would have been a consideration especially as the police hunt intensified. Rainfall also provides perfect cover for additional clothing layers and hats to be worn with would further mask any blood evidence that he carried home with him.

You may be thinking that this is conjecture, but, if that were the case, then there would be at least one instance on a law of averages where he killed on a full moon or on a clear night. He didn’t, he used the environment, weather conditions and cloud cover to only strike when Whitechapel was at its darkest and most obscured state.

With All of These Facts: Who Was Jack the Ripper?

victorian england

At this point, most “Ripperologists” or historians would be funnelling towards naming their suspect for whom all their findings fit and give readers the eureka moments. Convinced that all of the machinations have provided clarity and point towards one particular individual.

I don’t care for any of that.

As mentioned, if you want to dig deeper and find a name that fits the very specific criteria outlined above then be my guest. Trawling through census records and official documentation to unmask Jack has no appeal to me. Simply looking at the facts of the case, making rational and logical deductions and then leaving him to be as nature intended (anonymous) is completely fine by me.

There Will Likely Never be a Name for Jack the Ripper

For me the main and only perplexing element about Jack the Ripper wasn’t who he was by name, it was where he went or what happened to him. I will write an article about this no doubt in the future. All we know is that as quickly as he appeared, he disappeared. Maybe someone with enough patience and care of the facts can create a shortlist of candidates using this information and the historical data and through that, we might find out what happened to him. For now, and happily for me, the mystery endures.

Jon Logan

Jon Logan is an editorial consultant and author that loves living life without boundaries. Over the past 5 years, his content at Immortal Wordsmith has helped thousands of readers gain new perspectives and discover fascinating stories. Jon holds several professional qualifications and is financially qualified in the UK. He left the humdrum world of financial advice to pursue a career in writing – his lifelong passion. He has partnered with local and global brands to help them grow their businesses and audiences through insightful and innovative content strategy. Jon specialises in creating inspirational and thought-provoking writing that challenges readers to look beyond the confines of “the norm.” He uses dynamic writing styles to convey messages to diverse audiences from all walks of life. He is an avid explorer and loves sharing the world from his perspective with his readers.

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