Solving the Puzzle of Jack the Ripper

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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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. 8-9).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).

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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 the Ripper murder scenes. Her analysis of letters Jack the Ripper supposedly sent to police and the media also lead her to the conclusion that Sickert is the likely killer.

She states that “handwriting quirks and the position of the Ripper’s hand when he wrote his taunting, violent letters lurk in other Ripper writings that are disguised. These same quirks … lurk in Sickert’s erratic handwriting as well” (14). She even asserts that there is physical evidence linking Sickert to the Jack the Ripper letters. DNA evidence found on the adhesive stamp of a Ripper letter match that on two letters known to be written by Walter Sickert and on items owned by Sickert (13). For Cornwell, this evidence was so conclusive that she had no choice but to write her book (9-10).

A second theory points to Severin Klosowski, also known as George Chapman. Severin Klosowski was a polish immigrant and a carpenter by trade. Christopher Morley describes him as having dark hair and blue eyes with a long chin and mouth, characteristics consistent with descriptions of Jack the Ripper. Having immigrated to England in 1887, Klosowski was in London during the time of the murders. Morley also states that Klosowski had some training as a junior surgeon while in Poland. Morley recounts an incident involving Klosowski attempting to kill his wife, Lucy.

Interrupted in the act by a customer, Lucy noticed “a handle protruding from under the pillow and discovered a sharp and formidable knife. ” Klosowski was reported to have said to her later on “that he had intended to cut her head off. ” Klosowski’s similarity in appearance to the Ripper, previous attempt to murder, and residence in Whitechapel convinced Chief Inspector Frederick George Aberline that he was Jack the Ripper. A third theory identifies Francis Tumblety, an Irish American quack doctor, as Jack the Ripper. Tumblety lived in London when the murders were committed (“Jack”).

Morley states that he was a strong suspect and under police watch because a shirt covered with blood was found in his home. British author Stewart Evans recounts: “He was arrested after the Miller’s Court murder, at which time, of course, the murders ceased. He escaped from England in early December 1888 and got back to America and was never arrested by Scotland Yard, despite the fact that they sent a team of detectives to America to try and catch him” (“Jack”).

Morley describes Tumblety as a homosexual whose “feelings towards women were remarkable and bitter in the extreme. According to Morley, Tumblety gave “an all male dinner party, lecturing his guests on the evils of women, and proudly displayed his extensive collection of female body parts, which he kept in glass jars. ” Further adding to his qualifications as the killer, Evans asserts that “Tumblety used many aliases” (“Jack”), a quality suitable to a killer who would give himself a name. Like Evans, others have found it too coincidental for the murders to have ceased right after Tumblety’s arrest for homosexual acts and his subsequent escape to America.

Abrahamsen offers a twist in considering the identity of Jack the Ripper by asking how one man can take enough time to strangle and mutilate a woman’s body without being spotted by anyone (94). He suggests that in the murder of Elizabeth Stride, the signature slashings were interrupted, necessitating an accomplice to warn the killer of approaching policemen (89). Abrahamsen also points out differences among witness descriptions of the suspected killer, which he interprets as evidence of not one but two killers (90).

He suggests James Kenneth Stephen (J. K. ) and Prince Albert Victor Edward (Prince Eddy) as joint killers. Abrahamsen suggests that Prince Eddy’s absent, womanizing father combined with his overly involved mother created a situation in which he was emotionally stunted (142-4). Prince Eddy also displayed homosexual tendencies which were ripe for exploitation (152). Being “emotionally and sexually immature … he would have been curious about sex, but could not transfer his feelings into normal sexual desire for a woman” (152).

Abrahamsen suggests that J. K. , who was hired to be Prince Eddy’s tutor, assumed a dominant role in their homosexual love relationship (152). J. K is described by Abrahamsen as having all the qualities necessary to be Jack the Ripper: “rigid [and] inflexible” (113), physically fit (121), “emasculated by the rejection of his mother” (120), adept at the use of language (118), viewing “women as evil” (120), possessing “striking looks and intellectual brilliance” (124).

Abrahamsen suggests that the killings began as a result of J. K. eeling that his sway over Prince Eddy was decreasing and thus creating a situation that would “link Eddy to him permanently” (170). After a century has passed, the evidence and facts of the Jack the Ripper murders are increasingly more difficult to piece together. Though modern investigative techniques, such as the DNA evidence from Cornwell and Keppel’s profiling, have offered new clues, questions remain. Perhaps the only statement that can be made with any certainty is that after one hundred years, the serial killer named Jack the Ripper is certainly in his own grave somewhere and unable to kill or terrorize ever again.

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Solving the Puzzle of Jack the Ripper. (2017, Apr 04). Retrieved from

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