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Jack the Ripper - Identity, Victims and Suspects

Jack the Ripper - Identity, Victims and Suspects

Jack the Ripper terrorized London in 1888, killing at least five women and mutilating their bodies in an unusual manner, indicating that the killer had a substantial knowledge of human anatomy. The culprit was never captured—or even identified—and Jack the Ripper remains one of England’s, and the world’s, most infamous criminals.

All five killings attributed to Jack the Ripper took place within a mile of each other, in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End, from August 7 to September 10, 1888. Several other murders occurring around that time period have also been investigated as the work of “Leather Apron” (another nickname given to the murderer).

A number of letters were allegedly sent by the killer to the London Metropolitan Police Service (often known as Scotland Yard), taunting officers about his gruesome activities and speculating on murders to come. The moniker “Jack the Ripper” originates from a letter—which may have been a hoax—published at the time of the attacks.

Despite countless investigations claiming definitive evidence of the brutal killer’s identity, his or her name and motive are still unknown.

Various theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity have been produced over the past several decades, which include claims accusing the famous Victorian painter Walter Sickert, a Polish migrant and even the grandson of Queen Victoria. Since 1888, more than 100 suspects have been named, contributing to widespread folklore and ghoulish entertainment surrounding the mystery.

The ‘Whitechapel Butcher’

In the late 1800s, London’s East End was a place that was viewed by citizens with either compassion or utter contempt. Despite being an area where skilled immigrants—mainly Jews and Russians—came to begin a new life and start businesses, the district was notorious for squalor, violence and crime.

Prostitution was only illegal if the practice caused a public disturbance, and thousands of brothels and low-rent lodging houses provided sexual services during the late 19th century.

At that time, the death or murder of a working girl was rarely reported in the press or discussed within polite society. The reality was that “ladies of the night” were subject to physical attacks, which sometimes resulted in death.

Among these common violent crimes was the attack of English prostitute Emma Smith, who was beaten and raped with an object by four men. Smith, who later died of peritonitis, is remembered as one of many unfortunate female victims who were killed by gangs demanding protection money.

However, the series of killings that began in August 1888 stood out from other violent crime of the time: Marked by sadistic butchery, they suggested a mind more sociopathic and hateful than most citizens could comprehend.

Jack the Ripper didn’t just snuff out life with a knife, he mutilated and disemboweled women, removing organs such as kidneys and utereses, and his crimes seemed to portray an abhorrence for the entire female gender.

The Legacy of Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper’s murders suddenly stopped in the fall of 1888, but London citizens continued to demand answers that would not come, even more than a century later. The ongoing case—which has spawned an industry of books, films, TV series and historical tours—has met with a number of hindrances, including lack of evidence, a gamut of misinformation and false testimony, and tight regulations by the Scotland Yard.

Jack the Ripper has been the topic of news stories for more than 120 years, and will likely continue to be for decades to come.

More recently, in 2011, British detective Trevor Marriott, who has long been investigating the Jack the Ripper murders, made headlines when he was denied access to uncensored documents surrounding the case by the Metropolitan Police.

According to a 2011 ABC News article, London officers had refused to give Marriott the files because they include protected information about police informants, and that handing over the documents could impede on the possibility of future testimony by modern-day informants.

Biography courtesy of BIO.com


One of the first problems you encounter when you attempt to write a history of the Jack the Ripper crimes is establishing just how many of the Whitechapel Murders were, in fact, carried out by the killer who became known as Jack the Ripper.

Although the exact number of victims most frequently bandied around is five, it should be remembered that this is based upon a later statement made in 1894 by Melville Macnaghten and this is not, by any means, a definitive number.

Indeed, the Whitechapel Murders file, which is the generic file that encompasses the actual Jack the Ripper crimes has the names of eleven victims on it, some of whom were victims of Jack the Ripper, some of whom may have been, and several of whom most certainly weren't.

Jack the Ripper

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Jack the Ripper, pseudonymous murderer of at least five women, all prostitutes, in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End, between August and November 1888. The case is one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of English crime.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Jack the Ripper was an English serial killer. Between August and November 1888, he murdered at least five women—all prostitutes—in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End. Jack the Ripper was never identified or arrested. Today the murder sites are the locus of a macabre tourist industry in London.

Is the identity of Jack the Ripper known?

Jack the Ripper is famous in part because his identity is unknown. For years people have speculated about his identity. Commonly cited suspects include Montague Druitt, a barrister and teacher with an interest in surgery Michael Ostrog, a Russian criminal and physician and Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant who lived in Whitechapel.

Who were Jack the Ripper’s victims?

The five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper were Mary Ann Nichols (found August 31, 1888), Annie Chapman (found September 8, 1888), Elizabeth Stride (found September 30, 1888), Catherine Eddowes (also found September 30, 1888), and Mary Jane Kelly (found November 9, 1888). All the victims were prostitutes. All of their corpses had been mutilated.

Where did Jack the Ripper commit the murders?

Jack the Ripper committed at least five murders in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End.

What was unique about the murders committed by Jack the Ripper?

All of Jack the Ripper’s victims were prostitutes, and all but one were killed while soliciting customers on the street. In each instance the victim’s throat was cut, and the body was mutilated in a manner indicating that the murderer had at least some knowledge of human anatomy.

Some dozen murders between 1888 and 1892 have been speculatively attributed to Jack the Ripper, but five are considered canonical: Mary Ann Nichols (found August 31), Annie Chapman (found September 8), Elizabeth Stride (found September 30), Catherine Eddowes (found September 30), and Mary Jane Kelly (found November 9). All but one of Jack the Ripper’s victims were killed while soliciting customers on the street. In each instance the victim’s throat was cut, and the body was usually mutilated in a manner indicating that the murderer had at least some knowledge of human anatomy. On one occasion half of a human kidney, which may have been extracted from a murder victim, was mailed to the police. The authorities also received a series of taunting notes from a person calling himself Jack the Ripper and purporting to be the murderer. Strenuous and sometimes curious efforts were made to identify and trap the killer, all to no avail. A great public uproar over the failure to arrest the murderer was raised against the home secretary and the London police commissioner, who resigned soon afterward.

The case has retained its hold on the popular imagination, in part because known instances of serial murder were much rarer at the time than they are today. Jack the Ripper has provided themes for numerous literary and dramatic works. Perhaps the most notable was the horror novel The Lodger (1913) by Marie Adelaide Lowndes, which inspired numerous films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927). More than 100 books about the case have been published, many of which offer conjectures as to the true identity of the murderer and the circumstances surrounding the crimes—including that the murders were part of an occult or Masonic plot and that the police were covering up for highly placed culprits, perhaps even members of the royal family. The best-known of these conspiracy-theory works is Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s award-winning graphic novel From Hell (1991–96), which was later adapted into a movie (2001). Many of these books, however, are based on fraudulent claims and documents. The most commonly cited suspects are Montague Druitt, a barrister and teacher with an interest in surgery who was said to be insane and who disappeared after the final murders and was later found dead Michael Ostrog, a Russian criminal and physician who had been placed in an asylum because of his homicidal tendencies and Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew and a resident of Whitechapel who was known to have a great animus toward women (particularly prostitutes) and who was hospitalized in an asylum several months after the last murder. Several notable Londoners of the era, such as the painter Walter Sickert and the physician Sir William Gull, also have been subjects of such speculation. The murder sites have become the locus of a macabre tourist industry in London.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Jack the Ripper: The Victims and Suspects

The Whitechapel Murderer
During the Autumn of 1888 several prostitutes in London 's East End were murdered in particularly brutal fashion by an unknown Victorian serial killer called at various times The Whitechapel Murderer, Leather Apron, or Jack the Ripper.

Letter sent to George Lusk, "From Hell"
He was not always Jack the Ripper. Until a series of letters were sent to police and civic leaders bearing the now famous signature and the return address “From Hell” he was simply “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron”. An early suspect who was arrested and released once he had established convincing alibis was John Pizer, an unemployed shoe maker who was known locally as Leather Apron. The letters were widely accepted by the public as genuine although the police considered them the work of an enterprising journalist named Tom Bulling. Genuine or fake, the signature caught the imagination of the public and a legend was born.

The Victims of Jack the Ripper

According to Sir Melville McNaughten, head of the Criminal Investigation Department, there were “five and five only”:

  • Catherine Eddowes, Sunday 30th September 1888, Mitre Square, London (City)
  • Mary Kelly, Friday 9th November 1888, Millers Court , Spitalfields

These are the generally accepted victims. All were killed at night and during the weekend and each had their throats cut before being subjected to increasingly severe mutilation. The exception is Stride whose throat was cut but no subsequent mutilation occurred. Stride and Eddowes were killed on the same night in the infamous Double Event. It has been convincingly argued that Stride was not eviscerated because the killer was disturbed. Frustrated, he was forced to find a second victim rather than fading back into the shadows.


Within moments of having discovered the body, PC Watkins had summoned assistance, and soon Police Constable Holland, Sergeant Jones and other officers had arrived at the scene.

The speed with which the City of London Police took control of the scene was applauded by The Scotsman on Monday, 1st October, 1888:-

As showing the promptitude with which the City Police acted, it may be mentioned that a message despatched to Bishopsgate Without Police Station to Inspector Collard was, within a quarter of an hour, answered by the officer in person, and he at once took charge of the case until the arrival shortly afterwards of Major Henry Smith, from Cloak Lane, and Superintendent Foster, from Old Jewry, to whom messengers had been sent.

The authorities in the City at once determined that no clue should be sacrificed by ill-considered haste. Every step of the inquiry, which was straight away commenced, was carefully and systematically taken."

6. The third victim was born near Gothenburg in Sweden

Elizabeth Stride moved to London in July 1866, possibly to work in service for a family living near Hyde Park.

It is likely she funded the trip with 65 krona that she inherited after the death of her mother in August 1864, and which she had received in late 1865. Upon her arrival in London, Elizabeth learned to speak both English and Yiddish in addition to her native language.

Elizabeth Stride’s grave, December 2014. (Image Credit: Maciupeq / CC).

Carl Feigenbaum

Another likely suspect behind London’s Jack The Ripper murders was the 54-year-old German merchant sailor Carl Feigenbaum.

Feigenbaum was known to be a psychopath who confessed to mutilating women, and even his own lawyer believed that his client was Jack The Ripper as well!

Feigenbaum went by many aliases during his lifetime, and was known to be working as a merchant on ships that had been docked near Whitechapel. Records prove that Feigenbaum was working in Whitechapel on every single date of the five Jack The Ripper murders in London’s East End, and he and his co-workers were often seen at the nearby brothels as well.

After Feigenbaum emigrated to America sometime around 1890, he was convicted of murdering a woman by the name of Julianna Hoffman, and was sent to the electric chair for the crime. Experts also stated that there were “striking similarities” between London’s Jack The Ripper murders and the slaying of Hoffman.

'Jackie' the Ripper: Was the Infamous Serial Killer a Woman?

It's history's most famous unsolved crime spree. In 1888, a serial killer who came to be known as Jack the Ripper gruesomely murdered five prostitutes in London's Whitechapel district. More than 100 men, from Lewis Carroll to Queen Victoria's grandson, have since been labeled suspects, and the guesswork has spawned an entire field of study, known as "Ripperology." Now, a new book turns the speculation on its head, by arguing that Jack the Ripper was actually a woman.

John Morris, a retired lawyer living in Ireland, has implicated Lizzie Williams, the wife of the physician Sir John Williams, who was himself labeled a Ripper suspect in a 2005 book. Morris claims Lizzie killed the prostitutes out of anger over being infertile. Despair over her condition is also what drove her to remove the wombs of three of her victims.

Tantalizing as this new theory may be, other Ripperologists have decried the notion.

In his book, "Jack The Ripper: The Hand Of A Woman" (Seren, 2012), Morris cites as evidence the fact that none of the five murdered prostitutes was sexually assaulted, and that the personal items of one, Annie Chapman, were laid out at her feet "in a feminine manner." Moreover, three small buttons from a woman's boot were found in blood near the body of another victim, and remnants of women's clothing, including a cape, skirt and hat, were found in the fireplace ashes of a third victim, Mary Kelly. These items did not belong to the victims.

Additionally, Morris presents evidence that Kelly was having an affair with Lizzie's husband, Sir John, who ran abortion clinics in Whitechapel. Morris also found documentary evidence suggesting that Lizzie suffered a nervous breakdown soon after the horrific killing spree. [Math Formula May Explain Why Serial Killers Kill]

"The case for a woman murderer is overwhelming, but unfortunately it does not sit well in some quarters where such a theory flies in the face of long-held beliefs," Morris was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph. "Because everyone believes that the murderer was a man, all the evidence that points to a woman has been ignored."

Indeed, the theory has been met with skepticism.

Paul Begg, a leading Jack the Ripper expert who has authored several books on the subject of his identity, thinks the case for Lizzie Williams is weak. "The original book putting John Williams in the frame was bad but this one is even worse," Begg told the Daily Express.

Sir John Williams was obstetrician to members of the British Royal Family, and was accused of the Ripper crimes in "Uncle Jack" (Orion, 2005), co-written by one of his descendants, Tony Williams. The book claims that the surgeon knew the victims personally, and killed and mutilated them in an attempt to research the causes of infertility. However, outside experts later showed that much of the research in the book was flawed for example, a key piece of documentary evidence supposedly connecting Williams to one of the Ripper victims was found not to be in the original source document that was cited.

Clearly, the case of the Whitechapel murders is far from closed.

This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.

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Watch the video: The Secret Identity of Jack the Ripper (January 2022).