Background

Image from the Police Illustrated News, 1888

Image from the Police Illustrated News after the murder of Elizabeth Stride, 1888
“Jack the Ripper and the Myth of Male Violence” Judith Walkowitz

Crimes and Victims:
Many historians debate about the exact details of the Jack the Ripper murders.  The ambiguity of the murderer’s identity or identities brought about a lot of questions concerning his victims, such as which ones were actually his, and who his first and last victims really were.  While there is still some debate on how many victims Jack the Ripper actually had, historians have agreed on a canonical five.  Jack the Ripper’s killing spree began on August 31, 1888 with Mary Ann (Polly) Nicholls (Curtis 20).  At time of her death, Nicholls was forty-two-years-old, working as a prostitute, and living in one of the East London lodging homes (Curtis 20).  Nicholls was also known for her tendency to drink.  When the cart driver found her body, her throat and abdomen were cut, and her killer had stabbed her in the genitals (Curtis 20).  Jack the Ripper’s next victim was forty-seven-year-old Anne Chapman.  When her body was found on September 8, it was also severely mutilated in the genital area, her abdomen and throat were slashed, and many of her organs were cut out (Curtis 21).  Also, similarly to Nicholls, Chapman was known as a heavy drinker (Curtis 21).  Three weeks later, Jack the Ripper claimed his third and fourth victim only hours apart from each other.  Workers from the Working Men’s Club discovered the body of the third victim, Elizabeth Stride.  Stride was forty-two-years-old, and like the others, she was a prostitute and an alcoholic (Curtis 21).  Unlike the others, however, Stride’s body was not mutilated, but the police believed that it was the same killer who was interrupted during the murder (Curtis 21).  Hours later, the fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, was murdered.  Eddowes was also in her mid-forties and an alcoholic.  In fact, at the time of her death, she had just been released from prison for “drunk and disorderly behavior” (Curtis 21).  Eddowes’ body had also been violently mutilated with her intestines, uterus, and kidney ripped out (Curtis 21).  However, Eddowes’ lover at the time, John Kelly, claimed that she was not a prostitute (Curtis 21).  Jack the Ripper struck for the last time on November 9, 1888 (Curtis 21).  Her name was Mary Jane (Mary Ann) Kelly (Curtis 22).  Kelly was the youngest victim by far, at an age of only twenty-one.  She was also a prostitute and was murdered in a lodging house (Curtis 22).  Kelly’s body was also mutilated in the most violent and escalated way of all the victims (Curtis 22).  For all of the victims, it was their economic status, profession, and condition that led to their death.  All of the victims were murdered during the late night and early morning.  While it was possible the victims could have been drunk, and therefore more vulnerable, it is thought that they would not have been killed if they were not prostitutes.  Each of these women represented the culture of vice and sin of the working class of London.

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