Possible Suspects

With the start of the Jack the Ripper murders, people of London began to speculate about who the culprit could be.  The upper and middle class and the working class each had different opinions on the type of person the murderer was.  For example, because of the mutilations, many people of the working class suspected that the murderer was a doctor of some kind or someone that had extensive knowledge of the human body (Walkowitz, “City” 210). However, middle and upper class people strayed away from this theory because they wanted to defend the respect of the medical profession.  A doctor named Edgar Sheppard wrote an article for The Times conveying this idea.  Sheppard was from Hyde Park, which was part of the West End of London.  In his article, he wrote about his theory that the killer was a mad man with religious motives (Sheppard, The Times).  He claims that the killer could be an “undiagnosed lunatic” and an “earnest religionist with a delusion that he has a mission from above to extirpate vice by assassination” (Sheppard, The Times).  Sheppard goes on to explain that he had encountered men with these beliefs, who are now in an asylum.  He says that these men even think that doctors are the “impersonation of all that was evil and hindered the progress of mankind” (Sheppard, The Times).  Sheppard, a doctor himself, could very well have written the article in order to distract the people from theories that Jack the Ripper could have been a doctor.  He did not want the reputation of his profession to be tarnished by a mad murderer.  He empathizes this point when he talks about the crazy man who thinks that doctors are evil.  This implies that only a crazy person could think that doctors would do such harm to a person, and that the working class would be crazy to assume that Jack the Ripper was someone in the medical profession.  Sometimes, the upper class went as far to say that if the killer had extensive knowledge of the human body then he was most likely a working class butcher (Walkowitz, “City” 202).  Instead, he wisely chose to pin the murders on someone with religious motives because it was very believable considering the Social Purity Movement occurring at the time.  It would fit the description of the goal that the people of the movement had to rid London of sinful behavior.

Depiction of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1888  http://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/236383/punch-dr-mjekyll-and-mr-ohyde-1888

Depiction of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1888
http://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/236383/punch-dr-mjekyll-and-mr-ohyde-1888

The general consensus of the working class was that Jack the Ripper was someone from the upper or middle class.  However, the upper and middle class defended this theory by saying that if it was an aristocrat he must have some sort of “Jekyll and Hyde” complex (Walkowitz, “City” 207).  Interestingly enough, at the same time as the Jack the Ripper murders, a showing of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s play, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” was playing at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End of London (“Lyceum Theatre,” The Times).  This most likely sparked the theory that Jack the Ripper could have been a real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The article describes Mr. Hyde as a way for Dr. Jekyll to live out his “cardinal passions” (“Lyceum Theatre,” The Times).  If Jack the Ripper was an aristocrat, the only logical explanation to people of the upper class was that the man was mad.  They could not believe that any sane aristocrat would commit these murders.  Instead, the man would be a Mr. Hyde, who is living out the passions of immorality and murder of his inner Dr. Jekyll.

One of the very few ideas that he middle and working class actually agreed on was the theory that Jack the Ripper was a Jewish man.  Newspaper articles from both middle and working class publications make claims that the murderer was probably Jewish.  In nineteenth century London there was an influx of foreigners into the city, and many of these foreigners were Jewish people.  In the East End, the working class disliked the Jews because they felt that the Jewish people coming to London were taking jobs that could have gone to Londoners (Haggard 199).  As a result, anti-Semitism spread throughout the East End.  As for the middle class, the Jewish men may not have been taking their jobs, but the anti-Semitic culture spread to the West End as well.  In this case, the middle class most likely saw the influx of foreigners as a threat to their culture.  An article from The Manchester Guardian, which was a newspaper that typically criticized the working class, discussed the theory that the culprit of the murders was a Jewish man.  The article claims that the crime was most likely committed by “one of the numerous foreigners by whom the East End is infested” because police found the word “Juwes” written on the wall at the scene of one of the murders (“The Whitechapel Murders,” The Manchester Guardian).  In the author’s opinion, this was important because, unlike the Londoners, Jewish people spelled the word “Jews” in Yiddish (“The Whitechapel Murders,” The Manchester Guardian).  In using words like “infested,” this article shows the shared contempt the upper and working class had for the influx of foreigners.  Also, by pointing out the Jewish dialect of Yiddish, this article shows the disdain that the upper and middle class has for the Jewish culture.

While they did agree on one theory, these many theories about the upper and working class drove a further wedge between the classes.  The working class assumptions that the murderer was a doctor or someone from the upper class lead to their anger at the upper class for attacking their community (Walkowitz, “Jack” 560).  On the other hand, the assumptions the upper class made about suspects reflected their general prejudices of violence, poverty, and prostitution of the working class (Walkowitz, “City” 202).  Also, regardless of the theories, most of the suspects that the police actually arrested were members of the working class (Walkowitz, “Jack” 557).

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