Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly are considered Jack the Ripper’s canonical victims, so-called because their murders had the same pattern with the same modus operandi, and these five women are considered to be his officially accepted victims. The murders also happened in a relatively short period in 1888, between 31 August and 9 November.
Jack the Ripper, also known as the Whitechapel Murderer or Leather Apron, became known for operating in the slum areas in and around London’s Whitechapel district. Attacks attributed to him typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the area and whose throats were cut prior to him committing some sort of abdominal mutilation. In fact, because of the mutilations and removal of internal organs, it was initially suspected the killer had some sort of anatomical or surgical knowledge.
Jack the Ripper’s first official victim is believed to be Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. She was the daughter of a locksmith, married a man named William Nichols, and had five children. According to William, he and Mary Ann began to have problems and she deserted him, but her father maintained otherwise and claimed that William left her. Whatever the truth, William was forced to support her once they became estranged and he did, paying her 5 shillings a week. The law at the time stated that if a wife was earning money through illicit means she was not entitled to support, and, so, when William learned that Mary Ann was practicing prostitution, he stopped paying his 5 shillings. Thus, Mary Ann spent the remainder of her years living on charitable handouts, employed in workhouses, or working as a prostitute.
About 11pm on 30 August, Mary Ann was spotted walking along the Whitechapel Road and shortly after midnight on 31 August she was seen leaving a pub in Brick Lane in Spitalfields. About an hour later she was denied lodging because she lacked the necessary fourpence required for a bed. It was at that time that she supposedly stated she would soon earn the money using a new bonnet she had just acquired. The last person to see her alive was her roommate Emily Holland. Emily saw and spoke to her on the corner of Osborn Street and Whitechapel Road at 2:30am. Mary Ann told Emily that she had earned enough money to pay for her bed three times over but that she had spent it on alcohol.
Mary Ann was next seen lying in front of the gated stable entrance in Buck’s Row* at 3:40am on 31 August by a carman named Charles Allen Cross. He found her with her skirt raised. At about the same time, a cart driver, Robert Paul, was on his way to work when Cross noticed him and called him over. Perhaps because of the darkness and because there was little blood at the scene, the two men were uncertain if the woman they saw lying on the ground was drunk, dead, or unconscious, and, so, they pulled down her skirt and went in search of a policeman. They then came upon Jonas Mizen, whom Cross told of their discovery, stating that they had found a woman on the ground and that they thought she was likely dead.
About the same time that Mizen approached the body, two other policemen, John Neale and John Thain, appeared and it was quickly determined, the woman was dead. One newspaper reported:
“[T]he body was savagely hacked and mutilated. The medical man who was called to see the murdered woman, said, ‘he had seen many horrible cases, but never such a brutal affair as this. There was a gash under the left ear reaching nearly to the centre of the throat, and another cut apparently starting from the right ear. The neck was severed back to the vertebra, which was also slightly injured. The abdominal wounds were extraordinary for their length, and the severity with which they had been inflicted. One cut extended from the base of the abdomen to the breast bone.’ Bearing such marks of violence upon her, the unfortunate Mary Ann Nicols was found … Her body was still warm, but life had ebbed away.”
Initially, because Mary Ann had no identification, no one know who she was but soon a Lambeth workhouse laundry mark on her petticoat allowed detectives to identify her. Her murder was also originally linked to two previous murders, those of Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram, both of who were prostitutes and numerous newspapers maintained that the murders were somehow connected. One paper reported:
“The murder of the unfortunate creature who has been identified as Mary Ann Nicols, bears so strong a resemblance to the two other foul assassinations which have occurred in the same neighbourhood that the police think it likely they were all the work of one individual, or possibly of the same gang of degraded and savage miscreants who blackmail unfortunate women and murder them when their demands for money are denied.”
The Star suggested that there was one killer, and, soon, other newspapers embraced the same theory that a lone murderer was committing the killings. In addition, suspicions that the murderer was a serial killer resulted in three Scotland Yard detectives becoming involved in the investigation. They were Detective Inspectors Henry Moore, Walter Andrews, and Frederick Abberline, who was placed in charge of the murders in the area because of his extensive knowledge and experience in the Whitechapel area.
About a week and half after Mary Ann’s body was discovered, Annie Chapman’s body, which was also mutilated, was found at 6 am on 8 September in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street. She was the daughter of a soldier and her parents married after she was born. In 1869, Annie married a maternal relative who was a coachman and they had three children. One of the children died at age 12 and another, a boy, was born disabled. Because of this, she and her husband became heavy drinkers and they eventually separated. She moved to Whitechapel and began living with a man who made wire sieves. While separated, she received 10 shillings a week allowance from her husband but that stopped when he died.
Soon after his death the sieve-maker left her, and, Annie, who was 5 feet tall with blue eyes and dark brown hair, became depressed. To survive she began selling crochet work, antimacassars, and flowers. She also sometimes supplemented her income with prostitution. Accordingly, on 8 September, because she had no money for lodging, about 1:45am she went into the streets to earn some money. One witness, a Mrs. Elizabeth Long, testified that she had seen her talking to a man about 40 years old about 5:30am near the back of 29 Hanbury Street. A newspaper also published the following:
“Mrs. Durrell made a statement on Wednesday to the effect that at about half-past five o’clock on the morning of the murder of Mrs. Chapman she saw a man and a woman conversing outside 29, Hanbury-street, the scene of the murder, and that they disappeared very suddenly. Mrs. Durrell was taken to the mortuary and identified the body of Chapman as that of the woman whom she saw in Hanbury-street.”
Annie’s mutilated body was found at 6 am in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street. It was laying between the steps and a wooden fence with her head turned towards the house. Her clothes had been pulled up over her waist so that her red and white striped stockings showed. In addition, two pills, which she took for a lung condition, part of a torn envelope, a piece of muslin, and a comb were recovered from the scene, but three brass bracelets which she had been wearing were not found and it was thought she had either pawned them, or they had been stolen. Newspapers printed all the gory details, with one publishing the following:
“Dr. George [Bagster] Phillips, police surgeon, who had made a post-mortem examination of the body, described the injuries as of a frightful character. He said it seemed as if an effort had been made to separate the bones of the neck. Death resulted from a flow of blood from the neck. The injuries must have been inacted with a long, sharp knife with a thin blade. Knives used in the leather trade, he thought, would not be long enough.”
Newspaper journalists also deduced that the medical evidence seemed to indicate that “the deed had been done by some one probably possessing anatomical knowledge, and that a sharp butcher’s knife might have been used.”
The next murder occurred on 30 September to Elizabeth Stride, born Gustafsdotter. She was nicknamed “Long Liz,” and there are several explanations as to why she acquired that nickname. One is she had a long face, another is because of her height, and the third is that because her married name was “Stride” it meant long step, thereby resulting in “Long Liz.” At the time of her death she was living in a common lodging-house at 32 Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields. Like Mary Ann and Annie, she had separated from her husband and then started a relationship with a local dock worker named Michael Kidney.
Elizabeth’s life was similar to Mary Ann and Annie’s. She was poor and survived earning a living sewing and doing housework. She was also occasionally seen at court charged with being drunk and disorderly. In April of 1887, she claimed that Michael had assaulted her, but she did nothing to pursue the case, and, a few days before her death, she left him, perhaps because of his abuse. On the morning of her death she was without money, could not afford lodging, and went into the streets to earn money.
Witnesses who noticed her gave a timeline of where she was before her death. She was seen about 11pm near Berner Street** with a man who had a mustache and was dressed in a morning suit wearing a bowler. A newspaper then provided the following information about the next person who spotted her:
“William Marshall … a labourer in an indigo warehouse … had seen [her] in Berner-street about 11:45pm … She was talking quietly to a man. There was no street-lamp near, but the witness could see that the man was wearing a short black coat and dark trousers. He seemed to be middle-aged, and was wearing a round cap with a small peak, something like a sailor would wear. He was about 5 ft. 6 in. in height, rather stout, and appeared decently dressed. He did not look like a dock labourer nor a butcher, but had more the appearance of a clerk. The witness did not think the man had any whiskers, nor had he anything in his hands. The witness was standing at his door, and his attention was attracted by seeing the man kissing her. He was ‘mild speaking’ and spoke as an educated man would.”
She was next spotted by policeman William Smith. He saw her speaking with a man wearing a felt hat and carrying an 18-inch package. They were opposite the International Working Men’s Educational Club at 40 Berner Street at 12:35am. Within a half-hour of that sighting Elizabeth was found dead. The discovery was made around 1:00am on Sunday, 30 September, when a steward of the club, Louis Diemschutz, drove into the adjacent Dutfield’s Yard. He was in a two-wheeled cart pulled by a pony. Something spooked the pony and it shied. When Diemschutz struck a match, he found Elizabeth with the blood still flowing from her body because of a gaping wound on her neck.
Detectives immediately arrived and questioned neighbors. Ultimately, no one heard or saw anything. Club members were also no help as they all claimed to have noticed nothing unusual when they departed the club between 12:30 and 12:50am. A Dr. Phillips was deposed at trial, and he gave testimony as to the discoveries made during post-mortem that was performed by him and Dr. Frederick William Blackwell. One newspaper published a summary of their findings:
“Over both shoulders, especially over the right, under the collar-bone, and in front of the chest, there was bluish discolouration … There was a keenly-cut incision six inches in length across the throat, the dimensions and position of which witness described with great anatomical fullness and in such a manner as to be quite intelligible to the jury. It was evident, he said, that hemorrhage, which probably resulted in death, was caused by the partial severance of the left carotid artery. … There was no recent external injury to the body save to the neck. The lower lobe of the left ear was torn, as if by the removal or wearing through of an earring.”
Elizabeth was not the only victim discovered that night. Another victim, Catherine “Kate” Eddowes, was also killed in the early hours of 30 September, and thus, these two murders by the Ripper are commonly be referred to as the “double event.”
Catherine was known as “Kate Conway” or “Kate Kelly” because of her two successive common-law husbands. She was first with an ex-soldier, Thomas Conway, but after she began drinking, Conway, who was a teetotaler, left her on “bad terms” and she then met and began living with John Kelly. It was at that time she took up casual prostitution to pay her rent. In addition, she and Kelly also worked a harvest in Kent in the summer of 1888. After they returned to London, he took four of their last sixpence to get a bed at a lodging house while she took twopence to stay at the Mile End Casual Ward in a neighboring parish. The couple met again the following morning, 29 September, but split up later in the day. That same evening, around 8:30pm, she was discovered lying drunk in the road on Aldgate High Street by policeman Louis Robinson, who took her into custody.
After she sobered up, she was discharged at 1:00am on 30 September. According to the police officer who released her, she “gave the name of Mary Ann Kelly and said she had been shopping.” She also remarked before leaving that she would get a “hiding” for her absence when she arrived home. When she left, she turned towards Houndsditch, and headed in the direction of Mitre Square. Three witnesses who saw her last were Joseph Lawende, Joseph Hyam Levy, and Harry Harris. They had left the Imperial Club on Duke Street and saw her at 1:35am speaking with a man at the entrance of the Church Passage. Only Lawende provided a description:
“As we approached the club we noticed a man and woman together in Church-passage. The woman was standing with her face towards the man, so that I only saw her back. I noticed that her hand was on his chest. I could not see the woman’s face, but the man was taller than she was. The woman wore a black jacket and a black bonnet. … I cannot tell you the height of the woman; but she was about five feet high … He had on a peaked cloth cap, the peak of the same material apparently as the cap … There was nothing in their movement that attracted my attention except that the man was a rough-looking fellow.”
Within ten minutes of Lawende, Levy, and Harris seeing this exchange, a policeman, Edward Watkin, found Catherine’s body in the southwest corner of Mitre Square. It was 1:45am. He called for assistance at a tea warehouse. One newspaper reported:
“Edward Watkin said that he was on duty in Mitre-square … The beat took about 12 or 14 minutes. He had been patrolling it from 10 o’clock on Sunday night until 1 o’clock on Sunday morning. Nothing had excited his attention at those hours. About 1.30 on Sunday morning he passed through Mitre-square. He had his lantern fixed on his belt, alight and turned on. He looked down the courts and warehouses, but noticed nothing out of the way. Nobody could have been in any portion of the square without being seen by him. About 1.44 he again entered the square, having patrolled the whole of his beat. He turned to the right and saw the body of a woman lying on her back in a corner of the square. Her clothes were pulled up above her waist. Her throat was cut and the stomach ripped open, the bowels protruding. She was laying in a great pool of blood. He did not touch the body but first went for assistance.”
Night watchman George James Morris, who was an ex-policeman, claimed to have noticed nothing unusual in the area as he patrolled. Another watchman, George Clapp, and an off-duty policeman, Richard Pearse, also attested that they had noticed nothing amiss or heard any cries for help. Police surgeon Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown arrived at the murder scene at 2:18am. He conducted the post-mortem on Catherine and according to his notes:
“[T]he body was on its back, the head turned to left shoulder; the arms by the side of the body as if they had fallen there, both palms upwards, the fingers slightly bent; a thimble was lying off the finger on the right side; the clothes drawn up above the abdomen; the thighs were naked; left leg extended in a line with the body; the abdomen was exposed; right leg bent at the thigh and knee; the bonnet was at the back of the head; great disfigurement of the face; the throat cut across; below the cut was a neckerchief; the upper part of the dress was pulled open a little way; the abdomen exposed; the intestines were drawn out to a large extent and placed over the right shoulder; they were smeared over with some feculent matter; a piece of about two feet was quite detached from the body and placed between the body and the left arm, apparently by design; the lobe and auricle of the right ear were cut obliquely through; there was a quantity of clotted blood on the pavement on the left side of the neck round the shoulder and upper part of the arm, and fluid blood serum which had flowed under the neck to the right shoulder, the pavement sloping in that direction; body was quite warm; no death stiffening had taken place; she must have been dead most likely within the half hour; we looked for superficial bruises and saw none; no blood on the skin of the abdomen or secretion of any kind on the thighs; no spurting of blood on the bricks or pavement around; no marks of blood below the middle of the body; several buttons were found in the clotted blood after the body was removed; there was no blood on the front of the clothes; there were no traces of recent connection.”
Terror gripped the area and fear among women after the deaths of Elizabeth and Catherine was palpable. In fact, precautions were taken in the Whitechapel area by both residents and the police. One newspaper provided information on what was happening to protect citizens and prevent a re-occurrence of another horrid murder:
“Soon after ten o’clock the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields assumed an almost deserted appearance as far as women were concerned, and those who ventured abroad did not do so singly but moved about in twos and threes. Even the unfortunate class to which the murdered women belonged were not an exception to the rule. This plan seems to have been adopted by women of this character, and doubtless will prove a great obstacle to the movements of the murderer, who, finding that a third party haunts his actions, will not find another opportunity so easily of carrying out his boasted designs. The police were nervously apprehensive that the night would not pass without some startling occurrence. The most extraordinary precautions were taken in consequence, and so complete were the measures adopted, both by the City and Metropolitan Police authorities, that it seemed impossible for the murderer to make his appearance in the East End without detection. Large bodies of plain-clothes men were drafted … to the Whitechapel district from other parts of London, and these, together with detectives, were so numerous that in the more deserted thoroughfares almost every man met with a police-officer. The City Police, far from being outdone in their exertions to ensure the protection of the public, more than doubled the patrols, so that almost every nook and corner of the various beats came under police supervision every five minutes. In addition to this measure men were stationed at fixed distances to watch for any suspicious-looking person, and when thought at all necessary to follow them. … The parks, where the fiend would have no difficulty in finding victims, were specially well patrolled, and the police in the most outlying districts were keenly alive to the anxieties of the situation. … Supplementing the energy displayed by the police, hundreds of people living in the back streets sat up all night, whilst dozens of sturdy householders paid occasional visits to yards and other secluded spots in their immediate vicinity. The volunteer patrols organized by the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee lent marked assistance to the police. Their patrols were told off to well planned beats, many of these amateur policemen being furnished with noiseless boots, a measure which has lately been strongly urged upon the Metropolitan police. It is supposed that the murderer is armed with a revolver, and if detected, will shoot at the first person who attempts to capture him; in any case his knife, in such skilful hands, would, if he had the slightest chance of dealing a blow prove mortal. The large reward offered, has, however, afforded sufficient stimulus to as large a number of strong, able-bodied men as are required for the dangerous duty of tracking down the murderer.”
The precautions seemed to make a difference and deter the murderer for a time because the next killing did not occur for forty days. It happened on Friday, 9 November. This time the victim was 25-year-old Mary Jane Kelly described as short, stout, and dark-haired. By 1884, she was working in a brothel in London’s fashionable West End. It was around this time that she supposedly acquired a French client and moved to France for a couple of weeks. When she returned, she began calling herself Mary Jeanette.
She eventually moved in with a man named Joseph Barnett. He saw her for the last time between 7 and 8pm on 8 November with a friend named Maria Harvey. Another prostitute, Mary Ann Cox, saw her later that evening when they said goodnight to one another. A man named Cox said that Mary Jane was in the company of ginger-haired man, and one newspaper provided more details provided by Cox:
“About midnight on Thursday I saw the deceased in Dorset-Street. She was very much the worse for drink. I saw her go up the Court with a short, stout man, shabbily dressed. He carried a pot of ale, and wore a black coat and hat. He had a clean shaven chin and sandy whiskers and moustache. The deceased wished me good night and went into her room I heard her singing the song, ‘A violet I plucked from mother’s grave.’ I afterwards went out of my room. On coming back at one she was STILL SINGING. I again went out and on coming back I saw the light in deceased’s room had been put out. All was silent.”
At the inquest, after they jury was sworn in, they were shown Mary Jane’s body and they went to the scene of the crime. The man with whom she had been living, Barnett, was also deposed and provided the following information:
“I identify the body of the deceased as that of the young woman with whom I have lived for eight months. I separated from her on the 30th of last month. I LEFT HER because she brought prostitutes to live in our room. I saw deceased last between half-past seven and a quarter to eight on Thursday night. We were on friendly terms. … Deceased was sober. … I first met her in Commercial Street and arranged to live with her. At deceased’s request I read to her newspaper reports of the previous Whitechapel murders. I did not hear her express fear of any person.”
Mary Jane was seen at 2am on Friday 9 November by a laborer who claimed to have seen her talking to a man of “Jewish appearance” and that she and the man went to her room in Miller’s Court. However, she may have had another client after him. Around 4am two other women living in Miller’s Court reported hearing a faint cry of “Murder!” but they did nothing because both women claimed it was common to hear such a cry in the East End. One of these women left around 5:30am but heard and saw nothing, and the other woman reported she heard someone else leave around 5:45am.
Later the same morning, the landlord, John McCarthy, sent his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, to Mary Jane’s room. Bowyer was to collect Mary Jane’s back rent. She had been living there ten months and was six weeks behind, owing McCarthy 29s. Bowyer knocked on her door around 10:45am but received no response. He stated:
“I found the window broken – … I pulled the curtain aside and looking in saw two lumps of flesh on the table. Looking a second time I saw the body on the bed and a pool of blood on the floor. I then reported my discovery to the police.”
Of all the victim’s Mary Jane’s corpse was the most mutilated. That was because the murderer had plenty of time to do whatever he pleased behind closed doors. Phillips and a Dr. Thomas Bond determined that it would have taken two hours for the killer to complete the mutilations, and they noted that rigor mortis did not set in on her body until they were examining it. They therefore placed the murder between 2 and 8am. Philipps also noted that Mary Jane died when the killer slashed her throat with a 1-inch knife, and Bond provided the following notes from their examination at the scene:
“The body was lying … in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat, but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. … The legs were wide apart, the left thigh at right angles to the trunk and the right forming an obtuse angle with the pubes.
The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features and the tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone. The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus and kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side and the spleen by the left side of the body. The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table.
The bed clothing at the right corner was saturated with blood and on the floor beneath was a pool of blood covering about two feet square. The wall by the right side of the bed and in a line with the neck was marked by blood which had struck it in a number of separate splashes.
The face was gashed in all directions, the nose, cheeks, eyebrows and ears being partly removed. The lips were blanched and cut by several incisions running obliquely down to the chin. There were also numerous cuts extending irregularly across all the features.”
Bond’s report went on describing in detail how Mary Jane’s neck and air passage were cut. The murderer had also removed skin and tissue on the abdomen and thighs. There was also a long gash on the left calf and both arms and forearms displayed extensive jagged wounds. In addition, Bond noted that he thought the killer showed no special anatomical skills, although he maintained that the murderer was daring and possessed great physical strength.
After Mary Jane’s death, police conducted extensive house-to-house searches in hopes of determining who had committed the crime. On 10 November, Bond wrote a report that provided a profile of the killer, and he linked Mary Jane’s death to those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes. That same day, an official announcement was also issued:
“Murder. Pardon – Whereas, on November 8 or 9, in Miller court, Dorset-street, Spitalfields, Mary Janet Kelly was murdered by some person or persons unknown, the Secretary of State will advise the grant of her Majesty’s gracious pardon to any accomplice, not being a person who contrived or actually committed the murder, who shall give such information and evidence as shall lead to the discovery and conviction of the person or persons who committed the murder. (Signed) Charles Warren, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Metropolitan Police-office, 4, Whitehall-place, SW., November 10.”
No one ever came forward and no one was ever charged for the ghastly murders of the five women. In addition, no similar murders were committed over the next six months, which caused the police to wind down their investigation. Abberline, the Scotland Yard detective assigned to the case, considered many people as possible suspects, but his primary suspect was Severin Antoniovich Klosowski, aka George Chapman, a Polish serial killer known as the Borough Poisoner who was convicted and executed of poisoning three women. Abberline also advanced a theory that a female serial killer committed the murders.
Suspects proposed over the years have amounted to virtually anyone connected to the case, and the suspect list has included over one hundred possibilities. Today, the identity of Jack the Ripper is still not agreed on by experts. Mary Jane is generally considered the last official victim of whoever the Ripper was, and it is also generally assumed that the murders ended because the Ripper was either imprisoned, institutionalized, emigrated, or died.
*Renamed Durward Street.
**Renamed Henriques Street
-  The West Cumberland Times, “The Whitechapel Murders,” September 5, 1888, p. 2.
-  Kinross-shire Advertiser, “Saturday, September 8, 1888,” September 8, 1888, p. 2.
-  Derby Mercury, “The Whitechapel Tragedies,” September 19, 1888, p. 3.
-  The Aberdeen Journal, “Aberdeen, Friday, Sept. 14, 1888,” September 14, 1888, p. 4.
-  Totnes Weekly Times, “Another Shocking Murder in Whitechapel,” September 15, 1888, p. 8.
-  St. James’s Gazette, “Resumed Inquest on Elizabeth Stride,” October 3, 1888, p. 10.
-  Belfast Weekly, “Inquest on the Berner Street Victim,” October 6, 1888, p. 3.
-  The Lancashire Evening Post, “The London Atrocities,” October 11, 1888, p. 3.
-  London Evening Standard, “The Mitre-Square Murder,” October 12, 1888, p. 3.
-  Cornishman, “Inquest on Catherine Eddowes,” October 11, 1888, p. 3.
-  J. J. Eddleston, Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2001), p. 56.
-  Western Times, “Saturday Night’s Precautions,” October 9, 1888, p. 7.
-  The Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph, “The Murder of Mary Kelly,” November 13, 1888, p. 3.
-  Shields Daily Gazette, “The Murder of Mary Kelly,” November 13, 1888, p. 3.
-  The Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph, p. 3.
-  J. J. Eddleston, p. 69.
-  Faringdon Advertiser, “Another East-End Atrocity,” November 17, 1888, p. 6.