JON REES picks five women who have been suspected of the Jack the Ripper killings
In 1888, Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of famous detective Sherlock Holmes who had made his debut appearance in the Strand Magazine the previous year, was asked for his opinion on the Jack the Ripper crimes.
Doyle theorised that the ideal killer would be a woman, or a man dressed as a woman, disguised as a midwife and so would have been able to walk the streets with bloodstained clothing and not arouse suspicion.
According to the author Donald McCormick, Inspector Frederick Abberline may also have briefly entertained this theory, but his source on this is unknown and dubious at best.
From then on, some authors have theorised that Jack was in fact Jill and that a woman may have committed the Ripper murders.
Convicted and executed at the end of 1890 for murderer Phoebe Hogg and her 18 month old baby (also called Phoebe) and using baby Phoebe’s pram to transport and dump both bodies. Adult Phoebe had been murdered by having her head bashed in and was nearly decapitated. Some (including author William Stewart in 1939) have claimed this to be “Ripper like”, but beyond that there is nothing to indicate she was involved in the crimes.
At age 16 in 1860, Constance Kent was accused of the murder of her younger brother, Francis “Saville” Kent (who was nearly four years old) at Road Hill House, Wiltshire. The child had vanished from his room and his body was found the next day in an outhouse, stuffed into the privy. He had knife wounds on his chest and hands and had nearly been decapitated. Scotland Yard sent Detective Inspector Jack Whicher to investigate the case which had been bungled by the local police, and he arrested Constance. The case was thrown out before trial and Whicher returned to London disgraced. The main cause of her release seems to be class prejudices (Whicher was working class and was seen to be impertinent to accuse a lady of better social standing of a crime). Five years later, with the support of a priest, she confessed to the crimes. She was sentenced to death but this was commuted to life in prison. She was released aged 41 in 1885 and shortly thereafter emigrated to Australia where she lived for the rest of her life.
It has been claimed that the murder of her younger brother could be described as being “Ripper like” and that she may have committed the murders to express her deep hatred of her stepmother who she considered to be a whore. However, as during the time of the Ripper murders she was in Australia, this is unlikely.
Helena Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, medium and author. In 1875 she co-founded the Theosophical Society and in 1888 was living in London. She was apparently accused by Aleister Crowley in an essay he wrote on the crimes, but if the essay is read properly it becomes apparent that he is using her as a catalyst to name another suspect. In any case, by 1888 she was suffering from liver disease and was so overweight she needed to be pushed around in a specially modified bath chair.
Lizzie Williams was the wife of Royal obstetrician and surgeon Sir John Williams, who would found the national library of Wales. Sir John was himself accused of being Jack the Ripper in a now debunked theory proposed by a distant relation, but in 2012 another author accused Lizzie of committing the crimes. The motive was apparently her inability to have children causing her to want revenge on women that could, so why she would murder mostly middle aged, alcoholic and emancipated prostitutes is not known.
Yes, not even Queen Victoria herself has been saved the eye of suspicion of being Jack the Ripper. Though it hasn’t been suggested (seriously anyway) that the Queen herself was stalking the streets of the East End, but rather that she ordered a band of Freemasons (headed by William Gull) to commit the murders to coverup the indiscretions of her grandson, Prince Albert Victor (Prince Eddy) The Duke of Clarence and his marriage and impregnation of a Catholic girl. This “Royal Conspiracy” theory (and all other variations involving Royalty) have now been long discredited.
So was Jack actually Jill? Unlikely. Most serial killers are men, and the few that are women usually either a) act under the influence or assistance of a man, or b) kill people they know, not strangers on the street. Women are also far more likely to shoot or poison their victims, not cut their throats and mutilate them (though as we have seen with Mary Pearcey and Constance Kent, there can be exceptions to the rule – assuming they worked alone). Finally, all of the eyewitnesses who saw Jack’s victims shortly before their deaths, clearly describe them as being in the company of men, not women.