Jack the Ripper Week

Ruthless Women

JOHN MORRIS, author of  Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman, returns to The Spooky Isles to give further evidence to support his claim that Jack the Ripper was actually a Jill …

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Almost one and a quarter centuries have passed since the autumn of terror in 1888.
A period of just 10 weeks in Victorian London’s worst and most squalid district, which ran from the night of the murder of Polly Nichols on Friday 31 August, to the last and most brutal slaying, that of young, pretty Mary Jane Kelly on Friday 9 November, the day of the Lord Mayor’s Show.
The world’s most famous unknown murderer caused fear and dread in London’s poverty stricken Whitechapel by striking down five women, all ‘unfortunates,’ as prostitutes were then known, and hideously mutilating four of them in a most vicious and, almost to this day, in an utterly incomprehensible manner.
All the victims were found with their throats cut across, though one, at least, had been strangled to death.
Four had their abdomens torn open so that their bowels spilled out.
Three had been robbed of their wombs which had been ripped from their still warm bodies; the faces of two were horribly slashed and carved and covered in blood, and one was literally torn to pieces; her heart cut out and removed from the scene of the crime.
It was never found.
Despite the biggest manhunt London had ever seen, Scotland Yard’s best detectives, under Inspector Frederick Abberline, assigned to track down the murderer, never even came close to an arrest.
The murderer inexplicably outsmarted the police and vigilante groups and defied all attempts at capture. The ‘Yard’ was finally forced to admit, ‘we don’t have the slightest clue.’
Yet there were clues, and they were clues which time and again have been swept aside or ignored because they were considered unimportant, or they challenged conventional mores, or failed to support a pet theory, and as a result, controversy continues to rage to this day, as to whom the murderer might have been.
If it was just a question of identifying the murderer, then interest in the crimes would have soon waned.
But Jack the Ripper has never been just one mystery; it has always been two but rolled up into one.
The first is the identity of the killer: was he a doctor, a deranged lawyer or a member of the Royal Family perhaps; or maybe none of these? The second mystery is the total absence of motive; the reason for the crimes.
And it was the almost unique combination of these two elements which sets the Ripper murders apart from almost every other unlawful killing, and provided the genesis of the most enduring murder mystery of all time.
The police were baffled by the violent nature of the crimes and were simply unable to comprehend who might have committed them and what the motive could be.
The attacks seemed to be sexually motivated, yet they were not sexual in nature because none of the victims had been raped or intimately interfered with; revenge seemed unlikely and robbery was out also.
So who could have done such a terrible thing and why, and manage to avoid capture not just once, but time and time and time again.
Several theories were proposed at the time, some of the more outlandish ones were that it was an invisible man to explain why the killer was never observed, or even the devil himself who had come to wreak his revenge on the poor unfortunates (though heaven knows why).
Others suggested that it was someone who could walk the streets unnoticed, ‘like a policeman,’ or someone who would not stand out in a crowd.
After each of the murders orders were given out that all men were to be stopped, questioned and inspected for traces of blood, and men in the company of women were to be stopped too, in case the woman was protecting her man.
Three weeks after the death of the second victim, Annie Chapman, Scotland Yard received a letter that appeared to have been written in blood; it claimed responsibility for the murders and was signed ‘Jack the Ripper’.
The letter was published in the newspapers in an unsuccessful effort to identify the author, and thereby the murderer.
But all it did was to give birth to a name that would forever be linked with the Whitechapel murders, and found the staunchly held belief that the murderer was a man.
Yet such evidence as there is throws up no hard evidence that the murderer was male.
It has always been assumed that the murderer was a man, and any clues or evidence suggesting a contrary view have always been ignored.
Even the inexplicable sighting of Mary Kelly after her death is dismissed as a ‘mistake’ by author Philip Sugden who wrote the bible on the murders, while one of the investigating detectives, Walter Dew, considered Maxwell as a ‘sane and sensible woman’ whose evidence could be relied upon.
So how do these two conflicting views reconcile themselves? Quite simply, they do not.
If Sugden’s blithe dismissal of Maxwell’s claim is refuted, then, Maxwell had indeed seen a person she believed (by the clothes she wore) to be Mary Kelly.
The inescapable fact is that the murderer had stolen Mary Kelly’s clothes in order to escape, and gave every appearance therefore of being Mary Kelly.
Just four years later, and in the face of overwhelming evidence of her guilt, 32 year old American, Lizzie Borden, was acquitted of the horrendous and bloody murder of her father and step mother with an axe.
The post mortem report read:

“Inspection of the victims discloses that Mrs. Borden had been slain by the use of some sharp and terrible instrument, inflicting upon her head eighteen blows, thirteen of them crushing through the skull; and below stairs, lying upon the sofa, was Mr. Borden’s dead and mutilated body, with eleven strokes upon the head, four of them crushing the skull.”

The jury could not be persuaded to believe that an apparently normal, and attractive, young woman, could possibly have committed such a violent and reprehensible crime. Yet there were no other suspects in the frame and all the evidence pointed to Lizzie Borden as the killer.
The truth about female killers is perceived somewhat differently today, and we are now much more ready to accept the likelihood that a woman might have been involved in violent crime.
Even so, the belief in a dominant male lingers on. While Myra Hindley and Ruth West have taught us that women can be, and often are as lethal as their male counterparts, the Irish Scissors sisters and petite American teenager, Darci Pierce, one of more than two dozen women who murdered other women for their babies, have taught us that women can also act alone – and when they do they often plan their crimes with care, cunning and using their womanly wiles to escape detection in a world policed mainly by males.
So bearing in mind that there is not a single piece of concrete evidence proving that a man must have been responsible for the Whitechapel murders, is it just possible that Jack the Ripper could have been a woman?
If so, can anyone say that it was not this woman?
Lizzie Williams was the wife of respected gynaecologist, Sir John Williams, who counted royalty among his patients, and perhaps Mary Kelly among his mistresses. So was it simply envy, sixth of the seven deadly which was the motive for the crimes after all?

Wicklow-based writer JOHN MORRIS is the author of Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman. You can follow him on twitter here. You can buy his book on UK AMAZON or US AMAZON.


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