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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

The Continuing Lore of Jack the Ripper

Nickie Phillips


Dozens of curious onlookers crowd London streets each night to experience the saga of the infamous Whitechapel Murders. Crimcast was among the throngs this September to capture the essence of living in treacherous Whitechapel in the late 1880s.



Though the Whitechapel Murders occurred over 100 years ago, speculation continues as to the identity of the so-called Jack the Ripper, believed to have brutally mutilated and murdered at least five women in the area from 1888-1891.  As such, extensive archival research continues to be poured over by both trained and self-proclaimed experts in Victorian history, criminal profiling, and psychology.


The five victims were prostitutes at the time of the murders, but a 2009 genealogy revealed that three of the five were previously married and later had turned to prostitution to survive.

Whitechapel was considered one of the most destitute areas of London, and the horrendous murder of Mary Kelly, believed to be the last victim of Jack the Ripper, occurred on Dorset Street. Dorset was known as the worst street in London, where poverty, alcoholism, and prostitution were endemic.


In 1998, psychologists, historians, and the police gathered at the International Investigative Psychology Conference at Liverpool University to debate the authenticity of the archival "Diary of James Maybrick" in which Maybrick allegedly revealed himself to be the killer. According to the BBC News, there was no consensus that the diary was authentic, nor however, was there consensus that the diary was fraudulent. The first edition of the book The Diary of Jack the Ripper: The Discovery, The Investigation, The Debate by author Shirley Harrison contains a facsimile of the diary and documents the controversy surrounding its discovery.  Harrison continues to assert that the document is authentic, and an updated edition of the book, with a Foreword by Professor David Cantor, Director of the Institute of Investigative Psychology and Forensic Behavioural Science at the University of Liverpool, was published in 2010.


"The only conclusion they did reach was that the document was written by someone with a 'disturbed mind' and it was therefore 'fascinating', even if it was not genuine." -- UK Ripper Diary has Historians Stumped,BBC News

Maybrick, though, is only one of about 100 potential suspects. In 2006, a composite of Jack the Ripper was created, along with a profile of the suspect leading investigators to conclude

"that police at the time were probably searching for the wrong kind of man."


One of the more intriguing possibilities is that Jack the Ripper was actually Jill the Ripper. One such speculation surrounds the notion of a "mad midwife" who, as a woman, would have walked the streets without suspicion and would have been an "anatomically educated murderer."  Interestingly, though the killer's signature involved removing organs, the most consistently removed organ across the victims was the uterus.  Although some removed organs were laid alongside the body, the uterus was typically missing.

Because of the hysteria surrounding the murders, many people in Ripper's time, and some present-day Ripperologists, believe Ripper continued to kill in the few years after the generally agreed upon five murders.  This climate of fear and these later Ripper murders--or copycat murders-- is the subject of the popular BBC television series Ripper Street.


Jack the Ripper still fascinates the public despite the unfortunate fact that more prolific and more gruesome serial killers have since followed him. But as the iconic killer who first captured the imagination of the English-speaking world, the case provides important insight as to the cultural origins of our continual fascination with the murderous macabre.


This is the fourth in a 5-part series appearing throughout 2013 focusing on the often intriguing discoveries that come out of archival work in the realm of criminology and criminal justice.