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Mysteries & Secrets - Jack the Ripper

The killer was never caught
With the fragment of human kidney sent in the mail to the police came a letter: "I send you half the kidney I took from one woman ... and the other piece I fried and ate ..." The writer's return address: "From Hell." It was the fall of 1888, and all of London instantly knew that the gruesome missive came from "Jack the Ripper," who had just slashed to death his fourth known victim, 43 year old Catherine Eddowes.

All four women had been pathetic prostitutes, aging and worn, forced to ply their degrading trade in the slum district known as Whitechapel. A veritable cesspool of the most wretchedly impoverished people, it had narrow streets and alleys that led through a filthy maze of gin shops, brothels, and opium dens. Fewer than half the children survived to the age of five; up to seven people were packed into each tiny room of this garbage strewn warren. To fend off starvation in such desperate circumstances, many young women had no alternative but to become streetwalkers. Such women, for unexplained reasons, were the prey of the Ripper, who was never identified nor apprehended.

The phantom haunted London for three months late in 1888.

Death in the Foggy Gloom

The first victim was 42 year old Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, whose throat was slit on the night of August 31. As she lay dying in a grimy little alley, her killer ripped open her abdomen with his 10 inch knife. Eight days later "Dark Annie" Chapman, 47, already weakened from tuberculosis, was dispatched in precisely the same manner with the same type of instrument.

Now people recalled an earlier murder of a Whitechapel prostitute. Since she had merely been stabbed to death police saw no likely connection. But the public felt otherwise and raised a frightened outcry that put pressure on the police to send reinforcements to the slum district. Private detectives and civilian volunteers eagerly enlisted in the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, set up by concerned London business interests.

With the mounting fear came an expose of the dark side of Victorian life. Comfortable members of society had long ignored the cruel conditions forced upon the poor. In an age when sexual matters were not even mentioned, much less discussed, the so called proper people had turned a blind eye on the city's numerous streetwalkers.

However, attention continued to be focused upon the killer, who had written his first letter bragging about his crimes in red ink and signed it with the name he bestowed on himself, "Jack the Ripper." His taunts that the police would not catch him seemed well founded, though patterns in his crimes became evident.

Medical examiners determined that he was left handed and knew a good deal about anatomy, obviously being skilled in extracting human organs with precision. And, gradually, it became clear that each murder was committed in the hours between 11 P.M. and 4 A.M. But this was not nearly enough evidence. Investigators took to hounding innocent persons, merely because they were common criminals, known sex offenders, or mentally ill surgeons and butchers. The harassment proved fruitless.

The murderer's crimes became even more daring, and more hideous. Apparently interrupted just after cutting the throat of Elizabeth "Long Liz" Stride, 45, the Ripper fleetly vanished into the night vapors shortly after midnight on September 30, leaving his victim dead but unmutilated. She was found clutching a bunch of grapes in one hand, sweets in the other. The witness who had stumbled upon the scene heard footsteps but failed to catch a glimpse of the killer.

Deprived of his familiar pleasure, the Ripper struck again within 45 minutes. His target this time was Eddowes, whom he killed and disemboweled, removing the kidney fragment sent through the mail. Astonishingly, a watchman on guard only several yards away heard nothing. Somehow, on a busy Saturday night in a teeming slum, with hordes of extra duty policemen and vigilantes primed to nab him, the presumably blood covered killer got away once again.

A Royal Suspect...

Grandson of Queen Victoria - Duke of Clarence For six weeks after the double murder, the Ripper did not make a move. Meanwhile, the police pursued an interesting lead.

On the night that Stride and Eddowes had been killed, an officer had detained an elegantly attired gentleman seen talking to a Whitechapel prostitute. When questioned, the well spoken suspect totally out of place in the dingy district, passed himself off as a physician and convinced the policeman to let him go. Suddenly, rumors were spreading unchecked. Was the murderer a member of high society who, driven by some mad compulsion, had become obsessed with the lowlife of the slums?

For nearly a century one popular suspect under this theory was the duke of Clarence, a grandson of Queen Victoria. Newspapers of the time, however, never published such speculation since the duke was the eldest son of the heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, who later reigned as King Edward VII. Yet it was known that the duke suffered from some form of mental instability. Those who support the theory that he was Jack the Ripper point out that the duke was institutionalized after the last murder, never to be set free. He died in 1892.

...and a Convenient Suicide

The most hideous of the murders took place early in the morning of November 10. At 3:45 A.M. that day, neighbors heard screams from the room of Jane "Black Mary" Kelly, who was only 24 years old. When the landlord's servant edged inside at daylight, it was clear that the Ripper had taken advantage of the privacy afforded by his victim's quarters. Painstakingly, he had eviscerated the corpse, removed the heart and kidneys, and laid the body parts neatly about the room.

This brutal and bizarre murder was the last of officially attributed to Jack the Ripper. Within weeks, the police had closed the case without an explanation to the mystified public. In private, members of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee were told that the murderer had confessed before drowning himself in the Thames. To this day, however, the suicide note has not been shown publicly, nor have its contents been revealed. Many suspect that officials were perpetrating a cover up to protect either the duke of Clarence or a rogue police officer.

As for the drowned man, a suicide had indeed been pulled out of the Thames after the murder of "Black Mary" Kelly. On December 3 Montague John Druitt, a struggling lawyer who had become obsessed with his mother's mental illness, killed himself by drowning. His suicide note has never been published and could well be the confession cited by the police in closing the case.

Scion of an aristocratic family in the medical profession, Druitt was well connected in England's upper class society, having attended a prestigious boarding school. His fellow members in an elite club, The Apostles, came from the nation's first families. All who knew the lawyer agreed that he detested women.

On July 1, 1888, Mrs. Druitt was committed to a clinic for the mentally ill. Her son visited her there regularly, perhaps increasingly fearful of his own mental stability. Whether he went there from his law offices or from a boys boarding school where he had to eke out a living as a physical education instructor, Druitt would have had to pass through the Whitechapel district to reach his mother's clinic.

Did Druitt's fears and hatred of women combine to produce the monster who called himself Jack the Ripper? By October his brother William was noticing signs of mental strain and aberrant behavior. On November 30 Druitt was summarily dismissed from his school job.

To some theorists it seems likely that The Apostles used their high social position to protect the good name of one of their own. Perhaps they encouraged Druitt's suicide or even banded together to kill him, thus putting an end to his barbaric and insatiable addiction. Then, according to this theory, they convinced the authorities to suppress the true story and close the case.

Suspected of as many as 14 murders, the unknown assailant was perhaps guilty of only five during his three month reign of terror. Fascinated with blood, choosing his victims so that the crime sites formed a cross on the map of Whitechapel, Jack the Ripper will probably never be identified, much less understood.

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