In 1888, he roamed the shadowy and foggy back-streets of Whitechapel, London by night, violently slaughtering prostitutes, and provoking terror throughout the capital. He was the world's most infamous serial-killer. He was, in case you haven't by now guessed, Jack the Ripper. But, what makes the Ripper so infamous more than a century after his terrible crimes were committed is that his identity still remains a mystery. And everyone loves a mystery. So, who might Jack have been? The theories are almost endless and include a surgeon, a doctor, a poet, and even a member of the British Royal Family!
A ripper of the royal kind
Without doubt, the most controversial theory for who Jack the Ripper might have been is that he was a member of the British Royal Family: Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence. Rumours, which have circulated since the early-1960s, suggest Albert had caught syphilis from a London prostitute and, in a deranged state of mind caused by the effects of his condition, roamed the Whitechapel district of London in search of prostitutes, upon who he could take out his rage. Nothing concrete, however, has ever surfaced to suggest the prince was Jack. That hasn't stopped the theory from thriving, however.
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A physician to the royals
A variation on the theory that the Duke of Clarence was Jack the Ripper is that he was not the killer, but was connected in a roundabout fashion. The Duke, theorists suggest, secretly married a woman who was a Catholic. This was too much for Queen Victoria, and so a dark plan was put into place. Sir William Withey Gull, a physician, took on the grim task of killing the friends of the young woman in question who knew of the secret marriage. Gull, then, trying to protect the Royals from scandal, was the man behind the Ripper legend. Maybe.
The boot-maker of Whitechapel
One person that often pops up in Ripper research is John Pizer, an admittedly unsavoury Polish Jew who worked in Whitechapel as a boot-maker, and who was known locally as "Leather Apron." Strongly suspected of having assaulted a number of prostitutes in the area, and with a conviction for stabbing already on record, Pizer was arrested by Police Sergeant William Thicke in September 1888. Unfortunately for Thicke, Pizer had solid alibis for two of the murders. In a strange bit of irony, however, Home Office papers of 1889 show that Thicke was himself once accused of being the Ripper!
A doctor of death
Thomas Cream was a doctor specialising in abortions - which, for the numerous prostitutes of Whitechapel in the late-1800s, would have been many. In 1881 Cream was jailed for poisoning in Illinois, USA. On his release in 1891, however, he moved to London, where his murders continued. He was hanged at Newgate Prison in 1892. There's a problem here: Cream was in jail in the US in 1888, the year in which the Ripper murders occurred. Or was he? Some Ripper-researchers suggest Cream bribed his way out of prison years earlier and was replaced by a lookalike. A transatlantic Ripper?
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Death in the Thames
On New Year's Eve, 1888, the body of Montague John Druitt was hauled out of the River Thames. A barrister, who also doubled as an assistant-schoolmaster, Druitt was suspected by Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten of being Jack the Ripper. It is a fact that mental-illness ran through the Druitt family: both his mother and grandmother were deranged souls. There was also talk that Druitt had taken his life for fear that word might get out that he was homosexual. That the Ripper murders ceased after Druitt's suicide still makes some Ripper sleuths wonder if he was the killer.
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Hanging the Ripper
William Henry Bury, originally from London's East End, might be considered the ideal candidate for Jack the Ripper. Shortly after the horrific murders, he moved to Dundee, Scotland, where he killed his wife, Ellen. Notably, Ellen was a former prostitute and was the victim of vicious cuts to her stomach. Bury was found guilty of her murder and soon hanged. Interestingly, the hangman himself, a character named James Berry, told just about anyone who cared to ask about Berry that he, Berry, was Jack the Ripper. Had Berry made a secret confession to the man who ended his life?
An eye-witness to the Ripper
One of the biggest problems facing the police in the Ripper affair was that the killer always acted in an elusive fashion. But one man claimed to have got a good look at him. That man was George Hutchinson, a labourer. Hutchinson said he saw the Ripper at the room of the killer's last victim, Mary Kelly, who was violently torn to pieces in November 1888. The astonishingly detailed nature of Hutchinson's report led some in London's police force to wonder if he, himself, was the Ripper, trying to cover his tracks by providing a false description of the killer.
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More than one Ripper?
Between April and October 1888, Joseph Barnett was in a relationship with Jack's final victim, Mary Kelly. As a result, intriguing theories have been suggested concerning Barnett. First, there is the scenario of Barnett killing Kelly's prostitute friends as a means to scare Kelly out of earning her living on the streets of London. A second theory suggests Barnett murdered Mary and then chose to mutilate her body in a fashion befitting the Ripper, as a means to camouflage his own actions. Since the Ripper was on everyone's minds, Barnett would fall under the radar. If true, of course!
A Ripper of the Russian kind
One of the strangest stories concerning the identity of Jack the Ripper revolves around a man named Alexander Pedachenko, who was said to have been a Russian doctor attached to Russia's Secret Police. With two colleagues, the strange story went, Pedachenko embarked on the mad killing-spree to try and make the finest minds of Scotland Yard look foolish and lacking in credibility - due to the fact that they were unable to solve the crimes. That the story was supposed to have surfaced from Rasputin - the famous healer, mystic, and "Mad Monk" - only made matters even more controversial!
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A poetic psycho
In 1889, one year after Jack the Ripper brought fear to Whitechapel, a man named Francis Thompson penned a short story titled The End Crowns the Work. It told of a poet who sacrificed young women to ancient gods, as a means to ensure he became successful in his career in the field of poetry. Thompson also spent time living in Whitechapel, for a while even on the streets. In addition he studied for six years to be a surgeon. It was training that, of course, made Thompson very familiar with both human anatomy and knives. There's a notable thought.
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