Who Was Jack the Ripper?
This post lists the top 4 suspects the police were investigating in the Jack the Ripper murders, as well as 4 suspects who ended up being cleared by the police.
WHO WAS JACK THE RIPPER?
Jack the Ripper is the name given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in the Whitechapel area of East London in 1888.
At first, the killer was known as the “Whitechapel Murderer” and “Leather Apron” until a taunting letter arrived at a police station in which the writer claimed to be the killer who signed his note with the name, “Jack the Ripper.”
The victims of Jack the Ripper are all linked together by the following:
- All were prostitutes
- All had their throats slashed
- All suffered mutilation to their bodies
- At least three had the removal of organs after they died
It is generally agreed upon that Jack the Ripper is responsible for five murders in the Whitechapel area, beginning in August 1888.
However, from the 3rd April 1888 to the 13th of February 1891, the Metropolitan Police service recorded a number of attacks – 11 in all – against women and many brutal murders.
This has led to some speculation that Jack the Ripper may be responsible for other murders than the Canonical Five.
These 11 murders are known as the “Whitechapel Murders.”
No witness has ever come forward with a clear, verifiable description of the killer.
Hundreds of people were interviewed in the subsequent murder investigations and various descriptions have been given, but none have ever proved useful.
Interviewees have reported seeing the Canonical Five on the nights of their murders with men described as: “shabby-genteel,” wearing numerous types of hats (deerstalker, a hard felt hat, or a peaked cap), being of “foreign” appearance, wearing an overcoat (or a jacket), with a mustache (or without), being “stout,” or being blonde (or dark-haired).
It is likely that the true identity of Jack the Ripper will never be known.
Here is an audio clip (from our self-guided Jack the Ripper Tour) of an FBI profile made of the perpetrator.
You can also read the FBI profile in PDF.
JACK THE RIPPER SUSPECTS
With the killings taking place during the fledgling years of police crime scene investigation, much evidence has been contaminated or lost, meaning the exact identity of the killer is unlikely to ever be known.
John Pizer / “Leather Apron”
A Polish Jew living in the area, John Pizer made footwear from leather and was known in the area as “Leather Apron.”
He was arrested shortly after Annie Chapman’s murder as a piece of a man’s leather apron was found in the backyard.
The apron piece was later determined to belong to a man called John Richardson whose mother lived on Hanbury Street.
Pizer was released but was called to testify at the inquest into Annie’s murder to clear his name and abolish the rumors swirling around Whitechapel that a man “Leather Apron” was the killer.
Aaron Kosminski was a Polish Jew living in the area. His name was discovered in the 20th century in contemporary documents written by police officials who had investigated the Ripper case.
He was described as having “a great hatred of women…with strong homicidal tendencies.”
Many years later, a shawl belonging to Catherine Eddowes – said to have come from the scene of the murder – was DNA tested and was said to have matched Aaron Kosminski’s DNA.
Many experts dispute this finding, saying no shawl was present at the scene and any item tested now would carry with it decades of cross-contamination, making it impossible to accurately test.
Prince Albert Victor
A son of King Edward VII, Albert was named a suspect by a number of biographers and writers.
Conspiracy theorists claim that the Prince had an affair with a prostitute whom he secretly married, and the prostitutes friends were murdered by Albert to silence them.
However, Albert does have strong alibis for the nights of the killings, but many still believe the crimes were all part of a royal cover-up.
A notorious figure, he was an outspoken misogynist and quack living in the United States.
He had been connected to the death of one of his patients as well as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
He was in England in 1888 and famously had a collection of wombs preserved in jars that he showed off to guests at dinner parties.
He was arrested on the 7th of November but while awaiting trial, fled to France and then to the United States.
As the murders stopped when Tumblety left, many believe he was indeed the killer.
Suspects Cleared by Police
The following suspects were all ruled out by the police after being interviewed.
William Henry Piggot
A ship’s cook, William was detained by police after being found in the possession of a blood-stained shirt around the time of Annie’s murder, while making misogynist remarks. He was investigated and released.
Arrested after he had assaulted a prostitute and attempted to stab a man at a coffee stall. While he was in custody, another murder was committed and he was released.
Annie’s lover and partial benefactor was eliminated as a suspect because of his alibis for the nights of Mary Ann and Annie’s murders.
Elizabeth Stride’s on-again-off-again lover. He was quickly eliminated from the inquiry and police files suggest he took her death badly.
THE MURDER VICTIMS
These are the Canonical Five that the majority of Ripper experts, historians, and investigators agree are victims of Jack the Ripper.
You can find more information on the murder victims in our full post.
- Mary Ann Nichols
Just after midnight on the 31st of August 1888, Mary Ann had walked out into the night, hoping to earn the money to pay for a bed in the doss house for the evening.
By the time the inquest into her murder was completed, another woman had been brutally killed in the same fashion.
- Annie Chapman
At 1:45 am on the 8th of September 1888, Annie went out to earn money for her lodging for the night.
Her mutilated body was discovered in the public back yard of a house on Dorset Street.
- Elizabeth Stride
On the evening of the 29th of September, 1888, Elizabeth was out with a man – potentially a client – near Berner Street in Whitechapel.
Around 1:00 am the next morning her body was found in a stable yard.
She had been murdered by a slash of her neck, although her body had been left undisturbed aside from that.
After being picked up by police for public drunkenness on the night of the 29th of September in 1888, she was released from the jail at 1:30 am.
At 1:45 am, Catherine’s heavily mutilated body was discovered by PC Edward Watkins, doing his rounds in the area.
- Mary Jane Kelly
Around 10:45 am one morning, Thomas Bowyer, assistant to the landlord went to Mary Jane’s door to collect her rent.
When she didn’t answer, he walked outside and looked through her window – finding her horrifically mutilated body on the bed.
To learn more about Jack the Ripper’s victims, take a look at our full post.
JACK THE RIPPER TOURS
If you would like to learn more about Jack the Ripper, consider taking one of our regularly scheduled walking tours of the Whitechapel area.
On our pay-what-you-wish Jack the Ripper Tour you will visit crime scenes, learn about the women who were brutally and tragically killed.
You will also hear descriptions of the acts committed by the culprit, and walk in the footsteps of the world’s most famous serial killer.
If you can’t attend our walking tour, consider downloading our GPS-led audio tour. Listen to a sample audio clip.
OTHER LONDON NIGHT TOURS
If you’re looking for something else to do in the evenings, consider joining one of our other London tours after-dark!
Year ‘round we offer the Dark Side of London Ghost Tour, exploring the grim side of history and the ghosts that haunt our city.
In the holiday season, we run the spectacular Christmas Lights Tour that not only showcases the glittering decorations of London but also the unique and quirky Christmas habits that Britain holds dear.
Seasonally we also run the Night Tour: Twilight on the Thames a fabulous walk along the Thames river showcasing 2,000 years of history as the lights of London switch on around you.
- Jack the Ripper Victims
- Tourist Attraction Discount Passes
- Where to Store Your Luggage
- What to Do in London Today
- London Bus Tours