The Whitechapel murders was a series of murders that took place in the period from April 1888 to February 1891 in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields districts of the East End of London, some of which have been attributed to the killer known only as Jack the Ripper. According to the Metropolitan Police there were eleven such murders all of which remain unsolved to this day.

1. Emma Elizabeth Smith, Tuesday 3rd April 1888

The first of these Whitechapel Murders took place on the 3rd April 1988 when a prostitute by the name of Emma Elizabeth Smith was (according to her later testimony) beaten, robbed and raped by a gang of three or four young men, who also saw fit to thrust a blunt object into her vagina, tearing her perineum. She died from her injuries two days later on the 5th April. The newspapers of the day reported the inquest in detail, noting the coroner's opinion that "It was impossible to imagine a more brutal and dastardly assault", (The Times, 9th April 1888) but otherwise appeared unmoved by the crime.

2. Martha Tabram, Tuesday 7th August 1888

Four months later at around 4:45 in the morning a John Saunders Reeves was leaving his lodgings at the George Yard Buildings in Whitechapel when he noticed a body lying in a pool of blood inside the stairwell and went off to find a policeman. The body was later identified as being that of a middle-aged prostitute by the name of Martha Tabram. It was later established that Tabram had been the subject of a frenzied knife attack, having suffered a total of thirty-nine stab wounds, most of which were concentrated on the areas of her breasts, belly, and groin. As with the murder of Emma Elizabeth Smith the press cheerfully reported the coroner's view that "the crime was one of the most brutal that had occurred for some years" (Morning Advertiser, 24th August 1888)

3. Mary Ann Nichols, Friday 31st August 1888

Neither of the Smith nor Tabram killings were the cause of much concern to the press, but everything changed with the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, commonly known as Polly Nichols, whose body was discovered in Buck's Row by Charles Cross and Robert Paul whilst they were on their way to work in the early hours of the morning. Her throat had been cut, and according to the evidence of Doctor Henry Llewellyn she had suffered a very deep wound on her lower abdomen "running in a jagged manner", together with "several other incisions running across the abdomen" and "three or four similar cuts" on her right side; "all of which had been caused by a knife which had been used violently and downwards".

It was the Nichols murder that finally excited the interest of the press, who now began to see a pattern emerging. As The Star of the 1st September 1888 reported, "Nothing so appalling, so devilish, so inhuman - or, rather non-human - as the three Whitechapel crimes has ever happened outside the pages of Poe or De Quincey". The Star went on to say that there "is a terribly SIGNIFICANT SIMILARITY between this ghastly crime and the two mysterious murders of women which have occurred in the same district within the last three months. In each case the victim has been a woman of abandoned character, each crime has been committed in the dark hours of the morning, and more important still as pointing to one man, and that man a maniac, being the culprit, each murder has been accompanied by hideous mutilation."

The killing triggered a growing sense of unease amongst the inhabitants of the East End, fuelled, no doubt, by the sensationalist press coverage. The Daily Telegraph (6th September 1888) noted that "At the present moment the nerves of the Metropolis are stirred and thrilled by the appalling Whitechapel murder; while in the immediate neighbourhood of the scene of the tragedy nervousness has been aggravated to the proportions of a panic." The murder also prompted the local Whitechapel CID, headed by Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, to call for assistance from Scotland Yard who sent Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline to take charge of the inquiry together with additional manpower to police the East End.

4. Annie Chapman, Saturday 8th September 1888

The involvement of Scotland Yard apparently did nothing to deter the killer, as just over a week later on the 8th September, one John Davis, after having had a cup of tea at about 6.00 am that morning went downstairs and discovered the body of a woman in the Rear Yard of 29 Hanbury Street in Spitalfields.

As the Daily News (10th September 1988) proclaimed "one more crime was added to the ghastly series of Whitechapel murders" before giving its readers an account of the grisly details. This time round not only had the killer cut Annie Chapman's throat and mutilated her stomach, he had further proceeded to cut open her abdomen. Her intestines were removed and placed above her right shoulder, part of her stomach was similarly cut out and placed over her left shoulder, whilst her uterus and part of her bladder and been removed form the scene and presumably taken away as trophies.

Now of course the panic truly set in as it was widely believed that all four murders were in some way linked, there being, as the Telegraph put it, "a general impression that all the outrages described ... have been conceived and executed by one man, and he in all probability a maniac".

The Daily Telegraph (10th September 1988) reported in the circulation of a "number of sensational stories" that were "altogether without corroboration". It was rumoured that a message had been seen chalked on the wall of 29 Hanbury Street that read "I have now done three, and intend to do nine more and give myself up", whilst the story spread that someone had found a sheet of paper nearby with the message "Five - Fifteen more and I give myself up". The Daily News announced that "A monster is abroad", adding that "The public are looking for a monster, and in the legend of "Leather Apron" the Whitechapel part of them seem to be inventing a monster to look for. ... Leather Apron walks without making a noise, Leather Apron has piercing eyes and a strange smile, and finally Leather Apron looks like a Jew."

Fear was not of course the only emotion the murder inspired, morbid curiosity was also widespread as the Telegraph reported that the "house and the mortuary were besieged by people" and that a good trade had been established in charging a penny a time to view the "blood stained spot in the yard". Others made a living producing waxwork tableaus that reimagined the murder scenes for an eager public.

The Double Event: Sunday 30 September 1888:
5. Elizabeth Stride and 6. Catherine Eddowes

Only three weeks passed before the press had even more outrages to report on. At 1:00 am the 30th September 1888, a jewellery salesman by the name of Louis Diemschutz entered Dutfield's Yard at Berner Street in Whitechapel when his pony shied and refused to go any further. After establishing that his way was obstructed by the body of someone who appeared to have collapsed in the yard Diemschutz went to the nearby Workingman's Club to get some help. He returned to the yard with Isaac Kozebrodsky and Morris Eagle, and the three men discovered the body of Elizabeth Stride who had clearly had her throat cut. As was later established she had only been dead for a period of some 15 to 30 minutes when her body was discovered, which may explain why her body had not been mutilated.

Less than an hour later, at around 1:45am Police Constable Edward Watkins came across the body of a second prostitute, Catharine Eddowes, sometimes known as 'Kate Kelly', at Mitre Square in Spitalfields. Her throat had also been cut but, unlike Stride she had been mutilated with her face slashed and her stomach cut open, most of her intestines had been drawn out and draped over her right shoulder, various other internal organs had been attacked whilst both her left kidney and uterus had been removed and taken away; according to Constable Watkins she "looked like a pig in a butcher’s shop".

As the Daily News (1st October 1988) "two more horrible butcheries were added to the swelling list of the East-end crimes" as the news of these murders plunged the whole of London into a state of panic according to the Daily Telegraph of the 1st October, "A Reign of Terror is setting in over the East-end of London".

Days after this 'double event' the police came into possession of correspondence which purported to be from the killer, who signed himself as Jack the Ripper. These documents, that have since become known as the Dear Boss letter and the Saucy Jacky postcard, are now widely regarded as being hoaxes, but at the time they were regarded as of sufficient importance to be reproduced in the newspapers as well as being made up into posters that were widely circulated throughout the East End in the hope that someone would recognise the handwriting. No one ever did. However to their decision to publicise the letters in this way convinced the public that these were indeed authentic communications from the killer, and everyone rapidly adopted the new "trade name" of Jack the Ripper. They noted how the killer was "down on whores" and how he promised that he wouldn't "quit ripping" until he was "buckled", and further read of how much he loved his work and was eager to start again; all of which of course simply served to fuel the sense of panic that now pervaded the East End.

7. Mary Jane Kelly, Friday 9 November 1888

With all of London apparently in a ferment many were no doubt relieved to find that the month of October brought with it no new outrages. However inspired no doubt by the widespread publicity given to the Dear Boss and Saucy Jacky communications, the Police found themselves inundated by further letters, including a number of which purported to be from the killer many of which copied the style and content, prominent amongst which was the From Hell letter, practically the only example of a Ripper letter that is now belived to be possibly a genuine communication from the killer.

In their attempts to catch the killer the police experimented with the use of bloodhounds and even began sending out police officers dressed as prostitutes. On the 13th October they conducted a thorough house-to-house search of the entire Whitechapel area, but found nothing, and by the end of the month they had made no progress in identifying the killer. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of the police, particularly amongst local businessmen whose trade had been hit by the murders (not to mention the local prostitutes whose business had been particularly badly affected). Many signed the petition delivered to the Home Office which claimed that "the Government no longer ensures the security of life and property in East London" and were to soon have another cause for complaint.

At 10:45 on the morning of the 9th November, Thomas Bowyer called at 13 Miller's Court in Whitechapel in an attempt to collect rent arrears from the tenant Mary Jane Kelly. He got no response and the door was locked. He did however manage to peer through a window and caught a glimpse of the room inside. What he saw led him to run immediately to fetch a policeman.

As the Daily News (10th November 1888) proclaimed "Whitechapel has on horror's head horrors accumulated", before going on to say that the Kelly murder "far surpasses in hideous brutality any of the crimes which went before it", explaining that the murderer "would seem to have taken a positive delight in cutting and carving at the body of his victim". The paper concluded that although there had been "more hewing and hacking than in any of the former murders", that "it is almost indisputably evident that this latest crime belongs to the same class as the crimes which went before it". The Daily Telegraph similarly struggled to find the words to describe this "most horrifying spectacle ... exceeding in ghastliness anything which the imagination can picture". As the McNaugten Memorandum later explained, "A photo was taken ... without seeing which it is impossible to imagine the awful mutilation". Kelly, unlike all the other victims to date had been killed indoors, and the killer had more time in which to indulge himself. As a result the mutilations inflicted on the body were far more extensive than those previously seen. Most of the flesh had been stripped from her body with her internal organs placed around the room whilst the killer had this time removed her heart as his personal trophy.

Although the Daily Telegraph (10th November 1888) announced this to be the "seventh murder, the most horrible of the series of atrocities attributed to the same hand" there was a recognition that perhaps not all seven were the work of the same man as it was only "five ... which are, without any hesitation or doubt, ascribed by the police to one man". As the Daily News also explained "Five of the murders, including that of yesterday, may be generally described as belonging to just the same order; the same way of killing first; the same sort of deliberate mutilation afterwards; only that in yesterday's crime, as we have said, the hideous completeness of the work surpassed all preceding attempts."

Kelly's murder was to have one important consequence as later that day the Commissioner Charles Warren tendered his resignation, finally bowing before the wave of public criticism. Not that his departure made the slightest difference to the police efforts to catch the killer.

8. Rose Mylett, Thursday 20th December 1888

At around 4:15 am on the morning of the 20th December Police Constable Robert Goulding discovered the body of a woman at Clarke's Yard which lay between Nos 184 and 186 Poplar High Street. It appeared that she had been strangled to death, but not stabbed or mutilated in any way. Although the press naturally made the connection between her death and the prior series of murders, there was a note of uncertainty regarding whether or not this was the work of Jack the Ripper.

As the Daily News of the 24th December noted "If the woman found strangled in Clarke's yard at an early hour in Thursday morning be another victim of the Whitechapel murderer, it is dreadful to think that he can change both his method of killing and the scene with perfect impunity", whilst The Star of the same date remarked on the lack of excitement generated by her passing commenting that the "town has supped so full of horrors that mere murder unaccompanied by revolting mutilation passes apparently for common-place".

At the inquest a Doctor Brownfield stated that "I have no doubt at all, that death was caused by strangulation, of which the mark round the neck of the body is the evidence." The police however begged to differ and believed that Rose Mylett had simply choked to death on her own vomit whilst in a drunken stupor and refused to even treat the incident as murder. Despite the police's attitude at the time it is now generally recognised that Mylett was indeed murdered, and since it is now believed that the Ripper's modus operandi was to first strangle his victims and only then to cut their throats, the possibility remains that the killer was induced to flee the scene just prior to beginning his work with the knife.

9. Alice McKenzie, Wednesday 17th July 1889

Over six months went by before there was another murder. At 12:20 am on the 17th July, Police Constable Walter Andrews discovered the body of a woman lying in a pool of blood at Castle Alley in Whitechapel, showing clear signs that her throat had been cut and her body mutilated. This time around the press were in no doubt about the matter; "ANOTHER EAST END TRAGEDY.'JACK THE RIPPER' AGAIN AT WORK" proclaimed the Central News Agency, whilst the East End News of the 19th July 1889 argued that the "recent crime indeed possesses nearly all the features of those that have gone before. The weapon has been handled with the same dexterity and muscular force; again a woman has fallen the victim, and again apparently the deed has been perpetrated in profound silence, and the murderer vanished as if miraculously."

However although Alice McKenzie was killed in a manner that bore all the hallmarks of the Ripper, the mutilations committed upon her body were mostly superficial and so it has been concluded that she was the victim of a copycat rather than Jack the Ripper himself. It has however been noted that PC Andrews had only passed by Castle Court only half an hour earlier and it therefore seems that McKenzie can only have been killed but a short time before the discovery of her body. As the East End News explained; "It is presumed that the murderer had intended to mutilate his victim in as revolting a fashion as on previous occasions, and that while his task was still incomplete he heard the sound of approaching footsteps, which caused him to at once make good his escape".

Opinion has remained divided ever since as to whether or not she was killed by the Ripper himself or a copycat killer, with the weight of opinion falling behind the latter option.

10. The Pinchin Street Murder, Tuesday 10th September 1889

By now it was ten months since the Ripper had last certainly struck and the sense of panic that pervaded London during the latter half of 1888, with only the prior murder of Alice McKenzie serving to remind the public that the criminal was still at large. Then on the 10th September 1889 a Constable Pennet found a naked female torso, headless and legless but with the arms still attached, wrapped in some sacking underneath a railway arch in Pinchin Street, Whitechapel. This is what would be today termed a 'body dump', and has similarities to the earlier Whitehall Mystery of the 3rd October 1888, when the torso of a female victim was discovered in the basement of the new Metropolitan Police headquarters in Whitehall, as well as the even earlier Rainham Mystery of 1887. (The identities of all three of these victims were never established.)

Melville Macnaghten certainly linked these crimes with the discovery of the remains of another woman, later identified as Elizabeth Jackson, whose various body parts were recovered from the Thames at Battersea Park and on the Chelsea Embankment on the 4th June 1889. According to Macnaghten "these murders had no connection whatever with the Whitechapel horrors", an opinion largely shared by subsequent authors. Sometimes dubbed the Thames Torso Murders these crimes were most likely the work of a single individual other than the infamous Jack the Ripper.

11. Frances Coles, Friday 13th February 1891

Sometime after 2:00 am on the morning of the 13th February, Constable Thompson was passing through an archway of the Great Eastern Railway line which led from Swallow Gardens to Orman Street in Whitechapel, when he came across the body of a woman lying in the middle of the road. As in the cases of Mylett and McKenzie, the officer who discovered the body had passed the same spot a mere quarter of an hour beforehand and she was still alive when found. It appeared that Frances Coles had been thrown down violently to the ground, where her throat had been cut; her clothes were however in order, and there was no sign of any abdominal mutilations.

News of this latest murder was greeted by the East London Advertiser of the 14th February 1891 with the headline "ANOTHER WHITECHAPEL HORROR. 'JACK THE RIPPER' AGAIN.". Whilst the paper noted that the "revolting features which characterised most of these murders hitherto were happily absent" it concluded that "the circumstances of the crime, the character of the victim, and the mysterious features by which the deed is environed, undoubtedly place it in the same category".

The Times of the same date offered much the same opinion. Noting that the murder was "not so fiendish in all its details as those which were enacted within a comparatively short period of one another in Whitechapel in 1888 and 1889", it argued that it had "been committed in the same district, and the many similar circumstances surrounding this latest mysterious crime seem to point to its being the work of the same person. The place, the time, the character of the victim, and other points of resemblance, recall in the most obvious way the series of crimes associated in the popular mind with the so-called 'Jack the Ripper'. It went on to describe it as "the ninth murder of this character which has been committed in Whitechapel since August, 1888" , although the reporter appeared to be in some confusion and counted the murder of Martha Tabram twice.

The police however seemed to take a different view and believed that the murder of Frances Coles was the work of her 'boyfriend', James Thomas Sadler, who was for a time even suspected of being Jack the Ripper himself. Although Sadler was able to convince the authorities that he was not responsible for the 1888 murders they still regarded him as the prime suspect for the Coles murder but lack of evidence meant they were never able to bring case against him. In his 1894 report McNaghten was of the opinion that the throat wounds suffered by McKenzie and Coles were "of the same nature", and also saw fit to remark that Sadler was in Whitechapel on the night of the 17th July, clearly implying that he considered Sadler to be responsible for both murders.

How many did Jack kill?

There has always been a certain amount of uncertainty as to the number of victims that can be laid at the door of Jack the Ripper.

Contemporary opinion began by believing that a single "maniac" was responsible for all the Whitechapel murders, but certainly by the time of the seventh killing of Kelly, the police had formed the view that five of the murders exhibited certain characteristics that set them apart, and that it was only these five deaths that could be laid at the door of the killer now known as Jack the Ripper. This indeed was the view propounded by the McNaughten Memorandum of the 23rd February 1894 which asserted that "the Whitechapel murderer had 5 victims -- & 5 victims only". These five murders, often known as the 'canonical murders' are those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly; a sequence of murders which took place within the space of ten weeks between the 31st August 1888 and the 9th November 1888.

Of the two murders that preceded this sequence;

  • The weight of current opinion certainly excludes the murder of Emma Elizabeth Smith, as it is now generally accepted that her murder was the work of a local Whitechapel gang and was unconnected with the later sequence of killings. Smith was raped and robbed, and neither rape nor robbery featured in any of the later killings. However Walter Dew, the man who caught Crippen, expressed the view in his memoirs that she was the Ripper's first victim and one cannot exclude the possibility that the man who became the Ripper was one of the gang who carried out this attack.
  • The case of Martha Tabram is more debatable, as although the modus operandi certainly differs (stabbing rather than cutting) it has been argued that the positioning of the body is identical with the later canonical murders and should thus be regarded as the work of Jack the Ripper. Indeed Frederick Abberline, Robert Anderson, Edmund Reid, and Walter Dew all believed that Tabram was one of the Ripper's victims notwithstanding McNaugten's opinion.

Of the murders subsequent to the canonical five, the only one that can be excluded with any degree of certainty is the Pinchin Street Murder; whether the murders of Rose Mylett, Alice McKenzie and Francis Coles can be excluded from consideration is less assured.

Generally speaking the consensus is to exclude them from the roster of Jack the Ripper's victims, largely due to the widespread belief that the murder of Kelly at Miller's Court reflects some kind of climatic event which must have precipitated some kind of crisis within the killer's own psyche, which most likely led to his own death by suicide, or disappearance into a lunatic asylum. It has also been said that anyone capable of the level of violence exhibited in the Kelly murder would not have been able to have restrained himself for six weeks until attacking Rose Mylett in December 1888 nor waited a further seven months before attacking Alice McKenzie in July 1889 and then another seven months before the assault on Frances Coles, in February 1891.

These three murders also lack the distinctive mutilations that became the hallmark of the Ripper's work, although against this it must be noted that in all three cases the bodies were discovered very shortly after they were first killed, giving rise to the possibility, as is argued in the case of Elizabeth Stride, that the killer was simply disturbed before he could finish his work. Against which it should be noted that our Jack was a quick worker, who only needed half an hour at the most to disembowel a victim to his satisfaction.

Had we some notion of the identity of Jack the Ripper, we might either have an understanding as to whether or not these murders where his work; sadly no one has the slightest clue as to whom he (or quite possibly she) was, and we thus remain in a state of ignorance. It is however worth noting that Detective Inspector Edmund Reid of the Whitechapel CID always believed that there were nine Ripper killings in all, in a sequence that ended with the murder of Frances Coles.

Even as regards the five canonical killings there have been doubts expressed regarding the inclusion of some of the victims. It has been argued that Elizabeth Stride was not a Ripper victim, since although her throat was cut, she was not subjected to any further mutilation. Generally speaking however most have followed Macnaghten's view that the killer was simply disturbed before he could complete his work, and thus unsatisfied was compelled to go forth and find another victim, and hence the double killing of that night. Some have even sought to exclude the murder of Kelly, since it was carried out indoors and featured a far greater level of mutilation than any of the other killings. Most however have again followed Macnaghten's view that "the fury of the mutilations increased in each case, and, seemingly, the appetite only became sharpened by indulgence".

How many did Jack kill? At least three (Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Catharine Eddowes), almost certainly five (add Elizabeth Stride and Mary Jane Kelly) probably six (add Martha Tabram), possibly eight and perhaps as many as nine.


Sourced from the material at Casebook : Jack the Ripper, produced by Stephen P.Ryder and Johnno See and Jack the Ripper by Marilyn Bardsley at

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