The Whitechapel murders were committed in or near the impoverished Whitechapel district in the East End of London between 3 April 1888 and 13 February 1891. At various points some or all of these eleven unsolved murders of women have been ascribed to the notorious unidentified serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.
Of the eleven Whitechapel Murders, it is widely believed that Jack the Ripper is directly responsible for five of them. It is possible that the Ripper may have claimed more than five victims, but most experts agree that at least five of the East End murders were the work of Jack the Ripper.
The first victim in the series of Whitechapel Murders was a prostitute by the name of Emma Elizabeth Smith. Smith was attacked and raped on Osbourn Street in Whitechapel on April 3, 1888. During the assault, her attackers beat and raped her, then violently inserted a blunt object into her vagina, causing an injury which would take her life the following day. After the assault, the men emptied her purse and fled – leaving her to die on the street. Before she slipped into a coma and died the next day at a London hospital, Smith told authorities that two or three men, one of them a teenager, were responsible for her attack.
The press had linked Smith’s murder to the subsequent Whitechapel Murders, but most experts later believed that particular murder to be the result of random gang violence. Whitechapel was home to many notorious gangs who would patrol the streets of Whitechapel – harassing unfortunate women like Emma Smith – demanding they pay them money in exchange for ‘protection’.
The next victim in the series of Whitechapel Murders was Martha Tabram. Tabram, a prostitute in the East End, was brutally murdered in the early morning hours of August 7, 1888. On the eve of her murder, Tabram was out drinking with another prostitute and two soldiers at a public house near the George Yard Buildings. Shortly before midnight on August 6th, Tabram and her friend paired off with their clients – Tabram heading through the archway into George Yard.
Tabram’s body was first encountered at around 3:30 AM on August 7th by carman George Crow. He had been returning home after work, and because of the darkness in the stairwell, mistook her body as that of a drunk woman passed out on the landing.
At around 5 AM, her body was again discovered by another resident of George Yard Buildings, but by this time there was enough light in the stairway to reveal her ghastly wounds. She had been stabbed 39 times. The wounds focused on her throat, chest and lower abdomen, and appeared to have been inflicted by a pocket knife – with the exception of one violent stab through her chest which looked to have been performed with a large dagger or bayonet.
The body of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols was discovered in the wee morning hours of August 31, 1888, at about 3:40am by 2 carmen on their way to work. Her body was found in front of a gated horse stable entrance on Buck’s Row, Whitechapel. The two men who happened upon her, Charles Cross and Robert Paul, saw Polly lying on the ground with her skirts pulled up to her waist. At first they weren’t sure if she was either passed out drunk or dead, but after some hesitation they approached her and felt her hands and face, which were both cold to the touch. Feeling very uneasy about what they had just stumbled upon, both men hurried off to alert the first constable they could find.
Minutes later she was discovered by PC John Neil while passing through Buck’s Row while on his nightly beat. He shone his lantern on Polly’s body which revealed her lifeless eyes staring up into the night sky.
Her throat had been deeply severed in two locations – nearly decapitating her – and her lower abdomen partially ripped open by a deep, jagged wound. The killer had also made several other incisions in her abdomen with the same knife. The doctor who had arrived at the scene to examine her body had deemed her time of death to be less than 30 minutes from the time she’d been found.
A witness had reported seeing Annie Chapman talking with a man outside 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, 5:30am the morning of her murder. Albert Cadosch, who lived at 27 Hanbury Street, reported hearing a woman in the next door backyard say “No”, followed by what sounded like a body falling against the fence. Approximately twenty minutes later, her badly mutilated body was found by carter John Davis near a doorway in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street.
Her throat had been cut in much the same manner as Mary Ann Nichols had been slashed, and her abdomen ripped entirely open. Her intestines, torn out and still attached, had been placed over her right shoulder. A later autopsy revealed that the killer had removed her uterus and parts of her vagina.
The Ripper would claim two victims in the early morning hours of September 30, 1888; the first of which was Elizabeth Stride. Her body was discovered in Dutfield’s Yard, off Berner Street, at approximately 1am. The killer had cut her throat, severing her left artery, yet no other slashes or incisions had been made.
Because of the absence of abdominal mutilations, there has been some doubt as to whether or not Stride was in fact killed by Jack the Ripper. However, most experts agree that Stride was murdered by the same killer due to the nature in which her throat had been cut.
It’s also believed that the reason Stride had not been mutilated like the others was due to an interruption of some sort. It’s possible the killer feared he was in jeopardy of being detected by nearby witnesses and elected to flee before finishing his ritual.
Forty five minutes after Stride’s body was found in Dutfield’s Yard, Eddowes’ body was discovered in Mitre Square, within the City of London. Eddowes’ throat had been severed and her abdomen torn open with a deep, jagged wound. Her left kidney had been removed, along with a major portion of her uterus. Just before Eddowes’ mutilated body would be discovered in Mitre Square, an eyewitness saw her in the company of a man who he described as being approximately 5′ 7″ tall, 30 years of age, with a medium build, fair complexion and a moustache. His attire gave him the over all “appearance of a sailor.”
The Stride and Eddowes murders were later referred to as the “Double Event“.
Considered to be Jack the Ripper’s Swan Song, Mary Jane Kelly’s murder was the most gruesome of all the Whitechapel Murders. She was found horribly mutilated, lying on the bed in her single room flat where she lived at 13 Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, Spitalfields. She was discovered at 10:45am on the morning of Friday, November 9, 1888.
The landlord’s assistant, Thomas Bowyer, had been sent over to collect the rent, which she had been weeks behind in paying. When she didn’t answer his knock at the door, Bowyer reach his hand through a crack in the window, pushing aside a coat being used as makeshift drapery. What he saw at that moment was absolutely horrific.
Kelly’s body was mutilated beyond recognition. Her entire abdominal cavity had been emptied out, her breasts cut off, and her viscera had been deliberately placed beneath her head and on the bedside table. Kelly’s face had been hacked away and her heart removed, which was also absent from the crime scene. Kelly’s murder was by far the most grisly and ritualistic of all.
Following Kelly’s ghastly murder, there were four other women who were killed in the Whitechapel district during that same period, the first of which was Rose Mylett. Mylett was found strangled in Clarke’s Yard on High Street on December 20, 1888. Investigators assessed that her death may have been the result of a drunken stupor, as there were no visible signs of a struggle apparent anywhere on her body or clothing. Even though the inquest deemed it to be a murder, her death in no way resembled a Ripper killing.
The body of Alice McKenzie was found on July 17, 1889, in Castle Alley, Whitechapel. She had suffered a severed carotid artery, along with multiple small cuts and bruises across her body – evident of a struggle. One of the pathologists involved in the investigation dismissed this as a possible Ripper murder, as it did not match with the findings of the three previous Ripper victims he had examined. Writers have also disputed McKenzie as being a victim of Jack the Ripper, but rather of a murderer trying to copy his modus operandi in an attempt to deflect suspicion.
The tenth Whitechapel murder victim was The Pinchin Street Torso The victim was named as such because she was found headless and legless under a railway arch on Pinchin Street, Whitechapel, on September 10, 1888. Investigators believed that the victim was murdered at a different location, and the body dismembered for disposal.
Frances Coles was murdered on February 13, 1891. She was found at Swallow Gardens – a passageway beneath a railway arch between Chamber Street and Royal Mint Street, Whitechapel – with her throat slit. Visible wounds on the back of her head suggested that Coles was likely thrown to the ground after having suffered to knife wounds across her throat. Apart from the cuts to her throat, there were no mutilations to her body.
The Metropolitan Police, City of London Police, and private organisations such as the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee were involved in the search for the killer or killers. Despite extensive inquiries and several arrests, the culprit or culprits evaded identification and capture. The murders drew attention to the poor living conditions in the East End slums, which were subsequently improved. The enduring mystery of who committed the crimes has captured public imagination to the present day.