Jack the Ripper terrorized London in 1888, killing at least five women and mutilating their bodies in an unusual manner, indicating that the killer had a substantial knowledge of human anatomy.
The culprit was never captured—or even identified—and Jack the Ripper remains one of England’s, and the world’s, most infamous criminals.
All five killings attributed to Jack the Ripper took place within a mile of each other, in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End, from August 7 to September 10, 1888.
Several other murders occurring around that time period have also been investigated as the work of “Leather Apron” (another nickname given to the murderer).
A number of letters were allegedly sent by the killer to the London Metropolitan Police Service (often known as Scotland Yard), taunting officers about his gruesome activities and speculating on murders to come.
The moniker “Jack the Ripper” originates from a letter—which may have been a hoax—published at the time of the attacks.
Despite countless investigations claiming definitive evidence of the brutal killer’s identity, his or her name and motive are still unknown.
Various theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity have been produced over the past several decades, which include claims accusing the famous Victorian painter Walter Sickert, a Polish migrant and even the grandson of Queen Victoria.
Since 1888, more than 100 suspects have been named, contributing to widespread folklore and ghoulish entertainment surrounding the mystery.
The ‘Whitechapel Butcher’
In the late 1800s, London’s East End was a place that was viewed by citizens with either compassion or utter contempt.
Despite being an area where skilled immigrants—mainly Jews and Russians—came to begin a new life and start businesses, the district was notorious for squalor, violence, and crime.
Prostitution was only illegal if the practice caused a public disturbance, and thousands of brothels and low-rent lodging houses provided sexual services during the late 19th century.
At that time, the death or murder of a working girl was rarely reported in the press or discussed within polite society.
The reality was that “ladies of the night” were subject to physical attacks, which sometimes resulted in death.
Among these common violent crimes was the attack of English prostitute Emma Smith, who was beaten and raped with an object by four men.
Smith, who later died of peritonitis, is remembered as one of many unfortunate female victims who were killed by gangs demanding protection money.
However, the series of killings that began in August 1888 stood out from other violent crime of the time: Marked by sadistic butchery, they suggested a mind more sociopathic and hateful than most citizens could comprehend.
Jack the Ripper didn’t just snuff out life with a knife, he mutilated and disemboweled women, removing organs such as kidneys and uteruses, and his crimes seemed to portray an abhorrence for the entire female gender.
The legacy of Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper’s murders suddenly stopped in the fall of 1888, but London citizens continued to demand answers that would not come, even more than a century later.
The ongoing case—which has spawned an industry of books, films, TV series and historical tours—has met with a number of hindrances, including lack of evidence, a gamut of misinformation and false testimony, and tight regulations by the Scotland Yard.
Jack the Ripper has been the topic of news stories for more than 120 years, and will likely continue to be for decades to come.
More recently, in 2011, British detective Trevor Marriott, who has long been investigating the Jack the Ripper murders, made headlines when he was denied access to uncensored documents surrounding the case by the Metropolitan Police.
According to a 2011 ABC News article, London officers had refused to give Marriott the files because they include protected information about police informants, and that handing over the documents could impede on the possibility of future testimony by modern-day informants.
*This article was originally published at www.history.com