When the Ripper Came to Town (Part Three)

Continued from Part Two

On November 9, 1888, the Ripper struck again.  The victim was 25-year-old Mary Jane Kelly, a.k.a "Black Mary,"  a prostitute who was well-known in London's East End for her striking good looks and  long hair reaching down to her waist.  The last person to see her alive was an old acquaintance, George Harrison, who later told police that she had gone off with another man who was carrying a small parcel.  This was at 2 am.   Just hours later,  cries of "Murder" were heard nearby though nobody knew what was happening (and cries like this were hardly uncommon in Whitechapel).    Mary's body was discovered the following morning when her landlord, who had been about to evict her from her Miller's Court apartment, went to collect the overdue rent.   On getting no answer at her door, he peeked in through a broken window pane and pushed aside a curtain to see if she was there.  What he discovered was a scene of absolute carnage and he promptly went to the police.  

None of the investigating officers would ever forget what they saw in that apartment after breaking down the door.   Mary's body had been so severely mutilated that it was scarcely possible to recognize it as human.   The mattress on which the body was found was soaked in blood while the blood-smeared apartment walls looked like a slaughterhouse.  A fire had been set in a tiny grate located in one corner, apparently by the killer, since Mary Kelly's clothes had been used as fuel.   Apparently he wanted more light for what he was doing.   According to the two police surgeons who examined the remains, the Ripper had  spent two hours mutilating Mary's body, something he the freedom to do since this murder occurred indoors and in relative privacy.   Mercifully, Mary  had been killed first by having her throat slashed.   Interestingly, the autopsy report also suggested that the killing had been performed by someone who was a clear amateur with no prior medical training or experience as a butcher (thus exploding two of the favourite theories about the Ripper's identity).

Though likely a coincidence, Sir Charles Warren had given his resignation as Chief Constable just hours before Mary's body was found.   His reason for resigning was the failure of his police to catch the Ripper, something that became even more of a  priority with Mary Kelly's murder.   Even Queen Victoria expressed her anger in a telegram to the then-Prime Minister in which she said,   "this new, most ghastly murder shows the absolute necessity for some very decided action.   All courts must be lit &our detectives improved.  They are not what they should be...."    

And even more amateur sleuths got into the act, often accomplishing little more than making public spectacles of themselves.  One particular man, who had raised suspicions with a disguise he was wearing while walking through Whitechapel, managed to be arrested by police before a local mob could tear him to pieces.   He turned out  to be Dr. William Holt, a prominent doctor and, apparently, an amateur detective with a fondness for disguises.   He was released the next day after getting a stern warning.

In the meantime, many women began carrying whistles similar to those that police officers carried and often refused to be on the streets without one.   While police weren't too enthused about this development (since there was no way to distinguish between these whistles and the "official" police version),  women certainly felt safer.  On one memorable occasion, a woman named Eleanor Candey frantically blew her whistle after a man who picked her up drunkenly boasted that he was the Whitechapel murderer and that he never went out unless he was carrying his trusty knife.   Fortunately for him, the police caught up with him before a mob could and a later investigation showed that he had alibis for the killings.  Apparently he had bragged about being the Ripper as a way of impressing his companion(!).  

Students at Toynbee Hall, an early community outreach program in London. formed street patrols along many of the back streets in Whitechapel and Spitalfields.  It was long, tedious work that involved trudging through some of the worst slums in London at the time while watching out for potential threats to women walking the streets alone.    There's no way to determine whether the patrols actually prevented any crimes though it gave the volunteers, many of whom were graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, a close-hand look at the shocking living conditions in the area.   The street patrols would  eventually be disbanded in early 1889 when it became apparent that the Ripper killings had ended.  

There were other attacks which resembled the work of the Ripper in some ways.   One involved a non-fatal attack on a woman on November 20 and another was the strangulation death of Rose Mylett on December 20. In both cases, police quickly concluded that these attacks had none of the earmarks of previous Ripper deaths.    Though nobody realized it until later,  the death of Mary Jane Kelly marked the end of the Ripper killings.  But people were still afraid and, even as 1888 drew to a close, prostitutes continued to report suspicious clients to the police while newspapers still printed lurid speculations to keep selling papers.

Other suspects were also being brought in, whether because of their suspicious behaviour or simply because police needed to show they were still actively searching for the Ripper.  There was certainly no shortage of mentally ill individuals who confessed  that they were responsible for the murders though, in every case, they were found mentally unfit and sent for treatment.   One prominent doctor, Robert Donston Stephenson, even wrote repeated letters to the police accusing a colleague, Dr. Morgan Davies, of being the Ripper based on something suspicious Davies said in one of his lectures (Stephenson would become a Ripper suspect in his own right much later).  

Another potential suspect, Montague John Druitt, committed suicide by drowning himself in the Thames.    After his body was recovered on December 31, the new head of the Metropolitan Police, Melville McNaughten named Druitt as his chief suspect based on private information that led him to conclude that the dead man was "sexually insane" and that his own family was convinced of his guilt.   Despite McNaughten's conviction, no real evidence linking Druitt to the killings was ever found.    

Still, while the Autumn of Terror may have ended, life in London's East End had changed permanently.  The publicity over the Ripper killings helped publicize conditions in Whitechapel and other slums and encouraged new initiatives to clean up the streets and eliminate much of the poverty that allowed Jack's rampage to begin in the first place.  Police investigation into the killings also helped establish better forensic procedures to investigate future serial murders, something that would be needed soon enough.

Long after the Ripper panic faded, Jack found his way into local legend with parents telling their children that "Jack the Ripper will get you" if they kept misbehaving.   Folk tales about close encounters with Jack the Ripper remained popular for decades afterward and were often retold during "Ripper tours" as guides took tourists around many of the surviving areas of Whitechapel famous for the murders that occurred there.  And children in the East End still use a skipping chant that became popular in the years after 1888, "Jack the Ripper's dead/And lying on his bed/He cut his throat/with Sunlight soap/Jack the Ripper's dead."

As for the real identify of Jack the Ripper, that's anybody's guess though "Ripperologists" continue to turn out books, documentaries, television programs, movies, etc. featuring various theories about the  Whitechapel killings.    While new serial killers have sprung up around the world, it's hard to say why the Ripper still exerts such a fascination today.  For better or for worse, Jack has become a permanent part of our popular culture and a perpetual reminder of a very old mystery that has never been solved. 



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