Jack the Ripper’s London: Ghost, Monster, or Madman
Jack the Ripper wasn’t a ghost, but he was a monster.
I’ve included the Ripper in this page on Haunted London because, to get fancy, Jack the Ripper is as part of London’s psychogeography as Spring-Heeled Jack, The Enfield Poltergeist, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Aleister Crowley, Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula. You will see that at least some of the people in that list are fictional, and when we are walking the streets of haunted London, we’re often looking over our shoulders for creatures that may or may not exist. The Ripper certainly existed, but who he actually was, and why he did what he did has been subject to all sorts of explanations from the psychiatric to the supernatural to the down right occult.
Jack the Ripper is the name given to an unidentified serial killer who slaughtered women in the Whitechapel area in the East End of London between 1888 and possibly 1891, if the murders committed in that year were actually carried out by the Ripper.
There are five murders that are said to certainly have been carried out by the same man, the Ripper. These are known as the canonical five.
Mary Ann Nichols
Nichols, aged 43, was the first victim and she was murdered on Friday 31 August 1888. Her estranged husband alleged she was a prostitute at the time and the police noted her drunken ‘antics’. She was known to be an alcoholic and thief. At the time of her death she was in living in a common lodging house locally.
Her body was found at 03:40 in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel, London. That street is now Durward Street, a narrow street that has been rebuilt since the Ripper’s time and is a mix of social housing and industrial units. The area wasn’t rich then, and still isn’t. She’d been seen leaving a pub in Brick Lane, not far away at 00:30, and her room mate saw her alive on the corner of Osborn Street and Whitechapel Road at around 02:30 when she said she’d earned money for her bed that night, but had spent it on drink.
Nichols’s throat was cut twice and someone had sliced open her lower belly and stabbed he several more times in the guts. What makes this murder more attention grabbing is that the spot was patrolled by policemen every thirty minutes.
Annie Chapman was 47 when she was murdered. She lived in a common lodging house nearby and was known to drink heavily and get into fights with other women in the lodging house. She had no money for her lodging on the night of her death and at around 01:30 went out to earn some on the street, presumably by prositution.
Chapman’s body was found at 06:00 on Saturday 8 September 1888 near a doorway in a back yard at 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. This is half a mile and eight days after the first murder. Her throat was also severed by two cuts and her belly slashed completely open. When investigated it was found that someone had removed her womb. There was a witness to this case who said they’d seen Chapman with a dark-haired man about 05:30 at the back of 29 Hanbury Street who was said to be ‘shabby-genteel’ looking.
Elizabeth Stride was 43 at the time of her death and originally from Sweden. She like the others was a prostitute. She also lived in a common lodging house. Like the others she drank heavily. She was spotted by a local police officer with a man (she’d been seen with others earlier in the night) around 24:35. This man wore a hard felt hat and was carrying a long package around 18 inches long.
Stride was killed in the early morning of Sunday 30 September 1888 and her body found around 01:00 at Dutfield’s Yard, off Berner Street (now renamed as Henriques Street). This is about a half mile south of the first killing and about three quarters of a mile southeast of the second. Stride was killed by an incision that cut her carotid artery in her throat, but her belly was not cut open so people wonder whether it was the Ripper who killed her, or whether he had killed her but was interrupted before he could rummage in her guts. Witnesses said they’d seen Stride earlier with a man but the descriptions varied, either dark-haired or fair-haired and either shabby or genteel.
Catherine Eddowes was 46 when she died. Like the others she drank heavily and lived in a common lodging house locally. She also engaged in prostitution to pay her rent and for drink and food.
On Friday 29 September at around 20:30 Eddowes was found drunk on the street and taken to the local police station to sober up. She was sober enough by 01:00 and left the police station around that time.
Eddowes was killed the same night as Elizabeth Stride and her body was found at Mitre Square at 01:45 on Sunday 30 September, so forty-five minutes and 0.7 of a mile west of where Stride was found. That would take around fifteen minutes to walk these days, and so probably about the same in 1888, or less if the murderer walked briskly. Like the others her throat and like all except Stride, her belly was slashed open. The womb but also this time the left kidney were cut out and removed. A local witness called Joseph Lawende had crossed Mitre Square with friends shortly before the murder at 01:35 and he said he saw a fair-haired man dressed shabbily with a woman who might (or might not) have been Eddowes.
Eddowes’s blood stained apron was found at the doorway of a tenement at Goulston Street, Whitechapel, which is more or less halfway between where Eddowes and Strides bodies were discovered. There was graffiti daubed on the wall at Goulston Street that said,
The Juws are not the men that will not be blamed for nothing
It’s hard to make out what this actually means. The graffiti may not have anything to do with the murders. It might be a complete coincidence that it was found near the bloody apron. But the East End of London had a swelling population of Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe. This inevitably (because it’s a sad repeated feature of European history) led to anti-Semitism and riots, and of course the Jewish people will have reacted against this. There was a rumour in the East End that the Ripper murders were the work of a Jew, though this again is predictable anti-Semitism, and these rumours led to prejudice and discrimination against Jews in the area.
Mary Jane Kelly
Twenty-five year old Kelly is the last of the canonical five murder victims. She was found lying on the bed in the single room of her home at 13 Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, (no longer there) Spitalfields at 10:45 on Friday 9th November, so about five weeks after the previous murder, and about a six minute walk (a third of a mile) from Goulston Street where the bloody apron was found. This was one of the worst area of slums in London. The Ripper hacked off Mary Kelly’s face, cut her throat down to her spine, emptied her belly of organsm and cut out and removed her heart. This is the only organ he took with him.
We see that all victims were killed at night. All were women. The murders were done in a very small area and usually happened near the weekend. As they went on the attacks became more and more frenzied. All but Mary Kelly were killed outside.
These five are considered definitely to be victims of the Ripper, but there were further killings that may or may not be put down to him.
Mylett was found strangled at Clarke’s Yard, High Street, Poplar on 20 December 1888, so five weeks after the previous murder. It was suggested she had caught her collar when drunk and hanged herself, but the coroner felt it was murder. This is over three miles east from the Ripper’s usual haunts.
McKenzie was killed on 17 July 1889 by having her carotid artery cut. She had bruises and cuts on her body when she was found in Castle Alley Street, Whitechapel. It’s seven or eight months after the previous Ripper killings but it’s just the next street east of Goulston Street where the bloody apron was. Similar, but not the same modus operandi too.
The Pinchin Street Torso
The headless, legless torso of a woman was found under a railway arch at Pinchin Street, Whitechapel on 10 September 1889. This may represent body parts of someone murdered elsewhere and dumped here.
Coles was killed on 13 February 1891 under a railway arch at Swallow Gardens, Whitechapel. What made people think this might be the Ripper is that her throat was cut. However, her abdomen was not cut open. A man called James Thomas Sadler was arrested for her murder as he’d been seen with her earlier, but he was acquitted through lack of evidence.
Jack the Ripper’s London: Occult Implications
Now, as this is a blog about Haunted London, so it’s inevitable jack the Ripper’s London is going to discuss the occult aspects of the Ripper kilings. A theory was put forward in 2002 that the Ripper was in fact an occultist named Robert Donston Stephenson, also known as Roslyn D’Onston, and that the murders were carried out as an occult ritual. The layout of four of the murders is roughly the shape of the Christian cross and the Ripper’s purpose was to defile that image.
This theory came out in a book by Ivor Edwards called Jack the Ripper’s Black Magic Rituals where Edwards claimed the different organs, heart, kidney, genitalia and uterus were removed to meet the demands of black magic. And when you think of it, it’s interesting that different organs were taken each time and when organs weren’t taken it was probably because the Ripper was disturbed. Edwards also makes the point that the victims were carefully laid facing north, east, south and west. He went so far as to measure the distances from victim to victim and take compass bearings and found both a Christian Cross shape and also two overlapping equilateral triangles which Edwards says is a Satanic symbol.
When Edwards took bearings and examined the positioning of the fifth victim, Mary Kelly, he saw that all the victims were killed within a 500 yard radius in the Vesica Piscis symbol. Now this symbol is an ancient one with both Christian and pagan connotations. It appears in various holy sites such as on the top-stone of the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, so to claim it is a Satanic symbol is a little beyond my understanding.
However, Edwards is on firmer ground when he talks about his supposed Ripper, Robert Stephenson who was an ex military surgeon, author, journalist and an occultist who had travelled to West Africa for occult knowledge. Edwards says such practices were common there. Edwards even wrote on this subject and his books were titled One Who Knows and Tautriadelta.
There is a great article from the San Franscisco Call from 7 June 1896 where Stephenson, calling himself Tautriadelta reveals himself as a ‘true magician.’ He claims to have been a pupil of Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton who wrote occult fiction and had an interest in magic and was a member of the Rosicrucian Order.
He allegedly confessed to murdering Africans when travelling there in pursuit of occult knowledge. Stephenson was arrested twice by police for the Ripper crimes but released on both occasions. He lived very close to the site of the murders. His wife Anne, nee Deary disappeared in 1887. A dismembered body of a woman was found in a river near a house Stephenson owned in Brighton on the south coast of England later on in 1887. After his wife was out of the way, Stephenson frequented the company of prostitutes in London.
Stephenson admitted himself to The London Hospital in Whitechapel on 26 July 1888. The first killing was a hundred and fifty yards from the hospital around a month later.
Baroness Cremers told the occultist Aleister Crowley that Stephenson was the murderer and he had committed the crimes as part of a magic ritual, as Crowley documents.
After the murders he wrote a long article about them for the Pall Mall Gazette where he showed intimate knowledge of what had gone on. His theory in that article was that the murderer would have to be a black magician, a subject that Stephenson was well versed in as we have seen. His last writing was published in 1904, a tome called The Patristic Gospels. An article in the Guardian says he disappeared after that and was never heard of again. However, the Wiki entry on him says he died on 9 October 1916.
And that’s all we have to say for now on Jack the Ripper’s London.