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Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper is the pseudonym given to the serial killer active in the Whitechapel neighbourhood of London, England in the second half of 1888. The name "Jack" is taken from a letter by someone claiming to be the killer, published at the time of the killings, though the killer was never caught. The Ripper victims are the subject of some historical debate, but one historical view is that Jack killed the following five prostitutes in London's East End:

Some of the difficulty in identifying the Ripper's victims is due to large number of horrific knife attacks against women and particularly prostitutes in working class areas. The real distinctive feature of a Ripper attack was the precise defacement of the victim's bodies including removal of lips, cheeks and internal organs.

The Ripper murders mark an important watershed in modern British life. Although not the first serial killer, Jack the Ripper was the first to create a media frenzy around his killings. This combined with the fact that no-one was ever charged with the murders created a haunting mythology that cast a shadow over later serial killers.

Even the killer's nickname was invented by newspaper men to make a "better" story that could sell more papers (the moniker first appeared in a letter ostensibly written by the murderer but which most now believe was a hoax by a journalist). This practice then became a standard all over the world with examples such as the American Boston Strangler[?], the Green River Killer[?], the Beltway Sniper, the Hillside Strangler, and the Zodiac Killer, as well as the obviously derivative British Yorkshire Ripper[?] almost a hundred years later.

The mythology surrounding the Ripper murders has become a complex muddle of genuine historical research, freewheeling conspiracy theory and folklore invention. The lack of an identity for the killer has allowed subsequent "sleuths" to place all manner of candidates in the role of the "true Ripper".

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Many theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper have been advanced, but none are completely convincing: some can hardly be taken seriously. Among the suspect's names have been Prince Albert Victor, Joseph Barnett, W.H. Bury, Lewis Carroll, Dr. T. Neill Cream, Frederick Deeming, Montague John Druitt, George Hutchinson, James Kelly, Severin Klosowski (George Chapman), Aaron Kosminski, James Maybrick, Michael Ostrog, Dr. Pedachenko, Walter Sickert, James Kenneth Stephen, R. D´Onston Stephenson, Francis Thompson, and Francis Tumblety. Theories involving a female murderer (dubbed Jill the Ripper), which was first thought of by Arthur Conan Doyle, and featuring a Royal conspiracy have also been advanced.

Crime novelist and former crime lab investigator Patricia Cornwell has been a recent advocate for the theory that Jack the Ripper was painter Walter Sickert.

The Ripper in culture

Jack the Ripper has featured in a number of films, novels and plays, either as the central character or in a more peripheral role. Among the films which take him as a subject are A Study in Terror (1965) and Murder By Decree (1978), both of which feature Sherlock Holmes attempting to find the murderer; and the Hammer Horror Hands of the Ripper (1971), in which the Ripper's daughter grows up to become a murderer after she sees her father murder her mother.

Novels featuring the Ripper include The Lodger[?] (1913) by Marie Belloc Lowndes[?], which was in 1927 the subject of an Alfred Hitchcock-directed film, and Ritual in the Dark (1960) by Colin Henry Wilson. The graphic novel From Hell (1999), by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, is a fictional account incorporating many factual elements of the Ripper murders. In 2001, the Hughes Brothers[?] made the book into a film (IMDB link (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0120681)) starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

The Ripper features briefly at the end of Frank Wedekind[?]'s play Die Büchse der Pandora (1904), in which he murders Lulu, the central character. This play was later turned into the film Pandora's Box[?] (1928, directed by G. W. Pabst[?]) and the opera Lulu (by Alban Berg), both of which also end with this murder.

Further reading

  • The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden, ISBN 0786702761, is widely held to be the best on the topic.

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