A Biography of Jack the Ripper

By Tim Lambert

Jack the Ripper was a mysterious figure who stalked the East End of London in 1888. He is probably the world’s most famous serial killer.

Jack the Ripper’s Victims

Martha Tabram (?)

Nobody is certain how many women Jack the Ripper killed. Most people think there were 5 victims but there may have been others. One possible victim was Martha Tabram. Martha was born in 1849 and married in 1869. The couple separated in 1875 and Martha was eventually forced to sell herself. On 6 August 1888, on a bank holiday, Martha was with another woman called Pearly Poll. The two met a pair of soldiers in a pub.

The body of Martha Tabram was found on the stairs of a tenement block called George Yard Buildings. A couple called Mahoney who lived in the building saw nobody there at 1.40 am on 7 August. Then at 2 pm, PC Thomas Barrett saw a soldier in George Yard who said he was waiting for a friend who had gone with a girl. At 3.30 am a cab driver who lived in George Yard Buildings came home from work and saw what he thought was a woman sleeping on a first-floor landing. Then at 4.45, a man named John Reeves was going to work. By now it was getting light and Reeves saw the woman was in a pool of blood. The body was examined by Dr Timothy Killeen who estimated Martha had been killed about 2.30 am.

Martha had been stabbed 39 times. It was obviously a frenzied attack. We don’t know if Martha was murdered by a soldier or if after parting from him she met Jack the Ripper. At any rate, the two soldiers were never identified.

Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols

The first definite victim of Jack the Ripper was Mary Ann Nichols, known as Polly. She was born in 1845 and married a printer named William Nichols when she was 19. Polly had 5 children, Edward, Percy, Alice, Eliza, and Henry. However, by 1880 the couple were separated. For a time William Nichols paid her an allowance of 5 shillings a week but he stopped it in 1882 when he learned how she was earning her living.

For much of the next 8 years, Polly was in the workhouse. then in April 1888, Polly found a job as a maid to a couple called Cowdray who lived in Wandsworth. However, in July 1888 Polly absconded with clothes worth 3 pounds and 10 shillings (a large sum of money in those days. There were 20 shillings in a pound and many people earned less than 1 pound a week).

By August 1888 Polly was living in doss houses in Whitechapel. At 1.20 am on Friday 31 August 1888, Polly went to a doss house on Thrawl Street but she was turned away because she did not have the money for a bed. (In those days the price of a bed was commonly 4 pence). She said ‘I’ll soon get my doss money, see what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now’. At 2.30 am Polly met a woman named Ellen Holland. Polly said she had earned her ‘doss money’ (money for a bed in a doss house) 3 times that day but had spent it (on drink). Ellen tried to persuade her to return to the doss house in Thrawl Street but she refused. Instead, Polly went off to earn more money.

At about 3.40 am the body of Mary Ann Nichols (Polly) was found in Bucks Row (now called Durward Street). The body was taken to Whitechapel Mortuary. There were two cuts in her throat and several cuts in her abdomen. Poor Polly was buried in the City of London Cemetery on 6 September 1888.

Annie Chapman

The second definite victim of Jack the Ripper was Annie Chapman. She was born Eliza Ann Smith in London in 1841. In 1869, aged 28 she married a coachman named John Chapman. They had 3 children but 1 daughter died in 1882. By then Annie was separated from her husband who died in 1886. Annie lived by selling crochet work or flowers but sometimes she was forced to sell herself. At the time of her death, Annie was living at a common lodging house in Dorset Street.

At 11.30 pm on Friday 7 September Annie was allowed into the kitchen of the lodging house but at 1.35 am she was turned out because she didn’t have the money for a bed. Shortly before 5.30 am on Saturday 8 September a woman saw Annie with a man in Hanbury Street. The man said ‘will you?’ and Annie replied ‘yes’. The man was facing away from the witness but she said he had a deerstalker hat on and was shabby-genteel in appearance.

Then at about 5.25 a.m., a man named Albert Cadosh went into the backyard of 27 Hanbury Street. He heard a woman in the backyard of no. 29 say ‘no’. At about 6 am John Davis went into the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street and discovered the body of Annie Chapman. The body was taken to Whitechapel Infirmary where Dr George Bagster Phillips examined it. Her throat was cut. Her intestines had been cut out and laid on her shoulder and the uterus had been removed and taken away. Why Jack the Ripper took her uterus is not known but perhaps like certain serial killers he wanted to have trophies of his victims. Or perhaps for Jack, a uterus was symbolic. Perhaps it was symbolic of women or symbolic of their power to give life. We will never know. At any rate, Annie Chapman was buried on 14 September 1888 at Manor Park Cemetery in Forest Gate.

On 27 September 1888, a letter arrived at the Central News Agency in London (which provided stories to London newspapers). The letter claimed to be from the murderer but it is generally believed it was a hoax. However, the letter was signed Yours Truly Jack the Ripper. So a hoaxer gave the murderer his name.

Elizabeth Stride

We are not certain if Elizabeth Stride was a victim of Jack the Ripper. She was born Elizabeth Gustafsdottir in 1843 in Sweden. In 1865 Liz had a stillborn daughter. The next year, 1866 Elizabeth moved to London. In 1869 she married John Stride. The couple separated about 1877 and John died in 1884. Elizabeth became known as ‘Long Liz’ because of her surname Stride.

At 11 pm on Saturday 29 September, 2 labourers saw Elizabeth leaving the Bricklayers Arms in Settles Street. At 11.45 pm another laborer saw Liz with a man in Berner Street (now called Henriques Street). The man told her ‘You would say anything but your prayers’. Then at 12.30 PC Smith saw Elizabeth with a man in Berner Street. The man was about 28. He was about 5 feet 7 inches tall and wearing a dark coat and deerstalker hat. He was carrying a parcel wrapped in newspaper.

What happened next is not certain. At 12.45 am a man named James Brown said he saw Elizabeth with a man in nearby Fairclouth Street. The woman said ‘No, not tonight. Maybe some other night’. However, at the same time, a man called Israel Schwartz claimed he saw Liz with a man in Berner Street. The man pushed Elizabeth to the ground. Schwartz said he then noticed a man on the other side of the street with a pipe. The man attacking Liz shouted ‘Lipski!’ (Israel Lipski was a murderer and his name was a term of anti-Semitic abuse). Schwartz then fled from the scene. Obviously, one of these witnesses was mistaken so we are not sure what happened.

Whatever happened at that time the body of Elizabeth Stride was found at 1 am in Dutfields Yard off Berner Street by a man named Louis Diemschutz. He was driving a pony and cart but when he tried to enter the yard the pony shied. It was very dark but when he lit a match Diemschutz saw the body of a woman. Her throat was cut but her body was not mutilated. Maybe Jack was interrupted before he could mutilate Elizabeth Stride. Dr Frederick Blackwell arrived at 1.10 am and said Elizabeth had been dead for no more than 20 minutes.

If Israel Schwartz was right and the man who pushed Elizabeth to the ground later murdered her he might not have been Jack the Ripper. It is possible some other man killed Liz after some kind of argument. It is also possible she left the man who pushed her over and immediately afterward she met Jack.

Catherine Eddowes

The next victim of Jack the Ripper was Catherine or Kate Eddowes. She was born in Wolverhampton in 1842 but her family moved to London in 1843. As a young woman, Kate lived with a man named Thomas Conway and they had 3 children in 1863, 1868, and 1873 but the couple separated in 1880. From 1881 Catherine lived with a laborer named John Kelly. In September 1888 they went hop-picking in Kent but when they returned at the end of the month they separated. At 8.30 pm on Saturday 29 September.

Catherine Eddowes was arrested for being drunk in Aldgate High Street. She was taken to Bishopsgate Police Station and locked in a cell to sober up. PC Hutt released Catherine at 1.00 am on Sunday 30 September. Catherine said ‘I shall get a damn fine hiding when I get home’. PC Hutt replied ‘And serves you right. You have no right to get drunk’. Her last words were ‘Alright Good night old cock’.

At 1.35 Catherine Eddowes was seen by 3 men at the entrance to Church Passage (now called St James Passage). Eddowes had her hand on his chest. The man was about 30 and was 5 feet 7 or 8 inches tall. He was of medium build and had a mustache. The body of Catherine Eddowes was found in a corner of Mitre Square by PC Watkins at 1.44 am.

The body was examined by Dr Frederick Brown. Once again the throat was cut. The intestines were drawn out and placed over the right shoulder. (Although a piece about 2 feet long had been cut off and placed between the body and the left arm). The uterus had been removed. (Jack the Ripper also removed the uterus of Annie Chapman but why he wanted them is a mystery). The left kidney was also missing from the body. Jack also made several cuts to Kate’s face.

Meanwhile, at 2.55 am PC Long found a section of an apron at the bottom of the staircase of Wentworth Model Buildings in Goulston Street. The piece of apron had been cut from an apron worn by Catherine Eddowes. Above the piece of apron the words ‘The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing’ were written in chalk.

However, it is not clear if Jack the Ripper wrote those words or if somebody else did some time before. On 16 October George Lusk Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee received a letter and a parcel. In it was half a human kidney. The writer claimed the kidney was from Eddowes and he fried and ate the other piece. It is generally believed it was a hoax.

Catherine Eddowes was buried on 8 October 1888.

Mary Jane Kelly

The last definite victim of Jack the Ripper was an Irish woman named Mary Jane Kelly. Not much is known about her for certain. She was younger than the other victims and was about 25 when she died. Mary Jane was born about 1863 in Limerick, Ireland and it is said her family moved to Wales when she was small. By about 1884 Mary was living in London.

Mary lived in a single room in a building in Millers Court. This was a group of buildings arranged around a small courtyard. The court was off Dorset Street and it was reached through an alley about 3 feet wide and 20 feet long. Her only furniture was a bed, a washstand, and 2 small tables. Her body was found in this hovel.

At 2.00 am on Friday 9 November, a man named George Hutchinson met Kelly in the street. She asked to borrow 6 pence but he did not have the money. As she walked away a stranger approached Mary. Hutchinson heard him say to Mary ‘You will be alright for what I have told you’. He said the man was about 34 or 35 and was 5 feet 6 inches tall. Hutchinson described the man as ‘shabby genteel’. He followed the pair to the entrance of Millers Court where Mary said to the stranger ‘Alright my dear. Come along you will be comfortable’. She kissed the man with her and said she had lost her red handkerchief. The man gave her one to replace it. Hutchinson hung around for 45 minutes then left the area.

At about 3.45 am 3 people in Millers Court heard a cry of ‘Oh murder!’. None took any notice as such cries were common. Then at 10.45, the landlord sent a man to collect the rent Mary owed. He reached through a broken windowpane and moved a coat hung as a curtain. He saw the mutilated body of Mary Jane Kelly.

Her breasts were cut off and the internal organs were removed from her abdomen. Her uterus, kidneys, and breast were found under her head. The other breast was found by her right foot. The liver was placed between her feet. The intestines were on the right side of the body and the spleen was on the left. The poor woman’s face was obliterated. Jack had also cut the flesh off her thighs. The heart was missing.

Mary Jane Kelly was buried in St Patrick’s RC Cemetery in Leytonstone on 19 November.

On the morning of 9 November, Mrs Paumier was selling hot chestnuts on the corner of Widegate Street and Sandys Row. A man approached her and said: ‘I suppose you have heard about the murder in Dorset Street?’. Mrs Paumier replied that she had. The man grinned and said: ‘I know more about it than you do’. the man was about 5 feet 6 inches tall and he had a mustache. He wore a black coat and hat and he carried a black bag. However, we do not know if he was Jack the Ripper or if it was a hoax.

Alice McKenzie (?)

Several months after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly a woman named Alice McKenzie was murdered. However, it is unlikely she was a victim of Jack the Ripper as her throat was not cut. Instead, she was stabbed in the neck twice and the body was not mutilated (although there were cuts in her abdomen). Alice was from Peterborough and was born about 1849. She was known as Clay Pipe Alice because she smoked a pipe. At the time of her death, Alice McKenzie was living in Gun Street with a man named John McCormack. However, at 2.50 am on 17 July 1889 PC Andrews discovered the body of Alice McKenzie in Castle Alley. In July 1889 Alice McKenzie was buried in Plaistow cemetery.

The Pinchin Street Torso (?)

On 10 September 1889, PC Pennett found a woman’s torso with its head and legs cut off covered by a piece of women’s clothing under a railway arch on Pinchin Street. The abdomen was mutilated. The victim was never identified and the killer was never caught. However, it is unlikely the woman was a victim of Jack the Ripper because the killer’s method of dealing with the body was quite different.

Frances Coles (?)

Another woman was murdered in 1891. She was called Frances Coles but she was also known as Carroty Nell. However, it is unlikely she was a victim of Jack the Ripper because she was still alive when she was found. Frances Coles was found in Swallow Gardens (which no longer exists). PC Thompson discovered the body at 2.15 am on Friday 13 February. He shone his torch in her face and she opened one eye. However, she died shortly afterward. The killer was never caught. It seems that Frances Coles and Alice McKenzie were killed by some other unknown men.

What Sort of Man Was Jack the Ripper?

Jack must have been a local man since he knew his way in the rabbit warren of streets and alleys. Jack probably had a job as he usually killed at the weekends. Jack was probably working class. In fiction Jack the Ripper is sometimes shown as a gentleman with a top hat and cape but in reality, people who probably saw Jack said he was not particularly well dressed. Furthermore, if he lived locally it is unlikely he was well off as the great majority of people in Whitechapel were working class. Jack probably lived alone as he went out in the early hours of the morning and returned with blood on him without arousing any suspicion. Witnesses said Jack was in his late 20s or early 30s and that is the age at which serial killers usually murder people.

It is debatable if Jack had any surgical skills. Some people at the time thought he did but others disagreed. He may have been a slaughterman. If he was that would enable him to walk through the streets with blood on him without arousing suspicion. Lastly, Jack had a murderous hatred of women. Why is not known but it has been suggested he was abused by his mother. Of course none of the above is certain.

A gas light

Jack the Ripper Suspects

William Bury

William Bury lived in Bow, in London at the time of the murders and he sold sawdust for a living. In January 1889 he moved with his wife Ellen to Dundee. In February 1889 he strangled his wife with a rope and then cut the body several times with a knife. Amazingly Bury then went to the police and gave himself up. He claimed his wife committed suicide. Not surprisingly he was not believed and Bury was hanged in April 1889. However, Bury killed by strangulation with a rope while Jack the Ripper cut his victim’s throats. Jack also killed strangers while Bury killed his wife. Furthermore, it does not seem likely that a cunning man who had evaded capture after several murders would just go to the police and hand himself in. Altogether William Bury is not a convincing Jack the Ripper suspect.

George Chapman

Chapman was born in Poland in 1865 (his real name was Severin Klosowski). He moved to London in the 1880s and later married 3 women. He poisoned all 3 of them (In 1897, 1901, and 1902). Chapman was hanged in 1903. Again there is no evidence to link Chapman to Jack the Ripper and the murders he committed are different. Jack killed strangers by cutting their throats and then mutilated them. Chapman married women and then poisoned them. Furthermore, at the time of Jack the Ripper Chapman was only 23, which makes him younger than the man eyewitnesses saw.

David Cohen

On 7 December 1888, David Cohen was arrested as a lunatic wandering at large. He was sent to Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary and then to an asylum. Cohen was violent but he died of natural causes in October 1889. There is nothing to link Cohen with Jack the Ripper and he was probably too deranged to have carried out the murders. Jack was cunning and he must have been able to act normally when not killing people to avoid suspicion. Cohen sounds too disorganized to have been Jack the Ripper.

Montague John Druitt

Druitt was born in 1857 into a well-off family in Dorset. At the time of the murders in 1888, he was working as a barrister in London. He was also working part-time in a school but for some reason, he was dismissed from there on 30 November. Druitt committed suicide at the beginning of December by jumping in the Thames and his body was found on 31 December. Druitt left a note saying he feared he was going to be like his mother (she was mentally ill). He may also have been depressed about losing his job at the school. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that this unfortunate man was Jack the Ripper. He seems to have become a suspect purely because he killed himself about a month after the last murder.

Aaron Kosminski

On 7 February 1891, Aaron Kosminski was sent to an asylum and he stayed there until he died in 1919. Kosminski heard voices and ate food from the gutter. Kosminski was mentally ill but while he was in an asylum he was never violent (except once when he attacked somebody with a chair). It is said that Kosminski threatened his sister with a knife. We don’t know exactly what happened but it probably was a domestic argument. (Domestic violence was common in the East End). There is no evidence that Kosminski was Jack the Ripper.

Michael Ostrog

It is believed that Michael Ostrog was born in Russia in about 1833. He was a con man and a thief. However, Ostrog was never violent. He was also tall and stood about 5 feet 11 inches tall, which makes him much too tall for any of the eyewitness descriptions of Jack. Ostrog was also much older than the man seen by witnesses. Furthermore, it is not certain if Ostrog was in London at the time of the murders. He was sentenced to 2 years for theft in Paris on 18 November 1888. All in all, it seems most unlikely Ostrog was Jack the Ripper.

Francis Tumblety

Francis Tumblety was born in 1833 and he was a quack doctor. He was in London in 1888. However, Tumblety was in his mid-50s in 1888, and eyewitnesses saw a much younger man. Furthermore, he was 5 feet 10 inches tall. (That was tall by the standards of Victorian London) and people who saw Jack described a younger man. By all accounts, Tumblety was a rogue but there is no evidence that he was violent and there is nothing to link him with Jack the Ripper.

Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence

Prince Albert Victor was the grandson of Queen Victoria. His father was the future King Edward VII. Albert Victor was born in 1864. He was partly deaf and according to some accounts he had mild learning difficulties. He died during an influenza epidemic in 1892.

Leaving aside the question of motive, Albert Victor was too tall to fit the witness’s descriptions of Jack. In any case, he had an alibi for the nights of the murders. When Polly Nicholls and Annie Chapman were killed he was in Yorkshire. He was in Scotland when Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes were murdered and he was in Norfolk when Mary Kelly died. In short, it is very unlikely that Prince Albert Victor was Jack the Ripper.