Suspects (introduction):

Nobody knows the identity of the killer known as Jack the Ripper.  And after more than one hundred and twenty years, it’s safe to say that we’ll almost certainly never know the identity of the infamous serial killer.

Still, that hasn’t stopped police, authors and armchair detectives alike naming literally hundreds of suspects over the years.  A vast majority of these are patently absurd, and have no basis in reality.  Other than being alive at the time of the murders, a good deal of the suspects have no link or discernable reasons as to why they were ever named as suspects in the first place.

Below you’ll find a list of notable suspects and my thoughts regarding their candidacy as being the notorious Whitechapel fiend.  I’ve included even the most ridiculous of suspects because, for better or worse, they have wormed their way into popular culture to become unavoidable when discussing the crimes of 1888.  Following on from that list is my personal top three favourite suspects.  Now, I’m not saying that any of those three men were Jack the Ripper; in all likelihood, none of them was.  I lean towards the ripper being an as-yet unnamed local man.  But, out of all the named suspects, they are the three that I find the most plausible, the most likely to have committed the atrocious crimes.

However, before we get to the lists, I first wanted to talk about what kind of person I believe did commit the murders.  Now, this is only my personal opinion, and I’m not saying that I’m right and all other theories are wrong.  These are simply the conclusions I’ve come to from over twenty years of research into the Ripper, and a long interest in true crime in general.  I should also add that I have a strong interest in criminal psychology, and while I fully admit that criminal profiling is far from an exact science (really what profiling boils down to is an educated guess), I still believe it’s a useful tool in helping us to understand a particular type of criminal, a particularly vicious and mystifying criminal – the serial murderer.  After all, human beings are creatures of habit, and despite our many differences, we’re more alike than some of us care to admit.  So when you’re talking about a creature as specific and deviant as the serial killer, then I would say their similarities heavily outweigh their differences.

As most serial murderers are male, and due to the strength needed to quickly overpower and then cut up numerous victims, it’s a good bet that Jack was a male.  Also, due to the sexual nature of the attacks, and the fact that all the victims were women, it would be most unusual for the butcher to be a woman, as they tend to target men.  I think Jack the Ripper was a local man.  In order to evade capture, to traverse the labyrinthine alleyways and narrow streets of Whitechapel, he had to have been familiar with the area.  Also, an outsider would have seemed out of place.  Someone wearing a top hat and tails would probably have attracted attention, and locals would likely have remembered a man dressed in such a fashion.

No, Jack would have been someone who blended in with the crowd; just one of the thousands of low-class workers who populated the crowded and poverty-stricken East End.  A labourer, a butcher, a tailor, perhaps unemployed.  Basically, the kind of man you’d pass on the street and not think to look at twice (or even once).

I’d place his age somewhere between mid-twenties to early forties.  The majority of serial killers tend to fall in that age bracket, and due to the higher levels of depravity prevalent (but yet the relatively small number of victims in a short amount of time) I see Jack as being someone who had lived long enough for his deviant fantasy life to have blossomed into reality (thus putting him older than a man of late teens to early twenties), but yet may not have been killing for a long period of time, as he appeared to be developing, or honing, his methods as the murders progressed.

I see Jack as the loner-type.  He wasn’t a charming, confident Ted Bundy type of killer.  He was a mostly disorganised type of serial killer, that is, a person who doesn’t plan his crimes, but rather kills on a whim, whenever the mood and/or opportunity arises.  The disorganised killer is usually not overly confident, and so rather than being able to persuade the victim to go with them and then control the victim, he acts swiftly, in a blitz-style attack and then, once he’s done what he needs to do, flees the scene of the crime without thought about evidence, leaving the body and crime scene in disarray.  An organised killer, however, will go to great lengths to plan and carry out the crime, then, once done, will cover his tracks by either burying the body or placing it somewhere remote, somewhere other than where the murder took place.  Whereas the victim of a disorganised killer will usually be found where the murder took place.

Jack chose victims who were easy targets.  Desperate women who lived sad, desperate lives.  Women who lived day-to-day, eking out a living doing whatever they could in order to earn the smallest bit of money just so they could have something to eat, something to drink or somewhere to sleep for the night.  Most of the victims were known to have drinking problems, and if they didn’t spend what little money they had for a bed to sleep in (in one of the many doss houses that littered the area) or for a meal to fill their stomachs, they spent the money on booze.  Aside from the final victim, Mary Kelly, all were in their forties, and weren’t in the prime of their lives.  There’s a common (at least I think so) misconception that Jack had to be a charming man who lured his victims to dark places in order to kill and mutilate them.  I simply don’t buy it.  Like I mentioned, these women were mostly middle-aged prostitutes who had no home and no money.  They lived in a dangerous area and knew the risks involved.  It wouldn’t take a man of George Clooney’s looks and charm to convince these women to go off to some out-of-the-way place with a stranger.  I can only speculate, but I’m sure these women went with just about any man who could pay them a few shillings for a few minutes of quick sex against a back-alley wall.

I’m sure Jack knew this.  He knew that the local prostitutes would not only go with him to some dark corner, but probably initiate the conversation, too.  Like I said, Jack didn’t need to be Mr. Charming in order to woo these women.  I can imagine the situation going something like this:

“Hey there luv, fancy a bit a fun?”

Jack stops and turns to the prostitute.  He shrugs his shoulders.  “Awright.”

“Good-o.  Come with me, I’ll show ya a good time, luv.”

And the unsuspecting harlot takes the unassuming man to a nearby haunt to conduct business.

That’s it, as simple and mundane as that.  These women knew the streets probably better than anyone.  They knew all the out-of-the-way areas to take Johns, places they wouldn’t be bothered by the police and out of view from passers-by.  It’s why the women were found in dark thoroughfares, dingy backyards and darkened squares.  Jack didn’t convince these women to go to these places; I think they took him, just like they had taken tens, maybe hundreds of men in the time they plied their wares out on the streets of Whitechapel.  Because Jack would’ve looked like any ordinary east ender; just another poor, low-class worker out for some fun on the weekend after a hard week at work.  It was only when they got to that dark, out-of- the-way place, that the prostitute would’ve come face-to-face with the psychopath known as Jack the Ripper.

I believe Jack only killed when the opportunity presented itself, and when he felt safe (for lack of a better term).  Sure, in order to kill and then mutilate women out in the streets, in full view of anyone passing by, Jack had to possess a certain level of cunning; but mostly I think it shows his desperation, a product of his disorganised mind – despite the considerable risks involved, he still needed to satiate his deviant desires, and did so knowing full well that he could be caught at any moment.  Still, in order to minimise the risk of getting caught, he chose low-risk victims (street walkers with no family and who regularly went off with strangers) and only committed the murder when he was in an area and a situation that suited him, where he felt he could carry out what he had to do with little danger of getting caught red-handed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many prostitutes met Jack during that autumn in 1888.  Either said hello to him as he walked past, engaged in small-talk, or perhaps even went with him to some deserted back street, only to have him run off at the last moment, unaware of how close they had come to being a victim of the notorious murderer.

I don’t think the five (or four, or seven, however many you believe were killed by the Ripper) victims were the only ones Jack spoke to/targeted.  I’m sure he went out most weekends looking for victims, speaking with/going with countless women, sizing up countless opportunities, and only striking when the situation felt right.  Only then did he strike, sudden and fast, taking the unsuspecting victim by surprise.  He most likely lashed out in a blitz attack, grabbing the woman by the throat or cupping his hand around her mouth and nose, suffocating her into either unconsciousness or death.  Then, he laid the woman on the ground (there were never any head injuries consistent with them falling or being thrown to the ground) and kneeling by the woman’s right side, cut her throat from left to right.  The woman now most assuredly dead, he then went to work on her body, cutting her open and taking out parts of her internal organs.  Once he had gotten his fix, he abruptly left, not caring or attempting to conceal the body.

The high risk nature of the crimes, the low risk choice of victims, and the frenzied state in which the bodies were left all points towards a mostly disorganised killer, someone not confident in their ability to interact with the victim, someone needing to render the victim defenceless as quickly as possible.  Also, Jack’s primary motive for killing was the post mortem mutilation – another signature of a disorganised serial killer.  The actual killing of the victims was merely a means to an end (that’s not to say he didn’t get some enjoyment or satisfaction out of it; but I don’t think the killing was the driving force behind his mania).  These women weren’t tortured for hours (common among more organised offenders); they were dispatched quickly, so Jack could achieve his goal, what fuelled his fantasies and gave him the release he so desperately sought – to cut and mutilate these women, whom he feared, hated and yet was also fascinated by.

So, that’s essentially my view of the type of person Jack the Ripper most likely was.  A local male of between 25-40 who trawled the streets looking for desperate prostitutes in order to fulfil a sick need to kill and mutilate women (I’m sure there were other reasons, deep, pathological reasons, but I have neither the desire nor the expertise to speculate on those reasons).  He killed when the opportunity arose, and did so quickly, and once he had satisfied his craving, took off, but not before taking with him a trophy (sometimes objects such as cheap brass rings, often internal organs) so he could relive the murder over and over again.  He was most probably unmarried, of lower intelligence, and either died or was incarcerated in prison or an asylum not too long after the last murder.

What follows are my thoughts regarding the most notable Jack the Ripper suspects that have been named over the years.  Please note: this is far from an exhaustive list of Ripper suspects.  These are simply some of the more well-known suspects, or those I’ve specifically read about at length (I’ve also omitted suspects that, while popular at one time, have since been discovered to have been in prison or out of the country at the times of the murders, therefore cannot be considered legitimate suspects).  Following this list, I’ll write in detail about my three favourite suspects.

Published on November 7, 2010 at 10:57 am  Comments (6)  

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like this blog a lot. These are very good bull-free conclusions about this classic crime. One thing puzzles me though. Was ripper era East End such a poor place to live after all, I do not see the desperation described everywhere in the photographs taken back then? In the pictures one can find in the net seems to be mostly happy people and decent circumstances.
    Also amazingly there were herds of policemen beating around the alleys even before the first Nichols incident and much more during the scare yet the culprit remained below radar. Maybe someone whose presence during after hours was commonplace and easily explainable?

  2. Hi Vieno,

    I appreciate the kind words. Glad you like the site.

    As for the East End during the Ripper era: yes, there were some areas that were relatively decent – not all of the East End was poverty-stricken dens of vice and filth. Even around the Whitechapel district there were certain areas that were considered middle class. However, there was also a lot of poverty and overcrowding, and many photos of the era reflect this (poor, bare-foot kids; emaciated men and women outside lodging houses, etc).

    Yes, there were police around, but the streets were dense, crowded places, even at night, and many of the especially dangerous areas police were hesitant to go down. It’s certainly not of the question that the Ripper was a local who knew the streets well and didn’t look out of place skulking around in the early hours.

    Take care,

  3. This is quite a fine blog! I have been reading about the ripper case for years and have grown quite frustrated with silly theories and suspect advocacy books which, as you note, usually avoid inconvenient facts. Your parsing of the evidence is insightful and even-handed. Many websites on this case in contrast include disorganized evidence, scattered theories and a lack of critical perspective.

    I think you are right that Jack was a a local resident of unexceptional appearance and like your top suspects. The one problem with Jacob Levy, who is otherwise the leading suspect, is his huge family — a wife and eight children. How did he keep any hint of the crimes from them if he was the ripper?

    • Thank you for your kind words, Steve. It’s always nice when people appreciate your work.

      Yes, I admit, it would be difficult for Jacob to hide his crimes from his family. But then, serial killers have been known to keep their dark deeds from friends and family (although it would be harder for Jacob living in a small, crowded place with a large family). Still, Jacob was a butcher and so blood-stained hands/clothes wouldn’t necessarily draw many suspicious looks and with his unstable mind, any strange behaviour may not have been attributed to his part in the Ripper murders. Then again, maybe his family did know; or at least strongly suspect, as he was placed in an asylum.

      Thanks for stopping by.


      • What about William Henry Bury?
        Every one seems to conveniently overlook him. From what I’ve read about him by an assortment of sensible authors he seems to be a very strong candidate.

      • Bury’s an interesting suspect, better than a lot that have been put forth over the years. I personally don’t think he was the Ripper, though. I have yet to write a suspect page about him simply because I haven’t read a great deal about him, compared to other suspects. I hope to one day rectify that.

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