The medical Ripper
Many Britons were all too willing to believe that a doctor had blood on his hands
They moved freely about the urban underworld. Their professional need for corpses stimulated a vibrant clandestine market in dead bodies for dissection. And their callous treatment of defenceless female patients – especially the forced examination of prostitutes – had made them popular folk devils. Doctors may enjoy a healthy reputation today, but in the 1880s, many Britons were all too receptive to accusations that the Ripper was drawn from their ranks.
One of the first medics to come under suspicion was Dr D’Onston Stephenson. He was believed to have contracted venereal disease from prostitutes and to be a Satanist – giving him the perfect motive for removing his victims’ internal organs. Stephenson was also a magician, which served to explain his regular escape from detection.
The American quackdoctor Francis Tumblety was named as a suspect by one senior Victorian policeman – and, given that Tumblety was a violent misogynist with a penchant for collecting body parts, that’s hardly a surprise.
Queen Victoria’s surgeon Sir William Gull, who had been close to the monarchy since the early 1870s, has also been cited as a Ripper suspect, either as a lone assailant or as part of a wider conspiracy.
In the years since the Ripper case, the healer turned murderer narrative has been culturally reinforced in the popular mind by the cases of Dr Crippen and Dr Harold Shipman.
He was a violent misogynist with an unstable personality and a penchant for collecting body parts
Sir William Gull, Queen Victoria’s doctor, has been portrayed as Jack the Ripper in both books and film