The med­i­cal Rip­per

Many Bri­tons were all too will­ing to believe that a doc­tor had blood on his hands

BBC History Magazine - - Jack The Ripper -

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

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