Outlandish Rip­pers

Why no the­ory is too ec­cen­tric in the hunt for the Whitechapel mur­derer

BBC History Magazine - - Jack The Ripper - Pro­fes­sor Anne-Marie Kil­day and Pro­fes­sor David Nash both teach about Jack the Rip­per and the Vic­to­rian Un­der­world at Ox­ford Brookes Univer­sity

Per­haps noth­ing bet­ter re­flects so­ci­ety’s evolv­ing ob­ses­sion with Jack the Rip­per than the rise of the ‘Rip­per­ol­o­gist’, the in­di­vid­ual who has made it their mis­sion to pro­vide the ‘de­fin­i­tive so­lu­tion’ to the mur­ders.

Rip­per­ol­o­gists of­ten go to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths in search of orig­i­nal­ity in what is a crowded field. This has meant that prac­ti­cally any­one with a pulse and the mer­est hint of ec­cen­tric­ity, who lived in and around London in 1888, has come un­der sus­pi­cion for the crimes. How­ever, some have been more ‘sus­pect’ than oth­ers.

Fran­cis Thomp­son, a poet with rad­i­cal re­li­gious views, has been posited as the killer be­cause the crimes were all com­mit­ted on Catholic saints’ days. This the­ory is ham­strung by the fact that, ac­cord­ing to the re­li­gious cal­en­dar, most days cel­e­brate the death of one par­tic­u­lar Catholic mar­tyr or an­other.

In 1939, the au­thor Wil­liam Ste­wart sug­gested that we should be look­ing for a ‘Jill the Rip­per’, most likely a blood­thirsty, mad mid­wife. Ste­wart wasn’t the first per­son to posit this the­ory: Fred­er­ick Ab­ber­line, an in­spec­tor for the Met at the time of the killings, had sug­gested that the mur­derer could be a woman af­ter a wit­ness re­ported see­ing a fe­male fig­ure leav­ing Mary-Jane Kelly’s res­i­dence. How­ever, he con­cluded that it was more likely that the killer dressed in women’s clothes as a way of paci­fy­ing po­ten­tial vic­tims.

In 1996, the au­thor Richard Wal­lace sug­gested that Jack the Rip­per was none other than Lewis Car­roll, on the ba­sis that the world-fa­mous nov­el­ist left ana­grams in his nov­els con­fess­ing to the killing spree in 1888.

Of course, the po­etic li­cence and ex­po­sure these more ec­cen­tric the­o­ries have en­joyed has only been pos­si­ble be­cause, in the case of the Jack the Rip­per mur­ders, so few hard facts ex­ist.

Mur­der­ers most foul? The poet Fran­cis Thomp­son (left) and au­thor Lewis Car­roll have both been posited as pos­si­ble Jack the Rip­pers

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