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Jack the Ripper: A killer never caught
12:17pm Thursday 2nd January 2014 in News Features
A rare insight into a series of brutal and infamous murders can be gleaned from the Guardian’s archives.
The killer, who became known as Jack the Ripper, cut the throats of female prostitutes before mutilating their bodies which he left in plain view on city streets.
The Guardian’s predecessor, the Walthamstow and Leyton Guardian (WLG), reported on many of the murders.
To paint a picture of East End life at the time this extract, from a WLG article written shortly after one murder, says: “These tragical occurrences have been mainly confined to a densely-populated part just on the border of the city proper, where the squalor of Spitalfields and the wretchedness of Whitechapel crowd close to the wealth of the world’s richest centre.”
The writer added: “There and thereabout exist many whose daily and nightly career is miserable in the extreme, whose scanty clothing is as uncleanly as their lives, whose struggle against starvation is unceasing, whose proneness to immorality and to crime is a matter of common knowledge to all acquainted with the slums of the capital.”
The number of Jack the Ripper’s victims is not definitively known, but those who have studied the evidence believe the number lies between four and eight.
Here we focus on the five woman most widely acknowledged to have been killed by Jack.
On September 8 1888, the WLG ran a story under the headline Horrible Murder in Whitechapel, in which the details of a murder a few days previous are revealed.
The body of 43-year-old Mary Ann Nichols was found on August 31 in Buck’s Row by a police constable.
The reporter wrote: “Late in the same day she was identified as a woman named Nichols, who had led a loose and miserable life, and had at one time been an inmate of the Lambeth Workhouse.”
Each of Jack’s victims shares a comparable story.
Over the next month three women were killed.
Annie Chapman, 47, was murdered on September 8. Elizabeth Stride, 45, and Catherine Eddowes, 46, were killed on September 30.
By this time the WLG was reporting that the murders were at the forefront of residents’ minds and that the area was being referred to as Murderland.
“In east London itself the feeling of pain has grown into a deepening sense of terror and apprehension as each recurring alarm of murder has been raised, until now something very like a panic holds possession of the inhabitants,” a reporter wrote under the headline The Murder Horrors on October 6.
The next victim, Mary Jane Kelly, 25, was murdered Friday November 9, 1888.
The WLG reported that her funeral took place at Leytonstone Cemetery in Langthorne Road as a large and emotional crowd looked on.
No family member could be found to attend.
In a final curious twist, the last correspondence in the WLG relating to Jack the Ripper comes under the headline A Jack the Ripper Threatens Walthamstow – Discovery of an Extraordinary Document.
It was written: “On Wednesday an extraordinary document, and one to which too much importance must not be attached, as it is more than likely that it was the work of some stupid person with peculiar notions of humour, was found outside the Coach and Horses public house, St James Street.
“The document which, we are in formed, is now in the possession of the police, was in these words: “D--- you! My dear ladies and gentlemen.
“I shall be in Walthamstow to kill a podgy woman. Yours faithfully, Jack the Ripper.”