Who was Jack the Ripper?

Poverty-stricken, crime-ridden and overcrowded, the slums of Whitechapel, London, proved the perfect hiding place for a serial killer in 1888

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From August to November, London was awash with panic and suspicion as the police hunted a depraved and violent killer, blamed for the murders of five prostitutes. The killer’s identity remains a mystery to this day, but we know them simply as Jack the Ripper.

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The first of the ‘canonical five’ murders was Mary Ann Nichols. When her body was found on 31 August, her throat had been slit and her stomach cut open. Annie Chapman’s body had similar wounds when found a week later.

On 27 September, the police received a letter supposedly from the killer, boasting of his “grand work” with Chapman, and signed off with the name Jack the Ripper, the first use of the grisly moniker. Before the letter, the killer was referred to either as the Whitechapel Murderer or Leather Apron.

There was no evidence that this ‘Dear Boss’ letter was written by the killer, but the name was plastered over all the newspapers, and the news of a serial killer spread fear like wildfire. At the time of the murders, newspaper circulations were rocketing, giving the Ripper unprecedented publicity.

As the investigation continued, dozens of suspects were interrogated, but no one was convicted. Meanwhile, the murders intensified. Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes both died in the early hours of 30 September – described in another letter allegedly from ‘Jack the Ripper’ as a “double event” – and the horrifically butchered remains of Mary Jane Kelly were found lying on her bed on 9 November, with her face slashed out of recognition and her heart missing.

Jack the Ripper was never brought to justice for his horrendous crime wave. Hundreds of theories of the Ripper’s identity have proliferated, with suspects including one of Queen Victoria’s grandsons and Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.

But recent claims by “armchair detective” Russell Edwards may bring an end to over a century of mystery. Using DNA evidence, Edwards has named a Polish Jew, Aaron Kosminski, as the killer.

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What do you think? Has Edwards got it right?