Jack the Ripper
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Jack the Ripper is an alias given to an unidentified serial killer (or killers) active in the largely impoverished Whitechapel area and adjacent districts of London, England in the latter half of 1888 . The name is taken from a letter to the Central News Agency by someone claiming to be the murderer, published at the time of the killings.
The legends surrounding the Ripper murders have become a combination of genuine historical research, conspiracy theory and folklore. The lack of a confirmed identity for the killer has allowed Ripperologists — the term used within the field for the authors, historians and amateur detectives who study the case — to accuse a wide variety of individuals of being the Ripper. Newspapers, whose circulation had been growing during this era, bestowed widespread and enduring notoriety on the killer owing to the savagery of the attacks and the failure of the police in their attempts to capture the Ripper, sometimes missing the murderer at his crime scenes by mere minutes.
Victims were women earning income as casual prostitutes. Typical Ripper murders were perpetrated in a public or semi-public place; the victim's throat was cut, after which the body was mutilated. Some believe that the victims were first strangled in order to silence them and to explain the lack of reported blood at the crime scenes. The removal of internal organs from some victims has led to the proposal that the killer possessed anatomical or surgical knowledge or skill.
Jack the Ripper in popular culture
Jack the Ripper features in hundreds of works of fiction and non-fiction and works which straddle the boundaries between both fact and fiction: shading into legend. These latter include the Ripper letters, a purported Diary of the Ripper and specimens of poetry alleged to be from the Ripper's own hand. (The Diary has been discredited by experts, including Kenneth Rendell, who, in his analysis, pointed to factual contradictions, handwriting inconsistences, and anachronistic style.)The Ripper has appeared in novels, short stories, poetry, comic books, video games, songs, plays, films. He even has an 'heroic baritone' singing part in an opera: Lulu by Alban Berg. However, one prominent omission is that, unlike murderers of lesser fame, there is no waxwork figure of him in London's Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds, in accordance with Marie Tussaud's original policy of not modelling persons whose likeness is unknown.
To date more than 200 works of non-fiction have been published which deal exclusively with the Jack the Ripper murders, making it one of the most written-about true-crime subjects of the past century. Six periodicals about Jack the Ripper have been introduced since the early 1990s: Ripperana (1992-present), Ripperologist (1994-present, electronic format only since 2005), the Whitechapel Journal (1997–2000), Ripper Notes (1999-present), Ripperoo (2000–2003), and the The Whitechapel Society 1888 Journal (2005-present).
At the time of the murders, a theatrical version of Robert Louis Stevenson's book Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was being performed. The subject matter of horrific murder in the London streets drew much attention, even leading the star of the show to be accused by some members of the public of being the Ripper himself, although this theory was never taken seriously by the police.
One of the more recent films in which the Ripper is a major antagonist is From Hell (2001) based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell and directed by the Hughes Brothers. The film's plot turns on Stephen Knight's theory that the murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, offering Sir William Gull as the murderer.
The legend of the Ripper is still promoted in the East End of London with many guided tours of the murder sites. The Ten Bells, a Victorian pub in Commercial Street that had been frequented by Jack the Ripper's victims, was the focus of such tours for many years. To capitalise on this business, the owners changed its name to the "Jack the Ripper" in the 1960s, but, following protests by feminists and others, the pub returned to its old name.