In a previous blog I posted a composite picture of what Jack the Ripper might have looked like, based on witness descriptions. Society has a morbid interest in serial killers like him, but too often we remember the monsters and not the victims.
In that earlier post, I promised to right that wrong by writing about his victims in a future blog. The future is now. For space reasons I’ll only discuss the canonical five victims, although the Ripper could have had more.
All of the victims were photographed after death. These pictures are grisly, and I won’t reproduce them here. Only one, Annie Chapman, was definitely known to have been photographed in life. I have included that photo with her bio, along with contemporary illustrations of the others.
I have been to the sites of all the murders except Berner Street. Not much to see, really. All of them are gone except Mitre Square, but even there none of the buildings from 1888 remain. At the time I was there, the original buildings on Hanbury Street across from a murder site were still standing, but they have since been demolished.
MARY ANN “POLLY” NICHOLS
(August 26, 1845-August 31, 1888)
Polly Nichols, contemporary illustration
The first victim was Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. She was born to Edward and Caroline Walker in Dean Street in London. It is unknown if she had siblings. She stood five feet two inches tall, with gray eyes, dark brown hair, high cheekbones, and small, delicate features. She was missing from three to five teeth (depending on the source).
She married William Nichols on January 16, 1864. At the time of her death Polly was still married, although she hadn’t seen William in three years. Before he threw her out of the house for drunkenness in 1881, the couple had had five children, Edward, Percy, Alice, Eliza, and Henry. None of them lived with her after her separation from William. The eldest stayed with Polly’s father, and the youngest four with William.
As required by law, her husband sent her support payments of five shillings per week until 1882, when he found out she was living as a prostitute. He was no longer required to support her since she was earning money through illicit means.
She was last seen alive by her friend Emily “Nellie” Holland at about 2:30 am on August 31 on the corner of Osborn Street and Whitechapel Road. She told Nellie she’d been kicked out of the lodging house for not having the four pence it cost for a bed. She claimed she had earned it three times over, but had spent it all on alcohol, so now she was looking for a customer. Unfortunately, she found one. At about 3:40 that morning her body was found in Buck’s Row by cart drivers Charles Cross and Robert Paul.
She had her throat cut and some abdominal mutilations.
I have found what purports to be a photograph of Polly alive, but I haven’t been able to verify that it’s actually her. Hence, the poor illustration above.
(September ??, 1841-September 8, 1888)
Annie Chapman with her husband John, photo c. 1869
The next victim, Annie Eliza Chapman, was born to George Smith and Ruth Chapman. Since they didn’t marry until six months after her birth, she took her mother’s maiden name. She had three sisters, Emily, Georgina, and Miriam, and one brother, Fountain, all of whom had their father’s last name, Smith. Annie was an even five feet tall, with blue eyes, a thick nose, and dark wavy hair. She may also have been missing some teeth. Although stout at the time of her death, she was malnourished and suffering from a disease of the lungs and brain, which may have been tuberculosis or syphilis.
Annie married John Chapman (a relative of her mother) on May 1, 1869. They separated in 1884 or 1885. Before that they had three children, Emily Ruth, Annie Georgina, and John Alfred. Emily died of meningitis at age 12, and John was a cripple who was sent away to live in an infirmary.
John sent her ten shillings per week until his death of cirrhosis of the liver on Christmas Day, 1886.
Shortly after her husband’s death, she sold flowers and sewed to make ends meet, but also turned to prostitution. She moved into a common house at 30 Dorset Street in Spitalfields with a sieve maker named John Sivvy (which may have been a nickname reflecting his profession, rather than his real last name). For a time she went by the name Annie Sievey. By May of 1888, however, she and Sivvy had split up and she was living close by, at 35 Dorset Street, with a man named Edward Stanley.
She was frequently referred to as Dark Annie because of her temper and inclination to fight. A week before her death she was punched and kicked during a quarrel with woman named Liza Cooper, and still sported a black eye at her autopsy.
She was seen a number of times during the night of September 7 and early morning hours of September 8. Like Polly Nichols, on the final night of her life she was drunk and looking for money for a bed. Her body was found at 5:30 a.m. at 29 Hanbury Street within moments of her death. The sun was already up by then, so she was murdered in broad daylight.
Her throat was also cut, with severe abdominal mutilations. Her intestines had been thrown over her shoulder in ritualistic fashion.
(November 27, 1843-September 30, 1888)
Elizabeth Stride, contemporary illustration
Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride was born Elizabeth Gustafdottir near Gothenburg, Sweden, to Gustav Ericsson and Beata Carlsdottir. It is unknown if she had siblings. Liz was five feet five to five feet eight inches tall, with light gray eyes, curly brown hair, and a pale complexion. In common with the first two victims, she was missing teeth, having lost all of them on the left side of her lower jaw.
In March of 1865 she was registered as a prostitute by the police in Gothenburg. On April 21 of that year she gave birth to a stillborn daughter. During October and November she was treated for venereal disease at Kurhuset Hospital, and was declared cured on November 14.
In February 1866 she applied to move to a Swedish parish in London. She appears in a Swedish church register in London’s East End on July 10, 1866, listed as an unmarried woman.
She married John Stride on March 7, 1869. Other than the stillborn daughter, it isn’t known if Liz had children—although she certainly said she did.
In 1878 a saloon steam ship called the Princess Alice collided with the steamer Bywell Castle in the Thames, killing 600-700 people. Liz claimed that her husband and their nine children died in this disaster, and that her palate was injured by being kicked in the mouth while climbing the mast to escape. There’s no evidence to back this statement, and her husband was known to have died of heart disease on October 24, 1884. The post-mortem report on her specifically states that there was no damage to either her hard or soft palate. She may have told this story to get sympathy when asking for financial aid from the Swedish Church.
By 1885 she was living with a man named Michael Kidney, and continued to do so on and off until her death. The last time he saw her was on September 25, 1888. As she often went off for long stretches at a time, he didn’t think anything of it.
Although she denied being addicted to alcohol, in the twenty months prior to her death she was arrested eight times for being drunk and disorderly.
On Saturday, September 29, Liz spent the afternoon cleaning rooms in her lodging house, for which she was paid six pence. Like Annie Chapman, she was only a casual prostitute, resorting to it only when it was the fastest or easiest way to make money. That night she was on the streets.
Her whereabouts can be accounted for nearly every fifteen minutes from 6:30 p.m. on September 29 until moments before her body was discovered at 1:00 a.m. on September 30. Just before 1:00 a.m. she was seen being thrown to the ground on Berner Street by a man who may or may not have been her killer. (She was seen with several men between 12:15 and 1:00 a.m.) Unlike any of the other victims, her body was not mutilated. Perhaps the murderer was interrupted. A man named Louis Diemschitz was returning from a meeting at that time and discovered the body when his pony shied. The Ripper only had time to cut her throat, which, sadly for Liz, proved just as fatal. It was possible the killer was still hiding behind a gate only a few feet away when Diemschitz examined Liz’s body.
She was the first victim that night of what has come to be known as the “double event.”
Like Polly Nichols, a photo exists that a blogger claims is Liz in 1872, but again, I wasn’t able to verify the authenticity of the picture.
(April 14, 1842-September 30, 1888)
Catherine Eddowes, contemporary illustration
Catherine Eddowes was born to George Eddowes and Catherine Evans Eddowes. She had two sisters. Elizabeth and Eliza. She was five feet tall with hazel eyes and dark auburn hair. She had a tattoo on her left forearm that said TC, possibly the initials of the man she lived with for some time, named Thomas Conway. She sometimes went by the name Kate Conway, although it is unknown if the two ever married. They had three children, Annie, George, and another boy whose name is not known.
Shortly after she and Conway split up in 1881, she moved in with a man named John Kelly. At that time she often went by the name Kate Kelly. Every fall she and Kelly went hop picking in the countryside near Maidenstone in Kent. In 1888 she returned to London on September 28, having earned very little money
Kate was not known as a heavy drinker, although she was certainly drunk on the night of her murder. Both men with whom she had lived denied she was ever a prostitute.
At 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 29, she was found passed out drunk in Aldgate Street. At 8:45 she was booked at the Bishopsgate police station. It was customary to let people sleep it off in a cell, then release them when they were sober enough to take care of themselves. Kate was heard singing in her cell at 12:15 a.m. on September 30. By 1:00 the jailor at Bishopsgate. George Hutt, determined she was sober and released her. In an eerie coincidence, she gave her name as Mary Kelly, the name of the woman who would become the Ripper’s last canonical victim five weeks later.
From there it was a ten-minute walk to Mitre Square. It isn’t known where Kate went immediately after her release, but by 1:35 three witnesses saw her speaking to a man outside of Mitre Square. At about the same time, police officer Edward Walker passed through Mitre Square and saw nothing. When he returned ten minutes later, at 1:45, he found Kate’s body in a dark corner of the square. Her body suffered the worst mutilations so far, throat, face, and abdomen. The killer would have had to do his terrible work in total darkness in less than ten minutes. He was able to find and remove her left kidney, which became important to police later.
She was the second victim of the “double event” that night. The killer was probably enraged at having been interrupted while attacking Liz Stride.
There are several intriguing things about Kate’s murder that make her unique among the victims.
1) The killer cut off part of her shawl to wipe his knife. He carried that piece of cloth with him as he fled, dropping it in Goulston Street. This is important, because it very likely indicated the area where he lived. Mitre Square is the only murder site not located in the Whitechapel district of London. Goulston Street is in Whitechapel. When the killer ran, he was almost certainly heading home—meaning he was a local resident, not a visitor to the East End.
2) The police received thousands of hoax letters claiming to be from Jack the Ripper. Of these, only one was possibly genuine: the famous “From hell” letter. In mid-October George Lusk, the leader of a vigilance committee dedicated to finding the killer, received a parcel in the mail. The box contained a letter and half of a left kidney. Catherine Eddowe’s left kidney was removed. The kidney is attached in the body to the renal artery, which is typically five inches long. Kate had about three inches of the artery in her body. The kidney Lusk received had two inches attached. Furthermore, Kate was suffering from Bright’s Disease, a condition of the kidneys. The kidney in the box also showed signs of Bright’s Disease. So: there was no DNA testing in those days, so it’s not definitive proof that the letter was authentic, but of all the letters police received, it was the only one that could have been.
3) Now, about DNA and Kate’s shawl. I touched on this in my last blog about Jack the Ripper, but here’s a recap. Recently a shawl purported to have been the one Kate was wearing on the night she was murdered has surfaced. DNA tests seemed to indicate that someone in the Eddowes family had handled it. They also revealed another source of DNA, consistent with the DNA of descendants of Aaron Kosminski, one of the prime Ripper suspects. Case closed, right? Not so fast, little buckaroos. There are two problems. First, and most important, other DNA scientists have claimed that the original testing was flawed, using a wrong genetic marker. The marker cited in the original test would have pointed to Kosminski or one of his relatives with near certainty. However, the actual genetic marker found was common in 99% of people of Eastern European descent. Kosminski was Polish, and therefore of Eastern European descent, but so were millions of other people. Second, even if the original genetic marker were correct, the provenance of the shawl is unknown. It may well have been handled by hundreds of people in the past 128 years, some of whom could have been related to Kate Eddowes and Aaron Kosminski. It does not mean that Catherine Eddowes ever owned or wore the shawl. It does not mean that Aaron Kosminski ever touched it. It only means that somebody related to those two families left DNA on it sometime since 1888. BTW, the shawl recently went to auction with a reserve price of $4.75 million. I couldn’t find whether or not it actually sold.
A 3-D computer reconstruction of Kate’s face has been done, but it was based on one of the mortuary photographs, which I found too creepy.
MARY JANE KELLY
(c. 1863-November 9, 1888)
Mary Kelly, contemporary illustration
Nothing is known about Mary Kelly before she came to London. She may have been born in Limerick, Ireland. Her father’s name, she said, was John Kelly, but her mother’s name is unknown. She was five feet seven inches tall, a bit stout, with blue eyes, blond hair, and a pale complexion.
Mary may have had up to nine siblings, one of whose name was Henry. While still a child, her family moved to Cardiff, Wales. At age 16 she married a man named Davies, but he was killed in a mine explosion. Again, this is all speculation. By 1884 she had drifted to London.
Mary told friends she worked in a “high class” brothel in London’s West End for a time. She also claimed an artist took her to Dieppe, France. (Some researchers believe the artist was Patricia Cornwell’s prime Ripper suspect, Walter Sickert. It’s not impossible that Sickert took Mary to France, since he was known to visit Dieppe, but Cornwell’s “evidence” for him being the Ripper is nothing more than outlandish speculation.) Whatever the truth of the artist story might be, by 1888 Mary was in the East End living with a man named Joseph Barnett at 13 Miller’s Court. Barnett vehemently disapproved her of prostitution, and frequently moved out. Thus, he wasn’t there in the early morning hours of November 9. Mary was heard singing a song at 12:30 that night (“A Small Violet I Plucked from Mother’s Grave”). Some time later she went out to look for customers. This was another time when a witness claimed to get a very good look at the man likely to have been her killer. Mary’s friend George Hutchinson saw her negotiating a fee with a man shortly after 2:00 a.m. that Friday morning. They turned and walked toward Hutchinson, who even bent down to get a better at the man’s face. Not liking his appearance, Hutchinson followed them to Miller’s Court. He waited outside for forty-five minutes but, hearing nothing suspicious left at about 3:00. Mary’s body wasn’t found until much later that morning, but the coroner estimated she had died between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m. Oddly enough, Hutchinson’s testimony was considered unreliable and was never taken at the inquest.
At 25, Mary was by far the youngest of the Ripper victims. The other four were all in their forties. She was also the only one killed indoors—which gave the Ripper time to carry out the most horrible mutilations of all. The savagery was ghastly beyond belief. He removed her heart and took it with him.
So there you have it, a thumbnail sketch of the five accepted victims of Jack the Ripper.
Were these ladies someone I would like to hang out with? Probably not. They were rougher and tougher than I am. But they were still human beings, with lives and families and friends. They didn’t deserve to die the way they did. So next time you hear the name Jack the Ripper, take a moment also to remember Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Liz Stride, Kate Eddowes, and Mary Kelly.