Jack the Ripper

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Researched by: The Ripper

"Jack the Ripper" is the best-known name given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The name originated in a letter, written by someone claiming to be the murderer, that was disseminated in the media. The letter is widely believed to have been a hoax, and may have been written by a journalist in a deliberate attempt to heighten interest in the story. Other nicknames used for the killer at the time were "The Whitechapel Murderer" and "Leather Apron".

Attacks ascribed to the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes from the slums whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations. The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer possessed anatomical or surgical knowledge. Rumours that the murders were connected intensified in September and October 1888, and letters from a writer or writers purporting to be the murderer were received by media outlets and Scotland Yard. The "From Hell" letter, received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, included half of a preserved human kidney, supposedly from one of the victims. Mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal character of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events, the public came increasingly to believe in a single serial killer known as "Jack the Ripper".

Extensive newspaper coverage bestowed widespread and enduring international notoriety on the Ripper. An investigation into a series of brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888, but the legend of Jack the Ripper solidified. As the murders were never solved, the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. The term "ripperology" was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper's identity, and the murders have inspired multiple works of fiction.

In the mid-19th century, England experienced an influx of Irish immigrants, who swelled the populations of England's major cities, including the East End of London. From 1882, Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia moved into the same area. The civil parish of Whitechapel in London's East End became increasingly overcrowded. Work and housing conditions worsened, and a significant economic underclass developed. Robbery, violence and alcohol dependency were commonplace, and the endemic poverty drove many women to prostitution. In October 1888, London's Metropolitan Police Service estimated that there were 1200 prostitutes and about 62 brothels in Whitechapel. The economic problems were accompanied by a steady rise in social tensions. Between 1886 and 1889, frequent demonstrations, such as that of 13 November 1887, led to police intervention and further public unrest. Racism, crime, social disturbance, and real deprivation fed public perceptions that Whitechapel was a notorious den of immorality. In 1888, such perceptions were strengthened when a series of vicious and grotesque murders attributed to "Jack the Ripper" received unprecedented coverage in the media.

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