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Jack the Ripper is one of the rare serial killers who’s gruesome acts have stayed at the forefront of the public imagination, inspiring books, films and countless amateur investigators for over a century. Due to both the nature of the murders and the lack of a culprit, these crimes will likely continue to both intrigue and terrorize the public. Jack the Ripper is the name given to the murderer responsible for the deaths of several women in London’s Whitechapel district in the year 1888. In the subsequent worldwide media frenzy these deaths were referred to as “The Whitechapel Murders”, “The East End Murders” and several other variations. Although there were frequent murders in London there are generally recognized to be five victims that were the work of this killer. Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly are the so called “canonical five” victims that are almost certainly all victims of Jack the Ripper. These women had several commonalities that made up the preferred “type” of the killer. All five were woman, prostitutes, and lived and worked in the Whitechapel district (Jenkins). There is much speculation over why prostitutes were the chosen victims. The police initially believed the culprit to be a customer of these women who was driven into a frenzy by some sort of perceived slight. Although this is possible, what is certain is they were victims of opportunity. The Whitechapel murders all occured in the very late hours of the night or early morning when very few were out on the street. As a direct result of the illegality of their occupation, it was likely only these women who were out on the streets conducting business this late at night. There is rarely a job that puts someone into a more vulnerable position and it was a vulnerability easily exploited. The resulting investigation into these murders was extensive and comprehensive, with detectives looking into each and every possible lead. Even with such manpower and resources behind the police response, there is little concrete evidence as to who Jack the Ripper really was. What does exist is a general framework of criteria that the culprit likely fits. Based on the nature of the mutilations, police believed they were looking for someone with knowledge of basic anatomy; perhaps a medical student or even a butcher. They also believed that the geographical propinquity indicated that the killer lived in close proximity or even within the Whitechapel district. His ease of access is what would have made the district his chosen hunting grounds. Lastly the police thought the brutality shown in these killings could not have been completely masked. The killer likely had shown some signs of abusive behavior or psychopathy. In fact hundreds of man hours were spent combing through the release records of neighboring asylums. Ultimately hundreds of suspects have been suggested over the years, from executed serial killers to the royal family (BBC). Ultimately most do not fit all or even most of the evidence. Three suspects that are worth considering are Montague John Druitt, George Chapman and Carl Feigenbaum.
Montague John Druitt has been a favorite suspect in the Jack the Ripper killings for over a hundred years solely because of the circumstances of his death. Druitt was a college educated barrister working in London at the time of the crimes. His father was a surgeon which led some to believe he picked up Jack the Rippers surgical knowledge during his childhood. Druitt’s law offices were located on the Southeast end of the Whitechapel district but his home was miles away. While his place of work gave him some opportunity, the reality is he would have had serious trouble returning home by train after committing such a bloody murder. The one piece of evidence that ultimately has Druitts name forever intertwined with the Whitechapel Murder investigation was his untimely death. On December 31st, 1888 Montague John Druitt’s body was found floating in the Thames river. His pockets were weighted down with stones and his body had clearly been in the water for quite some time. Police found a train ticket in his pocket which placed his death sometime after or on Dec. 1st. This date roughly corresponds with the last canonical Ripper victim, Mary Jane Kelly, who was killed on November 9th. Investigators in the Whitechapel murders suspected Druitt as soon as he was pulled from the muddy banks of the river. A suicide coinciding with the end of the murders was too big a lead to pass up. Ultimately Druitt does not fit the profile of the killer. His suicide, though suspiciously timed, was more related to his dismissal from his teaching position at a prestigious school than overbearing guilt from committing murder. After that piece of evidence is discarded very little against him remains. He was neither a local nor a violent man and any motive seems nonexistent. Druitt was likely a just a man distraught at losing a job who took his own life at the wrong time.
Another suspect with slightly more credence to the accusations against him is George Chapman. Chapman’s story bears several coincidences that may just point to his guilt as the culprit in the Whitechapel Murders. George was originally from Poland, where he trained as a junior surgeon before moving to London. Sometime in late 1887 or early 1888, George immigrated to London and found work as a hairdresser. His exact location during the murders cannot be pinpointed but only several months after, he was confirmed to be working in a barbershop in the center of Whitechapel. While this is far from proof he was in the area during the murders it certainly establishes a link. George spent the next several years of his life moving between London and America, cycling through several wives in the process. In 1902 his fourth wife, Maud Marsh, fell ill in what was beginning to become a suspicious routine. His previous lovers had all met untimely deaths as the result of strange illnesses. When Maud passed away, her family became suspicious of this trend and enlisted a doctor. The doctor discovered significant traces of poison in Maud’s body as well as those of George’s previous two wives upon their exhumation. This discovery resulted in George’s conviction and subsequent execution. After his death it was the press that first speculated about the potential links to the Whitechapel killings. He fit many of the criteria: a trained surgeon, a Whitechapel resident and a bona fide murderer. What casts doubt upon these accusations is Chapman’s preferred method of the murders he did commit. Poisoning is, although horrific, a drastically different crime than the frenzied rage and mutilation of the Ripper killings. Chapman very well may have been capable of the killings but they do not seem to fit his modus operandi.
One of the most intriguing suspects in the case of the Whitechapel murders was Carl Feigenbaum, a German sailor for the Norddeutscher Lloyd Line. The ship Carl sailed on was unclear but several ships from this line were in London’s port on every date the murders occured. The Whitechapel district being a short walk from the port and a prime destination for sailors was likely where Carl spent most of his time on land in London. Carl thus had the proximity required to carry out these murders but the evidence does not stop there. In 1894, several years after the Ripper murders, Carl was convicted and sentenced to death for the stabbing murder of a woman providing him with lodging. He had spent the previous years wandering through America, traveling through states such as Illinois and Wisconsin. He had ended up in New York City again, sleeping on benches until he found himself accomodation in the form of a kind lady providing him a room until he could get on his feet again. Her name was Julianna Hoffman and she lived in a small apartment with her teenage son and a subletter-at the time Carl Feigenbaum. This arrangement lasted a short while and came to an abrupt end when Carl stabbed Mrs. Hoffman to death with a large knife right in front of her son. He was almost immediately apprehended by police and taken to jail. The murder weapon, a long knife had dried blood that appeared to be from previous murders. He maintained his innocence throughout the trial but was shortly sentenced to death and executed. Immediately after the execution came a shocking admission from Feigenbaum’s own lawyer. His client, the lawyer believed was the very same man responsible for the Whitechapel murders. Feigenbaum had apparently confessed to his lawyer of a singular disease which “manifests itself in a desire to kill and mutilate every woman who falls in my way. At such times I am unable to control myself.” According to the lawyer, Feigenbaum was much more intelligent than he let on. Despite his appearance as a penniless tramp, Feigenbaum owned a house and, according to the lawyer, was able to converse knowledgeably on surgery and dissection (Vanderlinden). Ultimately it is impossible to know whether the lawyer’s claims are true or not. He could have been motivated by a desire for press coverage or to enhance his own public figure. The coincidences between both Feigenbaum’s confirmed killing and those of the Ripper are enough to make Feigenbaum one of the most likely candidates for this infamous figure.
Over the past century the Whitechapel murders have been combed over for clues by countless people, from amateur investigators to forensic pathologists. While the culprit has not been found and will likely never be identified, these countless hours spent searching aren’t all for naught. In fact, due to the obsessiveness of Jack’s seekers, clues that have never would have surfaced before have been uncovered. All this information has led to hundreds of suspects, with varying levels of possibility. Several of these suspects stand out from the crowd as people who genuinely could be Jack the Ripper. Montague John Druitt, George Chapman and Carl Feigenbaum are several examples. After further analysis, Carl Feigenbaum is an entirely plausible, almost likely solution to this age old mystery.
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