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One hundred and thirty years ago, in an East London district called Whitechapel, five gruesome murders were committed by a figure shrouded in mystery, Jack the Ripper. In 1888, newspapers had slowly grown from being purely local, to circulating around cities and nations with ease. This spread the case around like wildfire, and that flame still burns today. “Ripperologists”, as they are called, carry that flame, coming up with theories that are sound or just out of the par. Despite these theories, recently scientific backed evidence on a Ripper letter has been found that could change the most infamous cold case forever: female DNA. Now, theories that I argue strengthen the idea of a female Jack the Ripper (or Jill the Ripper, as he is called) were supported, and brought into the spotlight. Two of the most popular theories are that Jack was a midwife or a woman murderer who was convicted years after the Whitechapel murders. The third theory is my own, that one of the victims was Jack the Ripper herself.
The midwife theory is the most popular female Ripper theory, and one of the oldest theories. In the 1888 The Evening News, two letters theorized that the murderer was a woman, and one, sent by a particular ‘J.O.’ suggested that the murderer was a “woman accustomed to midwifery” and was more inclined to mutilate the bodies in such a way, opposed of a normal man who was likely to be unmarried, who supposedly would have been gentler and less brutally violent, but derive some form of perverse sexual pleasure from the deaths. The theory was supported, at least partially, by Doctor Thomas Bond, who provided professional advice during the initial investigation. After Mary Jane Kelly’s murder, he released a report that listed of all his theories based on the previous murders and the examination of Kelly’s body. His eighth listing claimed that the murderer had no “scientific nor anatomical knowledge”, and that they did not even have the technical knowledge that a butcher or animal slaughterer might have. While this seems to have no connection to J.O.’s statement and the midwife theory overall, midwives would indeed be expected to have a separate skill set, with no knowledge of butchering or surgical procedures. They would, however, have basic knowledge of where the uterus and lower organs (all were taken from the victims at one point or another) were located, allowing them to carve open the bodies, take any organs they desired, and leave the crime scene in plenty of time to avoid discovery. C-sections were in use by doctors in 1888, though they were not as successful as today, for obvious reasons. In these cases, a doctor would be on call alongside the midwife present, allowing them to observe the surgery. This would allow her to see how to cut open a body to reach the uterus.
Of course, the big question is, why? Why would a midwife decide to mutilate five women? There are three different motives that I argue are the most probable. First, midwives are women that either are unable to have children or have many children. If it is the former, it is possible she murdered the women because they were able to have children and decided to not to have them at all despite that ability. Secondly, and going off the latter option, she might have murdered them since they had the option to not have children. A married woman at that time would not have a say when she would become pregnant, or the option to choose how many children she might have. A prostitute, like the victims, could get an abortion and forgo even getting pregnant. A third possible motive would be the slow but sure increase of male midwives since the early seventeenth century. A fear of being pushed out of one of the only jobs a woman could have could have pushed one to murder. Instead of murdering male midwives, however, she would murder women and push the blame onto a man. This would cause women to fear having a man being their midwife and risk him murdering her and push them out of that career for a while. The problem with this, however, is that women still made up most of the career, and none were being removed from their jobs yet. There would have been no need for alarm, unless, of course, the midwife had mania or was extremely paranoid.
In 1890, on October 24, Phoebe Hogg and her baby were murdered. Later, a woman’s body would be found on a pile of trach in Hampstead, London, her head crushed and nearly severed from the neck. Then, an eighteen-month old baby was found dead in Finchley, cause of death was smothering. The murderer was a woman of 23 to 24 years of age, born Mary Eleanor Wheeler. Not much is known about her early life, except that her father was tried for murder and executed when she was a teenager, which might have had an effect on her psyche that can only be assumed. The rest of her life that is known to us starts with her relationship with carpenter named John Charles Pearcey. Though they never married, Mary used his surname as her own and kept doing so for the rest of her life, despite their eventual split due to her many affairs. She quickly moved into Frank Hogg’s home, and started a relationship with him. Both had many affairs, though their union was harmonious, at least compared to her previous one. Soon, though, things started going downhill. Hogg had gotten a woman known as Phoebe Styles pregnant and was planning on marrying her. At first, Mary did not take this well, though after talking, Hogg convinced her that their sexual relationship would still continue, which kept her happy; for a while. After the baby was born, Mary decided to take action. She invited Phoebe to her home for tea, and screams were heard in the afternoon and quieted until dark, which is when the body was found. Her connection to the Jack the Ripper case is weak but considering her vague past and the method of throat cutting was similar, she had spiraled into infamy as one of the most prominent female suspects for Ripper. It also should be noted that Mary was exceptionally strong at the time of her trial and that as a woman, walking around with blood on her clothes would be permissible as she could pass off as a midwife.
If Mary was the Ripper, why would she kill five prostitutes from Whitechapel? To try and puzzle her motive out, one must look to her lover, Frank Hogg. Hogg was noted to have a few affairs, just like Mary, before he settled down to marry Phoebe once she became pregnant. It is not a far-fetched theory as to guess that he might have visited a few girls while working in London. Pearcey might have possessed the same fits of jealousy that she had with Phoebe and decided to get rid of her competition. As was mentioned before, passing off as a midwife would have been easy, many were freelance at the time and did not carry any sort of badge or papers to prove their line of work. Mary could have easily lured in the prostitutes as a friendly gesture, murdered them, and returned home, all without suspicion. The flaws however with this theory, is the fact that the only thing connecting Ripper and Pearcey is her abnormal strength and the way the victim’s throats were severed, and the fact that the walk from Pearcey’s home in Kentish Town to Whitechapel is almost a two hour walk, though if she had a wagon or a carriage– which is doubtful, she had no need for a cart, and carriages are for people of a high class, though a taxi could be an option — she might have made it to Whitechapel in half an hour. Despite this, it was too far to have to go there and return just to kill prostitutes all on the weekend.
The list of suspected Rippers is long, having expanded throughout the years. Despite the many conspiracies floating along, none suspect the victims themselves, most notably, Mary Jane Kelly, Ripper’s last victim in the ‘canonical five’ and his most gruesome kill. Kelly herself was an enigma, ‘history muddied by the fact that all we know about her is what she told people’. Her approximate past started in Ireland, where she moved with her family. She married young, but was widowed a year or two later, which cause her to move in with her cousin in Cardiff, where she became a prostitute. She moved around a bit afterwards, with different men. All of this information comes from one Joseph Barnett, who she had met a year before her death, and separated a month before the murder. Her appearance was also unclear, most notably her hair. Three of her nicknames, ‘Fair Emma’, ‘Ginger’, and ‘Black Mary’ denote that she was either blonde, ginger, or a brunette. The only thing all reports could agree on was that she was a very attractive young woman. This would allow Kelly to easily find a woman of her approximate height and had blue eyes to murder in place of her. All one would have to do would be to mutilate the face beyond recognition, which, the supposed body of Kelly was. In Dr. Bond’s autopsy report, it is described that ‘the face was gashed in all direction the nose cheeks, eyebrows and ears being partly removed.’ In addition to that description, in the pictures of Kelly’s body, the face is completely beyond recognition, her hair saturated with the blood soaking everywhere. The only way that they could have assumed it was Kelly was the fact the body was found in her room, which is evidence enough, unless Kelly lured up her victim under the guise as protection from the cold or the streets.
The night of the murder is also more than a little confusing. Kelly met up with a man, who was carrying some kind of bag according to reports, who seemed closer to her than a normal client might have, as he seemed to be joking with her and offering her the use of her handkerchief. They went up to her bedroom apartment, and that seemed to be the end of that, and that was the last time anyone other than that man would see Kelly alive. Or so it seemed. Later that morning, around eight and ten a.m., two different people claimed to see Kelly wearing her favorite shawl and walking around the town, before the body had even been found. Later, two neighbors of Kelly reported that people were coming in and out of her apartment all night, which would not make sense. A murderer does not leave his crime scene, especially since he would be in the middle of carving out Kelly’s body at the time. The only way this would make sense if she were faking her death, luring in some innocent girl and mutilating her body so badly it was unrecognizable. Faking her death would allow her to slip out of London with no alarm and cover up any leads that traced back to her.
The real question, of course, is why. There are many reason, most of them suggesting that Kelly had mania which caused her to believe the only way to get rid of wok competition was to murder them, or she had a jealous fit that one, or all, of the other victims serviced one of her lovers, possibly Barnett, who she had recently split with. Another possible motive is some sort of backwards vigilantism, that maybe she did not like the line of work she was in, and in her point of view, the only way to stop so many girls from entering the profession was to kill other prostitutes to make them even more afraid of what might happen to them if they became sex workers. However, there are probably many holes in this theory. It is not as deeply researched as one would hope, as I only have limited access to resources on the actual case, and the fact it has been over one hundred years since the case closed officially. This theory is far out there, and it could be that Jack the Ripper just exhausted themselves on Kelly and finally decided to stop killing.
Unfortunately, there is no way to know who Jack the Ripper was, though with DNA testing, we grew one step closer. These theories might all hold truth in them, at least in some way shape or form. Despite the fact this case might never be solved, it is still fascinating to view the psyche of other people through our modern-day lenses, and to watch as other people come up with their own theories of Ripper.
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