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“The hunt for Jack the Ripper – I remember that as well as I remember anything – I don’t know if he was in my time or whether it was only talked about. But the boys – horrible little brutes they were – they used to say ‘Look out, here comes Jack The Ripper’ if we were playing in the street some time – and we all used to run. Oh we were proper little cowards. They always pictured him with a big leather apron and a carving knife.” (Mrs. Bartholomew, born in 1892, Poplar, East London. Interviewed by Anna Davin in June 1973)
Jack the Ripper was a murder in the late 1880s. Following are the facts of the case, referenced from Bergara of Buzzfeed. Over the course of ten weeks (from August 31st, 1888 to November 9th, 1888), five gruesome murders of prostitutes took place in London’s East End. All of the murders, with one exception, occurred within a quarter mile of Whitechapel, a district of East London. All five were performed in heavily trafficked areas, however, there were no witnesses to the crimes. All the murders were performed at night, four of which were done in the open. The motive for the crimes remains unknown, and no clues as to the killer’s identity were ever uncovered. No suspects were ever investigated, despite hundreds of people being detained and interviewed throughout London. The Ripper’s identity was never revealed.
In the Victorian Era, the social structure determined your place in the world. There were three major categories within the social structure, the Upper class, the Middle class, and the Working class. There were tensions between all three classes, however the majority of the tension festered between the Middle class and the Working class. These tensions led to a major rise in classism, which is, according to Merriam-Webster, prejudice or discrimination based on class. According to Haggard, The East End of London (where the Working class lived, and where the murders took place) was the “symbol of urban poverty”. Many people in the West End (where the Middle class lived and worked) saw the East as a place where the “the vilest practices are looked upon with the most matter-of-fact indifference… the filthy and abominable from all parts of the country seem to flow. Entire courts are filled with thieves, prostitutes, and liberated convicts.” This view was cemented in many people’s mind. Because of this view, many people were almost scared of the East End, and by proxy, the Working class as well.
Fear may be a primary factor in the prevalence and popularity of the Jack the Ripper case in the common era. According to Walkowitz in Jack the Ripper and The Myth of Male Violence, the “respectable classes” (the Upper and Middle classes) were in constant fear of social disintegration and class conflict, with most of their worries focused on the East End, where the majority of the crimes including the Ripper murders. The Middle class feared that the East End would bring upon social degeneracy, or the loss of a desirable society. This fear could have led the people of the West End to be more invested in the murders at the time, thus leading to the popularization of the crime. Also, according to Haggard, the Ripper murders condensed the ambiguous fears of brutality, immorality, and destructiveness from the West End into one entity. Many in the West End believed the crimes to be logical because of the conditions in the East End. Fear only intensified the preexisting social conditions between the classes. This could have led to more press coverage and a greater popularity of the case at the time. The fear of the West End led to a plethora of other factors that lead to the culture prominence that the Ripper cases hold. While fear may not be the leading factor in the cases popularity, it certainly aided in the cases cultural significance.
The Ripper Murders were truly vile and gruesome. According to the FBI case report conducted in 1988, all of the victims were sexually assaulted, with their genitals and secondary sex characteristics all heavily mutilated, all of the subjects were killed swiftly, with most of their throats being slit from behind. The Ripper also removed organs from some of the victims, among them including a kidney, a vagina, and a nose. The removal of these organs indicated that the Ripper had anatomical knowledge and surgical ability. In fact, in the murder of Mary Jane Kelly (the last of the Ripper’s known victims), her organs had not only been exposed, but many were removed and posed around her, with her heart being absent from the scene. Her skin and muscle had also been removed from her right thigh. The skin from her costal arch (the lower edge of the rib cage) down to her public area had been removed in large flaps. The Ripper also typically posed his victims in sexually revealing poses. These crimes were not anything typical.
But how did the details of the crimes cause it to be a constant in culture? Well, according to Keppel et al, any murders similar to what the Ripper did are extremely rare. They ran an analysis through the Homicide Investigation Tracking System (HITS), a system of 3359 murders. This study showed that there were only nine cases in the database where bodies were explored or mutilated. Six of those murders were females, only one was a prostitute. There were only two cases (both female, neither a prostitute) that had unusual body posing and had been mutilated or explored. There were no cases of murders who targeted prostitutes, displayed the bodies in unusual positions, with mutilation to any part of the body. The oddity of this case could lead to many people’s fascination with it. The Ripper case is one that you can’t find anywhere else, and the details of it, although vile, make for an excellent story. Although the details of the victim’s death may be intriguing, there are still other factors that make the case as popular as it is.
The Middle class’ fear of social collapse and the gruesome details of the crimes make for a great news story. The news reporters of the time realized this as well. The press was a primary factor in creating the interest around the case. Jack the Ripper actually mailed a number of letters to the police and various news agencies and they were published in the papers in the hopes that someone would be able to identify the handwriting. In fact, those letters were signed “Jack the Ripper”. That’s where the famous killer got his name. According to Walkowitz, the press made the murders into a media event, by using the fear from the middle class, the details of the murder and “fantasies” of the Ripper. The press knew how to follow a headline, and in we remember the cases, in large part, because of the press. According to Haggard, the publication of the letters increased the killer’s fame and without the press, the murders may have never been remembered in the first place. So, without the press, there may have never been a “Jack the Ripper” and the case would not be nearly as popular as it is today.
Before the murders, the publics thought very highly of many medical examiners. The doctors were the royalty of the middle class at that time period. However, this changed significantly after the murders. The newspapers had started speculating the occupation of the Ripper. Because the ripper had anatomical knowledge, many assumed that he was a doctor or a post-mortem worker. This spelled danger for the reputation of many doctors. Public opinion significantly declined and fear started to arise around the profession. This didn’t stop doctors trying to salvage themselves. According to Answer, the doctors of the time claimed that they didn’t have the knowledge to inflict the injuries the ripper caused, they only had the knowledge to fix the injuries. However, the murders also sparked change of another kind. Police reports and photography have improved drastically since the time of the murders. According to Special Agent Douglas medical examiners reports were nowhere near what would be considered complete today, crime scene photography was hardly used, and the police reports were no where near as rigorous as they are today. However, since the murders, the reports that we use in crime have improved significantly. While this improvement isn’t just because of the ripper, the killer certainly gave the police force more a reason to make improvements. The changes that the ripper influences might now be the killers claim to fame, but the murders lead to some change that is greatly beneficial to people now, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
In the Victorian Era, the social structure determined peoples place in the world. There were three major categories within the social structure, the Upper class, the Middle class, and the Working class. There were tensions between all three classes, however the majority of the tension festered between the Middle class and the Working class. These tensions led to discontentment between the social classes. According to Anwer, the crime scene photos seem to suggest that it was the victims occupation (prostitution was seen as a vile and evil occupation) and her appearance led her to be murdered. However, that’s not the only case in which the ripper showed his social beliefs through his murders. According to Keppel et al., Jack the Ripper preyed on those who were poor, and that he would display the victims in sexually degrading poses, which could have been an effort to further degrade the victims social image. This displaying could have been the Ripper’s way of showing how he considered them disposable. Could these discriminatory views drive the Ripper to murder? There have been other cases of murder where there have been less of a reason, so it is a reasonable idea that the classism of the Victorian Era could be a factor.
Overall, the Jack the Ripper case had a major impact on many different aspects of life in the modern day. So, which impact is the most important? Which aspect had the greatest impact? There isn’t truly a definitive answer to either of those questions. There may never be a true answer to who committed the heinous crimes, but the effects of the crimes can still be seen today.
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