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How Jack the Ripper Worked


Jack the Ripper's Victims: 1 to 3
A mortuary photograph of Ripper victim Elizabeth Stride.
A mortuary photograph of Ripper victim Elizabeth Stride.
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

One of the reasons that the Jack the Ripper mystery endures is the uncertainty that surrounds his crimes. The most commonly held belief is that he murdered five women from Aug. 31 to Nov. 9, 1888. These are referred to as the Ripper murders (also called the canonical murders) and are counted within 11 murders that took place around the same time, called the Whitechapel murders. Including the method of murder and post-mortem disfigurement, the canonical victims had a few things in common. All were prostitutes (or were known to accept propositions on occasion), most were middle-aged and all were either drunk or known alcoholics.

The reports of their murders read like chapters in a disturbing novel.

Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols: Polly Nichols, the first Ripper victim, was approximately 44 years old at the time of her demise. She was extremely poor (even by Whitechapel standards) and known to be fond of liquor. She was last seen alive around 2:38 a.m. on Aug. 31, 1888, and was found at about 3:45 a.m., lying in the narrow, poorly lit side street of Buck's Row in Whitechapel. She may have still been alive when first found, but died minutes later. She suffered an 8-inch laceration to her throat, which severed both major arteries on either side of her neck. Nichols also incurred further incisions to her neck, as well as violent lacerations to her abdomen [source: Casebook].

Annie Chapman: The second victim was an alcoholic 47-year-old widow who supported herself in part through prostitution after her husband's death. She was last seen alive at 5:30 a.m. outside an apartment at 29 Hanbury St. with a man described as "shabby genteel" on Saturday, Sept. 8, 1888 [source: Casebook]. Within five minutes, another witness heard a woman's muffled cry of "No!" from the fence between his yard and 29 Hanbury St., followed by a thump against the fence [source: Casebook]. Less than a half-hour later, a resident of 29 Hanbury found Chapman's body in the backyard of the apartment block [source: Walks of London]. Chapman was found with her feet pushed up toward her body, knees in the air and spread apart. Her throat was cut deeply from left to right, and her swollen tongue suggested that strangulation as the cause of death. Chapman's abdomen was incised and laid open; her intestines were removed and placed on her shoulder. A portion of her genitalia as well as her uterus and bladder were missing. The cleanliness of the incisions suggests the killer had some knowledge of anatomy [source: Casebook].

Elizabeth Stride: The night she met Jack the Ripper, Stride was 45 and had been drinking earlier. Stride occasionally engaged in prostitution, but just before she died was witnessed refusing a proposition. She was last definitively seen on Sunday, Sept. 30, 1888, by a police officer walking his beat along Berner Street in Whitechapel at 12:35 a.m., talking to a man with a parcel wrapped in newspaper. About 25 minutes later, she was found in Dutfield's Yard, a dark alley off Berner Street. Her legs were pulled up toward her body -- knees in the air -- with a kerchief tied around her neck. Stride's throat was deeply cut on the left side, with a lesser incision on the right. The warmth of her body and lack of any mutilation suggest the Ripper may have been interrupted by the man who discovered the body [source: Casebook].

The Ripper continued killing that same night. Find out about his fourth and fifth victims, along with some other possible victims, on the next page.

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