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A Clockwork in Crimson

A study of the Jack the Ripper murders

BOA Audio Interview

The Profile of Jack the Ripper


A Jack the Ripper mugshot?

While standing over a mutilated body with parts flung hither and thither, no investigator needs a profiler coming along and telling him that a creep did this. This is redundant and often irksome.

What an investigator does require is evidence that connects a particular suspect to the scene of the crime. No District Attorney can charge a profile. No Grand Jury indicts an abstract. There must be an individual. There must be evidence that links this individual to the actual crime.

     “Any powder that kills flee is good powder,” said Charlie Chan. But even from the vantage of practical application, criminal psychological profiling is largely only academic. It is based on giving metaphoric meaning to certain facts uncovered in the investigation. Metaphor, the language of cults, is a poor substitute for scientific method, even in literary works. On its own psychological profiling cannot capture any criminal, as any real investigator knows. They were captured by detectives who doggedly pursued the evidence and found the culprit.

     Unfortunately, for the last 25 years a misplaced use of criminal profiling has become the only tool used to promote an image of the most famous serial killer in history— Jack the Ripper. Abducted from its useful place, modern criminal psychological profiling has given us pointless suspects, and in the hands of unstable theorists we’ve only been led further astray from his actual image. On top of this, modern criminal profiling is modern. It is based on a curve of contemporary and captured criminals. When it comes to serial killers the aggregate profile has very often been based on sexual revolution maniacs of the 1960s and 1970s. This is not something that can interpret the late night world of Victorian Whitechapel 1888. When profiling became so popular in the 1980s, not so surprisingly the profile it gave us of the Ripper was that of a disturbed, low class sexual killer. However, this profile was based only on popular and very erroneous beliefs about the crime scenes, not on the actual facts.

     In fact, the name “Jack the Ripper” is probably the only bit of original information that comes down to us unaltered in the last 125 years; this, and one other thing. The socially tumultuous times of 1888 gave us 2 extreme images. For the West End and Middle Class, the Ripper was a tavern dreg who preyed on his own kind (sadly, an image resurrected in the last 25 years). The other was the poor East End’s image: the dapper topper in a top hat preying on the righteous hides of the poor. This has been and remains the popular and even artistic image to this day.

     A believable profile of Jack the Ripper can only be had from gleaning the actual evidence of his crime spree and the picture only a maximum of 3 reliable eyewitnesses give us. Physically, he was about 5 foot 6 to 5 foot 7 inches tall, stocky build. He was foreign looking, darker in complexion, with dark hair. Not surprisingly, he wore dark clothes— a black cutaway coat, pants, and on one occasion a dark overcoat or ulster. This would make it easier to fade in and blend with the night and not stand out too garishly in the lower class East End of London. This makes his choice of headgear all the more amazing. He wore a dark felt deerstalker hat.

     Today we have a very inaccurate appreciation for this hat. We associate it only with Sherlock Holmes, and because of this we credit it with being a commonly worn hat in all circumstances back in Victorian times. This is quite in error. The deerstalker was a hat worn in rural areas, while stalking deer, hunting, bird watching, or simply while on a nature walk. This was not a hat worn in urban environments. And as all Holmes buffs know, Conan-Doyle never mentioned Holmes’ hat by name. On only one case, while Holmes was in the country, did Conan-Doyle ever describe him wearing a hat that matches a deerstalker. He never said it by name. He merely described it as having those flaps that protect the ear. Holmes, never garish, would only have worn the hat in the right circumstances, as he did in only one of his rural capers.

       Because he wore this hat we know that the Ripper was quite uncouth. But was he intentionally or unintentionally uncouth? It would be significant to know, for this would give us some insight into his character. I suspect he was intentionally uncouth, for he was never seen leaving the scene of a crime or just strolling along to and from his hideout. He was only seen before-the-fact with the intended victim. Afterward, he ghostly transposes into the Whitechapel nights. No one ever reported some oddity walking about looking like he eloped from an Audobon Society stroll in the woods.

     The Ripper was so careful in his planning that he struck all but once on rainy nights. Infer from this he didn’t want to leave any trail from the crime scene. I suspect he pocketed his deerstalker and walked away nonchalantly. This would explain why he was never seen strolling along the streets, even in one instance when the murder occurred in dawn light. He may have worn the hat only when stalking his game. This gives us a very interesting insight into how he regarded his victims. If he put another hat on afterward, it would therefore have been a soft hat— something that he could have kept folded in his coat. If his hands were bloodied, he would have soiled the deerstalker in taking it off. This would mean he would have to wear a different deerstalker before each strike. Did the Ripper have a variety of different deerstalkers? This would indicate he wore it intentionally. Who else would indulge in this bit of gaucherie and actually have more than one of this rural hat in order to repeatedly wear it out of place?

     This is possible, but we must tread carefully here. Just moments before the murder of Annie Chapman (September 8, 1888), Elizabeth Long had passed her and a man standing outside 29 Hanbury Street. At the inquest she described the hat the suspect wore as “dark felt, low crown.” In his summation the coroner, Wynne Baxter, clarified it was a “brown deer-stalker hat.” If his clarification is right, then the Ripper had more than one type of deerstalker, for Constable William Smith certainly saw the next victim, Elizabeth Stride (September 30, 1888), with the Ripper just minutes before she must have been murdered. (For a detailed backworking of the chain of events on September 30, see Scarlet Autumn). He described the man as wearing a “dark felt deerstalker.” If Baxter is wrong, then this is the same dark felt hat Long saw on September 8 on the suspect with Annie Chapman.

     We thus have two possibilities. The Ripper had only one dark felt deerstalker that he repeatedly wore (only prior to a murder) or he had a variety of this country gentleman’s hat that were disposable after being soiled at each killing.

     Sadly, the reality of what exactly the Ripper wore was lost quickly. Only one illustrated publication showed the fiendish assailant wearing the right hat.

     These were socially tumultuous times. When Wynne Baxter popularized the idea of a medical man or mortician going about harvesting uteri from low class women, the image of a West End topper preying on the hides of the poor dominated. The romanticized image, still with us today, of the top-hatted gent owes its origins to the very beginning of popular discourse on the subject of the murders.

     The truth is quite enigmatic compared. The Ripper was neither a West End gent nor an East End lout. He was somewhere in between. He was described as clerkly, educated to some extent, soft voice, not a laborer. Elizabeth Long described him as “shabby genteel.” Was it his misplaced bit of country gentleman headgear that gave his soft spoken foreign-looking clerk’s manner the “genteel” air? We may indeed wonder. He may have had the inclination to put on airs, but I propose from the above that he wore this deerstalker quite intentionally. This gives us an interesting paradox. He dressed drably— cheapside clerk— but he wore a hat that would make him dangerously stand out in the poor East End.

     But what was his motive?

     Wynne Baxter both contributed to popularizing the Ripper’s skilled image and to obscuring his motive. Jack the Ripper wasn’t actually after uteri. Annie Chapman’s sleek gutting on September 8, 1888, in which the Ripper neatly removed her uterus, with navel still attached, inspired much theorizing. It impressed the police surgeon George Bagster Phillips that the killer had skill. It sent Baxter on his own investigation to discover an American was going about offering 20 quid per uterus to medical institutions. He believed that some twisted postmortem man took up the offer and went out to the East End to retrieve these from the expendable dregs that festered in the area’s poverty stricken nights.

     But Baxter evidence was very isolated. He had assumed that the same goal applied to the first victim’s murder (Polly Nichols, August 31, 1888) as it had to Chapman’s only a week later (September 8, 1888). Nichols’ inquest was still underway as Chapman’s commenced. The Ripper’s neat work on Chapman caused Baxter to believe that the only reason why Polly Nichols’ uterus had not been expertly lifted was because her killer had been interrupted. But the evidence says no. 

     In fact, there wasn’t even the attempt in Nichols’ case. She had mutilations in her lower abdomen; several deep slices that went down and some across. These were all below the navel. Her stays had not even been removed. They were only loosened. Press reports of disemboweling were grisly exaggerations. In Chapman’s case, there were no pointless mutilations. Three flaps of skin were created and the uterus neatly taken. The mutilations in Nichols had no other purpose than mutilation. Indeed, before Chapman’s neat evisceration it was natural to connect Nichols’ murder to that of Martha Tabram’s. She had been murdered on August 7, 1888, in peculiar and mysterious circumstances. Her throat had not been cut, but her lower abdomen had been mutilated with 18 slices and stabs.

     Baxter pondered over the lack of blood in Nichols’ case, but the sleek Chapman dissection and his own personal investigation caused him to gloss over it. This was a mistake. The enormous contrast between Chapman’s and Nichols’ murders can only have another explanation. And this must be that the Ripper wanted blood first. Not an organ. Did he mutilate Nichols lower abdomen to feign a connection with the brutal stabbing of Martha Tabram and therefore cover the ultimate motive for Nichols’ murder? If he did, these unnecessary mutilations did not work so well a cover as Baxter’s theory about uteri as the goal and that the Ripper was merely interrupted in Nichols’ case.

     Catherine Eddowes is the next drab mutilated. It was sloppily done compared to Chapman’s murder, but the circumstances tell us the Ripper had to work quickly. Nevertheless, he took the time to engage in pointless mutilations. He also sloppily takes the uterus from Eddowes, but he neatly takes one of the kidneys. This is an interesting contrast. Was his skilled evisceration of Chapman a mistake? This inspired the chat that he was a medical man. Was this too close? Did he take the uterus to draw a feint to Baxter’s theory? Did he really only want the kidney? It is justifiable to ask this question, for in the next victim, Mary Kelley, he doesn’t bother with the uterus at all. He takes her heart.

     In looking at it this way, it becomes obvious that only once was a uterus desired. Only once did the Ripper overtly show his skill. It was dawn light in the Chapman murder. He had no time or convenience to hide his skill. All murders show skill, but in the last 2 popularly attributed to him he makes wanton mutilations to cover that skill.

     One thing about the crime spree is incredibly significant. No hint of anti-Semitism was attached to the murders until the tabloid Star introduced the whole idea of a mad Jewish slipper-maker on the loose. This scenario came out in the paper’s installments just a few days before the Annie Chapman murder on September 8, 1888. Still there was no hint of anti-Semitism on the Ripper’s part with her murder. However, after Chapman’s murder the whole East End was upset into near riot stage. It had thus become obvious that these murders could upset London politically and socially to a disturbing level. On September 30, 1888, the night of the “Double Event” when the Ripper murdered two drabs, anti-Semitism noticeably raised its head. This time it was different. This time it was on the Ripper’s part. The first victim, Elizabeth Stride, was found murdered in the shadow of a Jewish socialist’s club. After Catherine Eddowes’ murder the Ripper took the risk to come out of hiding and brave a huge manhunt in order to throw down her torn, bloodied apron and write on the door frame over it an assignation against the “Juwes.” This open attempt to incite race riot was playing a new card on the Ripper’s part. He, in fact, went out of his way yet again to cover his actual motive and incite upheaval. But he did so only when he saw that he could.

     There are, of course, many other details of each crime scene and even in the greater crime spree that continue to reveal much about the character of Jack the Ripper. The reader can consult Scarlet Autumn for a detailed analysis. But this is sufficient here to finally start reintroducing the actual Ripper’s profile and appearance. It has been lost too long; replaced by folklore, formula, and pure fancy.

       Collectively, we have just with the above a physical profile of Jack the Ripper. We have a man of contrasts. He had skill, but when this became too noticeable he hid it. He killed in public, but went out of his way to hide his actual motive. He was rather nondescript except for that noticeable eccentricity of a dark felt deerstalker hat. He wore this hat when stalking his game, but probably not after killing them. He obviously never wore it at other times. He was “shabby genteel” in manner or rather like a clerkly fellow putting on some airs. He had surgical skill. Probably not the level of a doctor, but that of a mortician or postmortem man. After this became the popular theory, he went out of his way to conceal his level of skill. Yet it was still noticeable in how he killed his victims. He had incredibly good night vision.

     There is no evidence he was a sexual killer. He seemed to get no erotic thrill. He killed like a humane butcher. He grabbed the victim’s mouth with such force he left bruises, then he dispatched them with a deep slice. He butchered in near pitch darkness most of the time. He killed in seconds and butchered in minutes. He took the organ he wanted and left. He never left a trail from the scene. (All but once he murdered on rainy nights.) None of the victims were sexually molested.

     Sexual thrill cannot be the ultimate character even in a sexual murderer. Murder is the height of strutting egoism. Anybody who thinks it’s their place to snuff out someone’s life for pleasure, fancy or convenience has many more disturbing attributes predominant in their character before one gets to their perverse kink. Murderers, especially serial killers, are arrogant. First and foremost they value no life but their own.

   To classify Jack the Ripper’s crimes as those of a sexual killer is to jump over starkly sinister attributes that should be far more readily and instantly apparent to us. It is to ignore the cunning with which he executed his crimes and the consistency he displayed in flouting danger to bring upon unbelievable circumstances. This desire to promote mystery is predominant before all others, and thus this is a reflection of what was most on his mind and what was his earnest and ultimately most important desire. It concealed his true identity. But his murders reveal a haughty mind killing what he deemed to be expendable people.

     Underlying motives are seen in the Ripper murders, but no erotic thrill. The Ripper killed what were even by prostitutes’ standards the dregs of society. He didn’t kill a decent citizen, though many ambled along in the darkness of Whitechapel. Many more beautiful women were available and in safer circumstances than on narrow streets and in backyards. Yet the Ripper butchered in public. He preyed on dirty hags winking over toothless smiles. To give you one stark visual: Catherine Eddowes apron was thought to have been black until it was realized it was white and was simply that dirty. Can you imagine what she smelled like?

     The Ripper is, in fact, a very complex character with perhaps more than one layer of motives. Not the conspiracy rubbish of fantasists. But he wasn’t a poor demented Jewish hairdresser or foppish socialite. The Ripper crimes are documented beyond what most people would even have thought possible. But this evidence, shouting to us for 125 years, has been oppressed by writers creating a suspect to conform to the folklore. It is time to study the actual evidence and finally unmask Jack the Ripper. It is to unmask the little man in the gauche deerstalker hat.




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             Jack the Ripper
     The Whitechapel Murders