Mass murderers and predator killers have plagued mankind since before recorded history, but the idea of the “serial killer”—with its quasi celebrity status—is more of a recent development. Many think the first recognizable serial killer of the modern variety was Jack the Ripper. Jack’s multiple killings in the fall of 1888 not only caused widespread terror, but also sparked a remarkable media sensation.
One of the side effects of the media’s attention was hundreds of anonymous letters that claimed to be sent by the killer. All of the letters are viewed with extreme skepticism, but two of them (the so-called “Dear Boss” and “Saucy Jacky” letters) are thought to be the most legitimate. After assessing the writing style and tone of the letters, they are both thought to have been written by the same person. They both seem to have information that should have only been known by the police and the murderer. Furthermore, the two letters were sent directly to the Central News Agency to ensure media coverage. The letters, both signed with the name “Jack the Ripper,” are thought to have been the original source of the serial killer’s now globally-known name.
According to the traditional Jack the Ripper narrative, Jack’s murder spree began on August 31, 1888, with the murder of Mary Ann Nicholls. She was killed with a deep cut across her throat and her abdomen was dissected. The Ripper struck again on September 8, when Annie Chapman was murdered. Her throat was slit and her uterus was stolen from her body with surgical precision.
Weeks later, on September 27, the “Dear Boss” letter was sent to the Central News Agency. In it the self-proclaimed Ripper mocked the police and voiced his anticipation for his next kill. He even claimed that he would cut off the ear of his upcoming victim.
Jack the Ripper emerged again on September 30 and took two more lives. First, he killed Elizabeth Stride by cutting her throat, but was apparently scared away from the scene before any mutilation could occur. Next, the Ripper hunted down Catherine Eddowes. She was killed with a cut across the throat. Unlike the body of Elizabeth Stride, the body of Catherine Eddowes was heavily mutilated. Her face was slashed and a piece of her ear was severed, as the “Dear Boss” letter supposedly predicted. One of her kidneys was also taken, as well as a portion of her womb.
The “Saucy Jacky” letter (actually a postcard) was sent to the Central News Agency on October 1, and it referenced both the recent double-murder and the earlier “Dear Boss” letter. The writer of the letter complained that he had no time to mail his victim’s ear to the police, but acknowledged that the ear was, indeed, slashed. Once again, the letter was signed, “Jack the Ripper.” For increased dramatic effect, the postcard was covered in what seemed to be blood smears.
Jack the Ripper committed his last canonical murder on November 9, 1888. This time the victim was Mary Jane Kelly. Her murder was by far the most gruesome—virtually no part of her body was spared mutilation. Much of her body was skinned, not just of flesh, but of muscle. Her features were slashed and brutalized beyond recognition. Her dissected body parts were even strewn around the crime scene.
With that, the canonical (traditionally accepted) killings of Jack the Ripper ended, but the mystery, investigations and interest in the crimes that occurred during the fall of 1888 continue to persist, today.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.