StMU Research Scholars

The Search for the Whitechapel Ripper

During the nineteenth century, London was riddled with crime and corruption and the district of Whitechapel was filled with prostitutes and crime. To worsen matters, the police force was weakened due to the inefficiency of those in charge. As a result, the home secretary sought to appoint former soldier Sir Charles Warren as Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan police force. It was not until March 1886 that Warren began his work as Chief Commissioner over all districts in London.1

Pressured by the widespread approval from the people of Whitechapel, Warren knew he had a lot to fix within the police force to stabilize the district. Warren’s first reform was manpower redistribution within police force division, specifically the addition of two divisions, F and J. In his following two years, he reinforced the importance of these two new divisions when he assigned more trained police officers to these divisions in attempt to create order in London’s districts.2

Although prostitution was quite common in nineteenth-century London, its legality resulted in neglect from police commissioner Warren. However, in 1888, Warren began to focus on the Whitechapel district in particular, due to the murder spree of Jack the Ripper, who had mutilated over seven prostitutes in five months. Commissioner Warren had to regroup officers from other divisions into the district of Whitechapel in an attempt to catch the killer.3

The investigation began with Martha Tabram, the first known victim of Jack the Ripper.4 Tabram was found dead on the stairs of a lodging house with thirty-nine stab wounds. Police reports concluded that one of her wounds was inflicted by a left-handed person, while the other lacerations on the body did not match the same stabbing pattern. The inconclusive investigation tore the police force apart. To worsen matters, Warren had no official statement for the public and the city grew unsettled. No crime as brutal as Martha’s had been committed in the East-end at the time. However, no one anticipated that Jack the Ripper would gruesomely slay two more victims within the next two weeks.

Illustrated Police News at the time of Whitechapel’s crime and murders | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The second victim, Mary Ann Nichols, was found with her throat and abdomen split open in a yard by J division twenty-four days after Tabram was found. However, the Crime Investigation Department (CID) was unable to gather any evidence that could trace back to Jack the Ripper due to the interference of Warren’s H division constables. One of his constables was headed back to work when he stumbled across Nichols’ body and ran to the scene. Without thought, he tampered with the crime scene, but he was not the only one who broke division protocol that night. On the scene, the doctor observed the corpse’s wounds and ordered an unauthorized police officer to escort Nichols’ body off to a morgue. With the presence of only one amateur photographer and a dismissive doctor, the investigation photographs only captured Mary Ann Nichols with a white sheet over her face. Countless hours of investigation led up to little progress. Commissioner Warren doubted his ability to stop Jack the Ripper.5

The aftermath of the crime proved that the new division strategy Commissioner Warren had constructed was flawed. With no report or valid evidence, the people of Whitechapel felt unsafe, and uneasy towards Chief Commissioner Warren and his officers. Unfortunately, the murder of Annie Chapman happened a few days later, and caused panic for the Chief Commissioner. Chapman was found with her throat slit from left to right and her stomach split open, exposing her intestines. There was no strategy Warren could construct to apprehend Jack the Ripper. It was the beginning of a never ending goose-chase.6

With the continuous murders, Commissioner Warren knew he had to act quickly, but he wasn’t sure how to approach the situation. Warren was a man of action, but too caught up in his power to effectively lead. Distracted by public elections, Warren drifted away from the security of the Whitechapel district. Warren’s main focus was to gain the head detective position for the CID. When he was chosen to be the head detective, he ran the investigations in his own way without considering the opinions of his partners. Subsequently, the investigations he took part in led to a dead end, and on September 30, Jack the Ripper struck again.7

Jack the Ripper taunting police with letters written in blood | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Twenty-eight days after Chapman’s attack, Jack the Ripper struck twice, mutilating the bodies of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes. Both bodies were severely cut open exposing intestines and their throats slit from left to right. Eddowes’ body was missing a kidney and part of her ear. Her mutilated body became the worst case of homicide the police force had encountered to date. Violence escalated as the Ripper took more time mutilating the bodies. However, this time Jack the Ripper decided to start sending letters to the Whitechapel police, mocking their inability to catch him. Five days before the attack of Stride and Eddowes, the force received a letter in which the Ripper stated that he was just getting started with his work. The letters didn’t seem to satisfy the Ripper, so he sent out a special package. When the police force opened the package, they came across a kidney with a letter written in blood.8 Warren and several officers treated the letters as a hoax, but with Eddowes missing kidney, the fear grew among all of the men and the city.

Commissioner Warren quickly acted by enforcing stricter night watch for the officers to stake out the Ripper. But the neighboring communities and locals questioned their safety and the commissioner’s strength in the case. Soon, the Office of the Board of Works wrote a letter to Chief Warren in regards to his ineffective strategies and weak vigilance. There were plenty of citizen-written letters as well, some suggesting their own methods for strategically catching Jack the Ripper. One that stood out to Chief Warren was the use of hound dogs to track the Ripper as he attacked his next victim.9

Police photograph of Catherine Eddowes’ mutilated body | Courtesy of Wikipedia

October was a quiet month for the city of Whitechapel, with no activity from the Ripper recorded. In preparation for any unexpected acts, Warren gathered hound dogs to prepare for the next attack. Commissioner Warren hired Edwin Brough to take his dogs in order to train them for the mission he had prepared. Warren was sure he would get Jack the Ripper now.  For several days the dogs would train by searching for Warren who was imitating the target. But the weeks passed and October remained slow with no murders.10 The town grew quiet, still in fear, but relieved while Warren felt defeated and out of place in his work. On the 8th of November, Commissioner Warren resigned, but remained part of the investigation until December of 1888.

After resigning, Commissioner Warren felt confident that the Ripper was finished with his work this time and released Edwin Brough with his hound dogs. Abruptly on November 9, Mary Kelly was the last prostitute mutilated, a conclusion to the Ripper’s murder spree. Kelly’s breast were cut off, naked with her guts out, elbow bent, and her faced hacked beyond recognition.11 There was not much to be done when they made a postmortem examination, but it was concluded that all the murders were committed by one man. All the fault laid on Commissioner Warren when the media and public addressed their hate towards his low quality leading and inability to catch the killer. Newspapers flooded the streets, all demanding the Whitechapel officers to explain what their next steps would be and if any evidence was found that could help identify the Ripper.

Unfortunately, Chief Commissioner Warren’s attempts to catch the Ripper failed, and those who had once praised him now poured public shame on him for his lack of effective leadership. Over time the investigation pool only held three contemporary suspects. The one that stood out the most was a Jewish man that went by the name Kosminski. Kosminski’s name appears in several detective annotations from the crime scene investigations and other police reports. One witness claimed to have noticed him taking part in a murder, but refused to testify against him due to his Jewish heritage and disapproval of capital punishment. Even though the murders stopped after the identification of Kosminski, the true murderer remains unknown to this day.12

  1. Scott Palmer, Jack the Ripper: A Reference Guide (Boston: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 1995), 65-68.
  2. Scott Palmer, Jack the Ripper: A Reference Guide (Boston: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 1995), 65-68.
  3. Neil R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper (United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing, 2014), 125-127.
  4. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 2001, s.v. “Jack the Ripper,” by J. Gordon Melton.
  5. Neil R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper (United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing, 2014), 128-135.
  6. Neil R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper (United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing, 2014), 135-140.
  7. Scott Palmer, Jack the Ripper: A Reference Guide (Boston: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 1995), 65-70.
  8. Lee Lerner and Brenda W. Lerner, Crime and Punishment: Essential Primary Sources (Detroit: Gale, 2006), 99-101.
  9. Neil R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper (United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing, 2014), 190-200.
  10. Neil R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper (United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing, 2014), 200-220.
  11. Neil R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper (United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing, 2014), 225-243.
  12. Neil R. A. Bell, Capturing Jack the Ripper (United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing, 2014), 153-230.

60 Responses

  1. Before reading this article I had heard of Jack The Ripper and knew that he was an infamous killer, but never knew the specifics of is violence. It is terrible and almost does not seem real how gory he was. I feel terrible for the Commissioner, since he really did try his best, but was never able to capture the ripper.

  2. Poor commissioner man, he tried his best… or what if Jack the ripper was him? Just kidding, but what if it was someone that was near or controlled the narrative. It must have been someone who blended in too well. It is crazy that they haven’t found him yet. This is an amazing article and had me hooked at every aspect.

  3. I had heard of Jack the Ripper before reading this but I did not really know all the details about his or his victims stories. Jack was a vicious and brutal. I think it is crazy how the police could not catch him to the point where he started mocking them. I am surprised that i had not heard of his crimes before hand because even other serial killers tried to copy him.

  4. I use to wonder how such a gruesome killer as Jack the Ripper was never found and now I realize it was bad organization and distractions paired with limited technology of the time. I found it frustrating that the day after Warren released the hounds Jack the Ripper struck again, even though it makes sense since the dogs were no longer on patrol. I did not realize there were any suspects for Jack the Ripper, and although Kosminski was never convicted it makes me feel somewhat better there was some effort in finding him.

  5. I had not heard of Jack the Ripper prior to reading this article. This article was very interesting and did a great job of telling his story. Jack the Ripper seems to have mastered the maliciousness of serial killing, as it was extremely difficult for officials to catch and kill him, as they eventually did. Many other serial killers have been influenced by the way in which Jack committed his murders, which is extremely problematic.

  6. I have heard many stories about Jack the Ripper. This article was super interesting and to really read and learn more about him. He got away with killing a lot of people and it took awhile for the police to actually be able to track him down and kill him. I thought it was funny in a way that Jack would mock the police since they couldn’t catch him. What wasn’t beneficial is that his ways started to get copied by other serial killers and those who thought they could be like him, which wound up with more fatalities.

  7. The story of Jack the Ripper is a really old one which finds itself on the fringes of popular culture as time goes on. It is truly a chilling one, with people afraid to be out at night, all afraid of one man who ruled the city’s night. This man did horrible things to many people and mocked the police he managed to foil. This is a horrifying tale of police incompetence and killer brutality that shall hopefully never come again.

  8. Jack the Ripper is a very popular case, this article was very interesting as it focused on what was going on the commissioner’s side of things. I never knew that there was a potential loss of evidence and unfollowed protocol in the first two murders. It makes sense that the people would turn and blame Chief Commissioner Warren, but at the same time it is unfortunate for him because there wasn’t any real way he could solve it with what he had.

  9. The folk tale of Jack the Ripper has been synonymous with pop culture for as long as I can remember. However, Azucena Cuevas’s article of the real-life murders committed by the anonymous man is a haunting one, to say the least. The fact that he got away with brutally mutilating eight females is downright ridiculous to me. I do have the same the I am sympathetic towards Commissioner Warren. His progression of turning London into a safer city was all destroyed by the murder sprees. It is an interesting journey that has still led to no definitive destination after more than 100 years.

  10. Jack the Ripper is a very famous serial killer. It is very interesting to read about him and this article does a perfect job. He was able to kill a lot of people, especially prostitutes. The police was having a hard time trying to find him and track him down. As police could not find him, Jack the Ripper began mocking the police in many ways and his crimes increased each day. Jack the Ripper could never be caught and some of his crimes have been copied by other serial killers.

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