Home > Free Essays > History > Historical Figures > The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain?

The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain? Research Paper

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Oct 21st, 2021


The story of Jack the Ripper has become somewhat of a legend. Sometimes he is fictionalized in films and literature that people of the present age who have not known the real history behind the fiction believe that Jack the Ripper is just a figment of a writer’s imagination, or that he did not exist at all.

Non-fiction writers and scholars have tried to straighten this up by separating facts from myths – that during the time of Victorian England, the year 1888 to be exact, Jack the Ripper, the name he gave himself to the press, actually wreaked havoc, by murdering helpless women, “mutilating and disemboweling” them.

Odell (2006) says, “No other murderer has given rise to such an outpouring of the printed word; indeed, few historical events have inspired so vast a literature. None has given birth to a field of interpretation and study such as that represented by Ripperology” (239).

Though he has remained popular in committing the “art of crime”, yet he (or she) has remained elusive, and his real identity has remained unknown up to this day, more than two centuries since the first known murder in the East End of London in August of 1888. Brutal and cunning are some of the few extreme words we can describe Jack the Ripper. It is not our intention to create a celebrity (for indeed the man – or woman – has become a celebrity in a sense) out of a notorious criminal but to look at different angles and to arrive at a thesis that can help put the matter to rest. A new term has been introduced in the dictionary out of this phenomenon – Ripperologist, a term referred to a person who studies the “art” of Jack the Ripper.


There have been many speculations about the identity of Jack the Ripper. Since his popularity and the crimes he committed happened in 1888, for sure he’s not with us anymore. But he is with us, figuratively speaking. Moreover, Jack the Ripper is the subject of films, plays, theories and speculations that up to now, he’s one of the most talked about “celebrity”.

This paper asks, what motivates a man to commit such murders on helpless prostitutes? Is it a question of revenge or just plain savagery and wanton passion to kill?

In the internet, we can gather various topics all focusing on the subject of Jack the Ripper, some even offering tours for tourists to visit the exact place (allegedly) where the crimes were committed (see “On the trail of Jack the Ripper” at http://www.jack-the-ripper-walk.co.uk/). In short, the subject has become an interesting source of income, a commercialization, so to speak. The man who murdered helpless women, mutilated and disemboweled their bodies, has become an icon and commercialized, thanks to the modern ways of communication such as the internet, cable, satellite and high-definition television.

Coville and Lucanio say, “Even though the mystery of the Ripper’s physical identity has consistently drawn the attention of the public, the symbolic Jack the Ripper tantalizes the public even more” (3).

It is perhaps man’s “animal instinct” that Jack the Ripper is put into the pedestal. He has become more of a celebrity than a criminal. Unimagined violence or mutilation of organs from the inside of man has become a subject in films and mystery stories. Jack the Ripper created his own genre of mystery and horror stories. And what can we claim? We have immortalized the man. Can this be the reason that criminal acts, and serial killings, are sometimes ordinary activities nowadays?

Odell (2006) says “Five murders are commonly attributed to Jack the Ripper, all characterized by his trademark throat-cutting […] and bound together by the fact that they were all prostitutes living and working in Whitechapel and Spitalfields […] and all found with their throats cut and suffered various degrees of mutilation…” (xviii).

Coville and Lucanio (1999) narrate this horrifying drama:

“In the early morning hours of August 31, 1888, in a lowly part of London called Buck’s Row in Whitechapel, Constable John Neil flashed his “bull’s eye” lamp into a narrow gateway and discovered the mutilated body of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, a 37-year-old prostitute” (7). This is the beginning of a series of murders in that area of London. But let us first examine how the place look like in that time of history.

Victorian England.
Figure 1. Victorian England.

This picture can give us an idea of how that part of London looked like during the time of the murders. It was Victorian England.

Josh (2009) described the place as “a dire place in 1888 […] opium dens and brothels shared cramped quarters alongside family housing […] drunken residents spilled from the pubs into streets where children played.” In other words, the place was conducive to street crimes. And it was not a good place to stay or live. Josh adds: “The living conditions in the East End reflected the poverty of its residents.”

In his essay, “Victorian Women Expected to Be Idle and Ignorant”, Petrie (1960) explains that “a Victorian woman prepared for a marriage which gave her status if she landed a prosperous husband from a higher class. When she married, she was completely subservient to her husband; if she found herself in an intolerable marriage, she had no recourse for divorce” (178).

Petrie (1960) further said that “Victorian women prepared for marriage not work” (179).

Five murders are attributed to Jack the Ripper, and their status in life revealed that mostly were separated or divorced. Odell gives the detail of these murders:

“First Murder: Mary Ann Nichols (nickname “Polly”), aged 45; Date: Friday, August 31; Place: Buck’s Row, Whitechapel; Time: 03.40

“Second Victim: Annie Chapman (nickname “Dark Annie”); aged 47; Date: Saturday, September 8; Place: 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields; Time: 06.00 (approximately);

“Third Victim: Elizabeth Stride (nickname “Long Liz”); aged 45; Date: Sunday, September 30; Place: Berner Street; Time: 01.00;

“Fourth Victim: Chatherine Eddowes (also known as Kate Kelly); aged 46; Date: Sunday, September 30; Place: Mitre Square, Aldgate; Time: 01.45;

“Fifth Victim: Mary Jane KELLY (also known as Marie Jeanette); aged 24; Date: Friday, November 9; Place: 13 Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, Spitafields; Time: Between 03.30 and 04.00” (xviii-xxiv).

Though there were several suspects for each of the victims, Jack the Ripper was the principal suspect because of the method or manner of slaying – the victims were disembowelled, their throats were cut, and the time of the commission of the crime was almost the same – during the wee hour of the midnight or early dawn.

Eddleston (2001) listed about 18 victims who were murdered around that time and in and around the area, but they could not be possibly attributed all to Jack the Ripper.

Theories on Jack the Ripper

In researching for this paper, we consulted some of the most reliable books, periodicals, journals, and websites on the subject of Jack the Ripper. We have used various sources, and it’s noteworthy to cite one of the very important facts. One of these books is John J. Eddleston’s Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia, a book detailing the narratives, data and information about the victims, covered in one section, and the other three sections covered “the ‘witnesses’, the ‘police’, and ‘others who played a part’” (Eddleston xv).

Other books and websites provided some important theories while some we can understand as rehashed or recycled pieces of information.

Theories abound on the possible motives of Jack the Ripper. Can this be a story about revenge? Can it just be a story of a simple psychopath wanting to experiment? Or a male chauvinist wanting to exert power over women? Let’s take some educational contexts of male power over female.

In her book, Gender and Conflict, Chatterji (2006, p. 1) says, “’Sex’ determines ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’ based purely on physical differences. Therefore, ‘sex’ has the structural quality of being universal.”

Although this quote from the book “Gender and Conflict” of Chatterji talks about, well, gender and conflict, we can extract some ideas as to the murderer’s state of mind. There was inner conflict in Jack the Ripper, there’s no doubt about that. But there are reasons behind this conflict. Sex and gender are two phenomenon that could have influenced his murdering prostitutes. However, this remains to be proven considering the Ripper’s method of finishing her victims – most of them were horribly mutilated, some parts of the inside organs were placed somewhere, beside or far from the bodies.

Sugden (2002) says, “The Ripper’s contemporaries were baffled by the lack of conventional motive, whether gain, jealousy or revenge, in his crimes. Casting about for an explanation, some turned to the far past. ‘It is so impossible to account … for these revolting acts of blood,’ commented one, ‘that the mind turns as it were instinctively to some theory of occult force, and the myths of the Dark Ages rise before the imagination. Ghouls, vampires, bloodsuckers, and all the ghastly array of fables which have been accumulated throughout the course of centuries take form, and seize hold of the excited fancy’” (2).

One theory is provided by “The Criminologist, a British professional journal of police science” quoted by Time U.S. (online) which said that “the identity of Jack the Ripper was known to Scotland Yard”.

The article (dated Nov. 09, 1970) quoted the magazine: “He was the heir to power and wealth. His grandmother, who outlived him, was very much the stern Victorian matriarch… His father, to whose title he was the heir, was a gay cosmopolitan and did much to improve the status of England internationally” (TIME 2009).

The same article quotes Thomas Stowell, “a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons,” who said that the fellow referred to as ‘S’ “caught syphilis in the West Indies while touring the world in his late teens. At 21, he was ‘gazetted to a commission in the army … He resigned his commission shortly after the raiding of some premises in Cleveland St., which were frequented by aristocrats and well-to-do homosexuals” (TIME 2009).

Then there’s this intriguing theory initiated by Kathy Marks (2006) who says that Ian Findlay, a professor of molecular and forensics diagnostics, had said that “he had developed a profiling technique that could extract DNA from a single cell or strand of hair up to 160 years old.” Dr. Findlay concluded that “it’s possible the Ripper could be female” (Marks 2006). The same theory was supported by Detective Frederick Abberline. Marks further said that there was one female suspect Mary Pearcey “who was convicted of murdering her lover’s wife.” The theory however sounds unbelievable.

On the other hand, Eddleston (2001) furnishes a long list of people involved or could have given light to the mystery surrounding the murders. This list includes the victims, witnesses, suspects, detectives and members of Scotland Yard, and literature and films about Jack the Ripper and the time of the commission of the murders in 1888.

On top in Eddleston’s list is George Hutchinson from Britain who resembled the closest identity to Jack the Ripper. Eddleston (2001) writes:

“Hutchinson lived close to the epicenter of the murders, was the right age and height, and, given what little we know of his physical description, may have matched the composite picture of Jack. Further investigation is needed, but Hutchinson is a very strong candidate [to be Jack the Ripper]” (115).

To add further, Eddleston gave Hutchinson the score of “5”, in a scale of 1 to 10, for the “chance of being the Ripper”. Still Eddleston (2001) admits that “there is a good chance that the real Ripper has never come to public attention. Most sensible writers accept that Jack was a local man, of the same class as those he murdered, and was someone the victims would readily have accepted as one of their own” (242).


It’s just fair to conclude that Jack the Ripper appeared in that time of history of Victorian England, murdered several victims (to be exact, there were five positively attributed to him, though there were several others not clearly proven that it was his own doing) and then disappeared in sight, never to be identified, never to appear again. Whatever happened to Jack the Ripper, nobody knows. Most of the possible suspects are products of theories and speculations.

It is therefore logical, sane and proper that the case of Jack the Ripper has to be put to rest. But if it is for the satisfaction and enjoyment of students and readers of fiction, then let it be one of those that remain immortal in our literature for many to devour. That can be only for enjoyment, or entertainment, hence, it can be fiction, for that is what is appearing now in the light of so many forms of media with Jack the Ripper as the “main protagonist” instead of the other way around.

We can also conclude that if the circumstances surrounding the murder – the victims, suspects, witnesses – were around in the time of new technology applied on forensic medicine, including fingerprinting and DNA, surely there couldn’t have been all the hullabaloo surrounding Jack the Ripper. We could have known who Jack the Ripper was and where to really put him to rest – in the heroes’ hill, the criminals’ grave, or the actors’ cemetery similar to Hollywood.

For me, let’s just learn the lessons in literature and fiction. And how to enjoy them.

Works Cited

  1. Chatterji, Shoma A. Gender and Conflict. New Delhi, India: UBS Publishers’ Distributors Pvt. Ltd. 2006
  2. Clark, Josh. . 2008-2009. How stuff works? Web.
  3. Coville, Gary and Patrick Lucanio. Jack, The Ripper: His Life and Crimes in Popular Entertainment. North Carolina: McFarland, 1999. 7 – 25.
  4. Eddleston, John J. Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2001, ISBN 1576074145, 9781576074145. 1-84.
  5. Marks, Kathy. 2006. The Independent Science. Web.
  6. Odell, Robin. Ripperology: A Study of the World’s First Serial Killer and a Literary Phenomenon. Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2006. xviii-xxiv; 239-242.
  7. . 2009. Web.
  8. Petrie, Charles. “Victorian Women Expected to Be Idle and Ignorant.” Victorian England. Eds. Bruno Leone, Bonnie Szumski, and David M. Haugen. San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000. 178-187.
  9. Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. Carrol & Graf, 2002. ISBN 0786709324, 9780786709328
  10. TIME U.S. (2009). Who was Jack the Ripper?
This research paper on The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain? was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Research Paper sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2021, October 21). The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain? https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-elusive-jack-the-ripper-a-hero-or-villain/


IvyPanda. (2021, October 21). The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-elusive-jack-the-ripper-a-hero-or-villain/

Work Cited

"The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain?" IvyPanda, 21 Oct. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-elusive-jack-the-ripper-a-hero-or-villain/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain?" October 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-elusive-jack-the-ripper-a-hero-or-villain/.


IvyPanda. "The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain?" October 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-elusive-jack-the-ripper-a-hero-or-villain/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain?" October 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-elusive-jack-the-ripper-a-hero-or-villain/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Elusive Jack the Ripper: A Hero or Villain'. 21 October.

Powered by CiteTotal, automatic reference generator
More related papers