Steampunk Fact Sheet: Jack the Ripper

Find out all the facts you need to add the Ripper to your Steampunk stories, plus some of the Steampunk adaptations that already exist.

Steampunk Fact Sheet

Jack the Ripper is the world’s most famous serial killer, both because of the brutality of the murders and the fact that the crimes are still unsolved. I have seen many Steampunk works make reference to the Whitechapel Murders as a means of situating their stories in time, as well as Jack appearing as a character in movies and books. But with so many interpretations floating around such as From Hell, it can be hard to keep the facts straight, so here is a cheat sheet to help you get it right.

  • During press coverage, the killer was most often referred to as “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron” because of the aprons worn by butchers. The name “Jack” became connected to the murders after letters began to arrive at news outlets and signed by that name. Historians still doubt whether any of the letters are legitimate, or simply hoaxes meant to drum up newspaper sales.
  • The five canonized Ripper killings occurred between August and November of 1888, but police continued to investigate a total of 11 murders that they suspected were linked up until 1891.

The Murders

In 1888 there were a string of murders in the Whitechapel District of London. Due to the similarities between the victims, modus of the murders, and the proximity of the crimes, they were attributed to the same killer. There are five women who are generally accepted his victims. But there easily could have been more murders that were never discovered, or there could have been more than one murderer. This is an overview of the murders most often associated with Jack the Ripper.

Murder #1:

Mary Ann Nichols, killed sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. on August 30, 1888. She was an alcoholic, which led to her separation from her husband in 1882 and her job as a prostitute. The murderer cut her throat was cut and abdomen.

Murder #2:

Annie “Dark Annie” Chapman, killed at approximately 5:30 a.m. on September 8, 1888. After the death of one of her children by meningitis, she and her husband both became heavy drinkers and separated in 1884. Her husband was required by law to provide for her welfare, but he died in 1886 from alcohol poisoning. She tried to support herself through crocheting and selling flowers, but was also involved in prostitution.

Murder #3:

Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, killed sometime between 12:35 and 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1888. The murderer cut her throat was cut and mutilated her abdomen. The postmortem doctor identified the weapon as a thin knife blade, approximately 6-8 inches in length. Like the other victims, she and her husband separated, but she was a prostitute before and after her marriage fell apart. She spoke Yiddish and Swedish in addition to English.

Murder #4:

Catherine Eddowes (aka Kate Conway and Kate Kelly), killed a few hours after Elizabeth Stride on September 30, 1888. She left her first common-law husband, Thomas Conway, and her three children in 1880. Later, she took up with John Kelly and they lived together in a lodging house on Flower Street. The night of her death she was arrested for drunkenness and held at the Bishopsgate police station until approximately 1:30 a.m. Within minutes, she died. Her face and her abdomen were mutilated, and a piece of her ear as well as her kidney was taken by the killer.

Murder #5:

Mary Jane “Fair Emma” Kelly (aka “Ginger” and “Black Mary”) was killed November 9, 1888. There was a lag between the deaths of Eddowes and Kelly. Many thought increased police activity held the killer at bay. Kelly’s origin is less documented than the other victims, but sources say she was the widow of a coal miner named Davies who died in an explosion around 1881. Like the other victims, she was a drinker and reportedly sang Irish songs while enjoying her gin, so it is believed she hailed from Ireland. Unlike the other victims, she was found murdered in her home around 10:45 a.m., time of death between 6 and 8 a.m. that morning. Her body was extensively mutilated, the coroner believed the murderer took more than two hours to complete his task.

The Most Likely Suspects

Historians and hobbyists alike speculate over the identity of The Ripper. Some sources say as many as 500 different people (including at least one woman) have come under suspicion. Many of these people were not suspects during the actual investigation and that is far too many to talk about here. Below, I only highlight the best known and/or plausible

According to some, Jack’s identity was already discovered in 2014—or was it? A silk shawl that supposedly belonged to one of the victims underwent DNA testing starting in 2007. In 2014, a book by Russell Edwards detailed the findings of scientist Jari Louhelainen, who claims to have definitive evidence that identifies Aaron Kominski.  He came under suspicion in 1888 at the age of 23 and died in a mental institution 30 years later. Unfortunately, Louhelainen made at least two major errors in his analysis that were brought to light in October 2014, rendering the conclusions useless. The search continues.

How Deep Did the Conspiract Go?

Others think that the Jack the Ripper conspiracy went all the way to the highest levels of government. Spoiler alert! In the 2001 Johnny Depp flick called “From Hell,” Jack is in fact Prince Edward “Eddy” Victor, aka “grandson” to queen Victoria. According to the theory, Eddy impregnated a low-class girl (and a Catholic no less!). To avoid scandal, the queen ordered the matter be “taken care of.” Annie Crook and her royal offspring are spirited away by the royal physician, John Gull, but her friends like Mary Kelly are making too much noise about the disappearance and must be silenced. The serial killer who hates prostitutes is created to cover the real scandal and claims many victims.

Still Others actually suspect John Gull himself as the murderer because of the precision of the cuts made to the victims. Many enthusiasts believe the fact that Jack was never captured never points to some kind of conspiracy.

A Few Less Likely Suspects

One of the more likely suspects is Seweryn Klosowski (aka George Chapman). He was a Polish-born Jew who had only been in Whitechapel a short time before the murders began. In 1903, he was convicted on three counts of murder and hanged for killing his wives. This would seem to make him a very good suspect indeed, but he killed his known victims with poison, not brutality. Serial murderers rarely change their modus operandi.

John Pizer was arrested in 1888 for the murders, but was later let go because he had alibis (including talking to a policeman) during two of the five canonical murders. The Sergeant who arrested him, William Thicke, allegedly had personal animosity against Pizer and no evidence whatsoever. Pizer sought reparations from at least one of the news outlets that reported he was the murderer. Thicke was later accused as being The Ripper in a letter sent to The Home Office, but this was likely a hoax and was never followed up on by the authorities.

batman-gotham-by-gaslight-000Jack the Ripper in Books

  • Gotham by Gaslight (1989) pits Jack against Batman in Gotham City. It is being adapted to an animated series and will air soon!
  • In the Steampunk Chronicles series by Kady Cross, Jack is a character.
  • Ripper (2012), by Stefan Petrucha, follows the quest of young man from New York City to find his father in London, but instead finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.
  • Ripper (2012), by Amy Carol Reeves, is about a young woman who is volunteering at a Whitechapel hospital and has visions of the Ripper’s murders before they happen.

PosterJack the Ripper in Other Media

  • Ripper Street” is a BBC show about rebuilding Whitechapel in the wake of the Ripper killings. It began in 2012 and the third season is airing as of now (January 2015). (Review coming soon!)
  • Time After Time” (1979) Jack the Ripper uses H. G. Wells time machine to escape his own time and is pursued by Wells to San Francisco, CA.
  • From Hell (2001) Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in this film that takes its name from one of the famous Ripper letters that were sent to the press.
  • Progress” is a webseries that operates in an alternative Victorian London where there is already a steam-powered internet. You can watch the first three episodes for free at progresstheseries.com.
  • A game for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows entitled “Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper” was released in 2009.

Did I miss and Ripper references, books, or movies you know? Please leave a comment so I can add to my list!

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