Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders Part 3

About the case of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders which plagued London in the late 19th century, the murderer, his escape and the move toward social reform.


The Murderer: While the Ripper may have vanished, heated speculation as to his identity has not. In theory, the murderer has been adjudged everything from a cannibal to a cop, from a religious fanatic to a mad social reformer. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, had it at one point that the murders were being committed by a psychotic midwife. Richard Baker once said: "It seems much more likely that he was a middle-aged professor with a passion for practical jokes who was no longer able to suppress his homicidal tendencies.... Such a theory helps to explain the one fault that can reasonably be attributed to Jack--his incorrigible long-windedness...."

Over the years, accusations have continued to be leveled at such sinister characters as Michael Ostrog, a Russian doctor purportedly sent by the Czarist Government to discredit London anarchists and demonstrators, but in November, 1970, Dr. T. E. A. Stowell ignited the flames of scandal by insinuating that the killer had been Edward, Duke of Clarence, grandson to Queen Victoria. In Clarence (Was He Jack the Ripper?), Michael Harrison claims decidedly that Edward was not the Ripper, but proposes that the murderer was a tutor of the Duke: J. K. Stephen, Cambridge man, poet, and misogynist. His evidence, like the evidence against the Duke of Clarence, is largely supposition, some of it pretty slim at that.

Speculation, rest assured, will continue.

Aftermath: By drawing sensational attention to the East End's squalor and filth, Jack the Ripper served successfully as a lever for social reform. Alone, he managed to do more in the way of exposing the plight of the poverty-stricken than all the public demonstrations of the time. "In our age of contradictions and absurdities," Commonweal pointed out, "a fiendmurderer may become a more effective reformer than all the honest propagandists in the world." In an open letter to the Star, George Bernard Shaw portrayed the Ripper as a sort of media guerrilla, who "by simply murdering and disembowelling 4 women, converted the proprietary press to an inept sort of communism."

Slum clearance began soon after the murders ceased, and residents of the area were increasingly referred to as "poor unfortunates," rather than as "scum." The Ripper set this process in motion. An editorial in Justice, a Social Democrat paper, summed up this line of thought with an interesting epitaph for the Ripper:

The real criminal is the vicious bourgeois system which, based on class injustice, condemns thousands to poverty, vice, and crime.

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