A Ripper of an Idea

Another day, another Jack the Ripper suspect, this time put forward by former solicitor John Morris. As ever, we’ve no more reason to believe this suggestion than any of the dozens of others that have been advanced, sometimes repeatedly, over the years. At least the name appears to be a new one, even if the idea of the Ripper being a woman certainly is not.

Be wary of definitive statements about 120-year-old cold cases;

‘There’s absolutely no doubt that the Ripper was a woman.’

It’s pretty clear that there is, I’m afraid. The list of proof reads like a textbook definition of ‘circumstantial evidence’, and are not necessarily even established facts. I’m no Ripperologist, but in 20 minutes of investigoogling found some problems with the claims made in the press piece. Firstly;

‘Three small buttons from a woman’s boot were found in blood near Catherine Eddowes’

…is true, but lacks some important context. The actual source reads;

‘Sergeant Jones picked up from the foot way by the left side of the deceased three small black buttons, such as are generally used for boots, a small metal button, a common metal thimble, and a small penny mustard tin containing two pawn-tickets.’

Note that the boot association comes from a policemans’ attempt to describe the objects in the absence of a photograph, and the fact that the buttons were found with various other objects you might expect to find in a woman’s handbag or pocket. It’s far more likely that the buttons were loose and in the victim’s possession than it is that they were somehow torn from the killer’s person.

That a Victorian journalist thought arranging items in some kind of order was a ‘feminine’ trait reveals far more about Victorian attitudes to gender (and possibly our own if we’re prepared to set store by them) than it does about our elusive killer.

Finally, I’m not sure how we can know that Mary Jane Kelly had ‘never been seen wearing’ the clothes found in her fireplace, as one witness does describe a hat and jacket, and another (contradictory) witness specifies a pelerine (cape) and skirt. Eyewitness testimony being notoriously unreliable, of course.

I should reserve judgement until someone (not sure I can face another Ripper book) has analysed the main thesis and evidence for it. But on past form, I can’t hold my breath. We will almost certainly never know who Jack the Ripper was, and it’s no coincidence that scholarly study in the area is more concerned with the social historical context of the killings than it is with the futile search for the actual killer. Personally, my money’s still on the Phantom Raspberry-Blower.