Friday, 16 November 2012

The Savage Slaughter of the Violated Victim

                     On Friday November 9th 1888, he struck again. She was another prostitute, Mary Jane Kelly, in her mid-twenties and described as a ‘pretty, buxom girl’, who had moved from her native Ireland to Wales as a child, married a miner at sixteen, was widowed when he was killed in a mining accident and had moved to London, where she entered a West End brothel. 

Mary Jane Kelly in Miller's Court

Her situation worsened and by 1887 she had moved to the East End, where she lived with Joseph Barnett, a market porter. In 1888, they were living in a twelve-foot square single room in Miller’s Court, Whitechapel, rented from John McCarthy. 

Location of Mary Jane Kelly's Murder

Kelly owed McCarthy twenty-nine shillings for six weeks back rent, and he sent his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, to collect the debt. He knocked on the door but did not get a reply, so he reached in through a broken window, pushed a coat that was being used as a curtain to one side and peered into the room. The severely mutilated body was lying on the bed, and a distraught Bowyer went and told McCarthy, who went for the police. Inspector Walter Beck was the first to arrive, joined by Sgt Edward Badham, but they didn’t go into the room as Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had given orders that if there was another murder, the scene should remain undisturbed until her arrived to take charge. Warren wanted to use bloodhounds to try and scent the killer out, but what Beck and Badham didn’t know was that Warren had resigned his position on the previous day and was not on his way, so there was a two hour delay before the police went into Number 13, Miller’s Court. Unlike the other killings, which had occurred in the streets, this one had taken place in a room, where the Ripper had been undisturbed, and he had had time to go about his terrible business. He had not so much ‘ripped’ Mary Jane Kelly as dismantled her. 

Police Photograph - Murder Scene - Mary Jane Kelly

Death occurred by the severing of her carotid artery as her throat was cut, but her abdomen had been torn apart, the front part removed and placed, together with the flesh from the thighs, on a table. Her liver was placed between her feet, the uterus, kidneys and one breast under her head, the other breast by the right foot, the intestines by the right side of the body and the spleen by the right side. The throat had been hacked down to the vertebrae, which was deeply notched, and the face had been mutilated beyond recognition, with slashes to the eyes, ears, nose and cheeks. The right lung had been torn, the pericardium was open and the heart was absent. Both thighs had been denuded of skin and muscle down to the bones; both arms and forearms bore deep, jagged wounds. The bed on which the body was lying was soaked in blood. There were burnt clothes in the fireplace, which had probably lit to provide illumination, as the only other light source in the room was a halfpenny candle. Mary Jane’s clothes were neatly folded and her boots were placed beside the fireplace, suggesting that she had undressed and lain on the bed, as she knew the killer. 

Haymarket - Midnight

Several men had been seen in her company on the previous evening and Mary had been heard singing by a neighbour at about 1 am. She had been seen on Flower and Dean Street at 2 am, talking to a man of about 35 or 36, around 5 feet 5 inches tall, wearing a long, dark coat and a soft, felt hat pulled down low. He wore a white collar and a black necktie, with a heavy gold watch chain, button over boots and spats, and he was carrying a parcel. Mary was seen kissing this man at the entrance to Miller’s Court just before 3 am, before going into the court. She was not seen alive again, although some neighbours say they saw her in the morning, even after the time of death. 

London Drinking Den

And that was that. There were other murders in Whitechapel, but these were the recognised ‘Ripper’ murders. Why he stopped killing will remain unknown – he could have moved elsewhere, been imprisoned for some other crime or institutionalised, perhaps he even died. It is all speculation. As is much ‘Ripperology’, the subsequent study of the crimes, where there is as much barminess and crazed guesswork as you could ever wish for. For every measured, considered theory about the possible identity or motive of the Ripper, there is another that is certain he was a time-travelling alien. The popular conception of Jack the Ripper is of a tall, dark, Victorian gentleman in a top hat and opera cloak, descending into the rookeries of Whitechapel with his silver topped cane and leather Gladstone bag containing his collection of cutlery. He has some connection with the medical profession; maybe he is even a surgeon. He may have links to the aristocracy; he may even have royal connections. He is a monster, but he demands a certain grudging admiration from us, in the same manner that we admire the elegant efficiency of a King cobra or black panther. He is a killer, but he has class. He is the Prince of Killers; a talented, skilled, calculating assassin, a ghoulish brother of Count Dracula. 

Punch - Sept 29 1888 - The Nemesis of Neglect

But, as I say, this is all speculation. He could, just as easily, have been a cockney horse butcher. Even at the time, the medical profession denied his supposed anatomical proficiency and had him marked down as an amateurish hacker of flesh. The memories of the anatomists and their dealings with the resurrection men were still active in the popular imagination, and there remained a vigorous mistrust of surgeons that fuelled the conception of the Ripper as Doctor Death. The plain facts are that an unknown serial killer murdered five prostitutes in Whitechapel between the end of August and the beginning of November 1888. There are a couple of other possible murders that he may or may not have committed, but that’s it. Five killings in six weeks. 

Supposed Murderer?

The them-and-us mentality was just as strong in the past as it is today – the rich took whatever they wanted for their own nefarious purposes, they fed, sometimes literally, on the blood of the poor. The tabloid media today still carries stories of the lurid doings of the privileged and wealthy, perpetuating the myth of evil plutocrats, fat cats and celebrities that operate beyond the reach of the law. Go ahead, buy a paper tomorrow and prove me wrong.

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