After a series of ghastly murders assigned to the mysterious ‘Jack the Ripper’ the identity of the killer has been hotly debated. Over 2000 people were interviewed, over 300 were investigated, 80 people were detained and over one hundred Jack the Ripper suspects have been proposed. Police regarded several men as strong suspects, but none was ever formally charged. Although many theories have been advanced, experts find none widely persuasive, and some can’t be taken seriously at all.
The swiftness of the attacks, and the manner of the mutilations performed on some of the bodies, which included disembowelment and removal of organs, led to speculation that the murderer had the skills of a physician or a butcher. Others, however, disagreed strongly, and thought the wounds were too crude to be done by a professional. The alibis of local butchers and slaughterers were investigated, with the result that they were eliminated from the enquiry.
The Whitechapel murders were featured heavily in the media, and attracted the attention of Victorian society at large. Journalists, letter writers, and amateur detectives all suggested names either in press or to the police. Most were not and could not be taken seriously.
Suspects proposed years after the murders include virtually anyone remotely connected to the case by contemporary documents, as well as many famous names, who were not considered in the police investigation at all.
As everyone alive at the time is now dead, modern authors feel free to accuse anyone they can, without any need for any supporting historical evidence. Most of their suggestions cannot be taken seriously, and include, among others, English novelist George Gissing, British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, the author of Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll and syphilitic artist Frank Miles.
Several theorists suggest that ‘Jack the Ripper’ was actually more than one killer. Stephen Knight argued that the murders were a conspiracy involving multiple miscreants, whereas others have proposed that each murder was committed by unconnected individuals acting independently from each other.
The police believed the Ripper was a local Whitechapel resident. The Ripper’s apparent ability to immediately disappear after the killings suggests an intimate knowledge of the Whitechapel neighbourhood, including its back alleys and hiding places. However, the population of Whitechapel was transient, impoverished and often used aliases. The lives of many of its residents were little recorded. The Ripper’s true identity will almost certainly never be known.