The Cleveland Ripper is also known as Jack the Ripper. The identity of the author of the brutal murder of five prostitutes in the East End of London in 1888 remains a mystery that fuels all kinds of theories more than a century later.
In fact, despite more than a century, investigators are still trying to uncover the murderer with the most advanced criminal science techniques available.
Late 19th century. England is the most powerful of the nations on Earth, and London, the largest city in the world. Even without knowing it, that is something that any traveler can intuit at a glance.
The towers of Westminster Parliament stand proud to speak of British political dominance, just as City banks control international trade. Meanwhile, the Times gives an account of the amusements of the aristocracy in everything that goes from the music hall to the drives to hunt the fox.
To keep the peace, the Navy rules the seas and the admired British police reveal, on sight, the splendor of the Empire. From Buckingham Palace, Queen Victoria crowns the brightest and most powerful age in English history.
However, not everything is brilliance in that England. And to prove it, you don’t have to go to the coal mines or the “satanic looms” of Manchester.
Just a short walk from the elegance of the West End, London still has an area “unexplored as Timbuktu”. It is the East End and, within the East End, Whitechapel is the place where misery bottoms out.
We speak of a maze of alleys flooded by the smelly fumes of the Thames. From an underworld where disease, alcoholism, and prostitution wreak havoc on their 80,000 souls.
From a neighborhood whose houses crowded together, seem to lean menacingly over whoever gathers the courage to walk in its shade. Whitechapel is the London the rest of London doesn’t want to see. But, in the autumn of 1888, all of England would end up looking back at this low-grade neighborhood. Because Whitechapel was to be the sinister scene of the crimes of Jack the Ripper.
The Enigma of the murderer
Jack the Ripper may not have been the deadliest of murderers. In return, he may well be one of the cruelest and – without a doubt – is the most famous of them all.
Could it be that his name, still his, evokes that fear that only a few steps can provoke in the dark, the glare of a sudden knife on a lonely street?
It will be that some criminals were never captured, but that he had to be given an alias because his identity was not even captured. It will be, finally, that “the crimes of Whitechapel” shook the well-being foundations of Victorian society and revealed the existence of a different, humiliated, and poor Britain.
However, these explanations are not enough to clarify why, more than 125 years later, the figure of the Ripper has become a legend. Why do books and more books keep appearing about his crimes, why are there magazines specialized in studying his profile, or why research has even given a name to a subject, “Ripperology”, halfway between science and mere speculation.
The answer is simple: had he been caught, Jack the Ripper would have long since ceased to interest us. But it happens that, so long later, what we know about him is, in essence, the same thing that they knew about him in his time: nothing. Nothing true, nothing certain, absolutely nothing.
For this reason, no one should be surprised that, out of so many mysteries surrounding the Ripper, every few months new hypotheses about his identity appear on time.
There have been them for all tastes and all fantasies, as can be verified with one fact: if for some the Ripper was nothing less than a lofty personage of the Royal House, others have postulated that the murderer was a gorilla escaped from the zoo.
Nobody will know anything
The more benevolent writers claim that the deaths of 1888 served to take seriously the situation in truly deadly suburbs like Whitechapel.
The unsanitary conditions of these plague areas would, in effect, reach the parliamentary seat. By then, however, the Ripper’s murderous fever had already become, as one of the city’s great historians puts it, “an enduring aspect of London’s myth.”
Jack the Ripper was the first criminal of a great metropolis. And the miserable atmosphere of that feverish East End contributed to the fact that “the streets and houses of the neighborhood were identified with the same crimes, almost to the point of sharing the blame, as if the spirit or the atmosphere of the city had a role in deaths”.
In the end, the true milestone of the Jack the Ripper case is that all the unsolved crimes eventually refer back to yours. Perhaps to redeem that interest of the morbid, not so long ago that, in a poll, Jack the Ripper was chosen “the worst Briton in history”.