This year and month mark the 125th anniversary of the reign of terror that the “Jack the Ripper” murders held over the world. Jack the Ripper is the best-known name given to an unidentified and notorious Victorian murderer who became the first internationally known serial killer. He was active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. His name originated in one of several letters written by someone claiming to be the murderer. Within the crime case files as well as journalistic accounts, the killer was known as “the Whitechapel Murderer” as well as “Leather Apron”. The letters were sent in September and October of 1888 and are believed to be written by Jack the Ripper himself, though scholars debate over their authenticity.
The first letter is referred to as the ‘Dear Boss’ letter (Picture 2 & 3) was received by the Central News Agency on September 27, 1888. The letter claims responsibility for the murders and is signed “Jack the Ripper.” This is the first use of the name “Jack the Ripper”. Scotland Yard was never able to definitively prove that the letter was written by the murderer and some believe it was the work of a journalist seeking publicity. The letter was received three days before the September 30, 1888 murders of Stride and Eddowes. In the letter the author writes, “The next job I do I shall clip ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly.” Because part of Eddowes right ear was cut off, some believe the letter was written by the killer.It reads:
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly Jack the Ripper
Dont mind me giving the trade name
PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha
The second letter, called the ‘From Hell’ letter (picture 5), was sent to George Lusk on October 16, 1888 along with half a human kidney, preserved in ethanol. After Catherine Eddowes was murdered, her left kidney was removed. George Lusk was the Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, a group of citizens who searched for the killer. The publicity he received due to his role caused him to receive many fake “Jack the Ripper” letters. This letter has the highest consensus among the Jack the Ripper / Whitechapel Murders experts to actually be from the real killer because of the accompanying internal organ. The original letter, as well as the kidney that accompanied it, have subsequently been lost, along with other items that were contained within the ‘Ripper’ police files. The image shown here is from a photograph taken before the loss. The letter states:
Mr Lusk Sor I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer.
signed Catch me when you Can Mishter Lusk.
Lusk was persuaded by his fellow Committee members to take the letter and kidney to Dr Frederick Wiles who was nearby. Wiles was out, so his assistant, F.S. Reed examined the contents of the box and took the kidney to Dr. Openshaw, a surgeon at nearby London Hospital. He believed that the kidney was human and from the left side.
As Openshaw was frequently mentioned in press reports at the time in connection with the kidney and the ‘From Hell’ letter, his name became known widely among the general public. On October 29 1888 he received a letter through the post addressed to ‘Dr Openshaw, Pathological curator, London Hospital, Whitechapel’ (picture 7). The text of the letter reads as follows:
Old boss you was rite it was the left kidny i was goin to hoperate agin close to your ospitle just as i was going to dror mi nife along of er bloomin throte them cusses of coppers spoilt the game but i guess i wil be on the job soon and will send you another bit of innerds
Jack the Ripper
O have you seen the devle with his mikerscope and scalpul a-lookin at a kidney with a slide cocked up.
This became known as the ‘Openshaw’ Letter. No further murders were formally attributed to the Ripper and he was never captured.
After all these years, why does the Ripper’s legacy continue to linger so strongly in the public consciousness? The root cause for this continued fascination is the fact that the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been determined. It is easy to see how a murderous enigma such as Jack the Ripper, still unidentified after 125 years, can entice public interest on such a grand scale. The media also keeps this information fresh in our minds which only fans the flames of remembrance brighter.
“Eye miniatures came into fashion at the end of the 18th century. In France, where eye miniature seems to have originated, the eye as symbol of watchfulness was adopted by the state police for buckles and belts. In Britain it had a role as a love token, with some eye miniatures glistening with a trompe-l’oeil tear, or a diamond set to imitate a tear. Most eye miniatures are unsigned, due to the minuteness of the background, and often the name of the person whose eye is depicted is unknown.”
France, Germany and Italy, ca. 1500-1700. Carved ivory
Image Courtesy of the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences, The University of Alabama at Birmingham
These manikins, between 6 to 7 inches in length, were made from solid pieces of ivory. The arms were carved separately and are moveable. The thoracic and abdominal walls can be removed, revealing the viscera. In some manikins the internal organs are carved in the original block and are not removable, while they are formed into separate pieces that can be removed.