Jack the Ripper: The 1888 London East End Serial Killerby James R Ashley
East London included the London docks and run-down areas of Whitechapel, Spitalfields, and Bethnal Green. As the parish of Whitechapel in London’s East End became increasingly overcrowded, housing conditions steadily worsened and the area was overrun with violence, robbery, and alcoholism. London’s East End was perfect for crime. A maze of streets,… See more details below
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East London included the London docks and run-down areas of Whitechapel, Spitalfields, and Bethnal Green. As the parish of Whitechapel in London’s East End became increasingly overcrowded, housing conditions steadily worsened and the area was overrun with violence, robbery, and alcoholism. London’s East End was perfect for crime. A maze of streets, alleys, courts, and yards covered the East End and the gaslights, which were few and far between, did little to illuminate the dark shadows. Beat cops did their best to patrol the area but were overworked and paid a subsistence wage, which rarely attracted the most competent candidates for the job. In addition, the police of that day had virtually no criminal investigation tools to work with. All the policeman had to rely on was his personal knowledge (assuming he had been in that area long enough to have any) and witnesses who could positivity identify the perpetrator (an unlikely event, as recent events were so conclusively to prove), or he was lucky enough to personally witness the crime. Other than this, the criminal was not likely to get caught. For a serial killer like Jack the Ripper, the East End proved to be an ideal hunting ground.
The Ripper’s chosen victims, the prostitutes of the East End, were easy kill targets. Without a man to support her, a woman had only two options at earning money. She could work 6 days a week and 12-hours a day in a sweatshop making coats or gluing together matchboxes to make the equivalent of 25 cents a week, if she was lucky, or become a prostitute. And although earnings on the streets occulated between feast and famine, because of the often fierce competition or luck of the draw, a woman could sometimes earn as much in a night as she could in an entire week working at a sweatshop. It was estimated that as many as 1 out of every 4 female workers in the sweatshops also worked as prostitutes. In October 1888, London’s Metropolitan Police Service estimated that there were 1,200 prostitutes and about 62 brothels in Whitechapel, an area “decent people” preferred to stay away from.
The woman working the streets in the East End were hardly a dream date. Many were overweight or skinny with homely faces, missing teeth, bad breath, and were outright drunks with hair-trigger tempers and nasty dispositions. They typically lived in flophouses (the “doss houses”) whenever they did not drink their money away and walked about with everything they owned on their person. Although these prostitutes might not have won any beauty contests, at least they were available for a man to satisify his sexual needs in an age when their Victorian Era wives considered sex as a task to be reluctantly endured to procreate children.
Although some suspects were clearly identified by the police as possibilities for Jack the Ripper, the lack of evidence and lack of credibility of eye witness accounts did not result in any suspect being charged for the Ripper murders, let alone being prosecuted for them. The result was that back in 1888 a serial killer in the East End of London murdered a number of prostitutes with impunity. The London police were powerless to catch him, although they did, on a number of occasions, arrive on the crime scene only minutes after the murder was committed. Despite this, the Ripper always disappeared in the maze of the dark streets and alleyways of the East End without being seen. And when the Ripper stopped his murderous spree, it was for reasons known only to himself.
The Ripper’s murderous serial killings must certainly go down in the history books as one of the great unsolved mysteries of all time. Therefore, anyone that thinks he can do better than the police of the time or the numerous writers after, read on and put your ability to the test and see if you can close the book on the infamous Whitechapel murders to your satisfaction. You will never find a crime more worthy of your efforts.
- James R Ashley
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