CSI Photography

Photography was most certainly around at the time of the Jack the Ripper crimes, it it was starting to be used by the police, but, and as far as we know, not really to record the scenes of the crimes and their surroundings.

Indeed, only one of the victims of Jack the Ripper was actually photographed at the scene of her murder, and that was Mary Kelly, the final victim – who was murdered in her room in Miller’s Court ¬†on the 9th November 1888.

A photographer taking a photograph of Mary Kelly's body lying on her bed.
A Photographer At The Crime Scene of Mary Kelly’s Murder. From The Illustrated Police News

PHOTOS USED FOR IDENTIFICATION PURPOSES

The other victims were photographed on being taken to the mortuary, and these photographs were done, not so much to record anything for investigative purposes, but rather to be used in attempting to ascertain the identity of the victims.

Today, of course, we have the benefit of hindsight. So, when we look at the victim photographs, we know who they were. But, in the aftermath of each crime in 1888, the police were confronted with a murder victim whose identity was unknown to them, and so the photos were taken to be shown around in the hope that somebody would be able to put a name to the victim.

In the case of Mary Kelly, the police did bring in a photographer and Mary’s body was photographed as it lay on the bed in her room, and the haunting images that were recorded that day, are probably some of the earliest scene of a murder photographic records that we have. Even as black and white images they are truly disturbing, and they bring home to us the full horror of the horrific sight that confronted the people who entered that room and gazed upon the mutilated remains.

USES OF PHOTOGRAPHY

There were various ways in which the police utilised photography in the latter years of the 19th Century.

One use was to take a photograph of a prisoner when they had been convicted and were going into prison, in which case you have the standard, right, left, full face images, such as the ones reproduced below.

A male and female prisoner photographed prior to going in to prison.
Photography Was Often Used To Record Prisoners Likenesses.

CRIME SCENE PHOTOS WERE BEING TAKEN

Later on in the investigation, with the murder of Mary Kelly, that photographs of a crime scene were being taken, since some of these – such as the image of the windows of Mary Kelly’s Room that you can see below – have survived.

The photograph showing the windows of Mary Kelly's Room from the outside.
The Photograph of Mary Kelly’s Room at Miller’s Court.

FROM DRAWINGS TO PHOTOGRAPHS

The police investigation appears to have evolved towards detailing the appearance of the crime scenes as the murders progressed.

In the case of [the murder of] Catherine Eddowes, we see drawings being used, very clear, good drawings.

A sketch of Mitre Square and the buildings at the scene of Catherine Eddowes murder.
One of the Drawings Done of Mitre Square, scene of the Murder of Catherine Eddowes.

CAMERAS WERE USED

They most certainly had cameras, because several of the victims photographs have survived, but they didn’t use them to photograph the scenes of the crimes as such.

They were used to try and identify the victim, as, of course, initially, the police simply had an unknown woman, and their investigation would have required a positive identification.

Aside from Mary Kelly, who was photographed in situ, the victims weren’t photographed until they had been taken to the mortuary.

LIMITS OF TECHNOLOGY

In summary, it is apparent from the limited amount of material that has survived, that, as the Jack the Ripper murders progressed, the police were coming round to the idea that recording images of a crime scene on photographs might be a useful asset in trying to identify the circumstances of the crime and in possibly helping them identify the perpetrator.

However, the limits of the technology available to them coupled with the fact that they appear to have been just developing a sense of how to conduct a crime scene investigation, meant that their methods were not as advanced as they would be today.