Although the murders of Martha Tabram and Mary Nichols had shocked society at large, and a certain amount of sympathy was expressed concerning the lifestyles of the victims in the aftermath of their murders, it was with the murder of Annie Chapman that people began truly questioning how it could be that, in a seemingly civilised society, women could find themselves homeless, destitute and, so desperate for money for food and lodging, that they would go out into the night and place themselves in the clutches of Jack the Ripper.
By the end of September, 1888, a theme was emerging in certain elements of the press, whereby the claim was being made that society itself was as much to blame for the plight of the victims as was the unknown miscreant who had carried out their murders.
This charge increased dramatically in the wake of the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, both of which took place in the early hours of the 30th of September, 1888.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF MURDER
On Friday, 5th October, 1888, The Cambrian News published the following article, which placed the blame for the murders firmly at the door of Victorian society at large:-
“Nothing is stranger in our modern life than the horror we feel and express at one form of murder, and the indifference we manifest at other forms.
During the past few weeks six if not seven of the poorer sort of London prostitutes have been murdered in the streets, and in some instances, their bodies have been hacked and mangled by their destroyer, of whom no trace has yet been found.
The murders are horrible in fact and detail, and the public are shocked beyond the power of utterance.
Terror has been literally struck into a whole community, and if further deaths and hackings follow, as they almost certainly will, panic may complete the already shameful story.
THE MANIFESTATION OF BRUTALITY
Our object in this article is not to propound a fresh theory of the murders, nor yet to serve up the horrible details in order to draw comparisons between one and another of these murders.
What we wish to point out is that it is not the murders that horrify, but the manifestation of unfamiliar brutality, and a sickening sense of insecurity, owing to the fact that a relentless homicide is at large who, next time, may strike nobody knows where.
Life in Whitechapel, and in many another part of London and other large towns and cities, is indescribably horrible.
THE VICTIMS MURDERED BY CIRCUMSTANCE
Women of the class who have been butchered in the streets die by the thousand after short, wretched careers of debauchery.
They are as surely murdered by circumstances, for which the nation is responsible, as the half-dozen poor wretches have been murdered in the streets by their unknown slayer.
The swift death that has met the Whitechapel prostitutes is merciful and humane, and positively philanthropic, compared with the slow death others die full of pain, indignity, shame, and misery.
VICE, MURDER AND HORROR
It is not vice, but the description of it, that shocks. It is not murder, but the obtrusion of the mutilated victim upon well-bred society, that gives rise to horror.
These murders are a somewhat unusual manifestation of a common terrible condition of things that is not grappled with, and that threatens the whole structure of society.
ATTENTION IS FIXED ON THE WRONG CULPRIT
Attention is fixed on the discovery of the murderer, but he is only one factor in these awful events.
He has not, altogether, slain as many women as are slain daily by the cruel conditions which manufacture prostitutes by denying them opportunities of a decent life.
THE SICKENING CONDITIONS
The important thing is not the murders, but all the conditions which make the murders possible and prevent the discovery of their perpetrator.
The details of Whitechapel life and of the careers of these women are far more sickening and hopeless than the most harrowing details of the murders.
Whitechapel will remain, with its dens and hovels, after the murderer has been caught red-handed, as he will eventually be caught.
Thousands of these women – starving, stricken with disease, and outcast – will remain after the murderer has paid the penalty of his crimes.
Nothing will be done to get to the foundations of the social rottenness that is eating away at our national life from the centre.
The unsavoury subject will be dropped by “society”, even before the murders cease, if the murderer is not captured soon.
THE SERVICE RENDERED BY THE VICTIMS
These poor, mangled women, even if their number were increased a thousandfold, would have rendered greater service than slaughtered armies have rendered on historic battlefields, if England were roused by them from her shameful apathy in reference to the poor and outcast in London and elsewhere.
There are different kinds of murder and, repulsive as may seem the suggestion, the man who cuts the throats of poor prostitutes in Whitechapel is a respectable member of society compared with the scoundrels who live on the profits of prostitution, and who close their eyes and ears to the scenes and sounds for which they are unquestionably responsible.”