Is Jack The Ripper A Woman

One of the theories concerning the identity of Jack the Ripper is that, by searching for “Jack” the police were on the wrong track and that they should have, in fact, been hunting for “Jill the Ripper.”

Indeed, the idea that the perpetrator of the crimes was a woman still surfaces from time to time, and, in view of the fact that – despite the frequent claims that the case has been solved –  we honestly have no idea whatsoever of the identity of the murderer, a woman is as likely a suspect as any other in the never-ending search for the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders.


One person who, around the time of the crimes, went on record to express his belief in the female perpetrator was eminent surgeon Mr. Lawson Tait (1845 – 1899).

At the time of the murders he held the post of surgeon at the Birmingham Hospital for Women, where he specialised in abdominal surgery, in which capacity, to quote from his obituary in The Worcestershire Chronicle on Saturday, 17th June, 1899:- “he brought into existence a large number of new operations for diseases of the abdomen, and perfected many others.”

Indeed, given his speciality, it seems surprising that his name has not appeared on the list of potential suspects – since I’m sure it wouldn’t take a great deal of effort for a would-be ripper-hunter to place him in Whitechapel around the time of the murders!

A portrait of Mr Lawson Tait
Mr Lawson Tait (1845 – 1899) . From The Illustrated London News, Saturday, 24th June, 1899. Copyright, The British Library Board and The Mary Evans Picture Library.


On Friday, 20th September, 1889, The Pall Mall Gazette published the following interview with Mr Laswon Tait in which he held forth on his views on the Whitechapel murders and gave his reasons for believing that the person responsible for the atrocities might be a woman.

Interestingly, you get the distinct impression that the good doctor had not completely thought his theory through – since, no sooner had he set out the reasons for his feminine ripper than he reverts to referring to the murderer as he.

The article read:-


Mr Lawson Tait, the eminent women’s surgeon, having read the suggestion that Jack the Ripper might be a woman, had this morning a prolonged chat with one of our representatives.

He said:-  “I have taken a great interest in these tragedies from the very commencement. The work of the medical jurist has always had a fascination for me.

Now, looking at the subject as a surgeon, the first conclusion is that the whole of the murders, not only in Whitechapel, but in Battersea and Chelsea, are the work of one and the same individual.

They must be grouped together.

Secondly, the crimes are the work of a lunatic. The absolute motivelessness of the whole business shows this.

Again, the operator must have been a person accustomed to using a sharp knife upon meat. The work was done by no surgeon. The criminal must have been a butcher, and a London butcher. The cuts are made in a fashion peculiar to the London butcher. They would have been made quite differently if the operator had hailed from Dublin or Edinburgh.”


“What ought the police to do?”

“They should find out what are the licensed slaughter-houses in the neighbourhood, who are in charge of them, what persons (male and female) have access to the slaughter-houses after the workmen go home. Slaughter-houses are about the only spots in which the work could be done with any great probability of non-discovery.

I have said the criminal was mad. He or she is undoubtedly a person suffering from epileptic furor. The fits only last for a short time.


May not the police be floored at the outset by the important question of sex?

The male epileptic has his fits irregularly; in the case of a woman this is not so. This is something to go upon.

Granted that if an epileptic be the criminal, on coming out of his or her fit the offender would have no recollection of the murder and cutting up, and would resume his or her everyday life in no way perturbed by what had happened.

Nothing is more likely than that “Jack the Ripper” is some big, strong woman engaged at a slaughter-house in cleaning up, and now and then is actually cutting up meat.


Again, in a number of instances, the women when found were hardly dead. The bodies were warm the murderer could not be far away.

The fact that the police were so close upon the criminal goes to prove to a wonderful degree that the operator was a woman. I will tell you why. On the discovery of one of the murders the police promptly made a circuit around the neighbourhood. Nobody was arrested, or, rather, no man was arrested – they did not look for a woman.


How could a woman have so cleverly committed the deed?

It must be clearly understood that whoever was the criminal would be thoroughly splashed with the blood. It would be impossible to hack and hew a warm body in Ripper fashion without getting all over blood.

A man who thus besmeared himself could not possibly have got clear away time after time.


The thing would be perfectly easy for a woman.

See here.”

Here Mr Lawson Tait picked up a Liberty chair back and placed it around himself like an apron.

“Conceive the murder done, and the woman is all splashed.

All she has to do is to roll up her skirt up to her waist, leaving her petticoat, and fold up the shawl that is over her shoulders and tucked in at her middle.

Then she might pass through the crowd with the very slightest risk of detection.”

“On at least one of the occasions, when the police came upon the scene, there were to be noticed several women in the crowd that quickly gathered. Had those bystanders been searched there is all the chance that the criminal would have been captured.”


“What advice do you, then, give to the police?” our representative asked.

“Let them visit all the slaughter-houses in the district, inquire as to male or female regular assistants or occasional helps.


There is something else.

The last woman murdered had, I believe, her long hair cut through.

Now there must be some of that hair about that slaughter-house. Hair is one of the most useful matters in the detection of crime. Hair cannot be got rid of. It sticks everywhere. Search the gratings and the corners of the slaughterhouses, and if a body had been cut up in any of them, and hair has been cut through, you are almost certain to find some of it, and, however little, ’twill serve.


Then there must be a bit of cartilage to be found.


Because the criminal is not a skilful butcher, nor likely to be in regular employment. He cuts with too free a hand, and, instead of using the saw more frequently, he hacks right through with his sharp knife.

Those little bits of hacked cartilage microscopic examination would prove to be human.

It is almost perfectly impossible to do away with the evidence of murder by violence, and this must be borne in mind by the medical jurist.

It seems to me that the police need to go on a brand new road in setting about the discovery of the criminal.”


As our representative rose to leave, Mr Lawson Tait added, “I don’t a bit believe in this notion that publicity in the newspaper press hinders the police.

It is all the other way.

The newspapers arouse a public interest which it is impossible otherwise to obtain, and which furnishes a backing-up for the police in their work.

The idea of the sleuthhound detective of fiction creeping along quietly and unknown is all rubbish.”