Jack The Ripper’s Identity

A question we get asked time and again on our walking tour of Jack the Ripper’s murder haunts is – who do you think Jack the Ripper was? Our guides often give the only honest answer that can be given, which is – I haven’t got the foggiest idea!

Indeed, it is safe to say that nobody knows for certain who the murderer was and, with so much of the evidence having disappeared, and all the people who were involved with the case long dead, the likelihood is that, barring some incredible find of a piece of evidence that has managed to evade ripperologists for over 120 years, it is unlikely that anyone will ever know his identity.

AN EVER EXPANDING SUSPECT POOL

That isn’t to say, however, that people haven’t, and won’t, stop trying to solve the mystery.

The suspect pool, after all, runs into the thousands, and hardly a month goes by when somebody doesn’t put forward a new final solution concerning Jack the Ripper’s identity.

Indeed, no sooner had the murders begun, than many local misfits found themselves suspected of having been responsible for the crimes and were likely to pursued by angry mobs through the streets of the East End.

A group of men chase after the suspect.
The Crowd Chase The Suspect

FAMOUS AND FORGOTTEN SUSPECTS

Over the years the names of a wide variety of famous, and forgotten people, have been put forward as suspects.

Perhaps one of the most common, popular and recurring theories is that he was a member of the Royal family.

The royal in question is Prince Albert Edward Victor, the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson and the heir apparent to the throne of England.

This theory is an easy one to dismiss as we know a great deal about his movements on the nights of the Jack the Ripper murders and, the fact he wasn’t even in London, let along the East End of London, on the nights of several of the crimes would seem to rule him out.

You can read the full case against his guilt on this page.

WAS JACK THE RIPPER A WOMAN?

Another intriguing suspect is the idea that he was, in fact a she and the murders were not carried out by Jack but by Jill the Riper!

Those who argue the case for such as suspect observe that, since a woman wasn’t suspected of the crimes, the a female killer would be able to escape through the streets of Spitalfields and Whitechapel unchallenged.

Obviously, since we don’t know the perpetrators true identity, it is impossible to deduce his or her gender. However, it should be noted that this type of crime and the ripper’s specific modus operandi doesn’t tally with the way that a woman might carry out the crime.

Some – amongst them Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes – have opined that the killer may have disguised himself a woman to escape from the scenes of his crimes.

One interesting aspect of the case is the number of people who, over the period of the murders, were found in the streets wearing female attire.

Some of them were journalists, who were hoping to gain a sensation scoop for their newspaper should they by approached by the killer.

Others were plain clothes police officers going out in disguise in an attempt to bait the killer.

Some were simply disturbed individuals who, by drawing attention to themselves, managed to attract hostility from the East End mobs as is demonstrated by the following newspaper article from 1889.

A newspaper article form 1889 about a man who was dressed as a woman whom the crowd thought was Jack the Ripper.
An Article From 1889

WHO DID THE POLICE SUSPECT?

Of course, the people who would have been in the best position to have known his identity, at least if they had caught him, were the detectives who worked on the case.

In this respect, it is interesting to note that many of the police officers did go on record to say that, contrary to popular opinion, the police did, in fact catch the Whitechapel Murderer and several of them even went so far as to name him.

However, those that did name him, named several different suspects, and for all of them to have been the perpetrator of the East End atrocities would is all but impossible.

Indeed, what comes across from the named police suspects is that many of the officers actually knew very little about their favoured suspects.

MONTAGUE JOHN DRUITT

A classic example of this is Sir Melville MacNaghten’s naming of Montague John Druitt.

An image of Sir Meville Macnaghten
Sir Melville Macnaghten

So convinced was MacNaghten of Druitt’s validity as a suspect that he was convinced that the later Whitechapel Murders could not have been the work of the ripper because Druitt had committed suicide shortly after the murder of Mary Kelly on the 9th November 1888.

Indeed, it is because of Macnaghten’s implicit belief in Druitt’s guilt that gives us the concept of the canonical five victims since, if Druitt was the man responsible for the murders, he couldn’t have carried out the latter killings.

However, what is very noticeable about Macnaghten is that he did in fact know very little about Druitt since he makes several major mistakes, such as his correct age and his profession. You can read our summary on Druitt here.

THOMAS CUTBUSH

Macnaghten was moved to give his opinion on Druitt in an attempt to repudiate claims being made in The Sun newspaper, in February 1894, that the murderer was Thomas Cutbush. (We have this article on Cutbush as a suspect.)

Cutbush is an intriguing suspect in that, until very recently we knew very little about him.

However, his files from the Broadmoor Asylum were recently made public and Richard Jones and Paul Begg were on hand to examine the files. What is interesting about them is that Thomas Cutbush does come across as a very troubled, and very violent, individual.

You can watch an assessment of Cutbush in the following discussion between Paul Begg and Richard Jones.

DR FRANCIS TUMBLETY

Another extremely intriguing suspect is the American quack doctor Francis Tumblety.

He crops up several times in the newspapers towards the end of 1888 with claims that he had been arrested in London on suspicion of having carried out the Whitechapel Murders and, having been released on bail, he promptly skipped the country and headed back to his native America.

He appears to have been the favoured suspect of the Metropolitan Police’s Detective John Littlechild.

You can read a full assessment of Tumblety on this page.

Whether, or not, he was Jack the Ripper is, very much, open to debate.

AND THE LIST KEEPS GROWING

Of course, unless they were all working in unison, all of the aforementioned suspects could not have been responsible for the Whitechapel Murders.

Some of them, such as the Royal Ripper theory, have long since been discredited and are now dismissed by all but the most fanatical conspiracy theorists.

Others, such as Cutbush, are certainly worth further investigation.

The problem is though that, just as soon as evidence turns up which enables to rule out a particular person, another suspect promptly pops up and slips into the place that he, or she has vacated!

And, in essence, that is the point about Jack the Ripper.

Because we never have, don’t now, and never will know with 100% certainty who he, or she was, suspects can be continuously put forward to assume the mantle for the World’s most infamous serial killer.

And, in that respect, it is safe to say that the hunt for the perpetrator of the 1888 Whitechapel murders is far from finished, and the suspect pool is destined to come growing and growing.