There has been much talk over the last year, or at least ever since the end of the London 2012 Olympics, about the Olympic legacy. It got me thinking about whether or not it could be argued that Jack the Ripper, or at least the Whitechapel Murderer, also, in a way left a legacy.
This is not intended as a flippant off the cuff remark but, rather, is intended as a serious question.
Prior to the commencement of the Whitechapel Murders, the area (incorporating Spitalfields and Whitechapel) was one of London’s most densely populated districts. It also contained some of London’s worst slums. Indeed, it is often stated that the whole area was a slum, This emphatically was not the case as large swathes of this neighbourhood were relatively respectable. But, there is no doubting that it did contain more than its fair share of slum dwellings.
One of the things that the Jack the Ripper murders did was to focus attention on the grinding poverty and the horrific living conditions in these slums. It is noticeable that many of the moves to clean up the area came in the wake of the Whitechapel Murders and, there can be doubt doubt, that some of the moves came about as a direct result of the murders drawing attention to the conditions in the district.
Another thing that, if you’ll pardon the pun, the Whitechapel Murders shone a light on, was the lack of street lighting in much of the area. One of the reasons that Jack the Ripper was able to evade the police so effectively was because the area was made of of numerous dark passages and alleyways that he could slip into, or even hide out in, in the aftermath of his crimes.
Again, the area was more adequately lit as a result of the Jack the Ripper Murders.
Numerous philanthropic organisations also used the murders to further their causes and bring change to the grinding poverty and the appalling living conditions in the area. Thus, within a few years more was being done to ease the plight of the poor and, although things wouldn’t improve drastically, they certainly began to get better in the wake of the murders of 1888.
Finally, there is the effect the murders had on the police and police methods. When the murders began the Metropolitan Police found themselves up against a type of criminal that they had never really encountered before, a lone, ruthless and opportunistic serial killer. They were, literally, plunged into a CSI by numbers investigation whereby they learnt as they went. So, as the murders progressed, you could see the police methods adapting as the investigating officers began to come to an understanding of the type of crime they were dealing with and the type of criminal they were up against. Ultimately, of course, their efforts proved fruitless as Jack the Ripper, officially at least, was never brought to justice. But, there can be little doubt that their experiences in dealing with the ripper investigation had the overall effective of improving policing and detection in th Victorian Metropolis.
So, in a way, it could be argued that Jack the Ripper did leave behind a legacy that led to social change and policing methods, not just in the East End of London, but throughout the country as a whole.