Today, we join author Philipp Röttgers for our final visit to the television series “Whitechapel.”
SEASON ONE: EPISODE THREE
The episode begins where its predecessor ended. The police examine the kidney on Miles’ kitchen table. A letter was delivered with the parcel, which reads exactly like the ‘From Hell’-letter, apart from the names being changed from “Lusk” to “Miles”.
After investigating a man from Kosovo, the team finds a witness in the woman, who worked at the post office and can point out the man who sent the parcel with the kidney. They identify the man on CCTV and DC Sanders is sure he has seen the man before.
Chandler takes one of the books about the Ripper and shows him a picture of Severin Klosowski. DC Sanders recognizes him. By choosing Klosowski’s outer appearance, the culprit has dressed up to match another suspect.
A JACK THE RIPPER TOUR
Buchan is released and gives another tour, but the tourists are more interested in the more recent murders and want to see the modern murder sites.
They lack as much decency as the population back in 1888, when the residents of Buck’s Row campaigned for the name of the street to be changed because of the spectators.
Meanwhile, many people arrive at the police station, giving statements (some of them dressed up in Victorian clothes), and Kent says to Miles that McCormick “interviews his third Ripper today.
All the loonies are still confessing”. This reminds of the numerous letter writers in 1888.
It is a bit frightening to think that many people actually want to be considered as the murderer, even if only in their fantasies or by writing letters.
HOW TO PREVENT A MURDER?
In the meantime, Chandler thinks about how he can prevent the last murder, that of Mary Jane Kelly on the 9th of November.
Buchan burns his publications in public, claiming that he was wrong and that Catherine Eddowes was the last Ripper victim and that Kelly was no Ripper victim at all.
Since the new Ripper seems to take up Buchan’s theories, Buchan tries to stop him from murdering another woman that way. Buchan asks Chandler who he thinks was the Ripper.
The new Ripper has chosen a strategy, so Chandler has to find one himself to stop the murders.
At Miles’ birthday party, Chandler tells him that he thinks that George Hutchinson was the Ripper.
HE MEETS THE NEW RIPPER
It is the 9th of November.
Following his theory about Hutchinson, Chandler tries to follow his leads in modern-day Whitechapel. It leads him to a modern house full of flats, in which he meets the new Ripper, but does not recognize him. The Ripper repeats the words from the “Dear Boss letter”:- “I’m down on whores, and I shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled” before he knocks Chandler out and flees.
After that the police search the Ripper’s flat, which is, like Buchan’s basement, full of references to the Jack the Ripper murders.
Kent discovers photographs of a nurse from the hospital, who has red hair. Mary Kelly was said to have red hair and is portrayed so for example by Heather Graham in the movie “From Hell.” So the nurse must be the next and final victim.
They find out that her name is Frances Coles, just like the ‘last’, non-canonical Ripper victim from 1891.
A JOHN DOE
The flat of the murderer is also full of false identity cards. He is, as Miles says “a John Doe”.
Chandler explains that the Jewish version of John Doe in 1888 was “David Cohen”, a name used by bureaucrats who couldn’t understand Jewish names.
Dr Cohen from the hospital, whom we now know is the killer, visits Frances Coles.
He brings her fish pie, consisting of fish and potatoes, which were also Mary Jane Kelly’s last meal.
THE MURDER STOPPED
The murder of her is about to take place in Flower and Dean Street (which actually does not exist anymore).
In the end, Chandler and Miles can prevent Dr Cohen from killing Frances Coles.
He flees and drowns himself in the Thames like it was seen in the opening of the first episode.
In the last scene Chandler and Buchan stand at Mary Kelly’s grave in Leytonstone and drink to her.
Whitechapel does a very good job in mixing elements from the actual Ripper investigation with the modern storyline in 2008’s London.
The parallels are of course chose deliberately. In the ‘Making Of’ (included on the DVD), writer Caroline Ip says: “We did that for the Ripperologists, because no one else will notice”. It is therefore very funny that the writers let Sergeant Miles say:- “I hate Ripperologists!”
The series also does a very good job in not only focussing on the Ripper-related facts, but also creating a great, original frame around it. The whole series is very character-driven, giving it an own identity and own style, so, in that way, the series is not only a ‘copycat’ of the investigation of 1888.
Of course, there are also some parallels between characters from the series and real existing policemen, like Chandler and Abberline, or Miles and Thick. But these parallels are very superficial; they do not shape the characters.
REFERENCES TO THE ORIGINAL CASE
Apart from that, it is interesting to see that there are also some differences to the original case, due to the development of police work and society.
An important factor is the work in pathology. In 1888, the bodies were examined in very detailed as well, and photos of the victims were taken, but in 2008 also fingerprints and DNA can be taken from the victim’s bodies.
The modern Ripper knows this and even plays with these new methods, as he licks the eyes of one of the victims to leave his DNA there. This is done because in 1888, policemen believed that the final image was retained on the retina. Another development is that interviews with witnesses and suspects are recorded, and not only written down anymore.
The inclusion of CCTV is a big factor, but again the culprit plays with the new methods, as he dresses up as different suspects from 1888 to confuse the police. He is very smart in including all these new developments in his plan.
THINGS HAVE CHANGED
Of course, the city has changed since 1888. Apart from Mitre Square, none of the original murder sites exist anymore, so the modern Ripper has to improvise a little.
Also, the choice of victims is a little different.
Whereas in 1888 it seemed quite easy to find a woman on the street, due to the prostitution, not all of the new victims are prostitutes. The circumstances have changed; women in Whitechapel do not need to go out on the street just to get their money for a bed or food.
It also does not all go according to plan. The first victim of the new Ripper survives, because of an ambulance. In 1888, even if Martha Tabram or Mary Ann Nichols had been found alive, they would have probably not made it to the hospital.
In the series, they catch the killer in the end or at least prevent him from killing his last victim. But this is mainly due to the fact that the new Ripper kept close to his plan and therefore offered a blueprint for the police.
Otherwise, the 2008 police would be as clueless as the 1888 police.
THE SHADOW OF THE RIPPER
When DC Kent asks “Why would someone copy a hundred-year-old murder?”, Buchan’s (actually unrelated) answer in the next scene gives a hint: “They never caught the Ripper…The real Jack probably committed suicide shortly after the last murder. Maybe he plunged into the icy Thames, taking his secrets with him. We are left with his legacy: The birth of the serial killer.”
Throughout the whole season, we see shadows of the Ripper stalking the night and vanishing into thin air.
This is the image that he has left. Since the gruesome murders and the influence they had on police, society, press, etc. his shadow looms large over the East End.
IT WILL NEVER STOP
And it will probably never stop.
The chance of finding out who he was is becoming increasingly smaller as time progresses.
On the other hand, more suspects enter the stage, the more time passes. In some respect this is a good thing: There is no solution. Actually, we do not want to find out who he is, because all of the mystery and all of the fascination would melt away.
NOBODY AND EVERYBODY
The way the culprit in the series is presented is a good take on this: He is somehow faceless (he even has no hair and eyebrows), he has no identity. But by choosing different identities at the same time, he is somebody, he is everybody.
And that is what Jack the Ripper is.
He is nobody and everybody at the same time.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Philipp Röttgers studied English Literature and Cultures in Bonn, Germany. His first book about his favourite band, Genesis, was published in 2015. His second book “London and its genius loci – a journey beyond time and place” was published in 2019.
Philipp feels deeply connected to London, more than to any other place in the world.
In his analysis of the “genius loci”, the “spirit of place” he follows the idea that certain places have influenced the behaviour of its citizens. It includes a scientific trip through the depiction of London’s “genius loci” in literature and tour stories that lead the reader to the historical “genius loci”.
According to Philipp, London can only be experienced properly in two ways: through literature and through walking.