It is often stated that Jack the Ripper was the first modern serial killer.
There is even a 2006 documentary titled “Jack the Ripper:- The First Serial Killer.”
NOT THE FIRST SERIAL KILLER
However, he was unequivocally not the first serial killer.
Firstly, the term “serial killer” is a 20th century invention that wasn’t in use at the time of the ripper murders.
He was viewed then as a repeat killer – and there had been many of those before him.
A MYTH EXPLODED
This, incidentally, is one of the myths exploded in my video on 10 of the most common myths about Jack the Ripper.
PREVIOUS SERIAL KILLERS
Examples include:- Burke and Hare who, in the 1820s, had been responsible for the murders of 16 victims in Edinburgh; John Bishop, the leader of a gang of London bodysnatchers turned murderers, whose most notorious killing was that of the so-called Italian boy in 1831.
Jonathan Balls, who was suspected of having carried out the murders of at least 22 people between 1824 and his death by suicide in 1846.
William Palmer, the Rugeley Poisoner, who was hanged in 1856 for the murder of his friend, John Cook, but who was also suspected of having murdered his brother, mother-in-law, and four of his children, and who was, according to Charles Dickens, “the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey.”
Mary Ann Cotton, hanged in 1873 for poisoning her stepson, but who is also thought to have murdered eleven of her children and three of her husbands.
THEY PAID THE PENALTY
All of these, and many others besides, preceded Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror, and several of them had many more victims than he did.
Of course, the difference between these murderers and Jack the Ripper is that they were caught and paid the penalty for their crimes, whereas the Whitechapel murderer was never brought to justice.
JACK THE RIPPER’S IDENTITY A MYSTERY
His identity is shrouded in mystery and remains the source of endless speculation to this day.
His crimes also caught the public imagination in a way that those of previous repeat murderers hadn’t, and the newspapers responded to the public demand for news on the atrocities by devoting an enormous amount of coverage to his escapades, and, in so doing, they helped turn a series of sordid crimes in a small part of London into an international phenomenon.
It could, therefore, be argued that Jack the Ripper was the first media murderer, but he was, most certainly not the World’s first serial killer.