Would Modern Detectives Catch Jack The Ripper

A question that we often discuss on the Jack the Ripper tour is, would modern methods of policing have caught Jack the Ripper had they been available to the Victorian police in 1888?

It is an intriguing questions that generates an awful lot of debate, with some people saying that if things like, DNA profiling, CCTV or fingerprinting had been used in the hunt for the Whitechapel murderer then the mystery would have been solved at the time. Others say that, given the elusiveness of the perpetrator of the crimes, then, even with our modern forensics and security he would still be able to evade the detectives hunting him.


On one of the videos on our YouTube Channel, the author Adam Wood and Richard Jones decided to discuss this point.


We begin the video by discussing what DNA would have been at the scenes of each of the crimes. There is the possibility that traces of DNA would have been present at the scenes – things like sweat, saliva, hairs, or even skin cells.

Looking at Buck’s Row, where Mary Nichols was murdered on the 31st of August, 1888, we make the point that, although there may have been trace evidence at the scene, the fact that the scene of the murder was cleared within an hour would have given the police little time to gather any available evidence.

Hanbury Street, the site of the murder of Annie Chapman, on the 8th of September, 1888, was a more isolated scene, as the crime actually took place in the backyard of the building.

This would, of course, have given the police the opportunity to seal of the scene, which, it must be said, the Victorian police did, in fact, do.

29 Hanbury Street, backyard.


The next question that we ask is, would CCTV have helped catch the killer?

Had, there, for example, been a security camera outside any of the locations, would we have been able to see the face of the murderer?

CCTV would certainly have helped a great deal in the investigation of the murder of Elizabeth Stride, who was seen by various men in and around Berner Street in the hours leading up to her death. It would have helped eliminate various of these men from the enquiry, if nothing else.


One aspect of the investigation that we explore in the conversation is, were the Victorian detectives aware of modern innovations in detection, such as fingerprinting?

Adam Wood observes that, although fingerprinting was not established procedure in a Metropolitan Police investigation 1888, it was most certainly been used by other police forces, and several of the detectives working on the Whitechapel murders would have been aware of it.

A man on a ladder looking at files of fingerprints.
The Finger Print Bureau At Scotland Yard, 1912.


One mystery that the use of DNA evidence would certainly have cleared up would have been in connection with the “From Hell” letter. which was sent to Mr George Lusk, the head of the Mile End Vigilance Committee, in October, 1888.

The package in which the letter was sent also contained a portion of kidney, which the letter’s author claimed was part of the kidney that was taken from Catherine Eddowes body, the fourth victim, who was murdered in Mitre Square on the 30th of September, 1888.

Had the police – and, more importantly, the doctors – had the benefit of DNA profiling, they would, if nothing else, have been able to prove one way or another whether or not the kidney was part of the one that her killer had removed from Catherine Eddowes body in Mitre Square.


One of the problems that the Victorian detectives were confronted with was the emergence of, and the popularity of, detective fiction.

The very first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, had appeared the previous year, and this, as well as other detective fiction, was helping to build a public perception that skilled amateurs were often able to succeed where the professional detectives of the Metropolitan Police had failed.

Of course, the likes of Inspectors Abberline and Reid were working in the real world, not in the pages of fiction, and their investigations were not the product of an imaginative author’s mind, but, rather, were rooted in a reality where things could, and  did, go horribly wrong.

So Adam and Richard conclude their conversation by pondering what impact this newly emerging detective fiction genre had on the morale and the methods of the Victorian police.