Who committed the Jack The Ripper murders?

Prince Albert Edward Victor was unequivocally not the murderer of five prostitutes in the East End of London in 1888. Nor were the murders carried out by a group of deranged freemasons headed by the Royal Physician Sir William Gull in an effort to cover up the fact that Eddy had married a Catholic girl and a commoner named Annie Elizabeth Crooke, by whom he had a daughter. This is the basis of Stephen Knight’s book, the ambitiously titled Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, an entertaining tome that drags in the artist Walter Sickert as a co-conspirator of Gull’s.

Knight’s book is one of the most read on the subject of the Whitechapel murders and is, indeed, an entertaining read, so long as it is treated as fiction and supposition which the majority of its conspiracy theory undoubtedly is. Walter Sickert himself has been put forward as the Ripper in Patricia Cornwall’s equally ambitiously titled Jack the Ripper: Case Closed. Unfortunately is all Cornwell’s book does is prove that Sickert may have been responsible for some of the Jack the Ripper correspondence, and it is highly unlikely that the person responsible for the Jack the Ripper correspondence was the same person who committed the murders.

Lewis Carol, Dr Barnardo, Frederick Charrington, James Maybrick, and Charles Dickens, are just a few of the other names often put forward as being responsible for the crimes. Alright, Dickens has never been put forward as a suspect, but only because he was dead by the time of the murders. Doubtless, had he been alive in 1888 his name would long ago have been added to an endless list of suspects, and facts about his life would have been twisted to fit the theory and prove that he was Jack the Ripper.

The fact is that today, as many books have shown, it is possible to put just about anybody into the frame and then build a plausible sounding case against them. Throughout the autumn of 1888 the Victorian police were arresting suspect after suspect but each time they arrested a likely looking candidate they were either able to provide cast iron alibis for their whereabouts on the nights of the murders, or else were exonerated by actual events when the killer struck again whilst they were in police custody.

When the killings began the general consensus in the area was that the crimes were being carried out by one of the so-called ‘high-rip’ gangs that were operating in the area at the time. This theory certainly influenced the police’s line of enquiry in the early days of the Jack the Ripper murders. An article in the Evening News explained how:

“…these gangs, who make their appearance during the early hours of the morning, are in the habit of blackmailing these poor unfortunate creatures, and when their demands are refused, violence follows, and in order to avoid their deeds being brought to light they put away their victims. They have been under the observation of the police for some time past, and it is believed that with the prospect of a reward and a free pardon, some of them might be persuaded to turn Queen’s evidence, when some startling revelations might be expected…”

The Daily News, meanwhile, informed its readers that:-

“…People in the neighbourhood seem very much divided in opinion as to the probability of its being the work of one person or several. The women for the most part appear to incline to the belief that it is a gang that has done this and the other murders, and the shuddering dread of being abroad in the streets after nightfall, expressed by the more nervous of them, is pitiable. “Thank God! I needn’t be out after dark,” ejaculated one woman. “No more needn’t I,” said another; “but my two girls have got to come home latish, and I’m all of a fidget till they comes…”

Not everyone in the area, however, shared this common consensus that the crimes were gang related. “That’s a got up yarn,” one man told a Daily News reporter “…I rather wish it was true. If there was a gang like that, one or t’other of ’em’d split before long, and it’d all come out. Bet your money this ain’t been done that way.”

By this time the police themselves had come round to this way of thinking. For their investigations amongst the local prostitutes had yielded a likely sounding suspect in the form of a man whom the local street-walkers knew simply as “Leather Apron.”