The macabre fascination with all things related to Jack the Ripper will continue for a long time. Much of it comes from the fact we still have little idea as to just who he was. We do however have some tantalising information about who he might have been based on an eyewitness who sees Mary Jane Kelly with a suspicious man on the night of her murder, 9th November 1888.
The most credible witness is George Hutchinson. He sees Mary on the night of the murder with a man he describes as being in his thirties with a pale complexion, dark hair, a heavy moustache, about 5 foot 6 inches tall, a waistcoat with a gold chain and a foreign appearance. He also happens to note rather sinisterly that the man ‘walked very softly’ and ‘he carried a small parcel in his hand about 8 inches long’. Could this really have been the murderer? Unfortunately we will probably never know.
What we do know though is that his savage murders shed a lot of light on the tough life of those who lived in the East End. At that time there are many people regularly living in congested slums and perhaps as many as one in three of all the women in London are prostitutes. George Bernard Shaw famously comments on the problem with a sarcastic letter to the Star newspaper in September 1888. He states ‘Whilst we conventional Social Democrats were wasting our time on education, agitation and organisation, some independent genius has taken the matter in hand, and by simply murdering and disembowelling … women, converted the proprietary press to an inept sort of communism.’
The life of Mary Jane Kelly offers us a good glimpse into the deprived lives of those who live in the inhospitable parts of the Victorian East End London. By some misfortune she ends up living in London without regular work and she feels she has no option but to make the most of her good looks and resort to prostitution. Such is the drudgery of her life she quickly succumbs to the temptation of alcohol. Whilst sober she is thought of highly. A neighbourhood friend says she is ‘a pleasant little woman, rather stout, fair complexion, and rather pale… she spoke with a kind of impediment’. However when drunk she frequently becomes abusive and as a result she is nicknamed ‘Dark Mary’. Her life is unfortunately typical of so many and would not be remembered had it not been for the gruesome manner of her death.
Her death is to be the last verifiable murder of Jack the Ripper and it manages to seal his infamous reputation in the most ghastly manner possible. It also goes a long way into explaining just how and why he manages to leave such a prominent mark on English criminal history.
The tragedy unfolds the very day after her death when a young man goes to collect her rent and gets the shock of his life when he peers through an opening left by a broken window and sees ‘a lot of blood’. He quickly finds and tells his landlord who has a look too and then informs the police. When he arrives he is so scared he can not talk. Eventually the police coaxed him into saying ‘Another one, Jack the Ripper. Awful. Jack McCarthy sent me’ (the young man’s landlord).
Even the police themselves are shocked when they see what has happened. McCarthy himself describes the site as ‘the sight we saw I can not drive away from my mind. It looked more like the work of the devil than of a man. The poor woman’s body was lying on the bed, undressed. She had been completely disembowelled, and her entrails had been taken out and put on the table. It was those that I had seen when I had looked through the window and took to be lumps of flesh. The woman’s nose had been cut off, and her face gashed and mutilated so that she was quite beyond recognition. Both her breasts too had been cut away and placed by the side of the liver and other entrails on the table. I had heard a great deal about the Whitechapel murders, but I declare to God I had never expected to see a sight as this. The body was of course covered in blood and so was the bed. The whole scene is more than I can describe. I hope I may never see such a sight again’.
All this happens on the day of the Mayor’s Show and quite over shadows it. The whole nation is left in shock and even Queen Victoria voices concern as to what is being done to find him. Alas the murderer is never found and his horrid nickname goes down in history as a way of describing him and his abhorrent behaviour.