The Jack the Ripper murders occurred in the East End of London in 1888 and, although the Whitechapel Murderer was only a threat to a very small section of the community in a relatively small part of London, the murders had a huge impact on society as a whole.
One of the things that puzzles many people about this particular long ago murder spree is quite why the crimes are still so famous, even though over a hundred and twenty years have elapsed since they occurred.
If, as is generally believed, Jack the ripper had only five victims then he wasn't a particularly prolific murderer compared to many who have come since, and the fact that his so-called reign of terror lasted a mere twelve or so weeks means that he wasn't at large for a particularly long period of time. Yet there is little doubt that he is the world's most famous serial killer. Why should this be?
Several factors combined to help make this series of crimes famous all over the world. Not least amongst them was the fact that the newspapers of the day gave a huge amount of coverage to the crimes and provided their readers with daily updates on them with the result that Jack the Ripper effectively became a menacing media figure.
Secondly, the area in which the killings occurred was perceived as being a hotbed of vice and villainy, and a breeding ground for social unrest, squalor and disease. The Whitechapel Murderer, in the eyes of the wider Victorian society, came to be seen as the personification of all the evils with which the East End of London was associated.
Finally, there was, of course, the name by which the killer came to be known - Jack the Ripper. It was this name - which was probably the invention of a journalist - that had the effect of turning five sordid East End murders into an international phenomenon and of catapulting the unknown miscreant responsible into the realm of legend.
It is generally believed that there were five victims of Jack the Ripper. They were:-
But the Jack the Ripper murders also serve as a reminder of a not too distant past when a whole section of London society fought a daily battle against poverty and starvation.
As such they provide us with a window through which we can look back on a bygone age when the eyes of the world were focussed on the daily lives and struggles of the East Enders who were most affected by the crimes.
Thanks to newspaper reportage on the case, coupled with the records and musings of philanthropists and reformers who wished to bring the plight of the East End's poor to the attention of the wider Victorian society, we have an unrivalled opportunity to, literally, peer into the very streets where the Whitechapel Murders occurred at the time they were occurring and to observe the impact the killings had on those who dwelt in the area.
Of course the murders were also the focus of a huge criminal investigation that saw the Victorian police pit their wits against a lone assassin who was perpetrating his crimes in one of London's most densely populated and crime ridden quarters.
As a result of official reports and the efforts of journalists to keep abreast of the progress (or, perhaps more accurately, lack of progress) that the police investigation was making, we are able watch that investigation unfolding. We can analyze the methods that the police used to try and track the killer and compare them with the methods that the police would use today. We can also ask - and hopefully answer - the question why didn't the police catch Jack the Ripper?
The Victorian police faced numerous problems as they raced against time to catch the killer before he could kill again. A major one was the labyrinth-like layout of the area where the murders were occurring, made up as it was of lots of tiny passageways and alleyways, few of which were lit by night. And, of course, the detectives hunting the killer were hampered by the fact that criminology and forensics were very much in their infancy.
Despite the fact that no-one was ever brought to justice or charged with the crimes, there have, over the years, been more than a hundred named suspects who may or may not have been Jack the Ripper. Some of those suspects are fascinating. Others are down right ridiculous.
Yet one thing is certain. No matter how unlikely the names of those that appear on the ever expanding list of suspects might be, the on going challenge of "nailing" the ripper has helped keep this series of crimes at the forefront of criminal and social history for over 120 years.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Jack the Ripper murders is the amount of worldwide newspaper coverage that they generated. Journalists converged on the streets of the East End to report on the murders, and were often appalled by the diabolical living conditions that they encountered.
Pages and pages were given over to reporting on the inquests into the deaths of the victims; local residents were interviewed at length; police officers were followed, and sometimes even bribed, as reporters endeavoured to secure that all too elusive exclusive that might help sell more newspapers.
The authorities were subjected to a constant barrage of press criticism, both for the inability of the police to bring the killer to justice, and the appalling social conditions that they had allowed to develop unchecked right on the doorstep of the City of London, the wealthiest square mile on earth.
Plus, most importantly, and as mentioned earlier, the name Jack the Ripper was most probably the invention of a journalist.
Given the passage of 125 years since the murders occurred it's amazing how much of the area has managed to survive since 1888.
Although the murders sites themselves have long since vanished, there are numerous streets and buildings that have survived and which are, more or less, the same now as they were in the late 19th century.
The Ten Bells Pub, which is linked to several of the victims is still going strong - albeit it is trying to distance itself from its ripper related past.
The Frying Pan Pub, where Mary Nichols drank away her doss money, shortly before being murdered, is now the Sheraz Indian restaurant.
The doorway in Goulston Street, where the murderer deposited his only clue, is now the take away counter of the Happy Days Fish and Chip Shop.
People still make their way to St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leyton to lay flowers on the grave of Mary Kelly and to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation.
You can, if you wish, take one of the popular tours that explore the streets of Jack the Ripper's London, and undertake your own Crime Scene Investigation. For more details Click Here.
What all this shows is that interest in the Jack the Ripper crimes increases with each passing year and, with so many dedicated researchers and interested parties on his trail, the day may yet come when we see a definitive naming of the culprit responsible for this long ago murder spree.
So please enjoy the site and use it in any way that you see fit. It is our intention that the site will grow and increase as a valuable resource that can be used by teachers, students and anyone who is simply interested in either the Jack the Ripper murders or Victorian social history.