If you were a prostitute in Whitechapel in 1888, you would have been twitchier than a South Korean border patrol guard. That was all thanks to one psychotic headcase, Jack the Ripper, whom we know almost nothing about.
In 1888, women started showing up with their throats sliced from ear to ear and their innards reshuffled. The murders baffled the police, panicked the locals, and gave birth to one of the most mythologised serial killers in history since God himself.
There are commonly five murders directly linked to Jack, but he could have killed anywhere up to 11 women in London. It all possibly started with Emma Smith who died of a ruptured peritoneum after a very foreign object was forced into a very private place. If Smith was indeed murdered by Jack, then he ran out of foreign objects very quickly as all the rest of the Whitechapel victims met their demise on the end of a knife.
Over the next few years another ten women were killed, with the press blaming Jack the Ripper for all of them, though the police only put his tally down to what has been labelled The Canonical Five. The five women who made the cut, so to speak, were killed between August 31, 1888 and November 9. By the end of October, the police had interviewed 2,000 people and at one time or another had 300 suspects. Unfortunately for the 19th Century police, they did not have the advanced criminal investigative techniques of David Caruso.
Looks like this killer ... cut quite a figure for himself. YEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH ....
The police constantly had to battle against a sensationalist press that thought there was a conspiracy involving a Jewish serial killer called Leather Apron running around offing some busty whores. They also had to investigate shitloads of letter that claimed to be from the killer, however one caught their eye more than most.
Some creative medical student with a sick sense of humour, or Jack the Ripper, wrote a letter that stated he had cooked and eaten half of one of the victim's kidneys. The other half was carefully preserved and sent along with the letter. The police dismissed it, even though it shared details of the murder that hadn't been released to the public, maybe believing that someone who couldn't spell nice and got their past participles mixed couldn't possibly be a knife wielding maniac.
After the death of Mary Kelly, reportedly the final victim of Jack the Ripper, the police showed just how desperate they were by photographing the poor girl's eyes in the hope they would somehow capture the image of Jack the Ripper. Needless to say, photography was in its infancy in those days. We all know now that cameras are not magical boxes capable of capturing the last thing we ever see. No, now we know that they are magical boxes capable of capturing cats in all kinds of cute and hilarious poses to be posted on Cheezburger.
The police did at least stop at employing the services of a crackpot psychic who claimed to have visions of Jack the Ripper committing the murders, and even saw him on a bus once. Unfortunately for the police, almost all his visions turned out to be true.
But wait... "Mary Kelly wasn't killed!" we hear you scream. "She ended up living in a small Irish cottage miles away from the prostitution and the filth of London and the fact that she could be chopped up at any moment!" Sadly, no.
You may remember her as looking like this:
But history remembers her, or at least what was left of her, a lot differently (WARNING: not for the weak of stomach). Unlike in the terrible, terrible movie, Kelly never made it out of London, and was probably more brutalised by Jack the Ripper than any of his other victims.
There are suggestions that after the murders, Jack took a little holiday to America where, a year later, murders of a very similar nature started to be committed. So, ladies of the East Coast night, you have been warned!
Jack is undoubtedly one of the most famous murderers of all time. He has done everything, from possessing Tom Savini's ring (don't believe us?), to being played by a cuddly old lovable hobbit.
Let's just say he was a complicated man.
Probably the best adaptation of the story surrounding Jack the Ripper comes in the form of Alan Moore's graphic novel From Hell. It's certainly not your average episode of Miss Marple, as Moore explains from the outset that William Gull, a royal physician, is Jack the Ripper. It's not so much the who that is important, but the why.
Moore uses everything from a monarchical conspiracy to Masonic-ordered societal cleansing to psychogeography to explain why Jack the Ripper worked his way through some otherwise meaningless whores. London itself becomes the altar upon which Jack the Ripper sacrifices these women for the good of humankind.
Don't mind us. Oh, this? Um ... for the good of humankind.
Probably the worst adaptation of the story surrounding Jack the Ripper is also From Hell, the 2001 Hughes Brothers exercise in how to take orders from your studio. It is almost unrecognisable from the novel, except that there's some guy running around London cutting up hookers.
In the film, the investigating officer is no longer a middle-aged, overweight, married detective (not enough subtext) but Johnny Depp; a young, handsome, widowed, drug fiend (can you feel the subtext!?) There's something about a conspiracy, one of the prostitutes escapes and goes to live in the country, we don't know, we weren't really paying attention.
Something kept distracting us from the no doubt gripping plot.
Jack the Ripper has influenced literally hundreds of works of fiction, the first story being published while the murders were still going on, and one of the most recent seeing him play the part of Count Dracula's right-hand man. He has been in a movie every decade since cinemas first opened, appeared as a fear-eating super computer in Star Trek, starred in his own musical, and even, (and this is when you know you've made it big), made it on to the Virtual Boy.