Jack the Ripper: the nemesis of neglect

30 November 2010


I have a confession to make. Are you ready for this? Okay, here goes:

I don’t know who Jack the Ripper was. In fact, I don’t even really have much of an opinion about his identity.

There. I’m sorry about this,really I am. It must be such a disappointment to all the hundreds of people who’ve asked me who my ‘favourite’ suspect is only to be regaled with the spectacle (either in real life or online) of me shuffling my feet, ummming a bit then either changing the subject or, most often, embarking on a rant that follows the same general path as the blog post I am currently trying to write.

Yes, I still self identify (very much in fact) as a Ripperologist BUT unlike a lot of my fellow Ripper obsessives, I am not actually all that interested in uncovering the identity of the murderer who stalked the streets of Whitechapel all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not totally uninterested, but it’s not the major focus of my attention.

No. You see, for me, the main interest is the victims rather than the killer. I want to know more about their lives, about the world they inhabited and about the unfortunate circumstances that brought them to their fate. In fact, I find them endlessly fascinating.

It didn’t occur to me that my interest in the Ripper’s victims was anything unusual until I was talking to a friend recently and she mentioned how much she had enjoyed my blog posts about the Ripper’s murders and in particular all the detail about the lives of the victims themselves, whose names and circumstances she had not previously known. It was only then that it occured to me that whereas most people know the name of Jack the Ripper, as he has come to be known, not many could tell you the names of the women whose lives he so wrongly and cruelly took.

I’ll admit that the rich history of the area, the awful fact that thousands lived in the most harsh poverty in the capital city of an Empire and, most tenuously, the gaslit foggy ambience of the tale are all really compelling but the identity of the elusive Ripper? No, not so much.

Of course, if you really press me, I’ll come up with a name or two but I’m not ferociously keen on any suspect in particular. You won’t catch me going all mental like Patricia Cornwell to prove anyone’s guilt. No, that’s not me at all.

Ah, okay, you want names do you? Well, right now, and you have to remember that I am writing this while I am in the midst of my research for my book about the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, I would say that my head says that Dr Tumblety is the one, while my heart has a bad feeling about that George Hutchinson.

So there you have it.

As autumn slides away into winter and November passes into December, I’ll be having a gin tonight for Mary Ann, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane.

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