Jack the Ripper is undoubtedly one of the most infamous murders in the world. The unsolved case has puzzled detectives and fascinated the public for over 130 years, and we’re still no closer to knowing who is responsible.
The Metropolitan Police investigating the case at the time did not keep meticulous records, and much of what they did log has since been lost. Despite the many uncertainties surrounding the identity of the killer, one thing we do have is a conclusive Jack the Ripper timeline.
To our knowledge, Jack the Ripper’s story starts in the early hours of August 31st 1888. It was at this time that the first of the Canonical Five victims were found on Buck’s Row in Whitechapel. Mary Ann Nichols was a 42-year-old divorced mother of five. She was known to have alcoholic tendencies who engaged in casual sex work to make ends meet, and it’s largely believed she was working the night she was killed.
Her body was initially found at a stable yard by two cart drivers who then went off to try and find a policeman. Later, John Neil, a police officer, was patrolling the area when he came across the body. He discovered the victim had been brutally attacked, with cuts to her throat going all the way through her spine. She had also been cut from the abdomen to the sternum, exposing her intestines.
Whilst Mary Ann’s death followed in quick succession to Martha Tabram, no one could have anticipated the danger this killer posed and what was to come.
A week after the slaying of Mary Ann Nichols, Hanbury Street resident, John Davis, stumbled across the body of Annie Chapman. She was found on the steps of 29 Hanbury Street at 6am. Her throat had been slit in the same way Mary Ann Nichols’ had been – twice, and through to the spine.
Annie was pushed into sex work after her ex-husband, who had previously financed her despite their marriage breaking down, died. She struggled to make a living and to care for her two surviving children, so she – like countless others – moved to the East End where rent was cheap and sex workers were aplenty.
There were two potential witnesses to the crime: Elizabeth Long and Albert Cadosch. Elizabeth reported that about 30 minutes before Annie’s body was found, she saw Annie with a man at the entrance to number 29. Roughly 10 minutes after Elizabeth allegedly saw Annie with the man, number 27 resident, Albert, said he heard somewhat of a scuffle in the garden. He said he heared a woman say ‘no’ and then he heard a thud. Noise was common at number 29, so he thought nothing of it. Just 20 minutes later, Annie’s mutilated body was found.
The night of September 30th was a busy one for Jack the Ripper, as this was the night of the double murder. First came Elizabeth Stride who was discovered at 1am on Berner Street. Elizabeth was born in Sweden where she had worked as a prostitute. When her mother died, she spent her inheritance money on moving to London to try and make a new life for herself. For a while, it worked. She married John Stride and together they managed multiple coffee shops in Poplar. Sadly, the marriage didn’t work and John later died. Elizabeth, with limited prospects, went back to what she knew: sex work.
On the night of her death, Elizabeth was seen by multiple witnesses, including PC William Smith who said he saw her near Berner Street at 12:30am. At 12:45am, another witness saw Elizabeth being attacked next to the International Working Men’s Educational Club. He shouted at the attacker (who was identified as Israel Schwartz) and he scurried off. At around 12:55am, Louis Diemschutz found Elizabeth’s lifeless body. Her throat had been slit. The blood was fresh and it was concluded Schwartz was not the killer, meaning in the space of 10 minutes, the Ripper struck. Due to the one injury, it’s thought that Diemshutz interrupted the killer at work.
At 1:45am, two miles away, the body of Catherine Eddowes was found in Mitre Square. Rather sadly, Catherine was arrested on the night of 30th September for being drunk and disorderly. She was known to have an alcohol problem, and she was taken to Bishopsgate Police Station. Had she been arrested just 100 yards further up the road, she would have found herself at Leman Street Station where she would have been held until the following morning. Considering the events that followed, this could have saved her life.
Instead, she was released in the early hours and unfortunately met Jack the Ripper. PC Edward Watkins discovered her body next to a warehouse. Like those who came before her, her throat was cut to the spine and her abdomen was cut open. Unusually, the killer seemingly decorated her body with her organs, wrapping her intestines around her and removing her kidney and uterus.
She had been seen by witnesses a mere 10 minutes before her body was discovered, meaning the killer worked quickly and efficiently, lending itself to the theory that he had experience in surgery or in the medical field.
Jack the Ripper’s killing spree ended on November 9th 1888 with the murder of 25-year-old Mary Jane Kelly. Whilst she was the last, she is arguably the most infamous due to the horrific nature of her slaying. Mary was born in Limerick but was widowed early. She later moved to Cardiff and met an upper-class gentleman who whisked her off to Paris. She largely lived a life of luxury, up until she met Joseph Barnett when she moved to the East End.
They had a good relationship and lived together, but when Joseph lost his job, Mary took up sex work to pay the rent. Joseph didn’t like this and, following frequent arguments, moved out, although they stayed in contact. Mary continued to engage in sex work, and she would routinely bring men back to her room.
In the early hours of November 9th, George Hutchinson – a friend of Mary – saw her on Commercial Street. The pair split ways but George followed Mary when she was approached by a gentleman in nice clothes. He followed them back to Mary’s lodging house, but when no one left the property after 45 minutes, he continued on his way.
At 4am, two people living in close proximity to Mary heard screams of ‘murder’, but this was common and they ignored it. At 11:45am, Mary’s landlord sent his assistant to recover Mary’s rent arrears, but when he peered through the window, he saw her body strewn across her bed, mutilated beyond recognition.
Her breasts had been cut off, as had her thighs. Her organs had been removed and placed around the room, and her throat had been cut all the way to the bone. It was the most horrific of all the Whitechapel Murders.
After the discovery of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper seemingly never struck again. There are a number of theories about what happened to the killer, such as being apprehended for a different crime or moving to a different country, but as yet, we don’t know.
You can find out more about the Jack the Ripper timeline and the theories from our Ripperologists when you book a tour place with us, where you will retrace the gruesome steps of history's most infamous serial killer.