Decoding the Ripper

DATED: 17.09.15

Today, when serious crimes are committed, we tend to consider processes like forensic investigation and criminal profiling as a given; just part and parcel of police work as a whole.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Forensic science was in its infancy for much of the early 20th century, with most major advancements occurring only in the last few decades. And as such, policing and investigative work once looked very different.

Walking the beat or working a homicide case on a mean city street 150 years ago was a world away from the high-tech methods and accurate pinpointing we take for granted. In fact, some of the biggest manhunts ever launched in history did little more than turn a mysterious monster into a legend.

Case in point: Jack the Ripper. London’s most notorious serial killer; and one of the world’s coldest cases.

His notoriety was not just due to the heinous crimes he committed, though, nor the manner in which he committed them. It was his astounding ability to evade London’s finest, to such an extent that his true identity remains a mystery more than a century on.

This cold case isn’t one to be taken lightly though, not least because it revolutionised things like crime scene investigation, forensics and how we hunt for serial killers. Everyone, from Ripperologists to the FBI, has invested time and effort into research and speculation surrounding the case.

People have examined and re-examined evidence, pored over witness accounts and case files, and used modern methods in science and psychology to try and figure out who the Ripper was and why he did what he did.

One interesting aspect of this ongoing Jack the Ripper phenomenon is the criminal profiling. According to the FBI and the various sources they use, including the Holmes Typology theory, what little we do know about Jack the Ripper and his crimes can help us learn an awful lot about who he may have been.

For a brief insight into what criminal profiling tells us about this most feared of Londoners, read on. Click here to book onto one of our exciting and historical walking tours! Terrifyingly brilliant.


There are two principal motives by which you can categorise a serial killer, and they are:


Killers who are art-focused tend to kill their victims slowly, savouring the act itself, as opposed to the result.  Within this category, you have two further “types”. The first is the Visionary, who are driven to their actions by voices in their head or visions they are seeing. The second type is the Missionary, who feel compelled to rid the world of a particular group.


Process-focused killers most enjoy the torture inflicted on a victim during a slow and painful death. The enjoyment can be classified as one of three types of hedonism (lust, thrill and gain) or as power-seeking. Those driven by the thrill enjoy a buzz from killing while those driven by lust enjoy the sexual pleasure afforded by it, and those motivated by gain expect to personally benefit or profit from killing. Alternatively, power-seeking killers enjoy the power they have when controlling who lives and dies; the God complex.

The Ripper killed his victims quickly, inflicting wounds and mutilations post-mortem, in a meticulous fashion. Was it lust or power that drove him to it, though? Perhaps he did it for personal gain; a student doctor trying to learn more about the anatomy? Of course, there’s also the possibility that he was an art-focused missionary, ridding London’s streets of alcoholic prostitutes, deemed unsavoury by society and unfit mothers and wives.

Patterns and Behaviours:

In terms of patterns and behaviours, a killer’s preference between being organised and disorganised or social and non-social can offer great insight and help to narrow the search quite considerably.

You can see more about the Organised/Disorganised-Social/Non-Social types here. As for Jack the Ripper, though, whilst he did possess traits from all four categories, he was predominantly Organised and Non-Social. He inflicted highly precise wounds on his victims, and with the exception of the final one, his crime scenes were relatively neat. He was noted for playing games with the police via clues and correspondence and was a fan of dismemberment and mutilation.

Modern day profilers actually surmise that historically, more than 80% of serial killers have been male, Caucasian, intelligent and in their 20-30s. This description, along with the suggestion that most serial killers target Caucasian women; reveals that the Ripper was perhaps the archetypal serial killer, and frighteningly ordinary, enabling him to blend in with the rest of London’s population.

Of course, if this brief glimpse has managed to whet your appetite but left you with more questions than answers, you’ll want to get yourself on one of our Jack the Ripper tours. As we take you through the streets of the East End, once stalked by the Ripper himself, we offer new and expert insights into the case.


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Tour Duration

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The Jack the Ripper Casebook