Over the years there has been a wealth of Jack the Ripper suspects; between the investigators at the time along with various experts, historians and conspiracy theorists, nearly 500 people are thought to have been accused of the killing spree. Some have a bit of merit while others are based on non-existent or circumstantial evidence. However, a number of experts have speculated that the infamous Jack may really be a Jill. A number of theories postulate that a female murderer is more likely; in fact Inspector Abberline, a prominent figure during the investigation, is thought to have considered this to be a possibility at the time of the killings.
The theory was based largely on the testimony of one Mrs Caroline Maxwell following the murder of Mary Kelly, one of the canonical five victims. Interestingly Mrs Maxwell claimed to have seen Mary Kelly on two occasions between the hours of 8am and 10am, mere hours after her body was found. The clothes Mrs Maxwell described were unarguably Mary’s and the woman was adamant about not only the times but also whom she had seen. Abberline concluded that the killer may have disguised herself as Mary Kelly in order to escape the scene unnoticed and would account for Mrs Maxwell’s testimony.
Abberline would later divulge his Jill the Ripper theory to his mentor, Dr Thomas Dutton who, though doubtful, suggested that the only woman capable of such a surgical killing would be a midwife. This added weight to the female ripper theory as midwives were seen at all hours and were usually covered in grime and blood, usually a result of her work and would not draw suspicion.
The idea that Jill the Ripper could be a midwife was explored and published in 1939 by William Stewart in his book ‘Jack the Ripper: A New Theory’. Stewart claimed that not only would a midwife have the necessary anatomical knowledge, but also given their role in society, they would often be called on by prostitutes to perform abortions; giving them the perfect opportunity to strike. In fact, this is exactly the scenario put forward by Stewart, given that Mary Kelly was 3 months pregnant when she was killed. In addition, Mary’s clothes were found neatly folded on a chair, as if she had stripped to prepare for a medical exam…
He also theorised that the midwife removed the organs of her victims in order to draw attention away from her profession. He even had a suspect, Mary Pearcey, a midwife who murdered her lover’s wife and child in 1890. Stewart noted that the similarity to the Ripper murders was “striking” and said, “I have never seen a woman of stronger physique… her nerves were as iron cast as her body” when describing Pearcey.
However, this is just one of the myriad of theories surrounding Jack the Ripper and it is unlikely that any one of them will be officially held responsible. Our Jack the Ripper tours take you around the twisting streets of the East End and reveal where the victims met their fateful end as well as outlining the evidence available at the time. Full information is available online, so join us and see if you can crack the case once and for all!