While the answer to this question is one that we may never know for certain, modern policing and criminal profiling techniques have given us the ability to assess the Ripper’s personality and character traits in much greater detail than ever before. Who was Jack the Ripper? Just maybe, finally, we will be able to find out!
The first step to identifying the Ripper is to determine what kind of man was behind the murders. We are all familiar with the horrifying crimes of Jack the Ripper and the unfortunate end that met the Canonical Five victims, but what can the murders tell us about the Ripper himself? Let’s find out.
When you think of a serial killer, you might be forgiven if the first people to come to mind are more exaggerated characters like Hannibal Lecter. However, the reality is that most real-life serial killers are far more difficult to identify and apprehend.
That being said, there have been various studies and analyses done on the personality and behaviour of serial killers, prompting the rise of the field of criminal profiling. Perhaps the most notable of these is the FBI’s specialist unit which deals entirely with monitoring and recording the characteristics of serial killers.
Of course, due to the age of the crimes and the number of years that have passed since the Ripper stalked the streets of the East End, pinning down concrete evidence and eyewitness testimonies is all but impossible. Indeed, in the Ripper’s heyday, it would still be almost 100 years until DNA was first used by the police to help solve a murder.
However, due to advances in modern policing methods, we can begin to paint a more accurate portrait of the kind of man that Jack the Ripper would have been.
In 1988, Roy Hazelwood and John Douglas from the FBI were asked to use criminal profiling to help unmask the Ripper. Using years of valuable data collected by the FBI’s specialised unit, the pair were able to compile a criminal profile of Jack the Ripper, helping to shed some substantial light on the elusive killer’s shadowy identity.
Douglas and Hazelwood’s report concluded that the Ripper matched the following characteristics:
Interestingly, this profile was a close match to one conducted at the time, in 1888, by Dr Thomas Bond. Bond carried out Mary Jane Kelly’s autopsy, examined the previous victims, and compiled his own thoughts on the individual he considered responsible for the murders.
Dr Thomas Bond’s report mentioned the following characteristics:
There are striking similarities between both reports, helping to lead us to a more conclusive picture of who Jack the Ripper would have been. Likely to have been fairly average and nondescript in appearance, if the police were busy searching for a Hannibal Lecter-esque character, it’s no wonder that the Ripper was never caught!
Aaron Kosminski was a Polish Jew living in Whitechapel at the time of the Ripper murders. He has been one of the principal suspects since the initial police investigation, but no conclusive charge has ever been made. In 1891, Kosminski was declared insane and taken to an asylum, where he would live out the rest of his days. Being declared insane certainly means that Kosminski would have matched the profile in terms of being odd or eccentric, but whether or not he was actually a danger to others remains to be seen.
Montague John Druitt
Widely considered to be another prime suspect in the case, Montague John Druitt was the son of a medical practitioner, a fact which first arose suspicion considering the brutal injuries inflicted on the victims. Druitt’s body was found floating in the Thames in December 1888 – after the Ripper’s final murder. Was this a coincidence? Detectives at the time were convinced Druitt was guilty, and he certainly seems to fit many of the characteristics outlined in the above criminal profiles, but was he Jack the Ripper?
The partner of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s final victim, Joseph Barnett was the only serious suspect with a tangible connection to the Canonical Five. The pair were known to regularly argue – often about Kelly’s profession – and many believe it is plausible that Barnett finally snapped and committed the murder. Although there is no actual evidence connecting Barnett with the other Ripper murders, his physical traits certainly match both the criminal profiling reports and a number of eyewitness descriptions from the time.
James Maybrick is a curious suspect, not least because his name wasn’t even mentioned in conjunction with the case until the 1990s! A diary purporting to date back to the Victorian era surfaced in 1992, allegedly belonging to Maybrick and claiming that he was the Ripper. A pocket watch was then found, with the names of the Canonical Five scratched onto its cover, alongside the chilling message, “I am Jack”. Today, it is still uncertain whether these items are legitimate or just one large, surprisingly credible hoax. Little is known about James Maybrick’s identity, so it is difficult to say for sure if he matched the characteristics outlined in the profile. However, in many people’s minds, he is still a possible suspect.
Francis Tumblety was an American spin doctor who was in the area at the time of the Ripper murders. There was suspicion around his involvement in the murders at the time as the man was certainly eclectic but, again, there was no concrete evidence to suggest Tumblety and Jack the Ripper were one and the same. It is possible that he possessed a degree of medical and anatomical knowledge, which, coupled with his unusual characteristics and misogynistic tendencies, certainly mean he is ticking multiple boxes on the criminal profile report.
Walter Richard Sickert
Perhaps one of the more unusual suspects, Walter Richard Sickert was a British painter. It is claimed that he took inspiration from the Jack the Ripper case in his artwork and might even have been the Ripper himself. Several Ripperologists and authors have connected Sickert with the murders, including bestselling author Patricia Cornwell, who has published several works outlined the reasoning behind her theories. There is little evidence to link Sickert with the Ripper apart from this, but the unexpected is always still a possibility.
While we may never know Jack the Ripper’s identity for certain, these criminal profiling reports, alongside modern policing techniques, may help us to edge closer towards narrowing down the suspects and maybe even uncovering the Ripper.
In recent years, amateur investigators have claimed to have used DNA techniques to reveal the identity of the Ripper. Unfortunately, these techniques have proved inconclusive, with some results even pointing to two separate suspects – Walter Sickert and Aaron Kosminski.
So, after 130 years, will we ever know who Jack the Ripper was for sure? That remains to be seen.
On our Jack the Ripper tour, we will walk you past the murder scenes and key sites on the Ripper trail, getting to grips with the case and explaining more about both the victims and the suspects. Book your place on our tour with exclusive Ripper-Vision today and delve into the Jack the Ripper case for yourself!