Imagine Jack the Ripper carrying out his grisly murders in 21st-century Whitechapel. Do you really think he would have gotten away with them?
The London of 1888 is a different place in comparison with the London of 2023. The Ripper’s hunting ground was in a predominantly working-class, poverty-stricken area which was dark and dingy, full of badly lit hidden corners. During the day, the main thoroughfares would be clogged and filthy from horses, tradesmen, market sellers and general day-to-day business. The muddy streets would be mixed with horse manure, rotting vegetables and other detritus, creating truly nauseous conditions for the local working population.
London at that time was also a cultural melting pot, with people sailing in from many different countries. The East End was full of visitors from different countries, creating a transitory population in which many could come and go undetected.
The East End couldn’t have been more different to the West End, a place of intellectual pursuit and smart new architecture, with wide, clean streets, which were well-patrolled by the local police. Much of the interest in the Jack the Ripper murders was driven by the up-and-coming newspapers and media, who enjoyed nothing more than filling their pages with salacious gossip and conjecture.
This media fascination has continued over the 150 years since the murders. Jack the Ripper has been the subject of a BBC documentary, has inspired a myriad of crime thriller productions, and has spawned podcasts, conspiracy theorists, re-enactments, and cold case investigations. It is the sheer fact that we do not know that has held us all in such thrall for many years.
24-Hour Camera Surveillance
In London today, there are more than half a million CCTV cameras dotted around the city. In truth, this is probably a significant underestimate, as this number does not take into account the private cameras that businesses install themselves in and around their own premises. There are not many corners to hide anymore in modern London.
For anyone seeking to carry out a murder on the streets of London, they would need to have intimate knowledge of every camera location in the vicinity. Extensive CCTV surveillance, as well as increasingly sophisticated facial recognition technology, means that a bare minimum of people can roam the streets undetected and unknown these days.
Crime Scene Photos
Every crime these days is recorded in fine detail through crime scene photos that document every tiny millimetre of the area. Over and above this, forensic detailing can pick up on traces of a presence that would have gone completely unnoticed 150 years ago due to a lack of knowledge.
This forensic know-how would have been pie in the sky a hundred years ago. Any Jack the Ripper pictures that might have been taken or created based on eyewitness accounts would have been illustrative rather than a scientifically documented record of the crime scene.
Today, the scene would have been sealed off, and a tarpaulin erected to keep the area from prying eyes. Back in 1888, after the murder of Annie Chapman in Hanbury Street on 8th September, the other residents of the street that overlooked the scene were so poor that they were selling slots at their windows to people who wanted to gawp at the crime scene, such was the fascination with the murders. Can you imagine how the sheer traffic of people moving around the crime scene and its vicinity could have impacted a forensic investigation these days?
A real crime scene is more than the content of the photos these days - it is a holder of secrets that investigators prefer not to release until they can guarantee they have squeezed every ounce of possible clue out of the deepest hidden depths.
The Mystery of Catherine Eddowes’ Shawl
One of the biggest advances in crime scene investigation was the understanding and use of DNA, which was not used until 1986, nearly 100 years since the gruesome Jack the Ripper murders.
It goes without saying that due to the vicious and violent nature of the attacks, there is a strong possibility that the attacker would have left behind traces of his own DNA. Equally, the DNA of his victims would have made its way onto his own clothing.
The intimate knowledge we have today of removing traces of evidence would not have even existed back in 1888. Today, programmes like CSI Investigation, Line of Duty, and the many thousands of true crime podcasts that continue to hold people in their thralls continue to feed our collective fascination for solving crimes.
And DNA technology is one area which would have narrowed down the identity of Jack the Ripper and possibly saved the lives of his later victims.
DNA did come into the investigations around the Jack the Ripper murders with the alleged discovery of Catherine Eddowes’ shawl, which was produced from seemingly dubious origins in 2014 and subjected to DNA analysis. Unfortunately, there was too much conjecture and too little evidence to verify the actual provenance of the shawl, and it produced no information that could have any bearing on solving the investigation.
Do you think Jack the Ripper would’ve been caught today? Why not join us on a tour to make your mind up?