There have been well-documented cases of serial killers sending letters to the press and police, often taunting their inability to catch them. Between 1966 and 1974, the Zodiac Killer sent in 20 written communications to the police authorities, often using codes and cyphers, all designed to confuse and taunt those who were trying to apprehend him. The same can be said with the BTK (Bound, Torture & Kill) Killer, Dennis Rader, who made contact with the police, often gloating about his crimes.
However, the most infamous series of letters ever sent in a criminal case has to be the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. During what was known as the autumn of terror, dozens of letters were sent to both press and police all claiming to be from the killer.
The Ripper murdered and mutilated between five and six women in London’s East End over a three-month period, starting with Mary Ann Nichols on 31st August 1888 and ending with Mary Jane Kelly on 9th November 1888. It caused a sensation and a scandal and 130 years after the murders, dozens of suspects have been named as the notorious Whitechapel killer.
During the manhunt, a letter arrived to the press and it stated: “I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet.” Written in blood red ink, the letter was signed off by “Jack the Ripper.”
Now, no doubt many of the letters were sent by hoaxers, but experts of the case have always felt there may be something genuine about the initial letters that were first sent in. For instance, the first letter signed Jack the Ripper, stated that his next victim would have her ears cut off. The next murder that followed, the ears were attacked and severed. A follow-up letter, written in the same hand, claimed that he had not been able to complete his task. Was this a lucky guess by a would-be forger? Or the words of Jack himself?
Others are more sceptical. Andrea Nini, a forensic linguist from the University of Manchester, came to the conclusion that at least two of the infamous letters were written by the same person, adding that the writer was not history’s most revered serial killer.
So if they are not the words of Jack the Ripper, then who could have written them? There is a theory that the letters are no more than the creation of enterprising journalists at the time of the murders, to keep the story alive and in doing so, sell more papers.
One name that has been brought up in recent times is Thomas Bulling, a central news agency reporter and his colleague Fred Best. Some experts claim there is a similarity in their handwriting to some of the letters received, though this is not the opinion of everyone. If they did write the letter, then it makes perfect sense why the Jack the Ripper letter was sent to their own agency. It gave their paper a fantastic boost and would make them number one in an ever-increasing tabloid war that the Whitechapel murders created.
Unfortunately, at this stage, it is unlikely we will ever know, how involved these two men were in creating the myth that we know today.