Profiling Jack the Ripper

The Jack the Ripper murders have secured themselves in the annals of criminal history as the greatest whodunit murder case in the world. The murders occurred in 1888, when policing techniques were in their infancy and forensic knowledge was practically non-existent. There was no signed confession and no official arrest, so proof of the Ripper’s identity has remained unknown for over 130 years.

Today, the Ripper is regarded as the ‘father’ of the modern day serial killer. It was the first recorded case of a serial killer in the UK and at the time caused a mass hysteria in the public imagination and in the numerous columns of newspapers. The entire city of London was under the Ripper’s shadow and the grim legacy is still lingering today around the back streets of Whitechapel. But what kind of man was he? What drove his murderous rampage?

Using modern criminal profiling and taking examples from other serial killers that have been studied over the last 100 years, it is possible to build an accurate profile of Jack the Ripper.

The Ripper did not kill for the purposes of torture, money or any financial gain. His method suggests he killed quickly and that the mutilation of the body was the key driving force behind the murder. He wasn’t sadistic in the sense that his infliction of pain was giving him pleasure. He would strangle his victims first into unconsciousness and then, when they lay on the ground, he performed his ritual of mutilation. This suggests a killer who wants to dominate his victim with power and sexual violence. His actions show a deep resentment towards his victim where he must destroy who they are.  In 1888, this kind of killer would have been alien to most police forces in the world.

In his book Hunting Human, Elliot Leyton illustrated how serial killing appears to be a social phenomenon. It was rare until about 1950, with one such killer emerging every decade. In the 1960s, six serial killers were identified. The 1970s saw the figure leap to just under 20 in the decade. In the 1980s, it had risen to a new serial killer every month - in the United States alone.

Since the 1980s, the study and research of serial killers has revealed that certain patterns of behaviour are recurrent and seem common to a certain percentage. It has been learned, for example, that they generally operate in an area well-known to them, where they feel safe. Therefore, it's highly probable that Jack the Ripper lived in the Whitechapel area, amongst his victims. The piece of Catherine Eddowes’ apron dropped in Goulston Street is an important clue in this respect.

The Ripper may also have been of respectable appearance and he possibly possessed a disarming charm like other serial killers, such as Ted Bundy or the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, both of whom were able to strike up conversations with their victims, putting them at ease and off guard.

Serial Killers are also able to connect with people’s emotions, using their intended victim’s personality against them. They focus on a person’s weakness and vulnerability, convincing them to do things they would otherwise avoid. They become persuasive and charming, carefully dismantling their intended victims’ cautious instincts. One such charming killer was Ted Bundy, who used tricks such as a sling to imply he had a broken arm and thus convince women to help him take heavy objects back to his car. Other times he would dress up as a policeman to gain his victims’ trust. Before he was finally executed in 1989, Bundy confessed to over 30 murders. Experts agree that Bundy’s good looks and manners would have been instrumental in his ability to capture a victim.

During the Jack the Ripper murders, women would be very wary of who they approached or were left alone with, no matter how desperate they were to earn money. Possessing a superficial charm or respectable appearance, the Ripper would have put his victims off guard.

It is highly likely, from what we have seen in other similar cases, that he had already made several attacks on women in this area before the first murder and that these had gone unreported or if they were, they were simply not linked to the Ripper crimes by police.

Likely, the killer would have waited for his unknowing victim to make the first move. As ladies of the night, it was in their nature to approach potential clients, making them the ideal prey for Whitechapel’s predator. As the Ripper’s victim readies herself to appease what she believes to be just another client, events suddenly take a turn for the worse as his hands form a vice grip around her throat without so much of a window of opportunity to cry for help. Those final seconds of consciousness filled with fear, confusion and the realisation that her time had come to an abrupt end; owned forevermore by the anonymous killer. Once passed out and on the ground, a cut to the throat is the end of the slaughter, but only the beginning of the mutilation.

The Ripper focussed his initial attack mostly on the genital region of the body. Although he did not have sex with his victims, the attack does have strong sexual suggestions. It’s possible the killer was impotent or, ironically, feared women. His act of de-sexing his victims would mean he was removing their ability to scare him. This could have stemmed from an inner desire to seek revenge on a dominant female figure in his life, possibly a mother who tortured him mentally, physically or sexually in his youth. As he grew older his mother would represent all women, who he would despise. It’s possible she too may have been a prostitute.

To shock and cause ultimate distress to anyone who uncovered his victim’s body, the killer gave in to his uncontrollable urge to mutilate. Each body was found in a worse state than the last as the Ripper’s arrogance grew, with him wanting to toy with the victim’s friends and family and the Metropolitan Police. The Ripper was presented with the opportunity to live out his sick fantasies on Mary Jane Kelly, the fifth and final canonical victim, when she met her bloody end indoors. The privacy afforded London’s most wanted enough time to mutilate the body to the point that it would be difficult to identify the body.

By 1988, the first ever profile of Jack the Ripper was conducted in America by FBI profilers John Douglas and Roy Hazelwood. Taking the original police reports and medical evidence, they compiled a list of 11 character traits jack the Ripper would have had:

1. The Ripper would be a White Male

2. Between 25 and 35 years old

3. Lived locally to the Whitechapel / Spitalfields area

4. A loner, who was more than likely unmarried

5. As a child he would have had an absent father and a dominant mother figure

6. A mental or physical disability or deformity, which made him feel different from others

7. A solitary job, which kept him away from social encounters

8. Seen as quiet and timid to those who knew him, he would be perceived as a little odd

10. Beneath the surface would lie a deep and resentful aggression, which would explode during bouts of low self-esteem

11. He would not feel guilt or remorse for his crimes and in a way, considered them justified

Special Agent Douglas wrote:

“We would look for someone below or above average in height and/or weight. May have problems with speech, a scarred complexion, physical illness, or injury.

We would not expect this type of offender to be married. If he was married in the past, it would have been to someone older than himself and the marriage would have been for a short duration. He is not adept in meeting people socially and the major extent of his heterosexual relationships would be with prostitutes.

This offender does not look out of the ordinary. However, the clothing he wears at the time of the assaults is not his everyday dress. He wants to project to unsuspecting female prostitutes that he has money.

He comes from a family where he was raised by a domineering mother and a weak, passive father. In all likelihood, his mother drank heavily and enjoyed the company of many men. As a result, he failed to receive consistent care and contact with stable adult role models. This could have resulted in the would-be serial killer having an introverted nature, lashing out violently as a result of his frustration.

As well as being an introvert, the killer would likely be regarded as a shy and retiring loner who would also take great care over his appearance.

He drinks in the local pubs and after a few spirits, he becomes more relaxed and finds it easier to engage in conversation. After he leaves the pub, he would stroll throughout the Whitechapel neighbourhood with lowered inhibitions. He lives or works in the Whitechapel area.

After each killing, he would return to a safe area where he could wash the blood from his hands and get rid of soiled clothing.”

Mutilation killers like Jack the Ripper would rarely stop unless they came close to being caught or were perhaps arrested and locked away for another unrelated crime. It’s possible that his identity became known to his close family and, instead of turning him over to the police, they had him committed in one of the many asylums, where he spent the rest of his life.

Most serial killers are distinguished by their outward normality. Dennis Nilsen was a quiet civil servant. Peter Sutcliffe was apparently an industrious lorry driver. John Wayne Gacy was a successful building contractor and one-time Junior Chamber of Commerce “Man of the Year”. Ted Bundy, credited with the murder of as many as 40 young women, was handsome, charming and well educated.

In all probability, Jack the Ripper was like one of these people. Ordinary – but only on the surface.


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The Jack the Ripper Casebook