The reason Jack the Ripper was never caught remains unsolved and may never be known, but many people attribute the lack of a conviction to the assumption that it was easier to get away with murder at a time when police investigations were primitive compared to how they are now. Our access to technology and digital security is nothing like what it was in 1888, with our ability to catch criminals so much more advanced.
This begs the question, could there ever be a modern Jack the Ripper, and if the Jack the Ripper police investigation took place today, could it be solved?
There’s no doubt that modern police methods to catch Jack the Ripper would centre almost entirely around DNA evidence – something that wasn’t available to the Victorian Metropolitan Police. Since DNA profiling was first rolled out in the 1980s, it has been used to solve countless crimes and is the first port of call for almost every murder. Given it didn’t come about until a century after The Ripper was active, this type of technology was something the Victorian Metropolitan Police could only dream of.
The reason DNA testing is so heavily relied on nowadays is that, unless you’re an identical twin, your DNA is entirely unique. This means if the police find fingerprints, hair, blood, semen, or saliva at a crime scene and are able to match it with a DNA profile on their database, there’s a good chance they may be able to secure a conviction because DNA evidence is something that can’t be argued - unless it’s circumstantial.
The downside of DNA is that unless the perpetrator has had previous run-ins with the police, their DNA won’t be on the database, meaning it won’t help to narrow down a suspect in the initial stages.
In the context of Jack the Ripper, his methods of killing were particularly violent and gruesome. It’s typically expected that in such frenzied murders, the murderer will sustain injuries either from a slip of the knife or from the victim trying to fight back. For example, some murderers are caught because their DNA is found underneath their victims’ fingernails.
Whilst DNA testing wasn’t an available option in 1888, defensive wounds would’ve still been noticed on the suspects. For example, if someone fought back, you might expect to see scratch marks or bruising on the attacker from the victim. This is something that the police still look for today when profiling suspects, but none of the Jack the Ripper suspects presented these tell-tale signs. Why?
Though the attacks were aggressive and impulsive, they were carried out by someone who it is widely believed had medical knowledge. Whether he approached his victims from the front or back, the first wound the Ripper inflicted was a slit throat, sometimes so deep the spine was exposed. This rendered his victims voiceless, but also lifeless almost immediately. There was no time to fight back because their life drained away within seconds.
This made it even harder for the Metropolitan Police to pinpoint a single suspect, and modern police may struggle in this way, too, if there are no clear indications of a struggle. In a line-up of suspects, the police may look to identify people with wounds consistent with a struggle, but given the brutality of The Ripper’s attacks and the fact his victims were killed almost instantly, there were no tell-tale wounds, making the job of catching the killer even harder.
London is now one of the most CCTV-heavy cities in the world. This makes it easier for the police to monitor people’s actions and trace their steps, helping to establish timelines and identify who was where and when. There’s no doubt that modern Jack the Ripper police methods would involve looking at CCTV, but cameras were infantile in the 1880s, and CCTV wasn’t even a pipedream, meaning witness testimony and assumptions were all the police could go off.
Without any concrete evidence proving the movements of the Jack the Ripper victims or their killer, it was hard for police to know exactly what happened in the lead-up to the slayings. In today’s London, it’s highly likely the police would reference CCTV and be able to see the victims or the killer, and they may even catch it on camera. With this in mind, it would be harder for a serial killer of this magnitude to exist in today’s society.
The police had a number of Jack the Ripper theories based on his method of murder, including that they thought he had medical knowledge, but this is as far as their profiling went. It wasn’t until a century after The Ripper roamed the streets that the police began to learn more about criminal profiling. With today’s level of research and knowledge, it’s likely that a more in-depth Jack the Ripper personality profile would be compiled, making it easier to narrow down potential suspects.
So, with all the knowledge we now have, could there be a 21st century Ripper? In short, anything’s possible. Whilst we know have CCTV, a better understanding of criminal psychology, and DNA profiling technology, there could well be a modern serial killer operating in London, though the chances of them getting caught are much higher than they were in 1888.
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