Who was Jack the Ripper? Unmasking the world's most famous serial killer

Jack the Ripper’s grizzly, unsolved murders have captivated and baffled crime buffs the world over for the last 134 years. But has his identity been uncovered?

In the late 1800s, Londonites lived in fear of a serial killer who was canonically responsible for the deaths of five women.

Throughout 1888, the bodies of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly were found lying dead around the Whitechapel district in East London.

Jack the Ripper killing spots in black and white
Jack the Ripper's killing grounds: Mary Ann Nichols' body was found at Buck's Row, (left) and Catherine Eddowes was discovered dead at Mitre Square (right). Source: Getty Images

All of the women, who were prostitutes in the Whitechapel area, were discovered in a bloody state. They had been disemboweled, with their throats slit and their intestines draped around their necks.

As if the murders weren’t grizzly enough, letters from a person identifying themselves as "Jack the Ripper" began arriving at local police stations, along with a taunt to investigators - a human kidney.

Suspects, false confessions and conspiracy theories

The brutal murders sent local police and media into a frenzy. Desperate to catch the killer, police immediately profiled the characteristics of Jack the Ripper.

“The police were interested in interviewing and detaining butchers, surgeons, people with anatomical knowledge of the human body, given the nature and brutality of the killings and mutilations,” Futurist Dr Richard Hames tells Yahoo News’ Conspiracies Unpacked.

Late 1800s cartoons of Jack the Ripper and police work
Jack the Ripper's murders were a major focus of London's media in the late 1800s. Source: Getty Images

"Also, there were a huge number of people who wrote letters claiming to be Jack the Ripper who clearly were not, and even implicated was Queen Victoria's grandson. This is why it became such a worldwide mystery phenomenon," he said.

So how was Jack the Ripper able to continue killing without detection? Dr Hames puts it down to the state of Whitechapel at the time.

“Whitechapel at that time was a very poor area of London, there were lots of immigrants, the overcrowding and the poverty was appalling, and there were around 61 or 62 brothels just in that area, and about 1,200 prostitutes working,” he said.

Modern-day photo of Ten Bells Pub in East London
Many of Jack the Ripper's victims were last seen at the Ten Bells pub in East London. Source: Getty Images

“It was a very seedy area of London at the time and people could easily hide in that environment.”

Whitechapel reportedly proved to be the perfect killing ground for Jack the Ripper, with conspiracy theorists convinced that he was responsible for over 1,000 deaths in the area.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Over the last few years, several theories have emerged and modern DNA testing has assisted in trying to solve the Jack the Ripper killings.

A bloody shawl that was supposedly found with Kate Eddowes’ body was recently DNA tested, revealing a chilling detail that might point to a killer.

“An apron or shawl that was found on one of the women, the blood tested as pig blood so [Jack the Ripper] could have been a butcher,” Dr Hames said.

Although many names have emerged as potential suspects in the Jack the Ripper killings, one name is consistent.

“The finger seems to point to a guy named Frederick Deeming, who was a con-man convicted of killing his wife Emily, and was actually hanged in a Melbourne jail in 1892,” Dr Hames says.

“He was English and a traveller, and he was known to dislike prostitutes although he visited brothels himself, but there is a lot of evidence - circumstantial nevertheless - pointing at him.”

Newspaper articles about Frederick Bailey Deeming
Frederick Bailey Deeming was executed for murdering his wife, but never confessed to the "Jack the Ripper" killings. Source: Getty Images

After more than 100 years of conspiracies, suspects and infamy, it may very well turn out that Jack the Ripper was already made to pay for his crimes right here in Australia.

Regardless, the tales of Jack the Ripper’s infamous killings have greatly shaped modern popular culture, whilst continuing to fascinate the general public.

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