Prostitute Mary Ann Nichols, the first known victim of London serial killer “Jack the Ripper,” is found murdered and mutilated in the city’s Whitechapel district. London saw four more victims of the murderer during the next few months, but no suspect was ever found.
In Victorian England, London’s East End was a teeming slum occupied by nearly a million of the city’s poorest citizens. Many women were forced to resort to prostitution, and in 1888 there were estimated to be more than 1,000 prostitutes in Whitechapel.
That summer, a serial killer began targeting these downtrodden women. On September 8, the killer claimed his second victim, Annie Chapman, and on September 30 two more prostitutes—Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes—were murdered and carved up on the same night.
By then, London’s Scotland Yard police had determined the pattern of the killings. The murderer, offering to pay for sex, would lure his victims onto a secluded street or square and then slice their throats. As the women rapidly bled to death, he would then brutally disembowel them with the same six-inch knife.
The police, who lacked modern forensic techniques such as fingerprinting and blood typing, were at a complete loss for suspects. Dozens of letters allegedly written by the murderer were sent to the police, and the majority of these were immediately deemed fraudulent. However, two letters–written by the same individual–alluded to crime facts known only to the police and the killer. These letters, signed “Jack the Ripper,” gave rise to the serial killer’s popular nickname.
On November 7, after a month of silence, Jack took his fifth and last victim, Irish-born Mary Kelly, an occasional prostitute. Of all his victims’ corpses, Kelly’s was the most hideously mutilated. In 1892, with no leads found and no more murders recorded, the Jack the Ripper file was closed.