Jack the Ripper

All posts tagged Jack the Ripper

Jack-the-Ripper-Mini-Series-1988-Header
One of the problems facing anyone wishing to make a film about the infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, is that we already know history has yet to deliver up a perpetrator. Many suspects have been put forward over the years, but none have proved conclusive. So when filmmakers set about documenting the life of the East End’s most notorious son, they often let their imagination get the better of them, and we invariably end up with a fantasy film with little grasp or adherence to the known facts.

Jack The Ripper Mini-Series

Michael Caine and Jane Seymour in ‘Jack the Ripper’ Mini-series

Happily, this was not the case in the Jack the Ripper mini-series produced in 1988 by director and producer David Wickes. Although the series itself still had a number of historical flaws (just see the busy London street scene complete with horse drawn omnibus which gives an extremely sanitised view of a street of the time – they were normally ankle deep in horse droppings!) Wickes tried to stick to the case facts and reproduce the murder scenes as accurately as possible.

The film stars Michael Caine in the role of Inspector Frederick Abberline (a cockney in the starring role – albeit from the wrong side of the river!) who is assigned the unfolding series of Whitechapel Murders in 1888. His co-worker and co-star in the film is Sergeant George Godley played by the late Lewis Collins, and the cast are ably assisted by Susan George and Lysette Anthony who play the doomed prostitutes Katherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Jane Seymour plays a talented artist, Emma Prentiss and the actor Armand Assante plays the famous American actor Richard Mansfield (and who excels himself in his nightly portrayal of the eponymous Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde on stage, transforming himself in front of a terrified audience).

Before the film was broadcast, David Wickes claimed that he had been given exclusive access to the files and documentation of the Jack the Ripper case from Scotland Yard, and that his film would reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper for the first time. Wickes was challenged over the claim and had to withdraw his statement, but has gone a long way to present a convincing case. A number of red herrings are thrown into the plot with suspects ranging from Richard Mansfield himself to Prince Albert Victor, the Grandson of Queen Victoria.

jack-the-ripper-1988--Michael-Caine-and-Lewis-Collins

Michael Caine and Lewis Collins in ‘Jack the Ripper’ mini-series

Unlike many films today, the Jack the Ripper mini-series does not descend into a gory bloodbath and uses more subtle ways of conveying the terrifying attacks on the prostitutes. Despite this, the viewer is still treated to some fairly harrowing verbal descriptions of the injuries.

So – is it a good film? That will depend on the viewer’s own tastes and preconceptions. Michael Caine does a fine job and the subject matter, although well-known is delivered in a fairly intelligent and non-sensationalistic way.

The film ends with the disclaimer that –

‘In the strange case of Jack the Ripper; there was no trial and no signed confession. In 1888, neither fingerprinting nor blood typing was in use and no conclusive forensic, documentary or eye-witness testimony was available. Thus, positive proof of The Ripper’s identity is not available.

We have come to our conclusions after careful study and painstaking deduction. Other researchers, criminologists and writers may take a different view. We believe our conclusions to be true.’

From Hell
From Hell

There have been numerous films based, albeit loosely, on the ‘career’ of the East End’s most infamous son, Jack the Ripper.  Given the scope for speculation, it is perhaps surprising that there have not been more – but, for dramatic effect, most are inaccurate in their historical portrayal of facts. There is of course nothing wrong with this, as long as the viewer remembers that they are merely dramatic pieces – it’s the difference between reading a novel or an encyclopaedia.

The 2002 film ‘From Hell’ is one such story. Starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, this film has a graphic novel feels to it – unsurprising as that is how the story started out. So firstly, why ‘From Hell’? In one of the letters written by the ‘real’ Jack the Ripper, this was the return address he used on the correspondence.

Set in 1888 in the East End of London, the film starts by highlighting the plight of the unfortunate poor who spend their appalling lives in the city’s deadliest slum, Whitechapel.

Street Gangs force prostitutes to walk the streets for a living, and Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and her small clutch of companions lives their miserable existence, consoling themselves with the fact that things can’t get any worse. However, when their friend Annie is kidnapped the women are drawn into a conspiracy with connections far higher up the social ladder than any of them could possibly imagine.

Annie’s kidnapping is rapidly followed by the gruesome murder of another of their group, Polly, and it becomes apparent that the women are being hunted down, one at a time. Even by the standards in Whitechapel at the time, this murder attracts the attention of Inspector Fred Abberline (played by Johnny Depp with a half decent cockney accent), a talented yet troubled man whose police work is often aided by his ‘psychic’ abilities, an ability he attempts to enhance by frequent visit to the numerous Opium Dens prevalent in the area at the time. Abberline is portrayed as an opium addict and when “chasing the dragon” he is able to have visions of the future, a certain psychic ability that allows him to solve cases.
From-Hell-Cover

Being Hollywood, Abberline becomes deeply involved with the case, which becomes personal when he and the attractive Mary begin to fall in love. However, as Abberline gets closer to the truth, the Whitechapel area is becoming more and more dangerous for his love interest, Mary, and the other girls. Whichever individual is responsible for the gruesome acts of murder and evisceration is not going to give up his secret without a fight….

The film is entertaining enough, but sharped eyed members of the audience will spot a number of errors that seem to have been overlooked for ‘poetic license’ purposes.

We are shown a shot of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. However, it only gained its “Royal” status in 1990 – for the rest of its previous 250 years history, from when it was constructed on its present site in 1757, it was simply called ‘The London Hospital’.

A short while after the second murder, Inspector Abberline refers to “Jack the Ripper”. However, the murderer was not to become known by that name until the double event murder and receipt of the “Dear Boss” letter, which took place 4 weeks later.

Like most film and Television versions of the Ripper murders, From Hell shows the Ripper’s victims as being considerably younger and more attractive than in real life. Sadly, the vast majority of the prostitutes in the East End were gin soaked and riddled with disease, which quickly robbed them of their looks. Hollywood lets us down again….

Whitechapel- The TV Series
Whitechapel, the TV series (a Carnival Films production) was set in 2008 and is based around a group of detectives in London’s Whitechapel district who find themselves dealing with murders which tend to replicate historical crimes.

The initial series was originally broadcast in the UK on 2 February 2009 and depicted the search for a modern copycat killer who appears to have started to replicate the activities of Jack the Ripper. The ensuing series of bloody and seemingly impossible murders are investigated by the shows three main characters: DI Joseph Chandler, a fast-tracked, but flawed OCD Detective Inspector who has been assigned this as his first big murder case; Detective Sergeant Ray Miles, a hard bitten professional copper nearing his retirement, and Edward Buchan, an eccentric and brilliant Jack the Ripper tour guide, author and self styled Ripperologist.

By series two, the action had switched to some other well-known East End villains, The Kray Twins. A series of crimes mirroring those committed by the Krays, leads the Whitechapel team to believe that Ronnie and Reggie Kray have somehow been resurrected and are once again wreaking havoc in the Whitechapel area. This second series was first broadcast on 11 October 2010.
Whitechapel TV Series Characters

A third series was commissioned by ITV in March 2011, which was extended to six episodes as three two-part stories, and dealt with murders in present day Whitechapel that seemed to be paralleling those of Victorian and Edwardian London.

The fourth and ultimately final series was commissioned by the ITV on 24 September 2012. Once again, Whitechapel ran for six episodes, with the first episode being broadcast on 4 September 2013. This time, the team are met with a number of supernatural occurrences that seem to centre round the Whitechapel CID.

On 16 November 2013, Rupert Penry-Jones who played DI Chandler in the series confirmed that ITV had decided not to re-commission the show and had cancelled it.

Ripper-Street-Header
Ripper Street was a BBC Television series set in Leman Street Police Station, Whitechapel in London’s East End in 1889. The initial story takes place just six months after the infamous Jack the Ripper murders.

The principal characters in the series are played by Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn, and Adam Rothenberg. The very first episode was broadcast on 30 December 2012 and it began a run in the United States on BBC America a couple of weeks later. A second series of Ripper Street returned for an eight-episode run which started on 28 October 2013
Ripper Street

The first series began in April 1889, a few months after the last Jack the Ripper killing in October 1888, and the newly formed H Division of the Metropolitan Police is operating out of Leman Street. Tasked with policing over a mile and a quarter of East London, it has to cope in a district with a population of 68,000 destitute and homeless individuals. The policemen of H Division had already spent much time hunting Jack the Ripper, but had failed to find him. When more women begin to turn up on the streets around Whitechapel, in a manner reminiscent of the Ripper killings, the police start to wonder if the killer of the previous autumn has returned.

The Leman Street police station and “The Brown Bear” public house that are featured in the series are still there in Leman Street, and the Jews Orphan Asylum which forms much of the backdrop to series one still exists. The Asylum was renamed and relocated first to Norwood in South London, and then to Stanmore in North London.

Jack-the-Ripper-cropped
Jack the Ripper
is a name that will forever be associated with the East End of London. It is a name that has both fascinated and confounded generations of police, the public, and Ripperologists. Even today, over a century since the gruesome East End murders took place, the public’s imagination with this elusive killer persists. Numerous TV programmes and Films featuring Jack the Ripper as their principal subject abound.

So what do we know about the subject? Countless Jack the Ripper books exist for the individual who wants to investigate this subject further, but an outline of the facts is laid out below.

Illustrated_Police_News_-_Jack_the_Ripper_21A series of murders took place in the dark and largely unlit streets of London’s East End and these were investigated with increasing urgency by Scotland Yard in the autumn of 1888. The victims were all women, and were linked by a common Modus Operandi – the gruesome disfigurement of their bodies by the murderer, who was never identified. The individual became known as Jack the Ripper principally because of a letter sent to Scotland Yard, apparently signed by the murderer. The identity of Jack the Ripper has been a mystery ever since.  Whilst modern investigation techniques and forensic science have advanced since those days, it is still true that an apparently motiveless murder by a stranger committed in a public place out of the sight of witnesses is still difficult to solve today.  There have been a number of attempts to clearly define those murders attributed to the Ripper, but the five listed below are accepted as being the work of one individual…

Friday 31 August 1888

Mary Ann Nichols

Buck’s Row, Whitechapel,

Saturday 8 September 1888

Annie Chapman

Rear Yard at 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields.

Sunday 30 September 1888

Elizabeth Stride

Yard at side of 40 Berner Street,
St George’s-in-the- East.

Sunday 30 September 1888

Catherine Eddowes

Mitre Square, Aldgate, City of London.

Friday 9 November 1888

Mary Jane Kelly

13 Miller’s Court,
26 Dorset Street Spitalfields.

MaryJaneKelly

The murder of Mary Kelly, in November 1888, was accompanied by mutilation of such ferocity that it beggared description, and, for once, left the press short of words to adequately describe it – a poor quality grainy picture is all that modern Jack the Ripper investigators have to study – and the body is so badly mutilated, it is barely recognisable.

The Suspects
Because of the way in which the victims’ bodies were mutilated with a sharp knife or scalpel, some medical knowledge or skill at wielding a knife (for example, as a butcher) rapidly became one of the principal criteria for suspicion.   The four main suspects can be listed as:

Aaron Kosminski – a poor Polish Jew resident in Whitechapel;

Montague John Druitt- a 31 year old barrister and school teacher who committed suicide in December 1888

Michael Ostrog, a Russian-born thief and confidence trickster (he went by many aliases) who was believed to be 55 years old in 1888, and who had been detained in asylums on several occasions

Dr Francis J. Tumblety – a 56 year old American ‘quack’ doctor, who was arrested in November 1888 for offences of gross indecency, and fled the country later the same month.

Druitt, Ostrog and Tumblety

Druitt, Ostrog and Tumblety

So – why ‘Jack the Ripper?

The name that we have been left with for these crimes, ‘Jack the Ripper’ is easy to explain.   It was written at the end of a letter dated 25 September, 1888 and sent to the Central News Agency on 27 September, 1888. The agency – having had it in their possession for two days, forwarded it to the Metropolitan Police on 29 September.
Dear Boss letter

The letter was written in a florid, loose script and began “Dear Boss……” It went on to talk of “That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits……” (The name ‘Leather Apron’ was attributed to a John Pizer, briefly suspected at the time of the Chapman murder).   “I am down on whores and I shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled…” ­­­and so on in a similar vein.   The signature at the end of the letter, ‘Jack the Ripper’, was then made public fuelling the agitation and hysteria that had now gripped the East End.

The dual murders that subsequently took place on the 30 September 1888 gave the letter even greater importance and as if to underline it, the unknown writer once again committed red ink to a postcard sent on 1 October.  In this communication he referred to himself as ‘Saucy Jacky…‘ and spoke of the “double event…….” He again signed off as Jack the Ripper….

London-Hospital-Header

The London Hospital in the East End was originally founded in September 1740 and went by the name of The London Infirmary. It changed its name to The London Hospital in 1748 and on its 250th anniversary in 1990 changed its name once more, this time becoming the The Royal London Hospital. The first patients were treated at a house in Featherstone Street, Moorfields in November 1740 but by spring 1741, the hospital moved to Prescot Street, and remained there until 1757. It then moved to its current location on the south side of Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, almost directly opposite Whitechapel Tube Station.

Joseph Merrick - The 'Elephant Man'

Joseph Merrick – The ‘Elephant Man’

One of the hospital’s more famous (or perhaps more correctly, infamous) inhabitants was Joseph Merrick, known as the “Elephant Man”.  He was discovered by Frederick Treves, a surgeon at the London Hospital in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Treves found Joseph Merrick being exhibited at a sideshow along the Whitechapel Road and brought him back to the hospital to live. Merrick spent the last few years of life at The Royal London Hospital and his mounted skeleton is currently housed at the Medical School, but is not on public display. However, there is a model of a church in the hospital that was built by Joseph Merrick while living there.

The Royal London has a medical museum which is located in the crypt of a 19th-century church. It reopened in 2002 after extensive refurbishment and is open to the public free of charge. The museum covers the history of the hospital since its foundation in 1740. There is a fascinating forensic medicine section which contains original material on Jack the Ripper, Dr Crippen and the Christie murders. There are also displays on Joseph Merrick (the ‘Elephant Man’) and former Hospital nurse Edith Cavell.