On this day in 1888, 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 would see four more victims of grisly murder during the next several weeks and months, with no suspect ever found.
In Victorian England, London’s East End was a teeming slum occupied by nearly one 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 of nearly all ages in Whitechapel. It was this district and among these unfortunates that The Ripper found his culling grounds. Eight days after the discovery of Miss Nichols, the killer claimed his second victim, Annie Chapman, and on September 30 two more women, Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes, were murdered and carved up on the same night.
By then, London’s Scotland Yard police began working a theory and pattern to 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 bled to death, he would brutally disembowel them with the same six-inch knife.
Lacking modern forensic techniques such as fingerprinting and blood typing, the police were at a complete loss for suspects. Dozens of letters ostensibly written by the murderer were sent to authorities, and the majority of these were immediately deemed fraudulent. However, two letters, written by the same individual, alluded to facts known only to the police and the killer. These letters, signed “Jack the Ripper,” gave rise to the serial killer’s popular nickname.
After nearly a month of silence punctuated by dread, Jack took his fifth victim, Irish-born Mary Kelly, an occasional prostitute. Of all his victims’ corpses, Kelly’s was the most hideously mutilated; her throat had been severed down to the spine, the abdomen almost emptied of its organs, and her heart was missing.
Although not less than seven similar subsequent murders and various suspects were investigated, in 1892 the Ripper case was officially and unsuccessfully closed.