November 9, 2007 - 6:00 am - Posted by iDunzo
November 9, 1888: The mutilated body of Mary Jane Kelly is found on the bed of her squalid room in the Spitalfields-Whitechapel area of London’s East End. She is generally considered to be the fifth and final victim of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.
In fact, Kelly — a tall, amiable young woman who dabbled in prostitution to make ends meet — may not have been the Ripper’s final victim at all.
Although five is the number accepted by most so-called “Ripperologists,” no exact body count has ever been established. The killer’s identity likewise remains unknown, defying even current research using the tools of modern forensic science.
Trying to discover Jack the Ripper’s identity remains one of criminology’s enduring puzzles. Several potential suspects exist, and have existed since the murders were committed. But the relatively primitive police work of the day — forensic science as we know it didn’t exist in Victorian England — and the loss of physical evidence over time means the mystery may never be solved.
That hasn’t prevented a cottage industry of Ripper sleuths, Ripper enthusiasts and Ripper nut balls from thriving. Books purporting to have solved the Whitechapel murders (there were 11 in all, not all of them associated with the Ripper) appear from time to time, alongside fictional accounts and more-scholarly works, but most are completely worthless except as titillation.
Whether the killer was a member of the royal family, as one popular theory has it, or a surgeon with a grudge, at least two things are certain: Jack was skilled with a knife and certainly a sexual psychopath. All the Ripper’s victims had their throats cut and all were sexually mutilated: the unfortunate Ms. Kelly worst of all. When discovered by her landlord’s rent collector, she was barely recognizable as a human being.
Nearly 120 years later, research continues. In fact, there’s more of it being done now than at any time since the case was officially closed in 1892. With modern forensic techniques, a few new details have emerged, including the fact that in carving up Mary Jane Kelly, the Ripper used an ax as well as a knife.
As to where that will lead us, who knows?