Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper, name given to an unidentified late-19th-century murderer in London, England. From Aug. to Nov., 1888, he was responsible for the death and mutilation of at least seven female prostitutes in the East End section of London. The victims had their throats slashed and their bodies mutilated in ways that revealed substantial physiological knowledge, perhaps medical training. Panic ensued, and the inability of the police to stop the crimes, coupled with the authorities' receipt of taunting letters signed "Jack the Ripper," brought on scandal and eventual reforms. The murders ended as suddenly as they had begun; one school of thought is that a Russian sailor, the killer, left London. Over the years the killings have been ascribed to such varied persons as a doctor, a woman, a man in woman's clothing, a well-known painter, or a member of the nobility or even the royal family. The crimes have given rise to many novels, plays, and other dramatic works.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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