Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper, name given to an unidentified late-19th-century murderer in London, England; also known as the Whitechapel Murderer and Leather Apron. From Aug. to Nov., 1888, he was responsible for the death and mutilation of most likely five impoverished women in the East End section of London, but of the 11 murders investigated the number of Ripper murders may be as low as three. The victims, who were portrayed as prostitutes (though only one of the five definitively was), had their throats slashed and their bodies mutilated in ways that appear to indicate anatomical knowledge, perhaps medical training. Panic ensued, and the inability of the police to stop the crimes, coupled with the authorities' receipt of taunting letters (possibly hoaxes) signed Jack the Ripper, brought on scandal and eventual reforms. The murders ended as suddenly as they had begun. Over the years the killings have been ascribed to such varied persons as a Russian sailor, 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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