As the sun set on London that Friday, August 31st 1888, a terror would spill forth onto the city that would set the tone for the next century. Jack the Ripper, as he became known as, would claim his first victim. The air that night was hot and foggy, sending dancing spectral figures floating across the waterfront near Buck’s Row as the first victim, Mary Ann Nichols, was found by Charles Cross. She had been slashed repeatedly with a knife, and mutilated even after death. The mystery would only deepen as the murders grew more and more grotesque and the list of suspects got longer and longer.
It was so long a source of debate and historical conjecture that the identity of the killer, “Jack the Ripper” became a field in itself, and “Ripperologists” speculated their own theories. At its peak the list of suspects was well over 100. Notable suspects were Francis Thompson, who influenced the young JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, Sir John Williams (friend to Queen Victoria and her daughter), Lewis Carol (writer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass) and many others. The list of suspects was so long, that until recently no one had ever hoped to solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper.
Then just recently a report came that identified the killer as a hairdresser named Aaron Kosminski, who Donald Swanson, chief investigator on the case had identified. Though Swanson and the higher ups he was working with all suspected Kosmiski, there was a lack of evidence and therefore he was never brought to trial. Kosmiski later was sent to a mental institution where he died. The newspaper report was posted with the title Official: Jack the Ripper Identified. Several others over the years have also attempted to finally close the book on this case forever.
Now the Discovery Channel is positing that it was a morgue attendant by the name of Robert Mann who psychological profilers have identified. Mann allegedly came from a background with little socialization, instead finding himself isolated for long periods of time. He also had a vast knowledge of the human anatomy both inside and out. And perhaps most damning of all, was what he did when Polly Nichols was interred. During his time assisting police in identifying the cause of death, he was told specifically not to touch the body. Mann undressed her with his assistant, possibly tampering with evidence and directly disobeying police orders. Inspector Spratling, who had instructed Mann to leave the bodies untouched thought it was suspicious. The Coroner who Mann worked with, allegedly had his own suspicions of Mann as well, declaring that, “It appears the mortuary-keeper is subject to fits, and neither his memory nor statements are reliable.” Will Jack the Ripper ever be identified conclusively? Perhaps, but until then it’s going to be a difficult case to solve, and may require DNA forensic evidence. Let’s not let the truth become the ripper’s next victim.