Jack the Ripper – doubtless one of the most famous serial killers in history, mostly because his identity has never been uncovered. Many have theorised as to who the Victorian murderer was but no one has managed to prove it. Now an unsuspecting genealogist may have stumbled onto a very plausible identity for the killer, sufficient enough to see one of the victims exhumed for the first time.
Meet the Ripper
The serial killer dubbed Jack the Ripper operates in the 1880s in a London area called Whitechapel. This nickname came from a letter written by someone claiming to be the killer at the time, though many think the letter was a hoax.
The definitive facts are these – the Ripper killed five women and was linked to a number more. These were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. In total from 3rd April 1999 to 13th February 1891, there were some eleven murders in the area and the police investigated them under the heading of the Whitechapel murders. The five said to be the work of one man conclusively were due to the continuity of the wounds they received – deep slashes to the throat, mutilation of the abdomen and genital area, removal of internal organs and progressive mutilation of the face.
Of the five murders, known as the canonical five, Nichols’ body was found at 3:40am on Friday 31st August 1888 in Buck’s Row, today known as Duward Street. She had had her throat cut twice and lower parts of her abdomen were ripped open while other knife wounds could be seen on her body. The next body, Chapman, was found at 6am on the 8th September near the rear door of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. The injuries were similar and a witness had reported seeing a dark haired man of ‘shabby genteel’ appearance in the area.
Stride and Eddowes were both killed in the early morning of 20th September, with the former being found around 1am in Dutfield’s Yard off Berner Street, now called Henriques Street. She had one incision that severed the artery at the left side of her neck but no other wounds. Witnesses had seen her with a man earlier but descriptions varied. Eddowes was discovered in Mitre Square in the City of London, forty-five minutes later. Her throat had been cut, her abdomen ripped open and internal organs removed. A local man saw her with a fair-haired man of shabby appearance but his friends with him didn’t notice the pair.
The last of the five, Mary Ann Kelly was found in the bed of the single room where she lived in 13 Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street in Spitalfields at 10:45am on the 9th November. Her throat had been cut to the spine and most of her internal organs removed including her heart.
Hundreds of letter were received by the police and media outlets regarding the murders with everything from advice on catching the killer to the famous Jack the Ripper letters. Named ‘Dear Boss’, the ‘Saucy Jacky’ postcard and the ‘From Hell’ letter, each was considered a hoax yet held information that may indicate otherwise. On example was in the Dear Boss letter, dated 25th September and postmarked two days later. It referred to ‘clip the ladys ears off’ to gain attention and when Catherine Eddowes body was found, one of her ears was indeed missing. The second letter referred to two killings in a short time a ‘double event this time’ and was postmarked before the double killings of Stride and Eddowes was well known.
The final letter, From Hell, was received by the leader of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk, on 16th October 1888. The writing and style was different to the previous letter and came with a small box. Inside the box was half a kidney preserved in ethanol – Eddowes left kidney had been removed by the killer.
Many have theorised as to the identity of the killer at the time and ever since. The latest theory comes not from an expert who was searching for it but from a genealogist studying his family tree who made a fascinating series of discoveries. His research has led to the granting of the first ever exhumation license for the grave of Mary Jane Kelly by the Ministry of Justice.
The discovery was made by Dr Wynne Weston Davies, detailed in the Telegraph newspaper and subject of a new book. Weston Davies believes that Kelly, an East End prostitute, was his great aunt and her murder was an act of martial vengeance.
He has identified the man he thinks as the killer as Francis Spurzheim Craig, a 51 year old reporter who covered the police courts and the inquests in the East End of London at the time of the killings. He lived on Mile End Road, seven minutes from the first crime scene.
His knowledge gained through his job of police procedures led him to kill four women to cover his true target, the wife who had embarrassed him by secretly returning to her former profession after they wed in 1885.
Weston Davies even has a court sketch that includes the face of Craig, possibly the only picture of the Ripper, should be prove to be such.
Weston Davies came across the evidence while researching his family tree and is going to have the remains of Kelly compared to his and his brother’s DNA for a relationship. He started on the trail after a discovery in the National Archives in Kew four years ago.
He found divorce papers linking Elizabeth Weston Davies, the real name of Mary Jane Kelly, with Francis Craig. He also found a box of documents from another assumed name, Weston Jones, which Kelly had used to pretend to be a widow before marrying Craig, even though she had never been married before. This was a practise by prostitutes at the time to explain their sexual experience.
The story continues that Weston Davies/Jones/Kelly married a man much older than herself but after a few months, it turned sour. He found Craig’s death certificate and found he committed suicide by slitting his throat in the same way that the Ripper victims had been killed.
Further research into Craig discovered the sketch from the court at the inquest of Annie Chapman. The image showed a man who was very much like his father, a well-known phrenologist in London society at the time, who moved in circles with the likes of William Morris.
As a journalist, Craig would have naturally sent the letters about the murders to the press and would have known how they would be dealt with. Another interesting note is that the letters used a number of American phrases and Craig had spent time in the US when he was younger. Reports of his odd behaviours have led experts to believe he may have suffered from schizotypal personality disorder, also known as STPD.
He had tried to track down Kelly after their wedding fell apart and even employed a private detective. Somewhere along the lines, the love may have turned to hatred and led to at least five deaths – perhaps to cover for the eventual main target or perhaps to murder substitute victims until he worked up the courage to go after his real target.
We await the results of the DNA tests following the exhumation for more on the story…