‘Shocking’ myth about Jack the Ripper
A Jack the Ripper expert has sparked debate in the UK after accusing the so-called "Ripper industry" of celebrating the notorious serial killer and ignoring key facts about his victims.
British social historian Hallie Rubenhold says she's "disgusted" the 19th century killer continues to be seen as an "antihero" in England, more than 130 years after he brutally murdered at least five women in London's East End.
The gruesome killer - who was never found by police and whose identity remains a mystery - is believed to have killed Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly in 1888, slitting their throats and mutilating their corpses in horrific ways.
But take a walk down the streets of Whitechapel today and his name is plastered across shopfronts, on T-shirts and the sides of buses, while tourists pay to visit the murder sites and a museum dedicated to his crimes.
Rubenhold argues the more we obsess over the killer and speculate about his identity, the more his victims are being forgotten.
"The moment you realise this is a real person who did this to real people, it stops being funny," Rubenhold told reporters on Tuesday.
But a Jack the Ripper tour guide - just one part of the sprawling Ripper industry - branded the criticism both "insulting" and "unfair", saying the story, while macabre, was an important part of England's history and the victims were always top of mind.
'SHOCKING' MYTH REVEALED
Jack the Ripper has become an antihero figure in England, in part because people believe he only killed prostitutes.
At the time of the murders, a government worker actually praised him for helping rid London of "outcasts".
"The horror and excitement caused by the murder of the four Whitechapel outcasts imply a universal belief that they had a right to life," Edward Fairfeld wrote in a letter to The Times.
"He, at all events, has made his contribution towards solving the problem of clearing the East End of its vicious inhabitants," he added.
But Rubenhold claims only two of the victims were prostitutes - a stunning twist in the murder case that could rewrite history books.
Her evidence is presented in her latest book, The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, in which she retraces the lives of Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes and Kelly until the days of their deaths.
"That was the big discovery. That's what absolutely shocked me," she said.
"Vox pop anybody on the street and say, 'Tell me what you know about Jack the Ripper' (and they'll say), 'Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes'. Well that actually is categorically untrue.
"There was absolutely no proof, no hard evidence that three of the five were ever involved in sex work. And in many cases it was quite the contrary."
WOMEN WERE MARRIED, HAD CHILDREN
Rubenhold instead claims the Ripper preyed on homeless women, and most of his victims likely died while sleeping rough.
Her book, which won the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction in 2019, explains none of the women originally came from Whitechapel and almost all had been married or married with children. Chapman had lived on a country estate in Windsor and was middle class, while Eddowes was the daughter of a notorious union agitator in Wolverhampton.
Kelly was the only victim who was officially listed as a prostitute on her death certificate.
"The victims of Jack the Ripper were never just prostitutes - they were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, lovers," she writes in the book.
The Ripper industry, however, has ignored the facts, she claims.
"Today there is only one reason why we would continue to embrace the belief that Jack the Ripper was a killer of prostitutes: because it supports an industry that has grown in part out of his mythology," Rubenhold writes.
"I don't think I can single-handedly stop the Ripper industry, but I hope the magic of this book is that when you read this book, when you know about the lives of these women, you won't want to participate in that," she told reporters.
TOUR GUIDE HITS BACK
Still, hundreds of true crime fans flock to Whitechapel every night to visit each of the five murder sites.
Tour guide Richard Cobb said he challenged Rubenhold to find any guide who celebrated the killer.
"It's quite unfair that she says the women have been forgotten about," he told news.com.au.
"We always talk about the women's lives before we talk about the murder. I've never seen a tour guide yet that actually glorifies the killer.
"I do think it's quite insulting sometimes - especially to historical guides showing people around London."
Mr Cobb said while the murders were "ghastly and horrible" they were a great way to educate younger generations about life in the late 1800s.
"Really when you think about the actual killer, he's the one that's been forgotten," he said.
"Jack the Ripper is just a name. Nobody knows who Jack the Ripper was. He's lying in a grave somewhere, totally forgotten about.
"(The tours) give the women immortality. These women will be alive forever and they'll always be remembered."