This Day in History (31-Aug-1888) – Mary Ann Nichols is Found Dead in Whitechapel, London, Launching the Legend of Jack the Ripper

One of the world’s most famous unsolved mysteries began early in the morning of Friday, August 31, 1888: at 3:40am, Charles Cross drove his cart down Buck’s Row and noticed a body.  Mary Ann Nichols, a short prostitute with a drinking problem, had been stabbed to death.  With no leads and no witnesses, police were now on the hunt for a ghost that would later get the name Jack the Ripper.  The first of five gruesome killings between 31-Aug and 9-Nov, attached to the notorious murderer, Nichols had been seen alive a little more than an hour before. Jack the Ripper is the best-known name given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888.  The name originated in a letter, written by someone claiming to be the murderer, that was disseminated in the media. The letter is widely believed to have been a hoax, and may have been written by a journalist in a deliberate attempt to heighten interest in the story. The newspapers of the day gave a huge amount of coverage to this crimes and provided their readers with daily updates on them with the result that Jack the Ripper effectively became a menacing media figure.

The canonical five victims were linked together in a letter written by the police surgeon Thomas Bond to Robert Anderson, head of the London CID, on 10 November 1888. An investigation into a series of brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888, but the legend of Jack the Ripper solidified. Despite the fact that no-one was ever brought to justice or charged with the crimes, there have, over the years, been more than a hundred named suspects who may or may not have been Jack the Ripper.

As the murders were never solved, the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. The term “ripperology” was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper’s identity, and the murders have inspired multiple works of fiction.



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