“In Search of Jack the Ripper”

Viewers are greeted by the image of a woman walking at a hurried pace on an empty street at night. She stops and turns around, a man approaches her; his face is out of focus, the woman screams. While this short scene was being played out, “In Search Of” host, Leonard Nimoy, spoke the following:

“During the autumn of 1888, there occurred one of the most baffling crimes in the files of Scotland Yard. In the Whitechapel area of London’s east end, women walked in fear of their lives. A wave of terror had been caused by an elusive murderer known as Jack the Ripper.”

Leonard Nimoy achieved fame with his portrayal of the logical minded Vulcan, Mr. Spock, in both the original “Star Trek” television series and in feature films. In addition to the many other projects he was involved with after “Star Trek,” as well as during its resurgence, he hosted the “In Search Of” television series which began in September of 1976 and ran through March of 1982. The program was a documentary style offering that, along with the voice over narration of Nimoy, combined interviews, archival footage, and reenactments. In total, the series produced 144 diverse episodes that examined, among other subjects, the supernatural, the mythical, and the historical. This particular episode, which aired on October 12, 1978, doesn’t focus on the heinous manner in which Jack the Ripper murdered five women, but instead, it explores the various theories as to the true identity of the killer; a hot topic of debate to this day. One of the more interesting theories to come out as recently as 2013 was posited by Trevor Marriott, a retired, Bedfordshire police detective. He spent over a decade reviewing cold case files, and with the use of modern law enforcement techniques, as well as forensic analysis, he concluded, that while terrible murders did occur, they weren’t committed by one person. Marriott claims that Jack the Ripper never actually existed, but was the fictional creation of journalist, Thomas Bulling.

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In addition to the theories of who the ripper might have been, interesting information is imparted to the viewer: Jack the Ripper was the first ever serial killer to contact the press. The papers of the time period during the murders claimed that the killer threatened all of London, but the episode reveals that all of the ripper murders were committed within a one and half square mile area. Additionally, Jack the Ripper, always carried out his atrocities near potential witnesses and even the police themselves. Based on that information, “In Search Of” asks the question: Why was the ripper so bold? New evidence which was revealed in the 1970s, prior to the show’s taping, suggested that the identity of The Ripper became known to the authorities, but was kept secret. If that were true, what would prompt law enforcement to protect the identity of such a person?

On August 31, 1888, Jack the Ripper claimed the first of his five victims, Mary Ann Nichols. She had been turned away from a common lodging house, after begging for a bed for the evening because she didn’t have any money to pay for one. The other four known ripper victims, although speculation suggests there could be more, are Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.

Interviews are conducted during the episode; amongst them is one with BBC reporter and researcher, Wendy Sturgess. She talks about the common lodging houses, and how sometimes, people who begged for money, and made some, still couldn’t get into one of those places. The reason for this is because they would consume gin to escape from the harshness of their reality, part of which, was that the houses they were trying to gain access to, had no privacy. Gin, at the time, was cheap to purchase, and a large amount of it could be bought for very little money.

Sturgess is convinced that Jack the Ripper was an aristocrat, based on the conditions of squalor, that many in the Whitechapel area were forced to live in. She asserts, that a poor person, who was covered in blood, would have been seen by too many people, entering one of the common lodging houses, or walking through the streets of Whitechapel. Therefore that financial class of person wouldn’t have been able to get away with the murders. In addition, a middle class individual, would have had to travel into the Whitechapel area, and would also have been spotted with blood all over their clothing by too many of the working girls in the area, the police, or if they hired transport, the driver of the coach.

Backing up Sturgess’ theory is Donald Rumbelow, a member, at the time, of London’s Metropolitan Police Force. He spoke about life in Whitechapel in terms of the working girls. Women, he said, would sell their bodies for a loaf of stale bread. He states that if someone who was devious, like a Jack The Ripper, was also a man of means, he could offer them, for example, a shilling, and most women would have gone with him, without question. Once the prostitute took The Ripper to a quiet place, it would have been easy for him to strangle her into unconsciousness, so that he could get to the ghastly sort of butchery he committed.

In addition to Sturgess and Rumbelow, English journalist and author, Stephen Knight, who wrote the 1976 book, “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution,” discusses his theories. He relates the fact that the only clue left by the killer, a mysterious message chalked on a wall near the site of the fourth murder, that of Catherine Eddowes, was erased. What he finds most interesting, is that the person who destroyed the clue, was Sir Charles Warren, who at the time was the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Furthermore, he finds it perplexing, that Sir Charles never gave any reason for his actions. Knight believes that Sir Charles was perhaps motivated because the message indicated the involvement of the Freemasons, a group, which Sir Charles belonged to.

The involvement of the Freemasons, is associated with one of the more popular conspiracy theories that exists regarding the true identity of The Ripper; that being, Queen Victoria’s ( the reigning monarch at the time) grandson, Prince Albert Victor, The Duke of Clarence and Avondale. People who believe him to be Jack the Ripper, point to a number of circumstantial facts that sound good when first heard, but wouldn’t hold much weight in a court of law. The episode imparts some of this information to the viewer. For example, Prince Albert was studying art in Whitechapel at the time of the crimes. He fit the description of the man police were searching for – a well spoken man, with a fair complexion, between the ages of 20 and 40, who had a medium build. Of all the possible suspects for the murders, he was the only member of the Freemasons. He was rumored to be going slowly insane, due to having contracted syphilis from a working girl. Conspiracy theorists, who like to assert that Prince Albert was The Ripper, say that his motivation for killing the women was a warped revenge for the disease he caught, one that would claim his life four years after The Ripper murders. In addition, people who peg him as The Ripper, point to the fact that his physician, Sir William Gull, was seen rushing along the streets of Whitechapel on several nights when Ripper murders took place.

While it is true, that neither Prince Albert nor Dr. Gull would have been stopped for questioning by the police, especially if traveling in a royal coach, people who are sold on the fact that Prince Albert was The Ripper, tend to dismiss the other possible suspects who were in London during the same time. They are all men who could have easily committed the crimes. For example, John Pizer, nicknamed Leather Apron, was a suspect because he always wore the type of aprons butchers use to keep blood off of themselves, was known to abuse prostitutes, and carried a knife with him wherever he went. Dr. Thomas Neill Cream and George Chapman, also suspects, were both murderers, each with a history of wife killing; both would eventually be caught, convicted, and given death sentences. Montague John Druitt, a lawyer and teacher, was also of interest to the authorities. He came from a long line of medical doctors, from whom he could have learned anatomy and dissection, and was supposedly going insane at the time of the murders.

In relation to Sir William Gull, one piece of potentially damning evidence came out almost a century after the crimes – his diary. Dr. Gull’s diary was examined by Dr. Thomas Stowell, a renowned British physician. In a November 1970 issue of the “The Criminologist,” Dr. Stowell claimed that Dr. Gull’s diary contained a detailed medical history of Prince Albert, as well as Dr. Gull’s admission that he knew the Prince was Jack the Ripper. Stowell, stated this claim on the BBC program “24 Hours,” on November 2, 1970, however, on November 5th, he wrote to the London Times and recanted everything he had to say about Prince Albert; several days later Dr. Stowell died. Less than a day after his death, his son, destroyed all of Dr. Stowell’s research and papers pertaining to Jack the Ripper, including Dr. Gull’s diary. In certain circles, it is thought that Dr. Stowell was murdered because of his discovery; it should be mentioned, however, that he was 85 years of age at the time of his death.

Like many shows in the series, this one lends itself to researching things of interest that were mentioned during the episode. Numerous conspiracy theories, such as the one concerning itself with the identity of Jack the Ripper, unless irrefutable proof is discovered, don’t seem like they are going to be going away anytime soon. This was an episode of “In Search Of” the theorizing of which captivated my interest.

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About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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12 Responses to “In Search of Jack the Ripper”

  1. le0pard13 says:

    I think I remember seeing this episode. Ripper theories have been plentiful for some time and remain fascinating.

  2. Rick says:

    I tried to watch In Search Of each time it was on and remember this episode well.

  3. I had totally forgotten about this show. I think I remember this episode.

  4. Jay says:

    Wow, such a lot went into this and I really enjoyed reading it!

  5. I remember this episode also and it sparked a profound interest in Jack the Ripper with me. 🙂

  6. Amanda says:

    I remember as a kid I’d love to sit and read about Jack the Ripper. Great post!

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