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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Jack the Ripper Blog - Why don't we know who he is?

Hello – Glad you could join me!

So far, in these blogs, I have discussed the suspects and the victims in the Jack the Ripper case. However there is one more thing I always think about when the Ripper is in mind. I always wonder how he was able to get away with it. Why could the police not catch him? This is the topic of today’s blog, the final one related to Jack the Ripper and Without A Trace.

I would like to begin by saying that there is one reason why I chose ‘Without A Trace’ as the title of my next book. It says it all. Jack the Ripper managed to appear out of nowhere, brutally murder at least five people and then disappear again without anyone discovering who he really was. After one hundred and twenty three years, we still don’t know who he was and the honest truth is that we are not likely to find out. This, without a doubt, makes him one of the most elusive killers of all time, if not the most elusive.

But why? Most Hollywood directors and some authors would say that Jack the Ripper was a criminal mastermind who knew how to commit the perfect murder. Some people believe he was a police officer, with the knowledge of how to clean up a crime scene or hid evidence from his fellow officers. How close does it come to the truth?

To be fair to them, the directors and the authors come pretty close. After the Ripper disappeared, only one piece of evidence left at any of the crime scenes hadn’t been linked to a suspect that was later cleared. It was this that gave the Ripper the reputation of an organised serial killer. A slip of Catherine Eddowes’ skirt was found in an alley near her corpse and it is widely believed that the killer may have used it to wipe his hands clean and thrown it aside without thinking. Even this wasn’t enough for the police to nail down a killer.

I don’t think that Jack could have removed evidence of who he was after he had killed. There is one thing that suggests this to me. There was never enough time for the killer to go over the crime scene and remove all of the evidence before the body was found. Mary Ann Nichols’ body was found approximately half an hour after the last police patrol (3:15 – 3:40/3:45). Annie Chapman was found dead thirty minutes after she was witnessed with a customer.  The Ripper had precisely fifteen minutes to kill Elizabeth stride between when she was last seen alive and when she was found dead. Catherine Eddowes’ body was found ten minutes after she was witnessed alive. That, I believe, is barely enough time to do the damage he did to her body. It is possible that the killer had time to destroy evidence left on Mary Jane Kelly’s body; however I find it highly unlikely for this to be the case, as it doesn’t make sense for the killer to leave enough time to destroy evidence, when he clearly didn’t need to with the previous four murders. It is therefore, I think, highly unlikely that Jack the Ripper was a police officer.

This leaves one with the impression that Jack went out for the kill, knowing how to leave no evidence behind. I am guessing it would take someone who had already killed countless times to have that amount of skill. Of course, this could well be the case, which narrows down the list of suspects considerably. Known serial killers and trained assassins...on second thought, maybe not so likely after all.
Where, though, does that leave us? None of the above? Not so. Unfortunately, it leads us to a rather boring conclusion, at least as far as story-telling goes. The most likely reason that Jack the Ripper was able to evade capture, and will likely go without identification for the rest of time, is simply that the police weren’t good enough.

Of course, in their defence, CSI hadn’t quite caught on back then. However, forensic analysis had been practiced in different forms in Britain as early as one hundred years before the Whitechapel murders, and still there was a huge lack of crime scene analysis. It is known that investigating officers quickly asked constables to wash away the blood at the scenes, so that there would be as little panic as possible. On the other hand, there was no thought as to the evidence they could be taking with it. One would think that it would be possible to match someone’s handwriting to that found on the Ripper’s letters, but some of those letters cannot even be confirmed to be from the real killer.

Now that crime scene investigation and forensics has become a powerful tool for catching killers, it is far too late. One hundred and twenty three years after the Ripper has been and gone, any remaining evidence has degraded too much to be of any use. It is hard to profile a killer when there is no pattern to his killings and if we could profile him, it hardly narrows down the suspect list. That is how to get away with a crime – outsmart the scene of crime officers for enough time for technology to move on so much, that it becomes impossible for you to be caught. Of course, the downside is that by the time you know for certain whether or not you got away with it, you’ll most certainly be dead.

That seems a sensible place to leave the conversation. As an author, I love to think that the Ripper was just too perfect to be caught, but the truth is, the police could have done a lot more to stop him. Interesting question – would he have still been able to evade capture if the police had done more? Have fun with it.

So, that leads us all to the end of the JTR blog. I sincerely hope once more that you have found it as interesting as I have. It is truly one of the most fascinating cases of all time and deserves the legendary status it has. I have been saying that I wrote this blog in support of my next book, so I’ll get that out of the way.


Without A Trace will be available from the 4th of June 2011 on, later available from Barnes & Noble, Apple iBook Store, Amazon, Sony, Kobi and Diesel for only US$1.99 (British readers, that’s c. £1.21 at current rates). It is really only one possible answer to all of the Ripper questions, but preliminary reports are good and I hope you will enjoy it.


You may not hear from me for a while now, as I’m going to be doing my summer exams and then burying myself under Thicker Than Water re-writes. See you once I’ve pulled my head out of the sand. Once again, I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog.

Until next time,
Michael Wilson

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