“From Hell” – The Whitechapel Murders


With Halloween nearly upon us, I thought that this would be a good time to write a post on the most infamous horror mystery of them all: the Whitechapel Murders.

Between late August and early November 1888, a terror stalked the streets of the impoverished Whitechapel district of Victorian London. Its name was Jack the Ripper!

I would not consider myself a fan of the macabre but there is something about the Jack the Ripper tale that really appeals to me on some level… Does that make me strange? I don’t care if you think that it does. There is something that really gravitates me towards this mystery. I believe the story to be fascinating in a grotesque way; the sheer brazenness of the man utterly astonishes me.

Jack the Ripper is also sometimes known as the Whitechapel Murderer and both terms will be used to describe the fiend interchangeably throughout the piece.

From Hell


The parcel fell onto the desk of George Lusk, the Chairman of the newly formed Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. The paper containing whatever was inside appeared to be weeping. Lusk suspiciously eyed the small, seeping lump before opening and reading the accompanying letter which was personally addressed to him:

From hell.
Mr Lusk,
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

Lusk re-read the letter several times, trying to make sense of it. All the while, the small package laying on his desk becoming visibly damper.

His face as white as a ghost, Lusk finally set the letter aside and stared at the, now glistening, parcel. Slowly he peeled at the edges, pulled back the layers and to his horror saw what he feared: half of a human kidney.

This was the infamous “From Hell” letter. Over the course of the Whitechapel Murders there were hundreds of letters claiming to be from the murderer himself but only three of these received any serious consideration: the “Dear Boss” letter; the “Saucy Jack” postcard; and the “From Hell” letter. We will look at these in a little more detail later.

“The Nemesis of Neglect”

So, the question remains, how exactly had London reached such a piteous state that half of a human kidney was able to be delivered by express delivery to the desk of a man tasked with keeping an East End district safe?

In the mid nineteenth century, Britain had experienced a huge influx of desperate Irish immigrants who swelled the populations of the major cities, particularly the more deprived areas such as the East End of London. To add to this already engorged populace came Jewish refugees fleeing from pogroms in Tsarist Russia and other areas of Eastern Europe. Work and housing conditions worsened, and a significant economic underclass developed. Robbery, violence, lechery and alcohol dependency became the norm for many Whitechapel residents and the widespread poverty forced many women into prostitution.


As is so often the case, the economic problems were accompanied by a steady rise in social tensions with anti-Semitism, crime, social disturbance, racism and severe deprivation influencing public perception that Whitechapel was a notorious den of immorality (the sort of place that Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray would have got his jollies). These perceptions were only strengthened in 1888 when a series of brutal and grotesque murders attributed to Jack the Ripper received unprecedented media coverage. One Punch cartoon aptly named the Nemesis of Neglect portrays Jack the Ripper as the personification of social neglect, stalking the streets of Whitechapel.

So now we have an idea of the social environment that allowed the murders to take place, so let’s investigate the murders themselves, shall we?

The Murders


Eleven murders, stretching from 3rd April 1888 to 13th February 1891, were included in a London Metropolitan Police Service investigation and were known collectively as the “Whitechapel Murders”. However, opinions vary as to whether these murders should all be linked to the same culprit, but five of the eleven are widely believed to be the work of Jack the Ripper and these are known as the “canonical five”. These are the five murders that we will focus on and they were:

• Mary Ann Nichols – 31 August
• Annie Chapman – 8 September
• Elizabeth Stride – 30 September
• Catherine Eddowes – 30 September
• Mary Jane Kelly – 9 November

You may notice that two of these women, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, were both killed on the same night. This was referred to as the “double event” in the “Saucy Jack” postcard but more on that later.

Let’s delve a little deeper into each murder and the characters belonging to the unfortunate victims.

Mary Ann Nichols – Nichols is thought to be the first victim of Jack the Ripper. The 43-year-old led a tragic life of destitution, unhappy relationships and alcohol dependency.

On the night of 30th August and the wee hours of the 31st Nichols was seen by multiple witnesses as she plied her trade and drank her way across Whitechapel. She was rejected from a boarding house at 01:30 AM for lacking the fourpence required for a bed for the evening. She was last seen alive standing on the corner of Osborn Street and Whitechapel Road at approximately 02:30 AM by her roommate, Emily Holland, whom she told that she had already earned enough money to pay for a bed three times over that evening but had repeatedly spent the money on alcohol. This alcoholism would prove to be detrimental to Nichols’ health, but not in the way one would usually associate with heavy drinking.

Nichols’ body was found lying on the ground outside a gated stable entrance in Buck’s Row at 03:40 AM. Her throat had been severed by two separate cuts and the lower abdomen was partly ripped open by a deep wound with several other incisions on the abdomen. No one in the area had reported hearing or seeing anything suspicious before the discovery of the body.


The attending surgeon determined that death would have been instantaneous from the slashes to the throat and that the abdominal injuries would have taken less than five minutes to perform and were made after she had been killed.

Annie Chapman – Chapman’s early life had not been as tragic as Mary Ann Nichols had been. However, her youngest child and only son had been born disabled and her eldest daughter died at the age of 12 from meningitis. After those very personal tragedies and hardships, both Annie and her husband took to excessive drinking and split in 1884. By 1888, Chapman had been living in Whitechapel for two years, earning money from crochet work (being a young man in the 21st century I had to look this one up – it looks like knitting) and casual prostitution. One acquaintance described her as “very civil and industrious when sober” but added “I have often seen the worse for drink”.

Much like the Whitechapel Murderer’s first victim, his second failed to afford lodging for the evening and so set out at 01:45 AM on 8th August to earn money on the streets.

One witness testified that she had seen Chapman talking to a man at about 05:30 AM just beyond the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street. The man was described as over forty and a little taller than Chapman with dark hair and of “foreign, shabby-genteel” appearance. He was wearing a deer-stalker hat (think Sherlock Holmes) and a dark overcoat.

The body of Annie Chapman was discovered just a little before 06:00 AM lying on the ground near a doorway in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street. This time, however, something suspicious had been heard: voices in the yard followed by the sound of something falling against the fence had been heard at about 05:30 AM.

Annie Chapman’s body had been mutilated to a higher degree than that of Mary Ann Nichols a week earlier. A similar cut across her throat and a gash in her abdomen but Chapman’s intestines had been torn out and delicately placed on the ground over her right shoulder, although still connected to her body. The body was also missing her uterus and parts of her bladder and vagina. Lovely.

Elizabeth Stride – This was the first victim of what became known as the “double event” as Stride was the first of two victims of the Whitechapel Murderer on the night she was killed. However, both women will get their own segments so that their individual lives and deaths are not diminished by combining the two.


Stride was born in Sweden and, unlike, most of Jack the Ripper’s other victims did not fall into prostitution through desperation after failed marriages but rather took the profession up early in the city of Gothenburg. In 1866 she moved to London and married a man 13 years her senior and the two ran a coffee shop in the East End of London for a time. After separating from her husband, Stride lived in a common lodging-house in Whitechapel and the social reformer Dr Thomas Barnardo (yes, of Barnardo’s charity fame) claimed to have met her.

On the night of her murder Stride was seen with at least three clients. The final sighting was at 12:35 AM by a police officer who claimed to have seen Stride with a man who was wearing a hard felt hat opposite the International Working Men’s Educational Club, a socialist and predominantly Jewish social club. The man was said to be carrying a package around 18 inches in length. Elizabeth Stride’s body was found only 25 minutes later at 01:00 AM by the steward if the Worker’s Club in an adjacent yard with a wound in her neck, the blood still flowing from it. It appeared that she had been killed only moments before he arrived as members of the Club had been departing between 12:30 and 12:50 and had not seen nor heard anything suspicious.

It appears as if the murderer had been disturbed during his work. He had no time to “rip” at Elizabeth Stride. Less than one hour later a second victim was found within walking distance of the Stride crime scene.

Catherine Eddowes – Also known as “Kate Conway” and “Kate Kelly” after her two successive common-law husbands, Catherine Eddowes was born in Wolverhampton. She took up with an ex-soldier in Birmingham and they moved to London and had a daughter and two sons. Eddowes gave in to drinking and left her family in 1880 and took to the streets selling her body. Friends of Catherine Eddowes described her as “intelligent and scholarly” but added that she “possessed a fiery temper” and that she was “a very jolly woman, always singing.”

At 08:30 PM on 29th September, Eddowes was found lying drunk in the road and taken to Bishopsgate police station and detained until she was sober enough to leave at 01:00 AM. She was last seen alive at 01:35 AM by three men who had just left a club. They said that she was talking to a man at the entrance to Church Passage which led to Mitre Square. The man she was talking to was described as having a fair moustache and wearing a navy jacket, peaked cloth cap and red scarf. This description was subsequently doubted by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson.

A patrolling policeman walked down Church Passage very shortly after the witnesses had seen Eddowes and the man, but his beat had him double-back on the Passage without entering Mitre Square.

Catherine Eddowes was killed and mutilated in Mitre Square sometime between 01:35 and 01:45 AM. Yet another incredibly close call for the murderer.

At 01:45 AM, Eddowes’ body was discovered by the Square’s beat policeman who entered at 01:44 AM having been there only 14 minutes previously.

Like the previous four victims, Eddowes had been killed with a cut to her throat. Then the killer got to work. She was cut open from the chest to the upper thighs. Her intestines had been cut out and placed beside her body. Her reproductive organs had been mutilated and a kidney had been removed. The face had been cut and hacked at, one of her earlobes was cut off and the end of her nose was barely hanging on by a piece of skin.

If Jack the Ripper had failed to get the satisfaction of mutilating Elizabeth Stride’s corpse, he more than made up for it with the body of Catherine Eddowes that same night. The killer would not strike again for over a month so it’s quite possible that hacking at Eddowes’ corpse did, in fact, provide enough pleasure to satisfy his crazed mind for some time.

However, the worst was yet to come!

Mary Jane Kelly – Unlike the other Ripper victims, the final victim, Mary Jane Kelly’s origins are unclear and what little is known may have been fabricated by Kelly herself as there is little to no corroborating documentary evidence. It is likely that she was born in Limerick, Ireland and that her family moved to Wales when she was young.

In 1884, Kelly supposedly left Wales for London and found work in a brothel in the affluent West End. She was reportedly invited to France by a client but disliked her life there and returned to England within two weeks.

On the night of her murder, Kelly’s neighbour and fellow prostitute, Mary Ann Cox, reported seeing Kelly return home drunk in the company of a stout ginger-haired man wearing a bowler hat at about 11:45PM. The two wished each other a goodnight and Kelly went into her room with the man and started singing. She was still singing when Cox left at midnight and when she returned at 01:00 AM. Kelly’s upstairs neighbour reported that the singing had stopped by 01:30 AM.

One of the main witnesses to the Mary Jane Kelly murder was a labourer named George Hutchinson who reported that he had met the victim at 02:00 AM and she had asked him for a loan of sixpence. When he denied her the loan Hutchinson claims that Kelly went on her way and was approached by a man of “Jewish appearance”. Hutchinson later provided an exceptionally detailed description of the man right down to the colour of his eyelashes… which he could discern in the middle of the night…. Mmm? Perhaps this man’s story should be taken with a pinch of salt; which the police also thought. However, Hutchinson did explain that he overheard the two and he claimed that they headed for Kelly’s room at 13 Miller’s Court which was partly corroborated by another witness who reported seeing a man watching the entrance to Miller’s Court. Hutchinson claimed that he was suspicious of the man due to his wealthy appearance which was unusual in that neighbourhood.


Mary Ann Cox returned home again around 03:00 AM and reported hearing no sound and seeing no light from Kelly’s room. A faint cry of “Murder!” was heard around 04:00 AM but it was not uncommon to hear such things in the East End.

On the morning of 9th November 1888, Kelly’s landlord sent his assistant, ex-soldier Thomas Bowyer, to collect the rent from Kelly who was six weeks overdue. At 10:45 AM he came across a ghastly sight that he had never seen in all his days of soldiering: the wall behind the bed was sprayed with blood and on the bedside table was a pile of human flesh. There on the bed, barely identifiable as human, lay the virtually skinned down corpse of Mary Jane.

The mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly was the most brutal of any of the Ripper’s murders, almost certainly because he had more time to commit his atrocities in the privacy of a room, rather than in the street.

The subsequent post mortem report makes for some uncomfortable and disturbing reading, even today as accustomed as we are to graphic depictions of violence and bloodshed on television and in films:

The body was lying naked in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat, but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. The left arm was close to the body with the forearm flexed at a right angle & lying across the abdomen. The right arm was slightly abducted from the body & rested on the mattress, the elbow bent & the forearm supine with the fingers clenched.

The legs were wide apart, the left thigh at right angles to the trunk & the right forming an obtuse angle with the pubes. The whole of the surface of the abdomen & thighs was removed & the abdominal Cavity emptied of its viscera.

The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds & the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone.

The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus & Kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the Rt foot, the Liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side & the spleen by the left side of the body.

The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table. The bed clothing at the right corner was saturated with blood, & on the floor beneath was a pool of blood covering about 2 feet square…The face was gashed in all directions the nose cheeks, eyebrows and ears being partly removed. The lips were blanched & cut by several incisions running obliquely down to the chin. There were also numerous cuts extending irregularly across all the features.

The neck was cut through the skin and other tissues right down to the vertebrae, the fifth and sixth being deeply notched. The skin cuts in the front of the neck showed distinct ecchymosis. The air passage was cut at the lower part of the larynx through the cricoid cartilage.

Both breasts were more or less removed by circular incisions, the muscle down to the ribs being attached to the breasts. The intercostals between the fourth, fifth, and sixth ribs were cut through and the contents of the thorax visible through the openings.

The skin and tissues of the abdomen from the costal arch to the pubes were removed in three large flaps. The right thigh was denuded in front to the bone, the flap of skin, including the external organs of generation, and part of the right buttock. The left thigh was stripped of skin fascia, and muscles as far as the knee.

The left calf showed a long gash through skin and tissues to the deep muscles and reaching from the knee to five inches above the ankle. Both arms and forearms had extensive jagged wounds.

– Dr Thomas Bond

The poor quality black and white photographs of the crime scene are enough to turn anyone’s stomach once you realise what it is that you are looking at. I will add a photo of Mary Jane Kelly’s mutilated corpse at the end of the article for those curious to see. You have been warned!!!

The Investigation

What survives of the police files on the Whitechapel Murders reveals a detailed understanding of investigative procedure in the Victorian era. A large team of policemen conducted house-to-house inquiries throughout the area and forensic material was collected and examined. Suspects were identified, traced, and either examined more closely or eliminated from the investigation (modern police work pretty much follows the same processes). Throughout the investigation more than 2,000 people were interviewed, over 300 were investigated and an incredible 80 of those were detained.

The investigation was initially conducted by the Whitechapel Division of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), headed by Detective Inspector Edmund Reid. Soon after the murder of the first victim, Mary Ann Nichols, several detectives including Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline were sent from Scotland Yard to assist.

A group of volunteer citizens from the East End calling themselves the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, headed by George Lusk, patrolled the streets looking for suspicious characters due to dissatisfaction with the police effort. These men were local businessmen who were worried that the murders and notoriety associated with them was having an adverse effect on local commerce (and here was me thinking that they were concerned about the women of Whitechapel!).

Criminal Profiling – You may already know this, but butchers, slaughterers, surgeons and physicians were suspected due to the nature of the cadaver dismemberments. It is worth noting here that the most prominent physician involved in the Jack the Ripper investigation, Dr Thomas Bond, believed the murderer to be an amateur with little scientific or anatomical knowledge.

It is from the investigation of the Whitechapel Murders that the earliest surviving account of criminal profiling comes from. Dr Thomas Bond’s assessment was based on his examination of the most extensively mutilated victim, Mary Jane Kelly, and the post mortem reports from the previous four canonical murders. He wrote:

All five murders no doubt were committed by the same hand. In the first four the throats appear to have been cut from left to right, in the last case owing to the extensive mutilation it is impossible to say in what direction the fatal cut was made, but arterial blood was found on the wall in splashes close to where the woman’s head must have been lying.

All the circumstances surrounding the murders lead me to form the opinion that the women must have been lying down when murdered and in every case the throat was first cut.

– Dr Thomas Bond

The Letters – Over the course of the Ripper murders, the police, newspapers and other agencies received thousands of letters regarding the case. Some were well-intentioned offers of advice, but the majority were useless. Many of these letters claimed to be from the killer himself but, as stated earlier, only three were ever taken seriously:

• “Dear Boss” Letter
• “Saucy Jack” Postcard
• “From Hell” Letter

The “Dear Boss” letter, dated 25th September was received by the Central News Agency and was forwarded to Scotland Yard. This was initially believed to be a hoax until three days later when Catherine Eddowes was found with one ear partially cut off, the letter’s promise to “clip the ladys (sic) ears off” gained attention. The name “Jack the Ripper” was first used in this letter by the signatory and gained worldwide notoriety.

The “Saucy Jack” postcard was received by the Central News Agency on 1st October. The handwriting was very similar to that of the “Dear Boss” letter. The postcard mentions that two victims were killed very close to one another: “double event this time”, which was thought to refer to the murders of Stride and Eddowes. Some have argued that the postcard was posted before the murders were publicised, making it unlikely that an eccentric would have knowledge of the crime…. But it was postmarked more than 24 hours after the killings took place, long after the details were known to local residents.


The “From Hell” letter was received by George Lusk on 16th October, over two weeks after the double murder of Stride and Eddowes. The handwriting and writing style is unlike that of the “Dear Boss” letter and “Saucy Jack” postcard. Along with the letter came a small parcel, in which Lusk discovered half of a human kidney preserved in ethanol (Catherine Eddowes’ left kidney had been cut away by the killer, remember).

Many decades after the killings, in 1931, a journalist named Fred Best confessed that he and a colleague had written the letters signed “Jack the Ripper” to heighten interest in the murders. It would explain why these letters were usually sent to a news agency. Like so many other aspects of this case it is unclear whether Best was telling the truth or if he just wanted his 15 minutes of fame in his twilight years. Personally, I believe that the only letter to be sent by the true killer was the “From Hell” letter which was sent to one of the men tasked with catching him. This, in my opinion, fits the bold character of the Whitechapel Murderer. The letter itself is quite chilling to just look at with its long, sharp strokes!

The Suspects – From a Prince to a Pauper

So, who was the Whitechapel Murderer? Who wrote the “From Hell” letter? Who stalked the parish of Whitechapel in the autumn of 1888, killing and mutilating prostitutes?

For the past 130 years men from every rung of society have thought to be responsible for the Ripper murders. Two particularly note-worthy but completely rubbished theories that have been proposed were that the murderer may have been either Lewis Carrol, of Alice in Wonderland fame, or Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale who was Queen Victoria’s eldest grandchild and second in line to the throne.

Enough of the fanciful now though, let’s get down to some of the suspects who could truly have been the Whitechapel Murderer. Dozens of men have been named and Ripperologists (yes, that is a real thing!) all have their own theories (and this article is already long enough!) so we will focus solely on the men that may have been responsible for all five slayings and avoid those, for example like John Pizer, who had solid alibis for two of the murders.

Seweryn Klosowski – Poland born Klosowski emigrated to London shortly before the start of the murders, sometime between 1887 and 1888 and was hanged in 1903 for poisoning three of his wives. He changed his name to George Chapman around 1893.


During the time of the Ripper murders, Chapman worked as a barber in Whitechapel and according to a book written in 1930 about the Chapman murders, the author suggested that Abberline favoured him above all the other suspects. It was also reported after Chapman’s hanging in the Pall Mall Gazette that Abberline continued to suspect him. Many experts have, since, dismissed Chapman as a possible suspect due to the differences in the modus operandi which was poisoning rather than butchering. I don’t believe that Chapman can be dismissed as easily as that, however, and if Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline suspected the man then we should be very open to the idea that George Chapman may have been Jack the Ripper. He proved that he certainly had the capacity to take life on at least three occasions.

Montague John Druitt – Born in Dorset, Druitt was a barrister who also worked as an assistant schoolmaster in Blackheath, London. Druitt was named as a Ripper suspect by Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten, after his decomposing body was pulled from the River Thames on 31st December 1888; the cause of death being suicide by drowning. Druitt was considered a prime suspect as his suicide took place just weeks after the murder and mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly on 9th November.

Shortly before his suicide, Druitt was released from his position as assistant schoolmaster, perhaps, as some modern historians believe, due to homosexuality which would have been enough reason to dismiss him at the time, and may have been enough to drive him to suicide!

Later on in the investigation, Inspector Abberline was believed to dismiss Druitt as a serious suspect due to a lack of any substantial evidence beyond the timing of his coincidental death.

William Henry Bury – Bury was one of the favourite Ripper suspects of the contemporaneous media, and for good reason. He was hanged in Dundee, Scotland for the murder of his wife but it was his actions after the murder that drew comparisons with the Ripper slayings. Bury had been living in Bow, London during the time of the Ripper murders, with his wife Ellen, a former prostitute herself, and the pair moved to Dundee soon after the death of Mary Jane Kelly.


On the night of 4 February 1889, Bury strangled Ellen to death with a rope; not what you’d expect from Jack the Ripper who was known to slash his victim’s throats. However, afterwards Bury inflicted several abdominal wounds with a penknife and stuffed his wife’s body in a trunk which he kept hidden in their flat for six days. On 10th February Bury reported Ellen’s suicide at the Dundee Central Police Station. He claimed that he had woken up the next day after drinking to find his wife on the floor with a rope around her neck. Rather than seek out medical help, Bury claimed that, he cut the body and hid it in the trunk that they had used to move their belongings from London. Bury expressed guilt about his intent to conceal the body but feared that he may be arrested as Jack the Ripper.

Shortly before his execution, Bury admitted to killing Ellen and on 22nd April he wrote a confession which claimed that he had strangled his wife in the midst of a drunken argument over money. He then stated that he tried to dismember the body the following day for ease of disposal but became too squeamish to finish the job. The statement differed from the post-mortem report which determined that the incisions were made “within at most ten minutes of the time of death”.

Unable to continue with the mutilation of his wife’s corpse, Bury decided to hide her body and then fearing that her disappearance would be noted, invented the story about her suicide. Despite extreme media suspicion, Bury adamantly denied any connection between himself and the Ripper murders. Police did investigate a possible link between Bury and the Whitechapel Murders, but found no substantial evidence and discounted him as a suspect.

Given that Jack the Ripper clearly took great pleasure from mutilation, it does seem unlikely that William Henry Bury who claimed that he could not carry out such an act without feeling nauseous was him. However, the jury is still out!

Thomas Hayne Cutbush – this young man had been a medical student (and so would have an intimate knowledge of the human anatomy) at the time of the Ripper murders in 1888 and was believed to be wandering the streets of London throughout this time.

While suffering from delusions thought to have been caused by syphilis, young Cutbush was sent to Lambeth Infirmary in 1891 where he was prone to rants including outbursts where he’d threaten to “rip” staff open with a knife. After stabbing a woman and attempting to stab a second (how was this man allowed to get his hands on anything sharp?!) he was committed to Broadmoor Hospital where he died in 1903.

The police never took the media’s speculation that Cutbush may have been Jack the Ripper seriously, although I reckon he is a serious contender going by what little information is known of him.

Jacob Levy – born in Aldgate, London Levy was a butcher by trade and in 1888 was living in Middlesex Street with his wife and children, which was right in the heart of Ripper territory. Levy contracted syphilis from a prostitute, making revenge a probable motive.

Curiously, one of the principal witnesses to Catherine Eddowes’ murder had reported that he saw the same man again, less than six weeks later… on Middlesex Street. Probably just a coincidence.

Additionally, one of the surgeons who had been present at Eddowes’ post-mortem had suggested that the killer’s knowledge of anatomy may have been possessed by someone in the habit of cutting up animals… like say, a butcher?

The true identity of Jack the Ripper may never be known but Jacob Levy, in my opinion, leads the pack of suspects.

I would love to delve deeper into those suspected of being the Whitechapel Murderer but there have been dozens named over the past 130 years so I have cut down this segment for brevity to focus more on the victims and their murders but if you are interested in learning more on the suspects and crimes themselves then I highly recommend Jack the Ripper by John Bennet and Paul Begg who perfectly re-create the crime scenes in a CSI kind of way and break down the forensics.


Believe it or not, and it feels a little disrespectful to even suggest it but, the Whitechapel Murders did have a silver lining. The nature of the murders and of the victims illuminated the poor living conditions in the East End of London and galvanised public opinion against the overcrowded and unsanitary slums. Within two decades of the murders, the worst of these slums were cleared and demolished

In popular culture too, Jack the Ripper and his (or her) legend have had a huge impact. Hundreds of works of fiction including novels; short stories; poems; graphic novels; games; songs; television programs; movies; and even operas feature the Ripper of Whitechapel. These murders are one of the most written about true-crime subjects.

Perhaps one of the most enduring aspects of the whole, sad and disturbing, tale is how legendary it has become; due, in no small part, to the mystery behind the killer himself. The image of Jack the Ripper has merged with symbols from other horror stories, such as Dracula’s cloak, Victor Frankenstein’s organ harvest, or the dual lives of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. No-one wrote Jack the Ripper, it really did happen – people lived and died throughout his brief reign of terror on the streets of Whitechapel. Jack the Ripper was a true-life horror story!

The Rest is History

Have a safe Halloween guys!


17 Brutal Punishments of History

We all know that the human capacity for inflicting pain on others has no limits. If you did not know this then pick up a book or, better yet, turn on the news.

Thankfully, the world has become a much more humane place over the past several decades and I think that we can all agree that that is a great thing. If you do not believe this to be a good thing then, please, immediately stop reading and go seek professional help – I do not want to be held responsible for giving you any gruesome ideas!

I know how torturous it can be when you lose wi-fi signal or have to endure, yet, another one of your friend’s stories about how unfair life is because her “serious” boyfriend of three weeks decided to dump her just as she was being overlooked for a promotion at work. I get it; you have my sympathies. But after reading this list of seventeen of the most terrible punishments in history you will be super grateful that two minutes without Facebook on the bus is the worst of your immediate problems.

1. The Brazen Bull


The Brazen Bull, sometimes known as the Sicilian Bull, was a bronze statute of a bull with a cavity large enough to fit a person inside – you know where this is going don’t you? Designed by the ancient Greeks on Sicily, the bull held the condemned prisoner locked inside as a fire was lit beneath it. The bronze bull would heat and the unfortunate soul inside would be slowly roasted alive while screaming in agony. The bull was specially designed to amplify these screams and make them sound like the bellowing of a real bull.

2. The Rack

THe Rack

One of the most famous torture devices to make the list, the rack was a very popular torture device made of a wooden rectangular frame. The limbs of the convicted would be attached to either end of the frame with chains, and with the help of pullies and rollers they would be stretched until they either became useless or were completely torn from the body. Originally used in antiquity, although we are unsure which civilisation first conceived such a monstrous contraption, it was recorded that Alexander the Great used it. The rack gained popularity in western Europe in the Late Middle Ages when it was first introduced to England in 1447, although the French added to the torment by sticking spikes to the rollers.

3. Crucifixion


Ah yes, the crucifixion! Just about everyone on the planet knows about this particularly cruel form of punishment. Jesus Christ was the most famous victim of crucifixion but it was widely used throughout Roman times and the 6,000 rebels of Spartacus’ Slave Revolt unlucky enough to not be killed in battle were crucified along the Appian Way (a road spanning 200 kilometres)! Although principally practised in antiquity this barbaric method of torture has, sadly, not yet been thrown in the trash heap of history. Several Islamic states still use crucifixion as a legitimate form of execution. It is a deliberately slow and excruciating execution where the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until they die, which usually takes days.

4. Guillotine


Probably the most humane form of execution on this list it was still very brutal. Although not actually invented by Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the guillotine has bore his name ever since he proposed the idea for a more humane (and equal) form of execution for Revolutionary France. The contraption was used as the standard form of execution in France until the country abolished the death penalty in 1981; the last execution occurred in 1977. The guillotine was made of a razor sharp blade attached to a rope which dropped onto the victim’s head, severing it from their body.

5. The Tub

The Tub

Known as the punishment of ‘sitting in the tub’, the convicted would be placed inside a wooden tub with only their head sticking out. It doesn’t sound all that bad, eh? Quite pleasant compared to the previous punishments on the list really. Wait for it! The executioner would paint the victim’s face with milk and honey, and soon flies would begin to feed on them. Being fed regularly, the prisoner would end up swimming in their own excrement and after a few days, maggots, worms ad other lovely creepy crawlies would feast on their body as they decayed alive. Not so pleasant after all.

6. Rat Torture


If you have ever read George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four then you will be aware of the terrifying prospect of rat torture as the book’s protagonist, Winston Smith, discovers when subjected to the terror of Room 101. If you have not read it then I highly recommend it. Anyway, back to rat torture. This chilling torture technique involved a cage with one open side strapped to the victim’s body (often the chest). The cage would then be filled with rats and the metal cage would be heated. The rodent’s natural instinct led them to flee the intense heat. Where could they possibly flee to? Through the condemned of course. In order to escape they would burrow through the victim’s body with fatal results.

7. Breast Ripper

Breast Ripper

Here’s one for the ladies. Though women were subjected to much of the torture techniques found in this list, this one was designed specially for them. Used to cause major blood loss, the metal claws, which were often red hot, would be placed on the exposed breasts as the spikes penetrated beneath the skin. The claws were then tugged at, causing large chunks of flesh to come off with them.

8. Republican Marriage

Republican Marriage2

Another “ingenious” method of execution developed during the French Revolution, the Republican Marriage was a little less humane than the guillotine. It involved binding a naked male and a naked female together and then throwing them into waters to drown. What happened when there was no river or lake nearby, I hear you ask? Well, the soldiers would just run the victims through with swords and bayonets. This was the preferred method used to execute priests and nuns; what a crime!

9. Spanish Donkey

Spanish Donkey

From Revolutionary France to the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Donkey may just be one of the most brutal punishments ever conceived by mankind. The victim sat astride, naked, on a vertical wooden board with a sharp V-wedge on top of it. The torturer would then add varying weight to the victim’s feet, allowing gravity to do what it does best, until finally the wedge sliced through the body.

10. Saw Torture

Saw Torture.jpg

Similar to the Spanish Donkey (in that it involved splitting a human being in half) was saw torture. You really would not like this one. The unfortunate victim would be suspended by his or her feet. This allowed the blood to rush to their head so that they would be conscious for most of the execution. The victim was then sawed in half, from the groin to the head. Simple.

11. Flaying


Flaying was a form of torture popularised by the Assyrians. It literally means to skin: as in “skin you alive”. Lovely. Depending on the amount of skin removed from the victim, it was a punishment that could leave you either dead or a heavily scarred (emotionally as well as physically) cripple. Similarly, some were punished by having chunks of their flesh removed – Shylock did not make a demand out of the blue, after all.

12. Death by Burning

Burn Stake

Deliberately causing death through the effects of combustion has a long lineage as a form of execution. Many societies throughout history employed its use for various crimes, such as treason; witchcraft; sexual transgressions; heresy and the Japanese, with a wry sense of humour, used it to execute arsons. This was a crowd favourite as it made for a grand spectacle.

13. Impalement


Given his nickname, it should come as little surprise to discover that this was the favoured method of execution of 15th century Romanian ruler, Vlad the Impaler. The victim was forced to sit atop a sharp, thick pole. When the pole was raised upright, the victim’s body would be pierced by the point and would slide down the pole from their own body weight. This gruesome execution method could take days to kill (depending on where the pole had been placed) and it was reported that the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II once fled with his army at the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses rotting on the outskirts of Vlad’s capital city of Targoviste.

14. Judas Cradle

Judas Cradle.jpg

Closely related to both impalement and the Spanish Donkey was the Judas Chair. This gruesome punishment involved the victim sitting atop a pyramid shaped cradle. The victim would be pulled down using ropes with the intent of stretching the anus over a long period of time, slowly impaling them. To maximise the humiliation, the victim was usually completely naked and the device was rarely, if ever, washed. If the torture did not kill you then the infection that you would inevitably contract would.

15. Cement Shoes


A more modern form of execution, similar to the Republican Marriage, but more lonely at the end. The Cement Shoes were introduced by the American Mafia as a form of execution. The condemned would have their feet placed in breeze blocks (cinder blocks to our American cousins) and then have cement poured in. Once it dried, the victim would be thrown into a river, lake or ocean to sleep with the fishes.

16. Tongue Tearer

Tongue Tearer2

The Tongue Tearer was basically an oversized pair of scissors that was used to cut a victim’s tongue off. Usually reserved for a blasphemer or heretic, the mouth would be forced opened and the iron Tongue Tearer would catch the tongue with it’s rough grippers. Once a firm hold was maintained, the screw would be firmly tightened and the victim’s tongue would be roughly torn away from the mouth. So the next time you take the Lord’s name in vain, just think of how you would have been punished in an earlier age – don’t you feel fortunate.

17. Hanged, Drawn & Quartered


The punishment for treason in Medieval England was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in public. Lasting for hundreds of years (as late as the 19th century) as a form of execution, thousands met their grisly end this way. The victim was tied to a wooden frame and dragged behind a horse to the place of execution. They would then be hanged by the neck for a short period of time until near-death (hanged), followed by castration and disembowelment where the entrails and genitalia were burned in front of the still breathing victim (drawn). The condemned would then be divided into four separate parts and beheaded (quartered). One of the most famous men to be hanged, drawn and quartered was the Medieval Scottish resistance leader, Sir William Wallace. His quartered limbs were sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth to serve as a warning whilst his head was set on London Bridge.