‘On the Trail of Jack the Ripper’ by Richard Charles Cobb


I’ve had a fascination with the Jack the Ripper mystery for years. Well, unsolved mysteries generally which started with the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and the death of Amy Robsart. But the Jack the Ripper mystery is a lot gorier and more disturbing.

This book discusses the five canonical victims in detail, especially the locations connected with each murder and how they relate to London as it is now. There are lots of helpful maps plotting London as it was in 1888 over the street layout today. The sad thing is that many of the streets and locations have now been lost, many in the last decade or two with building works. I went on a Jack the Ripper tour in Whitechapel last year with a friend and it’s amazing how little actually remains, so those locations that do remain are more significant in a way.

Richard Charles Cobb discusses each of the canonical murders, but also discusses the other Whitechapel murders not always considered to be his work (there were 11 in total in the files). It was really interesting to read some of the newspaper articles, the alleged writing of the Ripper, and police reports and memorandum – words spoken or written at the time. Cobb doesn’t really go into suspects, so I think that might be what I’ll look for in my next book on the Jack the Ripper mystery. I want to know more.

Be aware if you buy this book that there are images of the dead women; including the wounds inflicted on the last canonical victim, which are just horrifying. Some authors I know choose not to show the images in their books or put them in a spread in the middle so you can just jump past them, but these images are set into the text so just a trigger warning, though I imagine if you’re reading a book on Jack the Ripper you might be aware of the images!

Jack the Ripper Walking Tour


While I was in London with a friend back in November we went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour in Whitechapel. It’s something that had been on my bucket list for a while, and I was so excited when I finally got to do it. They’re obviously popular as we saw three other tours when we were out as well! Jack the Ripper is one of those enduring historical mysteries that is still fascinating today, and there is such a long list of suspects of who might have done it, including royalty, artists, Polish Jews, and authors. The fact that the murders were never solved gives infinite scope for people to come up with their own suspect.

It was so interesting to see the places where the murders took place, even if they have changed a lot in the over a hundred years since they happened. It really gives a sense of place and atmosphere, and the layout of the streets is interesting to understand how the murderer was able to get away and avoid the police on the streets.

Jack the Ripper killed five women between August and November 1888, possibly more but five are accepted as canonical victims – Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols on 31st August, Annie Chapman on 8th September, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on 30th September, and Mary Jane Kelly on 9th November. Although I think that a prior victim in early August 1888 was actually a Ripper victim as well – Martha Tabram.

The Ripper walking tour took in Osbourne Street, Hanbury Street, the Ten Bells pub, Goulston Street, Dorset Street, and Mitre Square. Osbourne Street was the location of the murder of Emma Smith, which happened before that of Martha Tabram and isn’t generally considered to be a Ripper murder but is included in the Whitechapel murder sequence. Hanbury Street was the location of the murder of Annie Chapman, although the exact building no longer survives. The Ten Bells pub still survives today although it did go through a period in the 1980s of being renamed the Jack the Ripper pub. Goulston Street was the location of the infamous graffiti which was left after the murder of Catherine Eddowes, and where part of her apron was dropped after the murderer wiped his knife on it. Dorset Street was the location of the murder of the Ripper’s final canonical victim, Mary Jane Kelly. Mitre Square was the location of the fourth murder, the second of the double night; that of Catherine Eddowes.

Although many of these locations have drastically changed since the 1880s, the atmosphere of the East End is still there and you can still get a sense of what it would have been like for these women living on the streets or in boarding houses, packed together. George Yard, where Elizabeth Stride was murdered, is now Gunthorpe Street. Bucks Row, where Polly Nichols was murdered, is now Durward Street.

Big thanks to our tour guide, Angie, who was so knowledgeable and such an engaging person to tell this gruesome tale. Visit the website to book a tour of your own if you’re ever in London!

Jack The Ripper Tour – The Original London Terror Walk (jack-the-ripper-tour.com)

Book Review – ‘The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper’ by Hallie Rubenhold


Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper. Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women. For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman. [Description from Waterstones]

I really found this book totally engaging and interesting. It’s not about the murders so much as the lives of the victims before their deaths, which is an avenue not much discussed, even among Ripperologists as far as I can tell – the focus is on the murders and the identity of the Ripper himself. Here Rubenhold looks at what some term “the forgotten victims”.

The main supposition of the book is that the women killed by Jack the Ripper weren’t all prostitutes, as is generally accepted, but instead were killed while sleeping – the idea of them being prostitutes is “arbitrary supposition informed by Victorian prejudice”. The only exception to this is Mary Jane Kelly, the final victim, who was the only one who associated herself with the sex trade at the time of her death. This is a suggestion I’ve never heard before, but the way that Rubenhold puts it forward really makes it seem logical and possible.

I knew the basic background of the women – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stryde, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly – but some of the detail in this book really shocked me and made me question some assumptions about the victims and made me think more about their lives before they met the Ripper. From their births to their deaths, and even what was revealed about the women in the inquests, Rubenhold covers it all, and makes a good case for her argument that the women weren’t all prostitutes. However, whether it will change long-established presumptions remains to be seen.

It’s engagingly written and Rubenhold lets it be known where she found her information, and where facts are sure, or it’s merely supposition (the latter largely in the case of Mary Jane Kelly). I listened to it as an audiobook rather than reading it, but it was very easy to listen to and well done. I think perhaps I might have found it a bit too difficult to read in places, given how the lives of these women panned out, but it was great to be able to listen to it instead.

Anyone interested in Jack the Ripper, or in social history during the Victorian period needs to read this book. It is really engaging and might change your mind about something you thought you knew.

%d bloggers like this: