Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most infamous and researched serial killer in history. Some of the most chilling examples of his handiwork are the photographs taken at the murder scene of Mary Jane Kelly, his fifth and perhaps final victim. These are essentially the only photos of a Ripper crime scene known to exist.
In 1888, an unknown man murdered poor and disenfranchised women in the East End of London, an over-crowded, poverty-stricken corner of the city. The press quickly dubbed the perpetrator “Jack the Ripper,” and the whole of London remained on edge while the police hunted for and failed to apprehend the wanted man. Jack the Ripper’s identity remains shrouded in mystery and will most likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Historians even have difficulty agreeing on the number of women he targeted. The so-called “canonical five” – the victims on whom most people agree – were Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.
The last of these five, Mary Jane Kelly, was slain in her room at 13 Miller's Court in the early hours of November 9, 1888. Though whether or not Kelly was Jack the Ripper’s final target is debatable, her body was actually photographed at the scene, unlike those of the other four women. While the photographs of the scene are quite graphic, they allow a clear historical understanding of Jack the Ripper's actions and of the tragic history of violence against women.
Police Photography Was Still New In 1888
When police crowded into Kelly's cramped room on November 9, 1888, they made a relatively unique decision: the scene, they felt, should be photographed for evidence, since a photograph was an objective, neutral witness and was irrefutable.
Because of this lack of experience, however, police photographed Kelly's remains without any systematic approach. This resulted in photographs only of the dehumanized body of Mary Jane Kelly rather than any objects in the room which may have provided clues.
Not until 1903 did Frenchman Alphonse Bertillon perfect "the first methodical system for documenting a crime scene." Though Bertillon is best known for introducing the use of mug shots, he also developed strategies for photographing entire crime scenes, including the use of aerial photography.
Kelly's Clothes Were Folded Next To Her Body
In contrast to her mutilated body, Kelly's room was orderly and well-arranged. Police even found her clothes neatly folded on the chair next to her bed. Investigators also discovered that articles of clothing had been recently burned in Kelly's fire – in fact, the blaze was hot enough to melt part of her kettle.
The lead detective, Inspector Abbeline, guessed that the perpetrator had most likely wanted a roaring fire to illuminate the room and provide better visibility for his grisly work.
Police Intended To Bring Bloodhounds Into The Room
The Whitechapel Murders dominated the London press in the summer and autumn of 1888. As the police had yet to apprehend the murderer, public outrage was targeted directly at the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police, the two forces largely responsible for investigating the crimes.
In order to demonstrate the forces' commitment to solving the crime, police commissioner Sir Charles Warren arranged to use bloodhounds to track down the culprit. Barnaby and Burgho, the two hounds chosen for the job, became minor celebrities in the press, although their powerful sense of smell ultimately went unused. Inspector Abbeline was made to wait outside the scene for two hours until he received confirmation that the dogs would not be arriving.
Despite Warren's intentions, bloodhounds were ineffective in the crowded East End. Due to the countless scents mingling in the urban streets, Barnaby and Burgho would undoubtedly have been overwhelmed and unable to track down the killer.
Her Body Was Discovered Because Her Landlord Came To Collect Her Rent
Housing in the East End of London was neither cheap nor easy to acquire. Relative to other Ripper victims and women of her class, Mary Jane Kelly was fortunate to have her own private room at 13 Miller's Court. The other four canonical victims routinely relied on "doss houses" – common lodging houses – for temporary accommodations.
Kelly could most likely afford to live at Miller's Court because she shared the space with her partner, Joe Barnett, until they broke up shortly before Kelly's demise.