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.
Mary Jane Kelly Is Virtually Unrecognizable In The Photograph
The photos of Kelly's body show that she was completely eviscerated. Unlike the other canonical four, Kelly's face itself was slashed, rendering her unrecognizable. Her white blouse and her bed were soaked with blood, which was also found splattered on the walls and floor of her room.
Kelly Was The Only Victim To Be Photographed At The Scene
The other four canonical victims – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes – were photographed in the mortuary, usually after their wounds had been stitched back together. Kelly, however, was the only one to be photographed at the crime scene. Moreover, the photograph shows Kelly largely as she appeared to police.
Instead of relying on photographic evidence, newspapers often rendered sketches of the scenes when they published articles on the Ripper killings. Often, these drawings were highly stylized in order to sell more papers, and thus were highly inaccurate to the actual scenes. These sketches do, however, provide insight into how the incidents were presented to the public as events unfolded.
The mortuary photographs and those of Kelly's body are also noteworthy because they are the first photographic evidence of sex crimes.
Her Heart Was Never Found
When Kelly was found, parts of her body were strewn around the bed and neighboring table. Though detectives were able to locate the majority of her body parts, one crucial part of Mary Jane Kelly was missing: the killer had left the scene with her heart. Similar behavior was noted at the sites of the other killings – one of Catherine Eddowes's kidneys was missing when her body was found.
Kelly Was The Only Victim Found Indoors
All of the canonical five besides Kelly were found outdoors. Annie Chapman's body, for example, was found in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street, and Catherine Eddowes met her end in Mitre Square. The public nature of these incidents was part of what made them truly terrifying to Londoners. Moreover, the dim gas lights that dotted the East End of London only provided about a 6-foot radius of light, offering a convenient cover of darkness for many evildoers.
Since Kelly was murdered in her own room at Miller's Court, many have speculated that the unparalleled privacy allowed Jack the Ripper to conduct his grisly work without the possibility of interruption. In fact, police assumed that Jack the Ripper had to flee Berner Street on September 30th before he was finished violating Elizabeth Stride's remains because he was "interrupted" by a passerby.
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.