A Timeline Of The Still Unsolved Jack The Ripper Case
During the late summer and early fall of 1888, a serial killer terrorized London's East End. This person would go by a number of names, but over 130 years later, they are most commonly remembered as Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper's identity has never been confirmed, though numerous people, usually men, have been suspected of the crimes.
Although the name Jack the Ripper is known throughout most of the world, the names of the victims, as well as how the story of the murders unfolded, are often forgotten. Below, we'll break down the official timeline of the Whitechapel murders and learn about the very real women whose lives were violently ended by Jack the Ripper.
August 31, 1888: The Body Of Mary Ann Nichols Is Discovered
Around 3:30 am on August 31, 1888, a man named Charles Cross was walking to work down Buck's Row when he came upon the body of Mary Ann Nichols. Nichols was 43, had raised five children, and had been separated from her husband for years. Nichols reportedly lived in a series of workhouses and supported herself through sex work.
After Charles Cross discovered Nichols's body, another man named Robert Paul showed up. They decided they couldn't be late for work, so they left Nichols's body, which was soon discovered by Police Constable John Neil. Neil discovered that Nichols's throat had been slit so violently that she was nearly decapitated. The coroner, Dr. Llewellyn, determined that Nichols had only been dead for about a half-hour when she was discovered by Constable Neil around 4 am.
September 5, 1888: 'The Star' Newspaper Publishes An Article About 'Leather Apron'
Less than a week after the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, The Star newspaper ran a salacious article about an unknown man named “Leather Apron” who was believed to have murdered Nichols and two other women in the Whitechapel area. Sex workers in the area had described the man as always wearing a leather apron and threatening them with violence if they didn't hand over their money. On September 2, a woman went to a constable and pointed out a man she claimed was Leather Apron. Although the man was questioned, the police eventually let him go.
The Star described Leather Apron as “[t]he strange character who prowls about after midnight” and that there was “[u]niversal fear among women.” Certain descriptions of Leather Apron's appearance also stoked anti-Semitism in the community, as well as a fear of “foreigners” from outside the community.
September 8, 1888: The Body Of Annie Chapman Is Discovered
Around 6 am on September 8, 1888, the body of 47-year-old Annie Chapman was found by a man on his way to work. Like Mary Ann Nichols, Chapman was separated from her husband and made a living by selling fake flowers and engaging in sex work. Her murder was also similar to that of Nichols. Chapman's dress had been pulled up and her throat deeply cut. In addition, an autopsy confirmed that Chapman's womb had been removed by the killer.
Chapman had been seen talking to a different man around 5:30 am and was known to have regular male clients. Five days before her murder, Annie Chapman was seen by a friend with bruising on her head and chest, but Chapman did not reveal how she had gotten the bruises.
September 10, 1888: Local Businessmen Form The Mile End Vigilance CommitteePhoto: The Illustrated London News / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Following the murder of Annie Chapman, The Star ran an article claiming, “No woman is safe while this ghoul is abroad.” The paper also encouraged the citizens of Whitechapel to become their own police. In fact, 16 men, mostly businessmen and tradesmen in the Whitechapel area, came together to form the Mile End Vigilance Committee, also known as the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, after losing faith in the Metropolitan Police. Several other citizen-led patrols also formed in the area around the same time. Members of these committees would patrol the Whitechapel area, sometimes in pairs, throughout the night in an effort to prevent more murders.
The Mile End Vigilance Committee was led by George Lusk, who would go on to receive a number of threatening letters, including the most credible letter written by Jack the Ripper.
September 10, 1888: 'Leather Apron' Is Arrested
Two days after the murder of Annie Chapman, Sergeant William Thick arrested John “Jack” Pizer, claiming he had known the man as “Leather Apron” for the past 18 years. In fact, John Pizer was the man who had previously been identified as Leather Apron on September 2. However, Pizer denied any involvement in the murders, and his alibis checked out. Furthermore, a pub owner had served a man with bloodied clothes the morning Annie Chapman's body was found but confirmed the man was not Pizer.
Following Pizer's exoneration, he criticized The Star for its reporting about his involvement in the case. The Star subsequently backtracked its statements and put the blame on the Metropolitan Police for not catching the killer.
September 27, 1888: The 'Dear Boss' Letter Arrives At The Central News AgencyPhoto: Attributed to 'Jack the Ripper' / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Prior to September 27, 1888, the murders being committed in London's East End were attributed to the “Red Fiend,” “The Whitechapel Murderer,” or “Leather Apron.” That quickly changed when London's Central News Agency received a letter written in red ink and signed "Jack the Ripper." In the letter, Jack the Ripper made fun of the police for being unable to catch him and threatened that he would kill again, writing, “I love my work and want to start again.”
The Central News Agency first thought the letter was a hoax and waited two days to pass the letter to the Metropolitan Police. The police were also skeptical until two more murders occurred only a day after they received the letter. It was at this time that Jack the Ripper became a media sensation.