Considering today marks the death of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s presumed 5th and last victim, I thought it'd be the perfect time for a quick blogpost about the crime's female suspects, a.k.a. Jill the Ripper or The Mad Midwife.
The hypothesis Jack the Ripper was in fact Jill the Ripper was first postulated by Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline of the London Metropolitan Police. His conjecture stemmed from testimony by Mrs. Caroline Maxwell. Mrs. Maxwell claimed she'd seen Mary Jane Kelly twice after doctors presumed she was murdered. The D.I. speculated the woman she'd observed the second time was actually the killer. The suspect might have disguised herself in Mary’s clothing after disposing of her own blood-soaked garments. Though Mary was discovered partially undressed, her clothing was left at the crime scene, folded neatly on a chair. Consequently, this premise doesn’t hold-up.
Nevertheless, if the murderer was female, it was guessed she'd be a midwife. As Casebook: Jack the Ripper, a comprehensive source on the Whitechapel murders, indicates, there a numerous explanations for why a female suspect is credible. Since law enforcement presumed the killer was male, a woman could butcher with impunity. Next, a blood-spattered midwife hurrying through Whitechapel’s streets late at night wouldn't be a peculiar sight c. 1888, and consequently wouldn’t rouse any misgivings. Lastly, midwives had the anatomical familiarity detectives expected the Ripper possessed.
There are two suspects put forth as the potential murderer. The first is convicted killer Mary Pearcey who, on October 24, 1890, murdered Phoebe Hogg and her baby daughter. Phoebe was the wife of her lover, Frank Hogg . Mary’s named a suspected because of commonalities shared by her crime and the Ripper murders. For example, she cut her victim’s throat, and…well, really the similarities end there.
The second candidate, identified by John Morris in “Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman,” is Lizzie Williams. He surmises that Lizzie committed the murders because she couldn't become pregnant. Morris employs the detail that sometimes the murderer cut-out the victim’s uterus as evidence the killer was an infertile woman seeking retribution for her condition. Though she herself was never questioned, Lizzie’s surgeon husband, Sir John Williams, was considered a suspect.
In 2006, Australian scientist Ian Findlay attempted to construct a partial DNA profile for Jack the Ripper. Analysis was conducted on samples from letters the killer purportedly sent to Metropolitan Police. Though results were “inconclusive,” Findlay said, "it's possible the Ripper could be female."
Right; I'm not convinced. Still, that’s not to say women didn’t perpetrate gruesome crimes during the period. To read about a confirmed Victorian lady-killer, check-out:
The Pied Pipers of Victorian England.
For more about Jill the Ripper, visit:
Jack the Ripper May Really Have Been Jill the Ripper
Jack The Ripper, Was Murderer Really A Woman? Asks Author John Morris
Was Jack the Ripper a woman?
The History Bitch
Podcaster, tea aficionado, Anglophile, 'Game of Thrones' enthusiast.