Chapter One: Jack the Ripper
In the dark realm of serial killers, this is ground zero: the point from which virtually all history and all discussions begin.
By modern standards, the ghostly predator who haunted the shadowy streets of London's East End between August and November of 1888 was nothing much to write home about. Sadly, many of his successors -- people I and my colleagues have had to hunt -- have been far more devastatingly productive in the number of lives they took, and even the gruesome creativity with which they took them. But none other has so quickly captured and so long dominated the public's fascination as Jack the Ripper: the Whitechapel Murderer, the personification of mindless brutality, of nameless, motiveless evil.
Why this one? Why him (although some still steadfastly maintain it was a her)? There are several reasons. For one, the crimes -- a series of fatal stabbings that escalated into total mutilation -- were concentrated in a small geographic area, directed at a specific type of preferred victim. For another, though there had been isolated sexually based killings in England and the European continent in the past, this was the first time most Victorians had ever faced or had to deal emotionally with such a phenomenon. Add to this a social reform movement and a newly energetic and outspoken press eager to call attention to the appalling living conditions in the East End, and you have all the ingredients for what became, literally, one of the biggest crime stories of all time.
The reasons why these murders continue to fascinate above all others, even in this modern age with our seemingly endless succession of "crimes of the century," are equally strong, though, as we will quickly learn, often based on misimpression. In spite of their barbarism, they represent a real-life mystery from the era of Sherlock Holmes -- the bygone romantic era of high Victorian society, gaslights and swirling London fog, though where the killings actually took place had little real relationship to Victorian splendor, and each crime was actually committed on a night without fog. On only one of the nights was it even raining. In fact, at the same time the Ripper murders were terrorizing the desperate East End, a melodrama based on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
was thrilling audiences at the Lyceum Theatre in the fashionable and comfortable West End. Together these two events, one safely fanciful and the other horrifyingly real, gave many their first dawning awareness of the potential for inherent evil in so-called ordinary or normal people.
And despite a tremendous allocation of manpower and resources on the parts of two police forces at the time, and the efforts of countless "Ripperologists" in the more than 110 years since then, the crimes remain unsolved, tantalizing us with their profound mystery (though if we were working them today, I feel confident we could crack them in relatively short order). Some of the suspects and motives are very "sexy" -- far out of the range of the normal serial killer -- including not only the royal physician but also the two men in direct line to the throne!
And as important as any other reason for the continuing fascination is that powerfully evocative and terrifying name by which the unknown subject -- or UNSUB, as we refer to him in my business -- was called. Although here again, I maintain that this was not the identity he chose for himself.
But whatever the misconceptions or qualifications, we have to acknowledge that Jack the Ripper created the myth, the evil archetype, of the serial killer.
As a criminal investigative analyst and the first full-time profiler for the FBI, I'd often speculated about the identity of Jack the Ripper. But it wasn't until 1988, the hundredth anniversary of the Whitechapel murders, that I actually approached the case as I would one that was brought to me at the Investigative Support Unit at Quantico from a local law enforcement agency.
The occasion was a two-hour television program, The Secret Identity of Jack the Ripper,
set to be broadcast live from Los Angeles in October and hosted by British actor, writer, and director Peter Ustinov, with feeds from experts in London at the crime scenes themselves and at Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police. When the producers approached me about participating in the program and constructing a profile of the killer, I decided it was worth a try for a couple of reasons. First, I thought the profile might be useful in training new agents. Second, it's difficult to resist matching wits, even a century later, with the most famous murderer in history. And third, since it was a hundred years after the fact, no negative consequences were possible other than making a fool of myself on national television, a fear I'd long since gotten over. Unlike with the scores of "real" cases I was dealing with every day, no one was going to die if I was wrong or gave the police bad information. More than a decade later, I still believe in the analysis I did, with an interesting and important addition, which we'll get to later.
I captioned the profile the way I would an actual one that would become part of a case file:
UNSUB; AKA JACK THE RIPPER;
SERIES OF HOMICIDES
NCAVC -- HOMICIDE (CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE ANALYSIS)
The FBI, like most government agencies, is addicted to acronyms. The one on the last line, NCAVC, stands for National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the overall program established in 1985 and located at the FBI Academy to encompass a bunch of other acronyms including, but not limited to, the BSU, or Behavioral Science Unit (teaching and research); ISU, the Investigative Support Unit, which carries out the actual consulting, profiling, and criminal investigative analysis; and VICAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program computer database on multiple offenders. During my tenure as chief of ISU, we and other operational entities, such as HRT, the Hostage Rescue Team, were pulled in under the umbrella of CIRG, the Critical Incident Response Group. And after I retired in 1995, my unit was, for a time, absorbed into a new group, CASCU, the Child Abduction and Serial Crimes Unit. Anyway, you get the idea.
I cautioned the producers the same way everyone in my unit had been trained to caution the police and law enforcement agencies around the United States and the world with whom we dealt: our work can only be as good as the case information provided to us. Many of the tools we'd have to work with today -- fingerprints, DNA and other blood markers, extensive crime-scene photography -- were not available in 1888, so I'd have to do without them in developing my analysis. But then, as now, I would still begin with the known facts of the crimes.
Like most serial murders, the case is complicated, with multiple victims and leads that go off in many directions. It is therefore useful to go into the case narrative in some detail, just as we would if we were receiving it from a local law enforcement agency seeking our assistance. So we'll relate the details -- anything that might be important to the profile -- and analyze each element at the proper point in the decision-making process. In that way, we can see something of how the analytical decisions in mindhunting are made and on what they are based. By the time we present the profile, you should have some background and perspective for understanding the choices and conclusions I've come to. We can then apply this process to all of the subsequent cases we'll consider. The more a profiler knows of the story of what
happened, the better able he or she will be in putting together the why
and the who.
Whenever we construct a profile or offer analytical or strategic assistance to a local law enforcement agency on a series of unsolved crimes, a critical part of the case materials we request is a map with crime scenes indicated and a description of what each area is like. And in this case, geography is a particularly important consideration because it so carefully defines the type of victim selected and type of offender who would feel comfortable here.
I always stress the importance of understanding the victimology and social context of the crime. And you can't understand this case without some comprehension of what life was like in the East End of London, specifically Whitechapel and Spitalfields, in the final decades of the Victorian era. Adventure novelist Jack London would characterize this area as "the Abyss" after spending seven weeks living there during the summer of 1902. The nonfiction book that emerged from this experience, The People of the Abyss,
would become just as much of an instant classic in its own circles as The Call of the Wild,
published the same year. And the conditions and situation described were little different in 1902 than they had been fourteen years earlier.
The most extreme areas of the East End -- the region bordering Whitechapel High Street and Whitechapel Road, just north of the Tower of London and the London Docks -- was a strange, distant, and fearful place to those fortunate enough to live elsewhere within the metropolis. Though it was but a short cab or railway journey away from central London, the virtual capital of the Western world when it was true that the "sun never set" on the richest and most economically productive empire in history, this district was a teeming, Dickensian area of factories, sweatshops, and slaughterhouses. Dominated by poor cockneys, it was increasingly populated by immigrants straight off the docks, particularly Eastern European Jews escaping persecution and pogroms, with their strange languages, insular customs, and wariness of gentiles. Many of them joined their fellow countrymen in the tailoring and leather trades centered around Brick Lane. Middlesex Street, better known as Petticoat Lane, became a bustling Sunday marketplace ...