The untold truth of Jack the Ripper

We'll start by stating that the main untold truth about Jack the Ripper is that nobody knows for sure who committed the murders attributed to him (or her, for that matter). The deaths in a London slum in 1888 have yet to be solved, though the whole affair has spawned a cottage industry of amateur and professional sleuths, novelists, true crime reporters, and even tour guides: check out the Jack the Ripper Tour, which even offers a virtual edition. There's a lot of money to be made from murdered women.

Opinions abound, but when it comes to the truly ghastly murders in Victorian London's Whitechapel area, Ripperologists (yes, they're a thing) tend to lump five killings into the category of "canonical." All happened within the space of a few months: August 31-November 9, 1888. The victims were all prostitutes, and all were not only killed (their throats were cut, some so deeply as to border on decapitation, says History UK), but mutilated as well, with organs removed and displayed. The bodies weren't simply hacked; cuts tended to be precise, showing skill and knowledge of human anatomy. Casebook relates that the women were first strangled, then their throats cut, then dismembered.

The murders remain unsolved to this day

Even in an area of town where violent crime was an everyday occurrence, people were shocked, then terrified. The police were frustrated in their pursuit of the killer, especially as the crimes continued. And continued. Central News Agency received a letter on September 25, signed "Jack the Ripper," and a postcard on October 1. There's some evidence that the missives were the work of a journalist ramping up the sensational aspects of the case. One piece of mail has a stronger connection: A parcel sent to the head of the Whitechapel vigilance committee included a letter and part of a kidney, claiming to be taken from a victim, Catharine Eddowes. Eddowes was found with a kidney removed (among other things), and she was known to be suffering from kidney disease; the mailed organ also showed signs of disease.

Public outcry became so shrill that the London police commissioner resigned over the lack of results, as Encyclopedia Britannica says. Killings matching the Ripper's pattern stopped after November. And nobody knows quite why.

There are plenty of theories, some involving conspiracies, as the BBC explains — the police were protecting someone of influence, or even of royal blood; it was a doctor, an immigrant, a jealous lover — the list goes on. Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell is among those who have assembled a case. But nobody knows for sure.