In the past couple of years, Jack the Ripper theories have gone from the baroque to the postmodern. From the numerous suspects put forward by sundry pro-am researchers to the Unified Ripper Theory created for Alan Moore's From Hell, the impulse seems to have been to try to create some grand narrative the encompasses all the messy details of the case. (To be fair to Mr. Moore - though we should hardly bother, he's rarely fair to us – his From Hell is intended more as a artistic exercise than a hypothesis.)
Of late, however, the messy details seem to have won. To steal the words from the magician, "The centre cannot hold." Recently, Stephen Knight proposed that the reason the police could never find Saucy Jack was that there was no single killer. Instead, Jack the Ripper was a sort of folk character/brand name: a bit of street mythology crooks evoked whenever a particularly nasty bit of business went down.
Now, to go full-on Baudrillardean mode, a new book proposes the theory that Jack the Ripper was a media invention cooked up to give circulation numbers a boost. Here's the 411:
Jack the Ripper was a forgery invented by journalists to link a series of unrelated murders and sell newspapers, according to a new book.
The unsolved murders of five prostitutes in London's East End in 1888 have spawned innumerable theories over the identity of the 'real' Jack the Ripper - with candidates including artist Walter Sickert, Alice In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll and even Queen Victoria's grandson the Duke of Clarence.
But now historian Dr Andrew Cook claims to have blown all these theories out of the water by dismissing the notion of a brutal, murderous spree by one 'serial killer' altogether.
Later in the Daily Mail Reporter article:
Dr Cook says streetwalkers Mary Nichols, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Kelly, Elizabeth Stride and Annie Chapman were killed by different men, as were the six other Whitechapel victims often added to the Ripper's toll.
He takes his evidence from police and medical experts at the time who expressed doubts about the single killer theory even as it began to take hold on the public imagination.
The senior Whitechapel policeman at the time of the killings admitted in his retirement speech that he did not believe Mary Kelly was killed by 'Jack the Ripper', Dr Cook points out.
The assistant police surgeon who examined all five victims, Percy Clark, told the East London Observer in 1910: 'I think perhaps one man was responsible for three of them. I would not like to say he did the others.'
However, comments like this were a drop in an ocean as the myth of the lone rogue killer took hold of the Victorian imagination.
Dr Cook shows that the newly-launched Star newspaper was the first to claim that one man was behind three of the 1888 killings.
Even though most experts today agree that two of these - Emma Smith and Martha Tabram - were not carried out by the same man, the Star's prurient accounts of the on-going murders massively boosted its circulation.
This reminds of the Ripper's boast in From Hell that he will give birth to the 20th century. Moore's own lines appear to have been reworked and trumped by modern Ripperologists.