07/09/2015 12:23 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Jack Or Jill? We'll Never Know Who The Real Ripper Was

Jack The Ripper is a serial killer wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in 10,000 theories. Or was it Jill The Ripper? The suspects range from lunatics to royalty, to virtually almost anyone who happened to be alive at the time. But the truth is we'll probably never know it was.


Oh dear, oh dear. Another month goes by, a new Ripper suspect, a new book to sell. Will the gullible book-buying public ever tire of 'Ripper Mania'?

Jack the Ripper is arguably the world's best known serial killer -- but why? Is it the allure of Victorian England --- the sultry, sensual pea-souper fog enveloping the streets of creaky Old London town where crimes of passion abound and prostitution was rife for less than a penny?

Or is it the nostalgia of times gone by where men were fops, spiffs and cads and women were 'proper' and knew their place, ala Downton Abbey?

Surely it's not the abject, utter poverty that the vast majority suffered? And poverty they did suffer -- the contents of Catherine Eddows' (the Ripper's 4th victim, murdered 30/9/88) bag at the time of her death were:

  • 2 small blue bags made of bed ticking
  • 1 tin box containing tea
  • 1 tin matchbox, empty
  • 2 short black clay pipes
  • 1 piece coarse linen, white
  • 1 tin box containing sugar
  • 1 piece of blue and white shirting, 3 cornered
  • 12 pieces white rag
  • 1 piece red flannel with pins and needles
  • 1 small tooth comb
  • 6 pieces soap
  • 1 metal spoon
  • 1 white handle table knife
  • 1 ball hemp
  • 1 red leather cigarette case
  • 1 piece of old white apron with repair
  • Several buttons and a thimble
  • Mustard tin containing two pawn tickets,
  • Printed handbill
  • Portion of a pair of spectacles
  • 1 red mitten

Not exactly a treasure trove of wealth or earthly delights? Does six pieces of soap and 12 pieces of rag really proclaim anything other than living at the poverty line? Although it does suggest that the ephemera of women's handbags haven't changed much in almost 130 years.

Perhaps it's the appeal of a multitude of ever increasing potential suspects from which to choose -- from lunatics to royalty, to virtually almost anyone who happened to be alive at the time. As everyone alive at the time is now dead, theorists can simply accuse anyone they want without any need for any supporting historical or forensic evidence at all.

Quite simply, most suggestions cannot be taken seriously. Including Patricia's Cornwall's Walter Sickert, whose only guilt it seems is to have had a botched circumcision. Case Closed.

Snake oil salesmen taking advantage of the apparently never-ending willingness of the gullible public to part with their money to obtain a 'true' relic is not just a recent phenomenon.

The last century has seen a number of 'artifacts' gain prominence and fall just as rapidly as they are disproved. The more famous include the recent 'Eddow's shawl' -- recently debunked as DNA mistyping, the Maybrick diaries (a hoax) and a hair braid reputed to come from Catherine Eddows (Photo 1).

The fact that the 'facts' of the hair braid were wrong -- Eddows was the fourth victim and was killed in September 1888 rather than August -- seems to matter not a jot.

Testing the hair braid found that -- surprise, surprise -- no human DNA was present. Upon closer examination (Photo 2), the hair looks suspiciously like horse hair.

1. Hair Braid 'Taken from Catherine Eddows, August 1888'

2. Close-up of 'Eddows' hair braid'.

3. Underneath the stamp of the Openshaw letter.

Testing the 'Ripper letters' -- themselves disputed to have been written by the Ripper -- was slightly more successful.

Forensic DNA analysis of the area under stamp, which not only protected the DNA from contamination from the myriad of handlers over century but also protected the DNA from UV light (the nemesis of DNA), gave a result. Female DNA.

So what does this prove? Well perhaps we have Jill the Ripper, or perhaps simply it was just a female secretary or clerk who just happened to attach the stamp to the letter. We will never know.

This is the lesson to be learnt about Jack the Ripper -- we will never know.