UNMASKING JACK THE RIPPER

Our Documentary In Six Parts

On this page you can watch the whole of our drama/documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper which is presented by Richard Jones and features extensive input from Lindsay Siviter.

The cover of the documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper.

Unmasking Jack the Ripper
watch it on this page

The name "Jack the Ripper" conjures up vivid images of fogbound Victorian alleyways where a sinister figure talks the night in search of his unsuspecting prey.

For this truly atmospheric drama/documentary author and historian Richard Jones spirits you back to the autumn of 1888 when the Whitechapel Murderer brought terror and panic to the streets of the Victorian East End and, in so doing, sent a wave of revulsion and horror coursing through society as a whole.

The highlights of this thoroughly researched programme include interviews with leading ripperologists, such as Paul Begg (author of Jack the Ripper The Definitive Story) and Lindsay Siviter (the official biographer of leading Ripper suspect Sir William Gull).

Filmed on location in the East End of London - with dramatic reconstructions filmed in the London Dungeon, the Clink Prison Museum and the wonderfully atmospheric House of Detention in Clerkenwell - Unmasking Jack the Ripper takes the viewer on a breathtaking journey into the heart of the Jack the Ripper mystery and follows every twist and turn of a case that has baffled and fascinated in equal measure for over 125 years.

So, join the experts for a tour de force that combines mystery and intrigue with gripping history and riveting social insight, and which recreates the atmosphere of that bygone era when a lone figure, prowling the dimly-lit thoroughfares of the Victorian East End, really did succeed in shaking society to its very core.

UNMASKING JACK THE RIPPER - PART ONE

An Introduction To The Case

Includes the Murder of Mary Nichols

Our drama/documentary on the case, Unmasking Jack the Ripper, is narrated and presented by our principle tour guide Richard Jones and is intended as an introduction to London as it was in 1888, the year in which the Whitechapel Murders took place.

Buck's Row, scene of the Mary Nichols Jack the Ripper murder, August 31st 1888.

Buck's Row
Mary Nichols Murder Site

We begin with a look at the East End of the time and explore the teeming streets and crime-ridden thoroughfares that provided the backdrop against which the saga of the Ripper murders was played out.

Lindsay Siviter paints a vivid picture of everyday life in the Victorian East End, whilst leading Ripperologist, Paul Begg, discusses the effect that a huge influx of immigrants, arriving from eastern Europe, had had on the area as a whole and on the local aboriginal population in particular.

We discuss how the ripper murders impacted on Victorian society, before moving on to cover the first of Jack the Ripper's actual murders, that of Polly Nichols on 31st August 1888.

Richard Jones takes you on a step by step tour through the events of that morning disclosing how Mary had earlier been ejected from a Common Lodging House in Thrawl Street because she lacked the four pence to pay for a bed for the night.

We visit the site where her body was discovered by a two carters, Charles Cross and Robert Paul, who were on their way to work at 3.40am, and we reveal how the murder site was so dark that they didn't actually notice that he throat had been cut; a discovery that was, in fact made, by the local beat officer, PC Neil, when he patrolled along Buck's Row, shortly after Cross and Paul had left the scene.

We then go on to look at the flurry of activity as local medic, Dr. Ralph Llewellyn was sent for and who, having pronounced life extinct, ordered the removal of the body to the local mortuary.

It was here that Inspector Spratling made the horrific discovery that the Buck's Row victim had been savagely eviscerated, a fact that had been missed by everybody up until that point.

We finish part one of the documentary with a look at the earlier pre-canonical five murders of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram, and discuss whether or not they were victims of the killer who became known as Jack the Ripper, before ending this segment of the documentary by introducing the various police officers who investigated the Jack the Ripper murders.

JACK THE RIPPER DOCUMENTARY - PART TWO

Includes The Murder of Annie Chapman

Part two of Unmasking Jack the Ripper begins with a look at the conditions in the area at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders.

This section begins with Lindsay Siviter and Zena Shine describing the streets of Spitalfields and Whitechapel and then looks at how drunkenness played a part in the violence that was commonplace in the district as a whole in 1888.

Thrawl Streeet.

Thrawl Street
Looking Towards Brick Lane

Lindsay Siviter then focuses on a knot of streets - Thrawl Street, Flower and Dean Street and several others - which were known as "the blackest of the black" streets, into which even the Metropolitan Police officers would not dare venture unless they were several strong.

Richard and Lindsay then make the point that, despite the frequent violence, that was almost endemic in the district, murder itself was relatively uncommon and, as a result, this group of murders, happening as they did over a relatively short space of time, and in such close proximity to one another, began to stir up feelings of real revulsion in the neighbourhood.

With the police involved in a desperate race against time to catch the killer before he committed another murder, their investigation suddenly yielded a promising suspect in the form of a man who the neighborhood's prostitutes had nicknamed "Leather Apron" and who, so the local street walkers claimed, was trying to extort money from them.

However, this promising lead soon presented its own problems when, thanks to frenzied press speculation, the gentile population began to believe that this sinister character was a member of the Jewish immigrant community and a wave of anti-Semitism swept the district, confronting the police with the prospect of widespread violence against the area's Jewish community.

The Capture Leather Apron poster that was put up in the area.

The Leather Apron Poster

With the area on the brink of rioting, on the 8th September 1888 the killer struck again, murdering Annie Chapman in the back yard of number 29 Hanbury Street.

Richard Jones pays a visit to Hanbury Street to describe the sequence of events leading up to, and in the aftermath of, the murder.

When news got out that the police had found a freshly washed leather apron close to the body, several newspapers, ignoring the fact that the garment actually belonged to one of the residents of number 29 Hanbury Street, gave the find so much coverage that the area erupted into anti-Semitic unrest and innocent Jews were beaten and barracked in the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

In a desperate attempt to contain the racial unrest, extra police officers were flooded into the neighbourhood to restore order.

Then, at the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman, the local Divisional Police Surgeon, Dr. George Bagster Phillips, raised the chilling possibility that, in his opinion, the killer demonstrated signs of anatomical knowledge.

Thus part two of Unmasking Jack the Ripper concludes with Paul Begg considering a question that gets asked time and time again on our tour "was Jack the Ripper a doctor?"

JACK THE RIPPER DOCUMENTARY - PART THREE

Includes The Double Event

Part three of our drama-documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper begins with Richard Jones explaining how many of those who lived in the area where the Whitechapel Murders were taking place had, by September 1888, started to wonder if the killer in their midst might be a butcher or a slaughter man.

The reasoning behind this theory was that, since members of this profession worked through the night, people were quite used to seeing them walking through the streets with bloodstained clothing and hands.

Richard then wonders whether the motive for the murders was that the killer had, perhaps, suffered some real or imagined injury, or ailment, at the hands of one of the local streetwalkers and was, therefore, exacting revenge by targeting the district's prostitutes.

Expert Paul Begg mulls over whether or not the ripper was deliberately targeting prostitutes, and concludes that he wasn't, but rather that his violence was directed towards women in general.

A cartoon from Punch showing a blindfold policeman being taunted by crooks.

Press Depiction Of The Police

We then consider how, by mid-September 1888, the Metropolitan Police were forming the opinion that the murderer was probably a lunatic and that he had received some form of medical training. To that end they began looking into medical students who had recently been released from asylums. But, as with so many of their lines of enquiry, this too yielded nothing.

Unfortunately, the police began to find themselves subjected to a barrage of criticism from the press and public alike as it became apparent that their investigation was going nowhere, and so we pose the question, "was that criticism justified?"

Paul Begg considers this and points out that the police did as good a job as they could given that the murderer wasn't actually leaving any clues behind.

Indeed, the only thing the police were in a position to do was to put more officers into the area in the hope that, when the killer struck again, there would be a policeman on hand to apprehend him. But, since this never happened, Jack the Ripper got away.

Richard Jones then takes the viewer through the events of the 30th September 1888, the so-called "night of the double murder," when the killer returned and butchered two victims in less than an hour of each other.

The first victim, Elizabeth Stride, was found in Dutfield's Yard, off Berner Street, at 1am.

The second victim, Catherine Eddowes, was found in Mitre Square, on the eastern side of the City of London, at 1.45am.

The corner in Mitre Square where Catherine Eddowes was murdered.

Murder Corner
Mitre Square

We look at both murders, as well as discussing two important witnesses, Israel Schwarz and Joseph Lawende, who came forward in the aftermath of the crimes to say that they may well have seen the victims in the company of their killer.

Having assessed the veracity of their sightings, we then follow the ripper as he fled Mitre Square into the immediate East End Streets, and we pay a visit to a doorway in Goulston Street where a bloodstained piece of Catherine Eddowes apron was found, an hour or so later, by beat officer PC Alfred Long.

Goulston Street where the clue was discovered.

Goulston Street

Since there was no doubt that this had come from the body of the Mitre Square victim, the police realised that this was an important geographic clue as it indicated the direction the murderer had fled in when he left Mitre Square, and thus re-enforced a belief that was rapidly gaining credence with several of the detectives, that the Whitechapel Murderer was someone who lived in the heart of the area where the murders were occurring.

It also enables us to answer a question that is raised time and time again on our Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, "wouldn't he have been drenched in blood?"

Paul Begg answers this by explaining that, since the evidence suggests that he asphyxiated his victims before commencing the repellent mutilations, then there would, most likely, be little blood spatter to actually drench him in his victims blood, whilst Richard Jones points out that, because of the stains on the apron, we can ascertain the extent to which he would have been bloodstained, as he had, evidently, used the garment to wipe away the visible, and incriminating, bloodstains from his person.

Having considered this important clue, part three of Unmasking Jack the Ripper ends on a cliffhanger as we reveal how a sinister message was found scrawled in chalk above the piece of apron.

JACK THE RIPPER DOCUMENTARY - PART FOUR

Features The "Dear Boss" Letter

Part Four of our Jack the Ripper documentary begins at the doorway in Goulston Street where the police had discovered the bloodstained piece of Catherine Eddowes apron.

Above apron was a message, chalked upon the wall of the door jamb, which read "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing."

The Goulston street stairway where the clue and the graffiti were found.

The Clue Doorway

Paul Begg gives consideration as to whether or not the message was written by the killer as he fled from Mitre Square and points out that there were contradictory statements about the message, with some police officers stating that the writing looked faded as though it had been there for some time and so wasn't, therefore, chalked by Jack the Ripper.

Irrespective of who was responsible, the finding of what was anti-Semitic graffiti so close to the apron caused unease amongst the ranks of the Metropolitan Police, who feared that if the gentile population - who, within a few hours would be arriving in the street in great numbers for the Petticoat Lane Market - saw the message, it might well lead to further outbreaks of racial unrest in the district.

The City of London Police, on the other hand, saw it as an important clue and wanted to photograph the chalked message.

The two forces were still arguing over what should be done when, at 5.30am, Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, arrived at the scene and ordered the graffito's immediate erasure.

Paul Begg discusses the fact that Warren's controversial decision has been the cause of endless speculation amongst conspiracy theorists and ponders his reasons for wanting the message rubbed out before a photograph of it could be taken.

Richard Jones then explains how, as dawn broke on 30th September 1888, both the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police had been humiliated by the Whitechapel Murderer who, having killed two victims right under their noses had then managed to escape into the very streets in which the police were out in force trying to hunt him down.

Press criticism of the "shameful shortcomings" of the detectives increased dramatically and, desperate for a breakthrough, the police made public a letter that, in the last week of September, had been sent to the Central News Office in the City of London.

The Dear Boss letter that was signed Jack the Ripper.

The Dear Boss
Jack the Ripper Letter

The letter's author claimed to be the Whitechapel Murderer, and his missive taunted the police for their inability to catch him.

But, it was the letter's signature that caught the public imagination and helped turn the East End murders into an international phenomenon - for it was signed "Jack the Ripper."

As it transpired making the letter public proved to be a huge mistake, for the resultant publicity encouraged imitators to reach for their pens and, very soon, the police investigation was all but overwhelmed by a veritable tsunami of bogus "Jack the Ripper" correspondence, all of which had to be investigated and, if possible, the authors traced.

Lindsay Siviter and Paul Begg consider the "Dear Boss" and ponder the all important question of whether it did actually come from the killer before both agreeing that, like almost all the imitators it spurned, it too was bogus and, as Lindsay observes, was probably the work of a journalist.

However, one letter, sent in mid-October to Mr. George Lusk, the head of the Mile End Vigilance Committee, is still the subject of intense debate.

This letter was addressed "From Hell" and, rather sickeningly, it contained a portion of human kidney which, according to the letter's writer, he had taken from the body of Catherine Eddowes.

In the last section of this installment of Unmasking Jack the Ripper Paul Begg considers the two opposing views as to whether or not the kidney that was sent to George Lusk was part of the one that had been removed from Catherine Eddowes body in Mitre Square before concluding that, despite the fact that the surviving evidence is sparse, the general consensus amongst experts today is that it wasn't in any way related to the murder of Catherine Eddowes.

JACK THE RIPPER DOCUMENTARY - PART FIVE

Includes The Murder of Mary Kelly

Our drama/documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper continues its exploration of the Whitechapel Murders by considering the fact that, probably as a result of increased police activity in the area, the whole of October 1888 passed with no further murders and, by early November, the area as a whole had breathed a huge, and collective, sigh of relief as the local populace came to believe that their ordeal was over.

Dorset Street, off which Mary Kelly lived.

Dorset Street

But the ripper wasn't finished yet and, in the early hours of 9th November 1888, Mary Kelly left her tiny room at 13 Miller's Court, off Dorset Street, desperate to raise the money she owed in rent arrears to her landlord, John McCarthy.

At the same time, somewhere in the heart of the area, Jack the Ripper was leaving his lair, and his bloody swansong was about to begin.

We begin this segment with Lindsay Siviter giving a hauntingly beautiful rendition of the song that Mary Kelly was heard singing in her room in the early hours of the 9th November.

We then follow Mary through the last hours of her life as she headed out into Spitalfields.

At around 2am, a casual labourer by the name of George Hutchinson met her on Commercial Street. She asked him if he would give her some money, but he was unable to assists.

Hutchinson watched as she approached a man and engaged him in conversation. The two then walked back along Commercial Street and passed Hutchinson who then followed them along Dorset Street and watched as they entered Miller's Court. Having, for some reasons, stood opposite the entrance to the court for 45 minutes, Hutchinson finally decided to call it a night and quit the scene.

At 10.45am on 9th November 1888, John McCarthy sent his assistant, Thomas Bowyer, round to number 13 and instructed him to ensure that he got the overdue rent off her.

Mary Kelly's Room 13 Miller's Court.

Mary Kelly's Room
13 Miller's Court

Within minutes an ashen faced Bowyer had returned to McCarthy's chandlers shop on Dorset Street and blurted out that he had looked through the window and saw "a lot of blood."

With Bowyer in tow, McCarthy raced to the room and looked through the same window his assistant had gazed through moments before.

There, on the bed, was the horrifically mutilated body of Mary Kelly.

McCarthy sent his assistant for the police, and soon detectives were converging on the tiny court.

But it would be another two hours before the police were able to actually enter the room.

Paul Begg explains that the delay was caused by a mistaken belief amongst the arriving officers that bloodhounds were going to be brought to the scene to see if they could track the killer through the streets.

But, by 1pm, it was realised that there would be no bloodhounds and so the door of the room was forced open and the police officers filed in.

Lindsay Siviter describes the horrific scene that confronted those officers as they stood in the tiny room looking at the body on the bed.

Richard Jones then reveals how the day held a further surprise for the police for, as they began fanning out into the surrounding area to search for possible clues, word came through that their Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren had resigned.

Paul Begg explains the reason for Warren's resignation and points out that, despite it, he would still remain in charge until a replacement could be appointed.

Crowds outside Miller's Court.

Crowds Outside Miller's Court

The documentary then looks at the measures that were taken by the police in the aftermath of the murder to try and bring the person responsible to justice. These included offering a pardon to any accomplice who would come forward with any information that might lead to the perpetrators apprehension

As Lindsay Siviter explains, even Queen Victoria got involved and gave instructions that all the dark courts in Whitechapel and Spitalfields were to be lit and the detectives were to be "greatly improved."

We then follow Mary Kelly's funeral cortege which, on 19th November 1888, left from St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch and headed to St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery where Mary Kelly, the last of Jack the Ripper's victims was laid to rest.

This installment of Unmasking Jack the Ripper ends with Paul Begg explaining how, following the death of Mary Kelly, press interest in the case decreased.

JACK THE RIPPER DOCUMENTARY - CONCLUSION

Jack the Ripper Suspects

If, as the majority of experts agree, Mary Kelly was the last of Jack the Ripper's victims, then we must deduce that something happened to the Whitechapel Murderer after he committed the blood-bath atrocity in Miller's Court.

As Richard Jones explains, a serial killer such as the ripper doesn't just stop, unless there is some form of intervention - death, suicide or apprehension - that renders him unable to continue with his crimes.

Paul Begg reveals that, almost ever one of the senior detectives who worked on the case appears to have had a favoured suspect.

Sir Robert Anderson, the head of the detective department during the Jack the Ripper investigation.

Sir Robert Anderson

Indeed, the two highest ranking of the officers with direct responsibility for the investigation, Dr Robert Anderson and Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson, appear to have not only had a favoured suspect each, but also to have favoured the same suspect.

In his memoirs, The Lighter Side of My Official Life, Sir Robert Anderson, as he had become by the early 1900's, revealed that the police did in fact catch the killer and that the one person who ever gained a clear view of the face of the murderer unhesitatingly identified their suspect the instance he was confronted with him but refused to testify against him.

Unfortunately, although Anderson stated that their suspect was a low born Polish Jew living in the heart of the area, he stopped short at naming him.

Anderson presented a copy of his memoir to his old ripper hunting colleague Chief Inspector Swanson, and his copy re-surfaced again in 1988.

In the margin of the book, Swanson, it transpired, had done what Anderson hadn't done and had gone so far as to name the suspect as "Kosminski".

As Paul Begg explains, the only Kosminski who fits the bill was a man named Aaron Kosminski, who was sent to Colney Hatch asylum in 1891.

Of course, that leaves the question, was this man, Aaron Kosminski, Jack the Ripper.

Paul Begg points out that, Anderson and Swanson, as the two highest ranking officers with direct involvement in the case, would have been in the position of knowing the evidence against all the suspects, and if they thought the evidence against Kosminski was stronger than that against any other suspect, then Kosminski has to be a leading contender for the mantle of Jack the Ripper.

Unmasking Jack the Ripper ends with Richard Jones observing that, with so many determined researchers know trying to hunt him down, there may well be a time when a breakthrough is achieved and the World finally gets to know the identity of history's most famous, and elusive, serial killer.