Who Was Jack The Ripper? Inside The Century-Old Mystery And The Leading Theories Today

Published April 5, 2024

An unidentified serial killer who murdered at least five women in London in 1888, Jack the Ripper's identity remains one of history's most infamous unsolved mysteries.

Who Was Jack The Ripper

Public DomainJack the Ripper was one of the first serial killers to become a notorious media sensation.

Jack the Ripper was one of history’s most infamous killers. Stalking the streets of London’s Whitechapel district during the 1888 “Autumn of Terror,” the Ripper has remained a point of fascination for over a century. But one question stands out above the rest: Who was Jack the Ripper?

To this day, despite countless examinations of the Whitechapel murders, the Ripper’s true identity remains unknown. There have been numerous suspects and theories suggested throughout the years, but no official consensus has been reached regarding Jack the Ripper’s identity.

In more recent years, though, new evidence and methods of analysis have brought researchers closer to an answer than ever before. Still, there is some contention among scholars. Officially, Jack the Ripper’s identity remains a mystery — but there are a few theories that have seemingly solid evidence, and it’s worth shedding some light on them.

Who Was Jack The Ripper? How The Head-Scratching Mystery Began

Starting at the end of August in 1888, a series of grisly murders took place in Whitechapel. Each more macabre than the last, the crimes became an infamous media sensation while putting the citizens of London on edge. Eventually, a letter known as the “Dear Boss Letter” emerged, in which someone claiming to be the killer dubbed himself “Jack the Ripper.”

He had a name, but no one knew who Jack the Ripper was.

In all, five women’s murders were officially attributed to the Ripper. The five “canonical” victims of Jack the Ripper were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.

Whitechapel Murders

Public DomainThe locations of Jack the Ripper’s “canonical” victims (and two other victims murdered around the same time).

Then, one day, Jack the Ripper simply disappeared. The murders stopped. It’s unclear if the killer fled, died, or met some other fate, but before the autumn of 1888 came to a close, Jack the Ripper’s violent streak had ended.

Police at the time had pursued multiple leads, investigating numerous potential suspects, but were ultimately unable to pin the murders on any one person. This, and the gruesome nature of the killings, has made Jack the Ripper a topic of cultural fascination ever since. Today, you can even go on Jack the Ripper tours in London that explore the sites of his crimes.

One question has remained on people’s minds, though: Just who was Jack the Ripper? Surely, with such a prominence in the true crime genre and the advent of modern DNA analysis, the killer’s identity should be known.

As it turns out, that might be the case — though not everyone is convinced.

Did Medical Records And Witness Descriptions Unveil Jack The Ripper’s Identity?

In July 2023, The Independent reported that a former police volunteer named Sarah Bax Horton claimed to have identified Jack the Ripper thanks to medical records and witness descriptions of the man reportedly seen with the killer’s victims just before they were murdered.

Horton’s grandfather had worked on the Ripper case back in the day, prompting her to become equally interested in unmasking the killer. After examining the same documents her grandpa did with fresh eyes, Horton declared that a man named Hyam Hyams was Jack the Ripper.

Who was Hyam Hyams, you ask?

Jack The Ripper Suspect

Colney Hatch AsylumHyam Hyams, a Jack the Ripper suspect whose name has recently been brought to the forefront of the conversation.

Hyams was a cigar maker living in Whitechapel at the time of the killings. He was an alcoholic and an epileptic who was frequently in and out of mental asylums. Police at the time noted that the Ripper was highly skilled with a knife, leading them to believe the killer may have been a doctor of some kind, but Hyams’ work would have also made him proficient with a blade.

The cigar maker was also known to be violent. He suspected his wife of cheating on him and assaulted her multiple times, and he was arrested after he attacked both his wife and his mother with a “chopper.”

An injury left Hyams unable to “bend or extend” his left arm, and he was likewise unable to straighten his knees, leading to an irregular gait. This gait was something noted among eyewitnesses who reported seeing the Ripper.

During the time of the Ripper’s killings in 1888, Hyams continued to decline both physically and mentally. Then, in September 1889, this deeply troubled man was permanently committed to a mental institution.

Hyams certainly seems to fit the Ripper’s description, but skeptics have argued that this is not enough evidence to identify Hyams as the Ripper without a doubt. This explanation, for example, does not explain the understanding of human anatomy the Ripper was thought to have.

Mary Jane Kelly

Public DomainThe mutilated body of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s final “canonical” victim.

Some of the Ripper’s victims had their organs removed, and some of these organs were positioned deliberately alongside the women’s bodies. And considering when the bodies were discovered, the organs would’ve had to have been removed in a very short period of time. This meant that the Ripper would’ve needed to possess a certain level of anatomical knowledge.

That’s not to say the Ripper couldn’t have been Hyam Hyams, just that some more evidence might be needed to close this case once and for all.

Of course, Hyams isn’t the only suspect still being examined in the case — and one name seems to keep coming up again and again: Aaron Kosminski.

Genetic Analysis May Have Identified Aaron Kosminski As Jack The Ripper

A disturbed barber who suffered from severe mental illness, Aaron Kosminski has been linked to the Jack the Ripper case for years. But in 2019, a study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences claimed to have found strong evidence that suggested Kosminski was indeed the serial killer.

The evidence came in the form of a shawl that had allegedly belonged to the victim Catherine Eddowes. On the shawl was blood and semen, which researchers examined and linked to a living relative of Aaron Kosminski.

Though the study didn’t definitively prove that Kosminski was Jack the Ripper, the matching DNA certainly made a compelling argument.

Mary Ann Nichols

Public DomainAn illustrated depiction of the discovery of Jack the Ripper’s victim Mary Ann Nichols.

However, the shawl wasn’t confirmed to have been at the crime scene. Additionally, the fabric itself was incredibly fine — likely too fine for a sex worker of the era — and it was probably produced in Russia. Meanwhile, others argued that the study only involved mitochondrial DNA, which isn’t conclusive enough evidence to connect the barber to the killings.

It should be noted, though, that Kosminski’s name was likely listed in police notes during the initial Ripper investigation. Furthermore, a contemporary source described Kosminski as a person who “had a great hatred of women, especially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies.” Certified as insane, he was sent to a lunatic asylum around March 1889.

Once again, a healthy amount of skepticism prevents experts from concluding with 100 percent certainty that Kosminski was the killer. And even more recent evidence could point to someone else entirely.

A Long-Lost Cane Puts A Face To The Killer

In January 2024, Popular Mechanics reported that a long-lost cane belonging to a detective who investigated Jack the Ripper had been discovered.

The cane had belonged to Frederick Abberline, an officer who worked on the Jack the Ripper case in 1888. Abberline’s cane had a custom engraving and was held in the Police College in Bramshill, Hampshire, but when the institution shut down in 2015, it was believed that the cane had been lost.

The cane recently reappeared, though, and it is significant because Abberline had carved a facial composite image of Jack the Ripper into the cane, based on witness testimonies of the time. It’s the only known such composite.

Jack The Ripper's Identity

College of PolicingFrederick Abberline’s cane, featuring a facial composite of Jack the Ripper.

While this doesn’t confirm Jack the Ripper’s identity by any means — or give him a definite name — it could go a long way in helping modern “Ripperologists” with verifying the composite image and eyewitness testimonies. This methodology would be similar to that of Sarah Bax Horton’s, and could perhaps even prove her theory correct.

Of course, even if this were to happen, there would likely still be plenty of skeptics and naysayers claiming that the evidence is not sufficient enough.

Only time will tell if Jack the Ripper’s identity is ever confirmed — and if the case will ever be closed — but for now, there is no shortage of theories.

After reading about these theories about who Jack the Ripper was, learn about another possible suspect: James Maybrick. Or, read about Mary Pearcey, the 19th-century murderess suspected of being the Ripper.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Harvey, Austin. "Who Was Jack The Ripper? Inside The Century-Old Mystery And The Leading Theories Today." AllThatsInteresting.com, April 5, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/who-was-jack-the-ripper. Accessed May 23, 2024.