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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

Ripperology 101

Though his crimes were committed more than a century ago, in the foggy London  autumn of 1888, the world’s first and most famous serial killer Jack the Ripper still holds a fascination to crime scholars down to the present day. Indeed, in the last decade much more information and evidence has come to light, including the original autopsy photographs (sent anonymously in the mail to a “Ripper” researcher) and by the public release of Scotland Yard’s files on the case. New theories and suspects have since burst on the scene, some of them flying in the face of the evidence, others downright hoaxes.

The so-called “Ripper Diary” hoax of 1993 (The Diary of Jack the Ripper) fell apart and was revealed as a forgery by its “finder,” who confessed after traces of a modern ink was found in its composition, though in shades of the Hitler Diary hoax it still has its adherents. Some theorists have gotten rich positing the then-Prince of Wales Clarence as a suspect, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Prince’s social calendar of the time is well known and places him far away from London at the time of the murders. Queen Victoria’s personal physician, Sir William Gull, has likewise been accused of the murders, its adherents once again ignoring the sheer improbability of a 70-year-old man with a stroke history committing the incredibly brutal and savage crimes. (Most Ripperologists, by the way, put the number of victims at five though I tend towards an apocryphal nine).

Some recent studies have even cleared once promising names as suspects. M.J. Druitt, a London barrister who committed suicide soon after the last known murder, has since been found by Ripperologists to have been working far away as a night clerk during at least three of the crimes.

Crime writer Patricia Cornwell’s book (Jack the Ripper: Case Closed, Putnams, 2002) opened to huge fanfare. Cornwell spent over 2 million dollars re-investigating the case but, in Caleb Carr’s scathing review of her book in the New York Times, he referred to it, as many other reviewers would, as “a sloppy book, insulting to both its target and its audience.” One of the book’s key deficiencies was that Cornwell couldn’t prove her main suspect was even in England at the relevant times. Other, more careful, researchers have since maintained he was in France at the time of the murders.

Ripperology is a fertile field and I’ve barely scratched the surface here. (The Sandpoint Library has a number of books on the subject). So where does that leave us now?

Some of the most fascinating new investigative tools of the past 25 years to shine light on the Ripper Mystery are those of geographical and criminal profiling. According to the FBI’s profile unit the Ripper was, most probably, “a white male between 28-35 who lived and worked in the Whitechapel area, of menial occupation, possibly a butcher fishmonger, or upholsterer (due to his dexterity with knives) and his ordinary appearance and demeanor would throw police off his scent, though they’d probably interviewed him more than once.” (All of the killings took place on weekends, which leads to the conclusion he was working during the week. In those Victorian times before labor unions were formed workers (including children) put in long and grueling 18-hour workdays.)

Advances in geographical profiling (deducing a suspect’s home from the locations of the bodies) have advanced to such a degree that profilers now believe the Ripper’s home can be pinpointed to within a couple of blocks in the Whitechapel slums area.

Its my belief that the Ripper will eventually be identified. How? Most likely through DNA. It infuriates Ripperologists that Cornwell, in her massive DNA testing for her book, simply neglected to examine the few definite samples widely believed to be provided by the killer (for instance the “Lusk” letter the killer sent along with a kidney he’d cut from a victim’s body). Add the DNA to a possible suspect located through geographical and behavioral profiling and I believe he will be named. I believe as well that advances in science will lead to still other forms of identification in the future which will seem like magic to us today, much as fingerprinting and DNA would seem like magic back then.

‘til next time Comrade Citizens; All Homage to Xena!

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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