Almost certainly the one single reason for the enduring appeal of this rather sordid series of prostitute murders is the name, Jack the Ripper.
Deep within the public records office, written in blood red ink, remains probably the most famous letter in the history of crime.
Subject to fierce debate among historians and experts for over a century, it is known as the ‘Dear Boss’ letter. It was received on 27th September 1888, almost three weeks following the death of Annie Chapman, at the Central News agency, altering the perception of the Whitechapel murders forever and creating the most infamous nickname in history.
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25th September 1888
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now.
I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.
Jack the Ripper
Don’t mind me giving the trade name.
P.S. Wasn’t good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands, curse it. No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. Ha ha.
The agency did not release the text until 30th September, since it contained a prediction that no one would have wanted to make public until it was proved true or false. Some senior officers were convinced it was a hoax, and modern historians have largely followed this conclusion.
Regardless who wrote the letter, the nickname was a fantastic piece of tabloid marketing. The name Jack the Ripper would become a news man’s dream. Suddenly, all of London had a name to go with the brutal killings and everything that was bad about the East End could be personified into one character.
After a century the crimes are forgotten by the outside world, but that name survives, and when mentioned instantly conjures up images of Victorian nights, cobble stones, foggy alleyways and that shadowy figure lurking in the darkness.
The letter was eventually published in the papers following the double event murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes. With the latter victim having her ear severed, this added fuel to the sense that the letter may be authentic.
Whether it was a hoax or not, it gave the still undetected killer his gruesomely appropriate nickname and in doing so, ensured that the Whitechapel murders of 1888 achieve a mythical dimension, which they have never lost.