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During the 19th century, London was transformed into the world’s largest city and capital of the British Empire. Its population expanded from 1 million in 1801 to 6.2 million a century later
However, Whitechapel in the East End was like a decaying sore on the face of Victorian London in the late 19th century.
The overcrowded population lived in hovels, the streets stank of filth and refuse and the only way to earn a living was by criminal means, and for many women, prostitution.
Between August and November 1888, the Whitechapel area of London was the scene of five brutal murders. The killer was named ‘Jack the Ripper’. All the women murdered were prostitutes, and all except for one – Elizabeth Stride – were horribly mutilated.
The first murder, of Mary Ann Nicholls, took place on 31 August. Annie Chapman was killed on 8 September. Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddoweson were murdered 30 September and Mary Jane Kelly on 9 November. These are often referred to as the ‘canonical five’ Ripper murders.
There has been much speculation as to the identity of the killer. It has been suggested that he or she was a doctor or butcher, based on the evidence of weapons and the injuries that occurred, which showed a knowledge of human anatomy. Many theories have been put forward suggesting individuals who might be responsible. One theory links the murders with Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, also known as the Duke of Clarence, although the evidence for this is insubstantial.
The name that is mentioned most often is that of a depraved lawyer, Montague John Druitt. He disappeared after the last murder and his body was found floating in the Thames on December 31st 1888.
Violence to prostitutes was not uncommon and there were many instances of women being brutalised, but the nature of these murders strongly suggests a single perpetrator.
Jack the Ripper was never caught and he is not thought to have killed again after November 1888.

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