Editor’s Note: The following content reflects the individual interests and opinions of the author and is not reflective of the Ruth Project’s work. This post is for educational purposes. The following content contains general descriptions of murder, gender-based violence, and race-based violence.

When people eschew the plights of BIPOC individuals, when people ignore what happens to the working class, and when people ignore violence against women in favor of (often) straight white men, it is no surprise that issues emerge. We have continued to propagate images of serial killers as intelligent and lucky men instead of pointing out two key issues:

Number One: ineffectual police forces.

Dahmer explains it well. He was able to convince the police that a fourteen-year-old boy was an intoxicated nineteen-year-old that he was in a sexual relationship with.

Number two: victims being viewed as less important.

Jack the Ripper targeted working-class prostitutes. He was never found. Ted Bundy targeted young white women. His killing spree stretched on for ages, but he was given the death penalty. Jeffery Dahmer targeted black men, amongst other BIPOC individuals. He was able to continue his killing spree for twelve years. Charlie Manson, still perceived as ‘hot’ by certain young women, killed at least nine people. He was not sentenced to death.

Society’s glorification of such serial killers and other violent individuals only serves to glorify gender-based violence.

Who is the first serial killer that pops into your head?

Ted Bundy? Jeffery Dahmer? BTK? The Green River Killer? How about Charlie Manson or the Zodiac Killer? For those a little bit deeper into the true crime world, names like the Long Island Serial Killer and H H Holmes may come up early. Each of these killers struck out against people, often vulnerable individuals, acting with violent motives. As Halloween approaches, along with the resurgence of serial killer costumes and “pop culture,” we’re focusing on the glorification of violence against women, particularly with cases of well-known serial killers.

Sex workers. LGBTQIA+ individuals. Young women. Elderly individuals in assisted living facilities and hospitals. Infants. Racial minorities. First Nations’ members. Marginalized communities, minority populations, disenfranchised individuals, members of the working class, and anyone who lives at the mercy of others all face higher rates of violence than others. This trend has been seen in discussions of sexual assault, but it is also something to discuss in regard to serial killing. Each of the killers mentioned above, among the countless others who have taken lives en masse, honed in on this ability.

Bundy prayed upon the incompetencies within the policing system in the United States. His victims tended to be young women. Dahmer was able to get away with murder for a long period of time as well. Unlike Bundy, his victims were not typically young women; instead, his victims were people of color, and they were predominantly gay. An associate professor at the University of Warwick, Dr Lydia Plath, explains that “there were some really high-profile cases in the ‘80s and ‘90s, of police targeting Black offenders and not pursuing criminals who are targeting Black communities.” These stories are not alone, nor are they rare.

History tells us that the perpetrators of violent acts are able to get away with their crimes, especially when those crimes affect people of non-white, straight, or male backgrounds.

Although nowhere near the most prolific killer in history, nor even the most prolific killer in English history, Jack the Ripper is a textbook example of how so many things went awry to allow for the murder of multiple women in nineteenth-century Whitechapel.

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper is arguably, one of the most infamous serial killers in modern history. His list of confirmed kills is small. Smaller than, say, Dr Harold Shipman. Shipman killed over two hundred people. His methods were brutal, but they had nothing on H H Holmes (although recently, some have made the claim that the two men are one and the same). His acts, however, have been remembered by many.

Within the span of four months, from August to November, Jack the Ripper killed five women in Whitechapel. These are just the confirmed victims. Some will raise the number of women he killed to eleven.

April 3 hosted the first attack. Emma Smith’s attack was not attributed to Jack the Ripper. Robbed and assaulted, she was told to seek medical care. The next day, she died. Her death was ruled to be that of “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.” Though her death was likely not at the hands of Jack the Ripper, it does spark an inquiry into the blase attitudes many had surrounding the death of feminine individuals.

Months went by. August 7 showed the dead body of Martha Tabram, another dead woman in Whitechapel.

Mary Ann Nichols was dead by August thirty first. She is regarded as the first official victim of Jack the Ripper. Questions arose in Whitechapel as police investigated the murder. From here, they discovered that someone was extorting certain working women who went by the nickname “Leather Apron.” Like many conspiracies at the time, when a newspaper caught wind of this rumor, stories started flying. And, like many other conspiracies, this one targeted marginalized communities.

Little over a week after Nichols’ death, Annie Chapman was slain as well. September, it seemed, would offer little help. A citizens’ task force was formed, but instead of focusing on protection, it focused on defense. One of the first suspects that was brought in by a combination of police efforts and citizen activities was John Pizer. Pizer was a Jewish man from Poland. He was able to provide an alibi for both the murders of Nichols and Chapman and was released. Almost a month into the series of murders, a letter was delivered.

Within the letter was the name of the soon-to-be infamous Jack the Ripper.

Dear Boss,

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 shant 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 ladys 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. Yours truly
Jack the Ripper

Dont mind me giving the trade name

PS Wasnt 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.

Rife with misspellings and grammatical errors, the letter was considered to be a hoax. It was written in thick, red ink. Portions are underlined within the passage, highlighting the shocking and gruesome message contained within it.

It was horrifying.

Only a few days later, the promises of the letter became a reality. Two more women were killed. The first body found was Elizabeth Stride. The second belonged to Catherine Eddowes. Both had grievous injuries. Another police task force was put together, this time from London, and another letter was sent out from Jack the Ripper. This card is known as the Saucy Jack Postcard. It is done in the same swooping cursive, though this one did not captivate me as the first one did. This time, I knew what I was looking at. It referenced more of the crimes committed and included further usage of the phrase “ha ha” that the original Dear Boss letter had. It was not made public under the orders of the police department. Yet another letter came.

This one was worse, even worse than the first. It is rightly entitled “From Hell.” Deviating from the penmanship of the first one, the cursive became messy and difficult to decipher. Perhaps the difficulty comes from the handwriting. Perhaps it comes from the misspellings and errors found within the next. I myself find the difficulty in knowing what came alongside the letter: half a kidney. One had been removed from Catherine Eddowes.

The last and most brutal of the official murders occurred on November 9th. Mary Jane Kelly was slain in her own bedroom, the youngest of the victims. She claimed her middle name to be Jeanette, but it was often confused with the name Janet. This caused more confusion. Very few files still exist on her death.

“All we know about Mary Kelly,” Paul Begg et al. wrote, derived from her lover. She was a traveler -lowercase ‘t,’ not upper- and apparently called many places home. None of them seemed to stay with her. At twenty-five, she was already a widow, and at twenty-five, she was already dead.

The deaths of these five women all speak to brutality, yes, but they also speak to something more horrifying than just the crimes committed against them. Their deaths went unanswered. We still have not been able to determine who Jack the Ripper was truly.

Even after the official Jack the Ripper murders occurred, still more individuals died. In December of the same year, another woman died. Rose Mylett’s death was ruled in the same way that Smith’s had been ruled. In 1889, Alice McKenzie was killed as well. Her body had similar wounds to that of Jack the Ripper’s other victims. The police commissioner at the time and the medical examiner both agreed that she was a victim. Others who had worked on the first case did not believe that the work was the same. There were still no answers given to those who had died.

Over a year after the first official victim of Jack the Ripper was discovered, another dead woman’s body was found. With no name, no identity, and no killer, she has been mostly forgotten in history.

The last woman once considered to be a victim of Jack the Ripper was Frances Coles. Although she is no longer regarded as having been killed by the man, her killer still has not been found either.

Altogether, these killings paint a horrifying picture. None have had justice brought to them. There are many suspects that still remain, and the FBI profile from the 1980s speaks to the general consensus. White, male, and average looking. Young, between “twenty-eight to thirty-six years old” (FBI profile). The profile also mentions something that I left out.

Almost all of the victims involved, and all of the victims attributed to Jack the Ripper, were prostitutes. Many excuses related to the murders propagated anti-sex work stereotypes that only ignored the horror of what had happened. No one is asking to be brutally murdered. The profile also details the murders as “lust murders,” as the attacks were concentrated around the genitals of the individuals, alongside their breasts. The file also takes a turn for the weird when hypothesizing about the Ripper’s past, specifically delving into a misogynistic tangent about his mother’s possible activities. Despite the faults I find with the profile, portions do stand out to me. One of these includes references to specifically targeting prostitutes because authorities were more likely not to take the murders as seriously.

This differs from other Victorian murder cases. The Invention of Murder details plenty. Hannah Brown was a laundress, engaged to a carpenter. When she was murdered, her killer was found. This was almost half a century before the Ripper murders. A century prior, Elizabeth Brownrigg killed one of her servants. She was found guilty after the use of early medical evidence and testimonies. She was later hanged.

By 1850, there were around 20,000 “unexplained or suspicious” deaths in the United Kingdom (Invention of Murder). Poison tended to be the cause.

Mary Ball. Mary Blandy. Mary Ann Cotton. All murderers used arsenic, and all were caught. Sarah Chesham and Sarah Dazley used more poison. Chistiana Edmunds, strychnine.

Cotton’s story became so infamous that a nursery rhyme was produced around her following her hanging, reproduced below. Cotton is regarded as the first serial killer in Britain. She “killed sixteen children and five men” by the end of her spree, according to All That’s Interesting. She is a textbook example of a female Victorian murderer who left an imprint on society. She killed husband after husband, lover after lover, and her children. She was, by all definitions, a black widow. After the murders, she collected insurance payouts. She was caught over a decade before Jack the Ripper was.

Mary Ann Cotton, she’s dead and she’s rotten

Lying in bed with her eyes wide open.

Sing, sing, oh what should I sing?

Mary Ann Cotton, she’s tied up with string.

Where, where? Up in the air.

Selling black puddings, a penny a pair.

Mary Ann Cotton, she’s dead and forgotten,

Lying in bed with her bones all rotten.

Sing, sing, what can I sing?

Mary Ann Cotton, tied up with string

Eliza Fenning was accused of using arsenic. She was charged, tried, and found guilty. She was then sentenced to death. Other women found similar fates. She was a working-class woman, serving as a cook in a wealthy household. Being poor and Irish seemed to be the only crimes she was truly guilty of.

Another Victorian murderer, this one again guilty, was Amelia Dyer. She killed scores of children, and she, too, was caught. An address and a corpse were the only pieces of evidence that the police had before setting a trap for Dyer to walk into. Later searches revealed even more evidence of her crimes. She was executed.

It is cases like these that characterize the Victorian era. Many of them, however, were found guilty. In every single one of these cases, there was an investigation that warranted a result (Fenning’s case to be discounted, as she was not guilty). Plenty of women were found guilty of crimes, and plenty of women were caught. It was Jack the Ripper who got away.

There are plenty of suspects and plenty of theories. Queen Victoria’s doctor, Prince Albert, a midwife, those are all possibilities I’ve heard thrown around. An actor, an artist, or a con man. An immigrant, a religious minority, or a foreigner who was in the country for only a moment. The theories range from ableist to classist to anti-Semitic to genuine possibilities.

I even have a theory of my own, without having a specific person associated with it, centered around a postal worker. The United Kingdom has had a functional postal service since the sixteen hundreds. Postal workers and mail deliverers would have to know their way around a city to be able to deliver mail accurately, and it would not be a surprising thing to have a stranger in town who has packages. It would also have allowed for the individual to deliver packages -Dear Boss, From Hell, and the fraudulent Saucy Jack postcard were all delivered- without being suspected of having something they shouldn’t have been handling.

But at the end of all the speculation around the identity of Jack the Ripper, the women he murdered often get forgotten. Pubs have displayed Jack the Ripper memorabilia and sold macabre objects that referenced the crimes. Songs by popular artists have referenced Jack the Ripper on multiple occasions. Even a museum that had been originally designed to be focused on women was turned into a museum about Jack the Ripper.

Here are brief summaries of the women who the Ripper killed. Everything listed is from a website that compiles information about the victims.

Mary Ann Nichols is the first confirmed victim of Jack the Ripper. Known as Polly Nichols, she had five children and was separated from her husband by 1888. Like many other working-class individuals, she did not have the ability to pay for regular lodgings. The night she died was one of those nights. One reason for her sex work was due to her lack of income elsewhere. Her father and husband were then called upon to view her corpse.

Annie Chapman was the second woman to be killed by the Ripper. She was known as “Dark Annie,” and she had also been an alcoholic like Nichols. She was also separated from her husband and children. John Chapman, her aforementioned husband, attempted to provide her with a form of allowance until his death. She did not engage in prostitution often and instead attempted to earn for herself via seamstress-type work, alongside creating crochet works. When she died, she had been kicked out of her lodgings as well. She, too, had not been able to pay rent for the night.

Elizabeth Stride was an immigrant. She married and later separated from her husband. She, too, had lived in a lodging house, much like the other victims. She had lodgings secured for the night but had gone out for the night.

Catherine Eddowes claimed to be married to Thomas Conway. Like some individuals in the modern day, she had her lover’s initials tattooed on her arm. The two later separated, with three children together. She became an alcoholic and was a survivor of domestic abuse. She later met John Kelly, her lover. She attempted to provide for herself in a variety of ways. Hop-picking was one of those methods, but the harvest wasn’t good in the wet and hot summer of 1888. Some people claimed that she was not a prostitute, including her lover at the time of her murder. Her funeral was one of the only ones to be heavily publicized.

Mary Kelly was the last of the confirmed victims, and she is the least understood victim. Even her name may not be her name. She had a lover, Joseph Barnett, who said she was Irish. She claimed that she moved to Wales, and she claimed that she had married before. He died, and she took up prostitution. She later moved to London and continued prostitution at a “high-class brothel.” Following a return from Paris, she turned alcoholic and worked in Whitechapel. She was described as attractive and well-liked. Like all the others, she was working class and had to resort to prostitution to pay for a place to live. She died, supposedly only twenty-five. Her funeral was also heavily attended.

The women killed by Ted Bundy face a similar fate. The man attacked twenty-six or more women. They were all young, between the ages of twelve (Kimberly Leach, a middle schooler and one of Bundy’s last victims) and twenty-six (Julie Cunningham, the woman who attempted to help Bundy when he was on crutches). Some of their bodies still have not been discovered, like Nancy Wilcox (age sixteen). He was often killed via strangulation, a disgusting and intimate way to kill someone. He also often raped and beat the women he killed.

Penelope Scott’s song, Lotta True Crime, includes a mention of Ted Bundy.

But Ted Bundy was just never that [f*****] bright

He was just sorta charismatic and white, alright?

And he was so fuckin’ sure he had the right

But he’s ugly, and I’m glad he’s dead

‘Cause there was no [f*****] candle in his pumpkin head

These comments were due to people referring to him as an intelligent man who was able to escape the police often. One reason she cites for this is race, which occurs both in the treatment of victims (think of the massive number of missing first nations’ women who go without discussion as opposed to the numerous caucasian women whose cases have made national television) and in regards to the treatment of killers themselves. BIPOC individuals often face criminalization and are labeled as guilty, especially in the United States, whereas white individuals, often white men, are then romanticized by predominantly white women.

Despite this, he is still romanticized. Bundymania describes the fascination people have with the killer. In and of itself, Bundymania is a type of quasi-hybristophilia. Hybristophilia is a condition that, essentially, boils down to an attraction to violent actions and those who commit those violent actions. Dahmer and Manson also had these. Plenty of movies and television shows have documented Bundy’s crimes. Much like the Dahmer show on Netflix, there was a Ted Bundy movie that received criticism. Part of this was due to the casting of a conventionally attractive male actor to play the killer. Those sorts of portrayals will often shape modern perceptions of the killers. The more movies and shows that put serial killers in a flattering light while also distancing themselves from discussions of the victims, the more we lose sight of the crimes themselves. It also contributes to a glorification of (often) white men that targeted marginalized communities by (again, often) white women.

A more modern resurgence of serial killer mania is centered around Dahmer. This has cropped up since the recent Netflix show. It has had plenty of criticism, especially considering that the show did not contact the family members of the victims. Most of his victims were African-American men, but also included Asian and Latina individuals. The seventeen of his victims have also been forgotten. He promised money to his victims, ranging from age thirty-three (Ricky Beeks) to two fourteen-year-olds (Jamie Doxtator and Konerak Sinthasomphone). Sinthasomphone’s death is especially heinous, as the police were contacted about a “naked Asian boy running through the alley near Dahmer’s apartment” but did nothing in regard to it except to return the young man to Dahmer.

I will not describe the methods by which Dahmer killed his victims, but they were brutal. It would be cruel to the victims and families who are still mourning Dahmer’s actions to describe them when the families have often asked not to go through the trauma again. Many claim—and I agree with this—that his victims were ignored because they were members of marginalized communities. It was only when Tracy Edwards escaped from Dahmer that Dahmer got caught. Despite the nature of Dahmer’s kills, he, too, has groupies, much like Bundy does. This, once again, leads to a haunting concern: people too often glorify white men who killed marginalized individuals of different backgrounds. These victims were also working class, whereas those who overlook them often come from higher-income backgrounds. They are privileged with the time to fantasize about a killer while ignoring those who lack the privilege to survive.

When I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide

Where I stop, and I turn, and I go for a ride

‘Till I get to the bottom, and I see you again

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

These are the lyrics to the Beatles’ song Helter Skelter. That song, alongside the Bible, inspired the serial killer and cult leader Charles “Charlie” Manson. Charles Manson is another serial killer who has found himself popular in the modern day. One of Manson’s goals was “to start a race war,” according to the Root. He used sex to convince people to get involved. Most of those who joined were young women themselves. Those he had killed had nothing to do with his heinous goals. He is still far too often described as a handsome and charismatic leader. His victims were not like those of Dahmer or the Ripper. Nor did he go after young women. Most of the victims that Manson and the Manson Family killed were wealthy individuals whose bodies were then carved into with messages about the “race war.”

Throughout all of this, he is romanticized. Charming. Handsome. Well-liked. He has groupies, even in the modern day. A racist and a serial killer who believed that society would collapse because of interracial relationships.

At the end of the day, he’s not alone. None of these men stand alone. None of these men are even exceptions to the term “serial killer.” I’ve been interested in true crime for most of my life. Yet, when I began to turn to online information about serial killers, I found everything from descriptions of the victims and how it was luck that kept serial killers on the run—not brains—to the kind of content that I would be more accustomed to seeing in a celebrity tabloid. It was horrifying.

None of these killers deserve the fame they get, especially when their victims are often ignored or forgotten. I have written below a list of every single individual slain by them that is recorded. May their memories be a blessing, and may they rest in peace, as they were denied such peace in life.

Mary Ann Nichols

Annie Chapman

Elizabeth Stride

Catherine Eddowes

Mary Jane Kelly

Sharon Tate (and her unborn child)

Jay Sebring

Voytek Frykowski

Abigail Folger

Steven Parent

Leno LaBianca

Rosemary LaBianca

Gary Hinman

Donald Shea (assumed)

Joni Lenz (survived)

Lynda Ann Healy

Donna Gail Manson

Susan Rancourt

Roberta Parks

Brenda Carol Ball

Georgeann Hawkins (missing)

Denise Naslund

Janice Ott

Nancy Wilcox (missing)

Melissa Smith

Laura Aime (missing)

Carol DaRonch (survived)

Debra Kent

Caryn Campbell

Julie Cunningham

Denise Oliverson (missing)

Melanie Cooley

Lynette Culver (missing)

Susan Curtis (missing)

Margaret Bowman

Lisa Levy

Kathy Kleiner (survived)

Karen Chandler (survived)

Cheryl Thomas (survived)

Kimberly Leach

Steven Hicks

Steven Tuomi

Damie Doxtator

Richard Guerrero

Anthony Sears

Ricky Beeks

Eddie Smith

Ernest Miller

David Thomas

Curtis Straughter

Errol Lindsey

Anthony Hughes

Konerak Sinthasomphone

Matt Turner

Jeremiah Weinberger

Oliver Lacy

Joseph Bradehoft

Tracy Edwards (survived).

(Dahmer’s victims have not been labeled missing, despite the post-mortem practices he exacted upon many of his victims).

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