The Whitechapel murders conducted by the 19th century crime figure Jack the Ripper greatly impacted Victorian society and contributed to social reform by evoking terror

The Whitechapel murders conducted by the 19th century crime figure Jack the Ripper greatly impacted Victorian society and contributed to social reform by evoking terror. Although historians have claimed that Jack the Ripper had not committed these murders with the intention of social reform, it is apparent that the crime figure’s modus operandi had a great impact on society. In addition, the murders forced police investigative techniques to evolve to counteract the looming threat. The sparked media attention toward the East End resulting from the murders created public outcry to enlist a change.
Historians have believed that Jack the Ripper was not intent on social reform when he committed the serial murders but driven by his desire to terrorise. It has been a belief that Jack the Ripper murdered his victims to demonstrate power over his victims. The theory suggests that Jack the Ripper committed theses murders in the East End because the poor conditions had given him the opportunity to commit such heinous crimes undetected. He had not intended for social reform with his victims but rather chose his victims as they were easy targets that were less likely to be missed by the greater community because of their less than desirable profession. An article published in 2005 conducted a study regarding the Whitechapel murders. ‘… the killer exhibited complete domination over each victim… illustrate their vulnerability after death and the killer’s dominance…’ (Keppel, Weis, Brown & Welch, 2005) Hence this conveys how Jack the Ripper can be seen to have committed the murders for the sole purpose of dominance that he would have gained within the situation. The theory suggests that Jack the Ripper would pose his victims to emphasise their vulnerability and insight terror to heighten his dominance over them. Jack the Ripper has been seen as trying to win power over people by instilling fear within them from his reign of terror throughout London in the late 19th century. Thus clearly displaying how some historians over time have not seen Jack the Ripper as a driving force for social reform but rather as an individual who wished to put himself into a position of power and dominance.
Jack the Ripper’s modus operandi suggests the symbolic nature for which he would have terrorised the women he did. Jack the Ripper notoriously targeted prostitutes, perhaps to draw attention to the living conditions of the women and the other residents of the area. Jack the Ripper specifically targeted a certain social class giving emphasis on how this would have been perceived at the time and drove change in London. The Times published an article on September 3rd 1888 stating that ‘All three women were of the class called ‘unfortunates’…’ hence displaying how Jack the Ripper targeting this class of women had great impact on the upper class reading this news, in that it created terror throughout London at that time. In more recent times, historians have reached conclusions that Jack the Ripper acted as a force for positive change, though through undesirable methods. By targeting prostitutes this can be considered to be the killer’s way of cleaning the area as they were seen to be of the lowest class and their murders would not have elicited sympathy for the victim but rather, simply give insight into how the other half lived. ‘Jack the murder becomes Jack the missionary…’ (Jones, 2018) Thus enforcing the belief that Jack the Ripper was contributing to the social reform of the period by eliciting sympathy for those subject to the horrendous conditions and was considered to be cleaning up the area. It is evident that Jack the Ripper can be perceived to have been on a mission throughout the length of the Whitechapel murders in an effort to incite social reform. Therefore it is clear how Jack the Ripper’s modus operandi suggests reasons for which he would have terrorised the women to enact change.
The Whitechapel murders forced police investigative techniques to evolve in an effort to catch the looming threat that was Jack the Ripper. As the Jack the Ripper case was so prolific even in its own time, there was an immense pressure to catch the killer. The case forced the detectives to explore new ways of catching the culprit, methods that are still used today. The Whitechapel murders documents one of the earliest cases of criminal profiling. A police surgeon, Dr. George Phillips, began to examine the wounds of the Ripper’s victims as he had believed it ‘… could provide clues about both the behaviour and personality of the offender who had committed the murder…’ (Woodworth & Porter, 2000). The idea that the nature of a crime gives insight into the offender and their behavioural tendencies is a belief that is still held and practiced today. The Jack the Ripper case saw the first instance in which the police consulted a medical professional about the case and as such being one of the roots of modern day profiling. ‘…conclusions went beyond those that could be directly substantiated by the evidence, thus using a certain degree of intuition.’ (Hicks & Sales, 2006). It had become evident that during the course of the case, simply relying on evidence was not enough to catch the killer. Thus, criminal profiling emerged as a new technique to determine characteristics Jack the Ripper might have possessed. Over the course of the case, the way in which the victims were documented evolved to contain a more detailed review of the victim in their posing and death. Photographs of the victims on site, such as that of Mary Jane Kelly, becoming more prominent in the case. The first site of victim Emma Elizabeth Smith was not documented as thoroughly as the later cases and was described ‘… her abdomen was mutilated and bore disgusting wounds.’ Though the last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was documented thoroughly. Including witness reports and thorough detail into Kelly’s life previously. ‘She was a reckless, light-hearted soul, fond of her beer, but quarrelsome when she had too much…’ (Hudson, 2010). This giving insight into how the police changed their approach to the murders and attempted to find information detailing the women’s lives even before their attacks to give them insight into how they may have fallen prey to the Ripper. Hence, it is evident that Jack the Ripper evoked fear in London that consequently drove change with police investigative techniques that are still present today.
The extensive media coverage surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders drew attention to the living conditions of the lower class in the East End which led to reform in the area from the inflicted terror. The upper class during the Whitechapel murders were a captive audience regarding the grisly murders and reporters were happy to comply with these demands. However, this caused the public to be confronted with the horrific conditions of the East End. The 1751 print Gin Lane (Hogarth, 1751) depicts disarray in the streets of the East End. This image explores how crime ridden this poor area of London was depicting it as a product of neglect, having not only the people depicted as reckless but also with depictions of the buildings being run down. The East End was often described as a place ‘… where filthy men and women live on… gin, where collars and clean shirts are decencies unknown…’ (Morrison, 2017) This allows insight into how the residents of the East End were forced to live in such horrendous conditions. It was these conditions of the East End that aided Jack the Ripper in his murder spree allowing him to remain undetected. The drunkenness of the citizens would have left these women defenceless and unaware of the danger they were truly in. However, these murders captured the attention of many of the upper class and as such was widely publicised by the media. The media ‘…brought to the fore some of the most troubling social and moral issues of the day… the threat of collective violence in the East End, xenophobia and anti-Semitism…’ (Curtis, 2001). The West End citizens, having been driven by the fear of Jack reaching their homes, called for change that would not only better the lives of those in the East End but also prevent further murders. This sensationalist media documented the Ripper attacks in a form that would be morbidly entertaining for the West End. An Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw has commented after the second of the Whitechapel murders that ‘… the murderer was a social reformer who wanted to draw attention to social conditions in the East End…’ It is evident how these murders would have evoked terror throughout London and the citizens wanted Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror to end. Social conditions that had once aided the killer in his spree were corrected, Jack the Ripper would have been unable to commit more murders. For instance, he would kill in daylight, clouded by the smog so that he could remain unidentifiable. People began to reason that the murders were able to occur resulting from the government’s neglect of the East End creating poor living conditions. Therefore, it clear to see how the terror arising from the Whitechapel murders allowed for media coverage to explore the East End leading to social reform of the area.
Hence, it is conclusive that Jack the Ripper impacted the Victorian society and contributed to social reform through inciting terror throughout the population. Although, there has been speculation that these murders were not committed for the purpose of reform it is evident through the killer’s modus operandi this would lead to reform. As a result of the killings, police investigative techniques were forced to evolve in an effort to catch the killer. Finally, the new media attention on the East End evoked terror in the upper class that forced change within the area.