And that’s the way it was: April 3, 1888

The first of the "Whitechapel murders" is committed in London

On Tuesday, April 3, 1888, prostitute Emma Elizabeth Smith was assaulted and robbed. She died the next day from her injuries. Hers was the first of the 11 separate murders of women in or near the impoverished Whitechapel district in the East End of London between April 3, 1888 and February 13, 1891. The killings went unsolved and gave rise to the theory/legend that some or all of the 11 murders were the work of a single killer known as Jack the Ripper.

Due to the proliferation of cheap, mass-circulation newspapers in Victorian England, the “Whitechapel murders” received extensive media coverage, and Jack the Ripper became the first internationally notorious serial killer.

Frustrated by the police’s unwillingness to reveal details of the case, crime journalists often embellished their reporting, making the strange and brutals murders even more lurid. The nickname “Jack the Ripper,” itself, is thought to be one of journalistic fabrication. It originated in a letter written by a person claiming to be the murderer, which was published in the Star. The letter is now generally regarded by experts as a fraud, forged by a Star reporter.

One researcher has even argued that the murders were unrelated, and that there never was a serial killer. Jack the Ripper was simply the grisly creation of a sensational press desperate for more readers. Or so he would like us to think….

The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review. Tags: , , , ,