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Murder, Media and Mythology: The Impact the Media's Reporting of the Whitechapel Murders had on National Identity, Social Reform and the Myth of Jack the Ripper

by Gregg Jon Jones[1], Department of History, University of The West of England

 

Abstract

The name 'Jack the Ripper' does not elicit the reaction of animosity which the majority of serial killers provoke, rather it elicits fascination and intrigue. His immortalisation in Madame Tussauds and the London Dungeon is a testament to this and points to a perverse, albeit indirect, celebration of his grisly deeds. This article fills in the gaps in understanding how the Whitechapel murders were utilised by reformists to further their reform efforts; to what extent the murders reflected national identity; to what extent the murders allowed for the manifestation of more overt racism as well the factors that contributed to the Jack the Ripper mythology that continues to the present day.

A combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods have been used to compare what was reported and the established facts; this has been achieved by looking at the primary sources of newspaper articles from the time, as well as looking at the Metropolitan Police archives. This research is informed by a close reading of the secondary literature.

Keywords: Jack the Ripper, anti-Semitism, national identity, social reform, Whitechapel murders, social prejudice

 

Introduction

London lies today under the spell of a great terror... a nameless reprobate - half man, half beast - is daily gratifying his murderous instincts.
(Star, 8 September 1888)

In the autumn of 1888 there were a series of brutal murders in the East End of London that shocked and horrified Victorian England. The perpetrator was never caught and relentless efforts by subsequent researchers - most notably Stephen Knight (1976), Melvyn Fairclough (1991), Melvin Harris (1987) and Donald McCormick (1959) - although hugely influential in the creation of a number of myths and theories regarding the killer's identity, have not been able to prove the killer's identity conclusively. He is known only by his gruesome pseudonym, Jack the Ripper.

The infamy of the Whitechapel murders means that there are few names more instantly recognisable than that of Jack the Ripper. 'Jack the Ripper' is a fictional character, complemented by the popularised gothic literature at the time and best accompanied by characters such as Dracula, Sweeney Todd and Jekyll and Hyde (Warwick and Willis, 2006: 167). However this meant that despite brutally murdering (at least) five women he maintains an almost mythical, even heroic visage when in reality he was likely to have been a deranged individual who preyed on the desperate and vulnerable to satisfy his macabre fantasies.

In order to understand why the Whitechapel murders hold such a place in the public imagination this article will address how the murders were portrayed in the media; the media's role in the creation of the myth surrounding the Whitechapel murders; to what extent the murders reflected national identity and allowed for the manifestation of more overt racism; and to what extent the reporting of the murders were utilised by reformists to advance their respective aims. The purpose of this article is to provide an insight into the factors that contributed to his legend, which is why throughout this article the pseudonym 'Jack the Ripper' will be avoided where possible in preference to 'the Whitechapel murderer'.

 

Literature Review

There has been no shortage of research into the Whitechapel murders; however, many scholars are seduced by the prospect of uncovering identity of the man behind one of the most infamous whodunits in history. The work of Phillip Sugden (2006) has done much to disprove many of the prevailing myths surrounding the Whitechapel murders whereas the work of Alexandra Warwick (2007) has allowed us a greater insight into the phenomena that accompanied them; the work of Paul Harrison (1991) and Peter Underwood (1987) has been more focused on uncovering the identity of the killer. One aspect that appears to have neglected in the research is an analysis of what the reaction to, as well as the reporting of, the murders tells us about English conceptions of their national identity and how the reformers use of the media indirectly cultivated the myth of Jack the Ripper.


National Identity in Victorian England

National identity is constructed through a variety of influential factors such as discourse, technology, the media, and education. In short the elements that are defined as our 'national culture' (Donald, 1988: 31). The construction of national identity is by necessity inclusive and exclusive (Colley, 1992: 311). For national identity to exist there needs to be a sense of belonging which is created by social and historical narratives; this facilitates the creation of 'in-groups' and 'out-groups'. How claims for national identity are assessed depends on 'identity markers' such as birth place, accent and dress. These factors will determine a person's national identity, or if they are accepted as sharing a national identity (Byrne, 2007: 509). In order for identity markers to be significant they need to have some relevance to the target group; for example someone who has migrated to England and is unable to speak English is unlikely to be accepted as having a national identity that is English (McCrone and Bechhofer, 2008).

One of the reasons national identity is hard to define is because national identity is not a stable construct (Colley, 1986). National identity alters and shifts as the political and social structure of an area changes, and as such it can best be viewed as a work in progress. The concept of national identity and patriotism in England was only fully mobilised after the 1870s (Colley, 1986: 117). It was no accident that the use of the appeal of patriotism and nationalism coincided with the expansion of empire, the extension of suffrage, reform bills, and was further compounded by the economic challenges from the USA and Germany (Ebbatson, 2006: 1412). Subsequently the notion of what it meant to be 'English' became a cultural phenomenon whereas the concept of 'Englishness' was muddied by an acknowledgement that there were very few Englishmen who were 'thoroughbreds'. The Times (11 December 1877) states as much: 'there is not an Englishman alive that has not the blood of many races running through his veins'.

Consequently what it meant to be English found stability in terms of character. Ebbatson (2006: 1412) cites Tennyson as summarising 'Englishness' as being 'distinguished primarily, not by place, not language, not race, but by character, along with the political principles in which character seems to be manifest'. Imperial projects of empire fostered English beliefs in their own superiority; intellectually, morally, racially and in terms of character and civilisation which would play a pivotal role in the construction of English national identity (Byrne, 2007: 511). Englishness existed as the contrast between metropolitan England and its colonies whereas imperialist ambitions facilitated the development of nationalism. Ebbatson (2006: 1418) cites Tennyson as stating that the doctrine of 'Englishness' became 'increasingly troubling' due to it 'becoming increasingly xenophobic and eventually racist' as the century progressed.

Foreign inferiority was reflected in the condescending way foreigners were tried in English courts. When a foreign suspect was brought before an English court they were afforded special assistance such as being allowed the presence of their consul, being provided with an interpreter and being allowed the option of including six foreigners on the jury. In some instances it would appear as though being foreign would qualify for mitigating circumstances. Conley (2005: 777) cites the case of an Italian woman who killed a fellow Italian in a boarding house; the defence painted a picture of angry Italians of both sexes fighting indiscriminately in a dark room where it would be impossible to discern what actually occurred. Amazingly the suspect was acquitted.

 

Methodology

This article puts sensationalism and theory aside to analyse why the belief that the Whitechapel murderer was foreign was so pervasive, what this reflected about English national identity and how the deeds of the Whitechapel murder became so iconic. The use of contemporary press and police reports were invaluable in addressing these questions, not for their academic validity, but because they provide a barometer with which to measure the sentiments that were prevalent, however surreptitious, in England at the time of the murders. Contemporary press reports provide us with valuable insight into the values, fears and beliefs of their target audience, akin to modern newspaper reporting. Although they should not to be taken at face value they provide the historian with an instrument with which to analyse the society of which they are a reflection.

One of the fundamental problems with studying the Whitechapel murders is the incorporation of myth into 'fact'. This is usually the result of erroneous newspaper reports being taken as fact or theorists distorting or misinterpreting the evidence to fit their pet theory. The extensive use of academic journals provides a backdrop of integrity among a field fraught with sensationalism and mythology. This article will use a theoretical framework of nationalism as a base to address the impact the media's reporting of the Whitechapel murders had on national identity, social reform and the myth of Jack the Ripper.

 

Reflections of National Identity

National Identity and Reaction to the Whitechapel Murders

The reaction in England to the Whitechapel murders seemed to underline pre-existing racist sentiments, most clearly reflected in the refusal to believe that an Englishman would be capable of committing such crimes due to the belief in English moral superiority (Warwick and Willis, 2007: 229).

The Whitechapel murders fed into the xenophobia felt by the working class, particularly those vying for jobs on the dockyard, who resented what they saw as foreigners coming in and undercutting their rates of pay (Warwick and Willis, 2007: 19). The Whitechapel murders became a focal point for attacks on foreigners and justified a growth in anti-alien, if not anti-Semitic, sentiment in the East End (Sugden, 2006: 122). These sentiments were further enhanced by the Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner's claim that by stating that the killer was a Jew he was merely stating an established fact (Warwick and Willis, 2007; 92).

Despite there being no evidence to prove that the killer was Jewish a number of newspapers continued to support this view by asserting that the murders were 'foreign' in character. This exacerbated pre-existing anti-Semitism and put the Jews in the unfortunate position of being a very convenient scapegoat on which to vent the frustrations and fears of the working class (Blair, 1996: 490).

Aside from the unsubstantiated fears that a Jew was responsible for the murders, there was another fear developing concerning the influence that the Jews were having on English society and even English character. The anti-Semitism now rife in the East End had now evolved into fears about the dilution of English blood and therefore a contamination of English character which would in turn undermine English national identity (Warwick and Willis, 2007: 19). Domestically England sought to assimilate and 'anglicise' its immigrant population to raise its moral standards. The Jewish paradox was that through their successful assimilation they were met with even more suspicion and hostility. It was believed that rather than embracing English virtues the Jews would retain their duplicitous nature and worse still they became even more radicalised because they were so difficult to distinguish from English people. This was the perceived rise of what Paul Knepper (2002: 298) defines as 'the invisible Jew'.

The subtext to this was that it also brought into question English concepts national identity. If you could not tell an Englishman from a Jew, what did this signify for English character? What if through assimilation of the Jews, the character of the Englishman would be contaminated? English anti-Semitism was most overtly manifested in the reporting of the Whitechapel murders and the later Ripper theories and suspects put forward by the police. The Jews were a scapegoat for English insecurities and the Whitechapel murders brought these insecurities to the fore.

The belief in English intellectual superiority was brought into question by the fact that such a murderer could be operating unabashed at the heart of the Empire. The belief in English moral superiority was brought into question by the possibility, however much denied, that the murderer was an Englishman. The prospect that the author of the letter to George Lusk had not only resorted to cannibalism but was also English would signify the most uncivilised savagery being perpetrated by a member of what was believed to be the most advanced nation on earth. The Whitechapel murders did not reflect a national identity in crisis, but rather the epitome of a national identity believed to be under threat.


Interpretations of Evidence

The police and the media's willingness to believe the murders were committed by a foreigner was reflected by the East London Observer (15 September 1888) and the police in their willingness to lend great emphasis to the testimony of Mrs Long, who, although having only seen the back of the man who was last seen with the second Whitechapel victim Annie Chapman, repeatedly asserted that he was 'foreign in appearance' (Report of Chief Inspector Swanson, 19 October 1888). Besides, even if the killer did turn out to be an Englishman, he must be a mad Englishman 'to act like a foreigner' (Rumblelow, 1988: 108).

In 1888 the police released sketches of supposed Whitechapel murder suspects. The men in the sketches have an undeniably exaggerated Jewish appearance; however, the interesting subtext is that they were released even though there had never been, and never would be, an eye-witness to provide an accurate, detailed description of the murderer. The best the police had to go on was the very limited description provided by Mrs Long which makes the integrity behind the circulation of these images all the more questionable.

One incident that, to the minds of contemporary Victorians, appeared to prove beyond all doubt that the killer was a foreigner was the infamous package sent to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk. The package contained half a human kidney and accompanied a letter which implied the sender had fried and eaten the other half (Daily Telegraph, 19 October 1888). For the Victorians cannibalism was a defining feature of savagery and the possibility that the sender could have been English was beyond contemplation.

The fervour in theorising that the killer was Jewish was also reflected in the interpretation of evidence and statements, particularly the statement given by Israel Schwartz; According to Schwartz he saw a woman matching the description of Elizabeth Stride, the third Whitechapel victim, being accosted by two men on the night of her murder. One of the men spotted Schwartz and shouted 'Lipski'. Schwartz, believing that the men looked threatening, took flight and later reported what he had seen to the police.

There are two opposing interpretations of Schwartz's statement. The first offers an insight into the determination of the authorities to lean towards the view that the killer was Jewish whereas the second reflects a more considered and logical interpretation of the evidence. The interpretation favoured by the Home Office was that the assailant shouted 'Lipski' to address his accomplice to make him aware there was someone nearby. 'Lipski' was a Jewish name and would therefore indicate the assailant was Jewish (Swanson's report on Elizabeth Stride, 19 October 1888). This was the closest thing the police had to a lead at the time but it proved fruitless when it was discovered that there was not one Jew in the district with the surname 'Lipski'.

The second interpretation, which was favoured by Detective Inspector Frederick George Abberline, was that the term 'Lipski' was used as to insult Schwartz who had a strikingly Jewish appearance (Report of Inspector Abberline, 1 November 1888). The term 'Lipski' was a known insult to the Jews of the East End, and Abberline would have been aware of this as it was used in reference to Israel Lipski's murder of Miriam Angel in 1887. This meant that the prospect of one Jew addressing another by the term 'Lipski' was extremely unlikely.

 

The Reporting of the Whitechapel Murders and Social Reform

The Whitechapel murders occurred at a time when talk of revolution and reform was rife and socialism was gaining momentum as an alternative political ideology. Inequality and class divide were a source of resentment and distrust, and were compounded by general ignorance of the plight of the working-class man. The Whitechapel murders fuelled social discontent and made the issues of inequality and poverty impossible for contemporaries of the time to ignore due to the amount of attention paid, mainly through sensationalist journalism, to the living conditions of Whitechapel (Warwick and Willis, 2007: 47).

If it was not for the sensationalist journalism, which would come to be a hallmark of the reporting of the Whitechapel murders, the murders would not have had the resonance they had and continue to have. In the 1880s there was comparatively little to report so moral panics were bound to have been capitalised on. This was epitomised in 1885 when W. T. Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, and Josephine Butler uncovered the trafficking of young English girls in London. The result was 'The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon', one of the most successful and iconic pieces of journalism of the nineteenth century, and the age of consent being raised from thirteen to sixteen; the blueprint for using scandal and moral outrage to sell papers was born (Walkowitz, 1982: 545).

The sensationalist reporting as characterised by the 'Maiden Tribute', and the concept of an 'Outcast London' prevalent in the 1880s, reached fever pitch with the outbreak of the Whitechapel murders. Interestingly reporting of the murders did not show sympathy for the fate of the butchered women, but rather sympathised with the squalid living conditions they would have had to endure prior to their murders (Ginn, 2006: 180). The reason for this was that the unfortunate victims elicited little public sympathy as they were prostitutes and seen to have 'chosen their profession' (Warwick and Willis, 2007: 53). Consequently journalists took a different approach using the concept of a maniac, spawned in the depravity of the East End, stalking the streets at night looking for his next victim to entice their readers. This facilitated the continuation of reporting scandal and creating moral outrage but without the need for public sympathy for the murdered women (Warwick and Willis, 2007: 53).

The emphasis on the depravity of Whitechapel was interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the target audience. In spite of the differing agendas of conservatives and socialists there was a shared belief in the need for social reform of the East End; however, the motivations behind the desire for social reform varied according to perceptions, prejudices and political agendas. Both the liberal and radical press favoured social reform and argued that the murders were an inevitable consequence of the state of the slums and called for improvements in housing, the installation of streetlights, and shelter for homeless women. The Times (6 October 1888) commented that the present conditions that were favourable to criminality could be removed if the government invested in the suggested improvements. The resonating theme here was the need for addressing the slum problem and taking the adequate measures to reduce the perceived prevalence of crime in the area (Walkowitz, 1982: 568).

As middle- and upper-class readers became more aware of the conditions in the East End the conservative press lobbied for private philanthropy to ease the hardships of those living in the area. The motivations behind the enthusiasm for easing the living conditions of the working class were not altogether altruistic; they were based in fears of revolution and socialism (O'Ceallaigh, 2012: 106). The more aware the respectable classes became about depraved conditions that were described in papers and journals, the more obsessed they became with fears of a class conflict and their belief in the readiness of the underclass to join the ranks of a growing socialist movement (Walkowitz, 1982: 545). It was feared that the suffering in the East End would inflame pre-existing class tensions which would culminate in bloody insurrection. The events of 'Bloody Sunday' in 1887 seemed to demonstrate the apparent revolutionary tendencies of the East End and the subsequent threat they posed to the current social order (Warwick and Willis, 2007: 203).

Pre-existing class tensions escalated following the outbreak of the Whitechapel murders and led the middle classes to conclude that social reformation was the safest way to counter the perceived threat of revolution. The idea was to use reform as a tool to for social control by imposing 'safe' ideological values. The path of least resistance was believed to be through the introduction of working men's clubs. These working men's clubs would in effect be a sort of Trojan horse which would appeal to the working-class men while surreptitiously indoctrinating the working-class man into middle-class ideology and values. It was believed that class tensions, which existed due to working-class ignorance, would be replaced by class mutuality once the working class realised the interdependence of the respective classes (Price, 1971: 118).

While middle-class reform efforts were aimed at alleviating class tensions, the pre-existing class conflicts escalated by the Whitechapel murders were exploited by socialist agitators such as Bernard Shaw who needed no invitation to use these murders as a means to criticise the existing government while advocating further reform. Both the Gazette and the Star used the murders to criticise the government; 'Bloody Sunday' lingered long in the memories of the left. Socialists blamed the murders and crime in the East End on the poor living conditions as the result of the government's neglect of the area (O'Ceallaigh, 2012: 105). Socialist criticisms and rhetoric were most clearly epitomised in Bernard Shaw's 'Blood Money to Whitechapel' which appeared in The Star newspaper on 24 September 1888. In this letter Shaw accused the West End of only showing sympathy because of the publicity surrounding the Whitechapel atrocities. Not without a hint of sarcasm he claimed the murderer was a 'reforming genius' for bringing attention to the conditions in the West End. Shaw's argument was that the new-found desire for philanthropy and reform of the East End had arrived due to the blood spilt by the victims of the Whitechapel Murderer. The charity offered was nothing short of blood money drawn out the purses of the wealthy by their sense of collective guilt.

A further characteristic of both conservative and radical press reporting of the Whitechapel murders was the presentation of Whitechapel as a quintessential slum. Whether intentional or not there was a lack of discrimination shown between the East End proper and the geographical notion of East London, particularly in early reporting of the murders (Ginn, 2006: 180). This lack of discrimination in reporting was supplemented by the sensationalist style of journalism which broadly applied depravity to the whole of the East End and would be a sentiment echoed by both socialist and conservative reformers. Reformers felt they had to indulge the prevalent interpretations of poverty in the East End to lend credence to their reformist schemes. Sensationalist reports were used to raise the awareness of a potentially receptive and audience to gain their support or, at least, acquiesce. When the Whitechapel murders began in the summer of 1888 reformers eagerly made the connection between the depravity of the East End and the murders to further emphasise the need for reform. This was summed up in the Punch cartoon of September 1888 titled 'The Nemesis of Neglect'.

One could interpret the cartoon's message to mean that it was only through the brutal Whitechapel murders that the respectable classes became aware of the conditions of the slums and shaken out of their indifference. Shaw reiterated this point in 'Blood Money to Whitechapel' when he wrote that if an aristocratic woman were to fall prey to the Whitechapel murderer it would have the same impact as the death of four working-class women (O'Ceallaigh, 2012).

The recurring theme here is the belief that the suffering of the residents of the East End had to be publicised if action was going to be taken and the most effective way to get the attention of the upper classes was through sensationalising the austerity of the area. This sentiment was best summed up in The Times (16 November 1888) when it wrote was that the suffering the women had to endure before their murders was more of a tragedy than the murders themselves. Charity workers in the district, obviously aware that conditions in the East End were not as impoverished and depraved as reported, further contributed to this distorted and exaggerated view of the slums by continuing to propagate the now popularised view of unadulterated suffering in the area (Koven, 2004: 4).

The images of suffering, starvation and depravity in the area prompted Charles Booth's social research. Booth's findings, published in 1889, concluded that the East End had been misrepresented and furthermore the 'criminal class' was minimal and attributed poverty in the area to environmental causes over which the working class had no control (Behlmer, 1998: 31). It was these findings that contributed to the dissipation of middle-class fears over the working class and made the prospect of social reform more agreeable. Prior to this the emphasis on suffering, designed to encourage philanthropy, merely reinforced middle-class perceptions of the lower classes as being immoral and uncivilised, and fostered fear and distrust between the two classes (Walkowitz, 1982: 546).

The Whitechapel murders resulted in a greater emphasis on the socio-economic and environmental causes of poverty which represented the shift away from the previously held belief of poverty being the result of moral and character deficits. This in turn helped to create a more favourable climate for Booth's findings and provided a means to unite reform interests. The Times and Daily Telegraph published letters blaming murders on the poverty in Whitechapel (O'Ceallaigh, 2012: 106) as well as several leading medical journals which advocated slum improvement. The British Medical Journal (22 September 1888) argued that environment was as significant as hereditary factors in producing criminals while the Lancet (27 October 1888) backed calls for better street lighting and sanitation.

From the late 1880s it was no longer fashionable to blame the living conditions of the East End on vice, immorality or the character deficits of its residents. A new appreciation was given to the lack of opportunities provided to those living in the slums. Previously held fears over the working-class immorality, criminality and social backwardness were already on the wane and the work of Booth and others helped to encourage this new view of the residents of the East End (Auerbach, 2010: 64).

The cultivation of the legend of the Whitechapel murderer was due to reformers using the murders as evidence for the need for reform; the murders were portrayed as an inevitable consequence of the state of the squalid conditions of the East End. By keeping the Whitechapel murders, and by implication, the slum problems, central to discussion it paved the way for reform. The Whitechapel murders had done more for the social reformers - both socialist and conservative - to convince authorities to invest in improvements to the East End than unabated pressure through the more orthodox methods of policy, public pressure and acts such as the Poor Law had achieved in the previous fifty years (White 1980: 29).

The Whitechapel murders coincided with the advent of sensationalist journalism which mythologised the conditions in Whitechapel; the mythologising of these conditions led directly to the mythologising of the murders. This elevation from cold blooded killer to social reformer is summed up by Warwick and Willis (2006: 93) who writes that 'Jack the murder becomes Jack the missionary... Murder allowed for social reform'.

The Whitechapel murderer was a mere man whereas Jack the Ripper was an amalgamation of the mythology and prejudice of both the East and West End of London. He provided contemporaries with a personification of the suffering in Whitechapel and everything that was believed to be wrong with Victorian society. It was in part through his deeds that the process of reform gained a momentum that would continue inexorably into the twentieth century and in doing so became a reformist folk hero.

 

Conclusion

The aim of this article was to look at how the media contributed to the creation of the Ripper legend and to what extent the reporting of the murders reflected national identity and the impact it had on social reform. It is important to recognise that it is likely that beneath the veil of myth and legend was a mentally disturbed individual whose elevation to legendary killer was an accident of sensationalist journalism rather than ingenious design.

The effect that the Whitechapel murders had on the English national identity, however subtle, was reflected in the acceptability of racist sentiments. Prior to the murders English national identity contained elements of surreptitious racism supported by the belief in English superiority - intellectually, morally, racially and in terms of civilisation - and was reflected in the way foreigners were tried in English courts.

The Whitechapel murders created a climate where it was acceptable to express racist sentiments using the popular notion that 'no Englishman could have perpetrated the crimes' as justification. Furthermore, anti-Semitic feeling, which had been quietly festering as a result of the competition for jobs in the East End and working-class anger at the Jews undercutting their rates of pay, exploded into life using the fears of Jewish contamination and a loss of English virtues as an instrument to persecute the Jews. The Home Office's willingness to interpret the evidence of Israel Schwartz as confirmation that the killer was a Jew, when the logical interpretation would have been the exact opposite, attests to the anti-Semitic sentiments that prevailed at the highest echelons of society.

The idea that the Whitechapel murderer could have been English was unthinkable to the general public; if he were, this would ask serious questions of previous concepts of English national identity. The possibility was considered that he could have been English and insane; however the fact that any Englishman, insane or not, was capable of such atrocities was a prospect that terrified the contemporary Victorians.

The prospect of social reform, as advocated by conservatives and socialists alike, had very differing motives depending on the political agendas. The conservative middle classes, threatened by the growing influence of the working class, wanted to use social reform as a tool for social control. Socialists, on the other hand, advocated reforms to ease the conditions of the working class. It was only through Charles Booth's research and a gradual realisation that the working class were not as immoral and uncivilised as once feared that more radical measures for social reform were accepted.

The backdrop to this reformist rhetoric was the Whitechapel murders. Through the sensationalist reporting that accompanied the murders the conditions of the East End became a central issue for Victorians and it was advocated that only through private philanthropy could the suffering of the East End be eased. It was the recognition that sympathy had only been elicited due to the publicity of the Whitechapel murders, as reflected in Bernard Shaw's 'Blood Money to Whitechapel' letter, that led to the Whitechapel murders being elevated and immortalised to more than those of a deranged individual. The pseudonym 'Jack the Ripper' is likely to have been the creation of an imaginative journalist. However, given that the name is still among the most recognisable in history it perfectly epitomises the influence the media had, and continues to have, on collective consciousness.

Far too often the victims are seen as extras in the story of the Whitechapel murderer, when the real story is that of the unfortunate women in a society where the lack of opportunity afforded to them forced them down a path that led to their murders; thus, Victorian society was somewhat implicit in the murder of these women.

This article addresses the previously neglected areas of how national identity was reflected in the media's portrayal of the murders, to what extent the murders were utilised by reformers to press for reform and how indirectly that facilitated the creation of the myths surrounding the Whitechapel murders. However further research needs to be done into not only the circumstances that facilitated the circumstances that allowed the Whitechapel murders to occur and become the phenomena they did, but also to allow us a greater understanding of the extent to which social and therefore police prejudice contributed to the real assailant evading capture.

Jack the Ripper was a macabre folk hero to reformers who would utilise the reporting of murders to further their aims. When seen through the looking glass what we see is not a man but the caricature that reflects the innate anti-Semitism and desire for reform that characterised the reporting of the murders. The media's portrayal of Whitechapel murders created the incarnation of the depraved state of the East End and attributed the killer with an omnipresence which immortalised him as Victorian England's Bogeyman.

 


 

Acknowledgements

I would like to extend my thanks to Peter Wardley for his supervision in the development of this article. Without his guidance, support and most importantly patience with me from its conception to it eventual completion this would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Michael Woodiwiss for his guidance and advice which he had no obligation to provide me with. I would also like to acknowledge the overall support of the staff at UWE who for their understanding and assistance in my development from a first to final year undergraduate.

Above all I would like to thank my family and girlfriend for indulging my interest in the Whitechapel murders and their continued support and encouragement throughout for which this expression of gratitude does not suffice.

 

Notes

[1] Gregg Jones is a final year History (Hons) student at the University of The West of England. He hopes to continue his interest in History at postgraduate level in 2014, specialising in Museum Studies.

 

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To cite this paper please use the following details: Jones, G. (2013),'Murder, Media and Mythology: The Impact the Media's Reporting of the Whitechapel Murders had on National Identity, Social Reform and the Myth of Jack the Ripper,' Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, BCUR/ICUR 2013 Special Issue, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/issues/bcur2013specialissue/jones/. Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.