Could this most recent theory on the identity of Jack the Ripper end the glorification of male violence?
Drawing on a family connection with the murders, author Sarah Bax Horton claims to have unearthed the identity of Jack the Ripper, the infamous 19th-century serial killer responsible for the death of several destitute women in Whitechapel.
In her upcoming title One-Armed Jack: Uncovering the Real Jack the Ripper, Horton, a former police volunteer, uses medical records and witness descriptions to put forward a case on the identity of Jack the Ripper. Horton’s great-great-grandfather police officer Sergeant Harry Garrett worked on the original case.
Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders of 1888 have fascinated people for decades. Numerous books, documentaries and films explore the subject. The obsession with this morbid history is physically manifest in East London today.
There is a blue plaque noting the deaths of Mary Jane Kelly and Annie Chapman outside the Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields; a Jack the Ripper Museum in Whitechapel and countless Ripper-themed walking tours. A heinous history has become a globally recognisable product that commercialises male violence.
‘Ripperology’ raises controversy. In the journal Feminist Studies, the academic Judith R. Walkowitz argues that media exploitation of the Ripper story glorifies male violence and perpetuates the idea that women are victims and inherently passive.
Walkowitz argues that ‘feminists must probe behind the Ripper myth and analyse both its simplified image and the complex reality it masks.’
The opening of the controversial Jack the Ripper Museum in 2015 exemplifies this. The museum was originally touted to be a celebration of East London women – the request for planning permission claimed that the museum would be ‘the only dedicated resource in the East End to women’s history’. However, the owners took a U-turn and instead chose to dedicate the site to a notorious murderer known for physically defiling women.
The Ripper story can also overshadow the many powerful people and stories from the East End. From the notable and inspiring Sylvia Pankhurst and Annie Besant to locals fighting racism and class inequality, there is much more to the East End beyond tales of crime and violence.
In One-Armed Jack, Horton uses medical notes and eyewitness descriptions to claim that Jack the Ripper was a man called Hyam Hyams, a cigar maker from the local area. Hyams was abusive to the women in his life and was eventually arrested for attacking his wife and mother.
In light of Horton’s recent revelations, the myth of the previously unknown Jack the Ripper may dissipate and the voices of women and marginalised communities can come to the fore.
If you enjoyed this, you may also like the unrelenting lure of the Kray twins.
Please support local journalism.
As a not-for-profit media organisation using constructive journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or subscription fee as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.
We are powered by members. Hundreds of members have already joined. Become a member to donate as little as £3 per month to support constructive journalism and the local community.