THE GRIM RIPPER
Poverty ran rampant through Chapeltown, a neighbourhood in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England in 1975. The result, a thriving red light district where women turned to sex work for survival. When Wilma Mcann, a 28-year-old sex worker and mother of four was battered to death, it sent shivers through the city. People witnessed what seemed to be a sick repeat of history, a new age Jack the Ripper.
But was it really a dangerous criminal ripping off the disturbing serial killings of 1888? Or was it public frenzy and glamorisation of a crime that inevitably pushed the police off their tracks? Let's step back a bit to where it all began, the district of Whitechapel, London, 1888.
Similar to Chapeltown, Whitechapel saw poor living conditions with women turning to sex work to make ends meet. The first known victim of Jack the Ripper was Mary Ann Nichols whose mutilated corpse was found in the neighbourhood. The original Jack the Ripper seemed to abhor sex workers and targeted them as his known prime victims. Peter Sutcliffe, or Jack the Ripper of the 1970's was also assumed to target sex workers. However, there is evidence that he victimised women of other professions as well. The police, although, were pretty insistent on drawing parallels between the two killers, perhaps for catchier headlines or due to their own incompetence. Though it is clear that both men had a deep rooted hatred for women, and sex workers proved to be easy preys due to the little to no protection they had.
But how did Peter Sutcliffe grow to take on the nickname of the notorious killer of 1888? This could be the result of the glorification of the crimes by pop culture. A "Ripper" is defined as a killer who mutilates and brutalises their victims, particularly women. When Peter Sutcliffe's victims were found in conditions similar to that of Jack the Ripper in 1888, people gave him the grabby little nickname. Sutcliffe, who seemed to be equally hungry for publicity as the original Ripper, eagerly claimed his title and even left clues and messages taunting the police, not unlike his criminal namesake. While the notorious nickname was the consequence of the fear that gripped Chapeltown as it had once gripped Whitechapel, the case also portrays the dangerous celebration of the Ripper as a criminal "icon".
The Yorkshire Ripper had a methodology comparable to Jack the Ripper. This involved brutally mutilating his victims, often the lower abdominal region and sex organs. It is to be noted, however, that Jack the Ripper was long suspected to be a surgeon due the precision he practiced on his victims. Sutcliffe had a similar savage streak but lacked the surgical precision.
All the noticeable comparisons aside, in the end, the Yorkshire Ripper had a name and a face. Peter Sutcliffe was arrested on the 2nd of January, 1981 and passed away while serving his sentence on the 13th of November, 2020 after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Jack the Ripper's identity, on the other hand, remains shrouded in mystery to this day with many theories and speculations, neither of which seem conclusive enough. This could have been an outcome of not only the lack of investigative technology in the Victorian era, but also the lack of communication and cooperation between the police and the sex workers, the latter leading already dangerous lives without protection or respect from the community.
While pop culture might continue to draw parallels between the two killers, their crimes remain
nothing more than an ugly reflection of what costs women their lives every day all over the
world, the seeds of hatred towards women buried deep within our society. Though the Rippers continue to garner massive public attention as people itch to draw resemblances between the two men who shared their loathing for women, they were neither the first in the cycle of terrorisation, nor the last. Women around the globe know this and live with this, as they are forced to continue to watch their backs for the next Ripper.
- Adya Bhalla