There are many myths about the Jack the Ripper case, so these facts will hopefully debunk them.

Jack the Ripper wrote letters to taunt the police

Whenever a serial killers writes letters to taunt the police it is inevitable mentioned that Jack the Ripper did this and it is often theorised that they may have been inspired to do so by the Ripper case. Hundreds of letters were in fact sent to the police, press and others connected to the case during the Autumn of 1888 and the months and years that followed. Of these letters the most famous are without a doubt the “Dear Boss” letter of September 27th, the “Saucy Jack” postcard of September 30th (both sent to the Central News Agency), and the “From Hell” letter and parcel containing half a kidney on the 15th October (sent to George Lusk, chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee). However, it is now generally believed (and many of the police of the time also agreed) that the letters were forgeries by journalists or pranks. So the behaviour most serial killers emulate of the most famous serial killer of all time probably never happened.

All the victims knew each other

The victims were all of the same social class and all worked as common prostitutes in a very small area (sometimes living in common lodging houses doors away from each other) and they probably frequented the same pubs at one time or another, so it is plausible that they may have indeed known each other. However, as it is estimated the population of Whitechapel at the time was between 70-80 thousand people surviving in similar circumstances, it is by no means certain and there is no evidence that they did know each other.

Mary Jane Kelly is the key to the mystery

This idea that Jack the Ripper was somehow targeting final victim Mary Kelly has been the subject of many suspect theories, books and films. This probably originates from a combination of her being the final victim, the brutality in that killing and the fact she was killed indoors, the mystery surrounding her life and background, and that Catherine Eddowes used the name “Mary Ann Kelly” as a false name on the night she died (supposedly indicating that the killer mistook her for the actual Mary Kelly). However, there is no evidence that the killer targeted Mary Kelly and that she is anything more than a poor woman in the wrong place at the wrong time who met the wrong man. The brutality of her murder probably comes from the fact she was killed indoors (she was also the only victim with a permanent, private room of residence so hence the location) so the killer had no restraints on his urges.

Jack the Ripper wore a top hat, cloak and carried a black medical bag

This is without a doubt the popular image of the Ripper. The silhouette appearing out of the fog of the top hatted “toff” carrying the bag. However, none of the eyewitness descriptions from people who potentially saw the Ripper describe a top hat (most describe a peaked hat of some description) and even though the black bag myth had started appearing in descriptions during the double event, where it came from is not really known. The first image of the Ripper as a gent in the top hat appears in an illustration not long after the final murder, but where it came from is again unknown. In all likelihood the killer was an innocuous working class East End and would have dressed as such.

The killer disappeared into the London fog

Again, this is the popular image of Jack the Ripper as a killer stalking fog covered streets and disappearing into them after he killed. There was in fact fog in Autumn 1888, but in October – the month when the Ripper did not strike. None of the murder nights were foggy, and maybe the reason why October didn’t have a killing was because the killer feared being detected by witnesses or police he couldn’t see.

The killer was some kind of a genius and the police were stupid

The killer actually came very close to being caught on several locations, with bodies being discovered within minutes (or less) of the killer leaving the scene or a witness overhearing a murder and one potentially interrupting another. Hardly the work of a genius to put himself at such risk. And the police were dealing with a killer of a type they’d never encountered before – a motiveless serial killer of strangers. Even today with modern innovations such as DNA and CCTV it is often accident that catches such killer (the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe was caught on a traffic related offence for example) so the police were not stupid, just inexperienced and unlucky and can’t be blamed for failing to catch the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper was left handed

When Dr Llewelyn testified at the inquest into the first Ripper victim, Polly Nichols, he deduced from the neck bruising and direction of the cut throat that the killer must have been left handed. However, Llewelyn assumed that the Ripper killed his victims immediately from behind, when in actual fact he more likely strangled them first and laid down his victims before cutting their throats and mutilating their bodies so he was most likely right handed (though we will never know for sure). This myth didn’t help the case of left handers who were often associated with the devil and thought more likely to commit crimes by early criminologists such as Cesare Lombroso (who thought it three times more likely for a left hander to be a criminal compared to a right handed person).