Emily Huffman on Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper slaughtered five prostitutes: Mary Ann Nichols, also known as “Pretty Polly”, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Kelly (Crow, 109-111). The murders were never solved; however, stories have been written that give an identity to Jack the Ripper. Two of those stories are From Hell (1999) by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell and Black Butler (started in 2006) by Yana Toboso. By giving the Ripper a face, these depictions give some closure to the story.

Fig. 1. "Sir William Gull."  Illus. in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, "From Hell" (Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2004). Web. http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/eddie%20campbell?before=77

Fig. 1. “Sir William Gull.” Illus. in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, “From Hell” (Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2004).

In From Hell, Alan Moore assigns the role of Jack the Ripper to William Gull, Physician Extraordinary, who was given that title after saving Queen Victoria’s son and Prince Albert’s father, the Prince of Wales (Colby-Newton). In From Hell, Gull (Figure 1) kills five prostitutes after Queen Victoria asks him to prevent them from sharing Prince Albert’s secret that he married and had a child with a prostitute. Because the murders were commissioned, albeit unknowingly, by Queen Victoria and perpetrated by a Physician Extraordinary, both of whom were public figures, From Hell casts the story as a royal scandal, which would create a public fascination. Moore suggests that the murders occurred to prevent a different royal scandal, Prince Albert’s child, from becoming known to the population of Britain. If the child were to become known the Empire would be seen badly. However, in From Hell, Alan Moore creates a different scandal that could have brought the empire down.

Fig. 2 "If Graffiti Changed Anything - It Would Be Illegal." Attributed to Banksy.

Fig. 2 “If Graffiti Changed Anything – It Would Be Illegal.” Attributed to Banksy.

In From Hell, and also in reality, letters were sent to the police, addressed to “boss” and signed “Jack the Ripper”. By giving the murderer a name, the letters made him a more fascinating figure. The Ripper is given a name, either by himself or by others. That he had a name may have been what caused him to become a legend. This is similar to the modern work of the graffiti artist, Banksy (Figure 2). People know when he leaves graffiti on London; however, they do not know who he is. In regards to Banksy and Jack the Ripper, people want to know their identities because they want to credit the work to an actual person, not a  mere name or pseudonym.

Fig. 3 "Black Butler," Bob Sempai. Deviant Art.

Fig. 3 “Black Butler,” Bob Sempai. Deviant Art.

Black Butler, a Japanese manga series by Yana Toboso takes place in Victorian London. Ciel Phantomhive and his butler Sebastian Michaelis (Figure 3) investigate crimes. In the second volume, Queen Victoria requests that they investigate the murders committed by Jack the Ripper. In Black Butler, Tosobo offers three suspects: the Viscount of Druitt, Madam Red, and Grelle Sutcliffe. Ciel and Sebastian originally suspect the Viscount, because he has no alibi; however, while they attend a party at his home, another murder is perpetrated, so Druitt gains an alibi. They deduce that Mary Kelly will be killed, so they go to her home. Unfortunately, the Ripper kills her. He enters her home without being seen by Ciel or Sebastian. Grell Sutcliffe exits the home covered in blood, and Madam Red arrives. Ciel and Sebastian learn that Grell and Red (Figure 4) are responsible for the murders. Red wanted to kill the prostitutes after aborting their children; she could not conceive, so this made her angry. Grell, a grim reaper, assisted her with the murders.

Fig. 4 "Grell and Madam Red."

Fig. 4 “Grell and Madam Red.”

In real life, Druitt was not a Viscount; he was a school teacher. His family believed that he was the Ripper because he was insane and considered himself a doctor; additionally, his body was eventually found in the Thames River, where many London prostitutes drowned themselves, after Mary Kelly’s murder. Inspector Abberline dismissed Druitt as a suspect, however, claiming that his insanity and suicide were coincidental. (Harrison, Diary of Jack the Ripper). While Druitt was an ordinary man, Tosobo may have portrayed him as a Viscount to give him a higher status, and make his status as a suspect more scandalous. Like Abberline, Tosobo dismissed Druitt as a suspect, choosing instead to portray the Ripper as an angry abortionist, who is aided by a Reaper. Toboso recreates the story as a story of vengeance.

Jack the Ripper, a public fascination, has been portrayed in much media. He was a public fascination because he had a character name. Gull is a captivating suspect because his status as a suspect creates royal scandal. By transforming Druitt into a member of high society, Toboso gives him a scandalous nature, but then removes the scandal by assigning the role of the Ripper to a woman from an abortion clinic. While the Ripper will never be caught, he will most likely remain a person of interest and subject of many portrayals.

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