February 29, 2008 / 5:04 PM / 10 years ago

Jack the Ripper returns

LONDON (Reuters) - Jack the Ripper is about to return to the part of London he made his own private killing ground in one of history’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

But in a country that has made headlines in the past week with the conviction of two serial murderers, the inhabitants of the now prosperous but once poverty-ridden East End of London need have no fears.

The return of the 19th century prostitute killer is in the form of an exhibition looking at the era, the area, the victims and the possible perpetrators of the crimes that shocked the nation and have since become a rich seam of popular fiction.

“We explore Jack the Ripper in the context of the East End and explain who lived there and what it was like to live there,” said exhibition curator Julia Hoffbrand.

“The murders and the media interest they generated shone a light into a terrible conditions in the area which was riddled with prostitution, dirt, violence and crime,” she told Reuters at a preview of the exhibition this week.

The lurid news coverage of the murders even prompted Queen Victoria to write asking if more could be done for the destitute women of the squalid, disease-ridden and vermin infested area.

The exhibition, which opens in London’s Museum in Docklands on May 15 and runs to November 2, also peels away some of the myths surrounding the murderer whose identity remains to this day a topic of heated speculation.

It is commonly assumed that the Ripper killed and mutilated five young prostitutes.

But using police records the exhibition reveals that the authorities believed up to 11 murders may have been committed by the same person between April 1888 and early 1891.

“What emerges is the fact that an unknown number of women were actually murdered in the area at the time,” Hoffbrand said.

Current theories also tend to focus on the killer being a member of the gentry — and possibly even royalty — wreaking his sadistic revenge on women from the gutter.

But Hoffbrand noted that most of the names mentioned in this context did not appear until after World War Two, and speculated that this previously absent class distinction may have been a result of the social upheavals that followed the conflict.

“The people mentioned at the time were Jews — a group that had only recently moved into the East End — doctors and radical socialists. They were all people who lived in the area. The outsider theories came many years later,” she said.

The name came from a letter written in red ink in a flowing hand that was sent to the central news agency and starts: “I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet...” and was signed Jack the Ripper.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of lectures and talks and guided walks down the streets where the Ripper committed his bloody deeds 120 years ago.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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