Does the History of Jack the Ripper Lead Us to Discovering He was Really Jane the Ripper?

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Several years ago, I stumbled on the theory that Jack the Ripper could have been a woman. As history goes, Inspector Frederick Abberline briefly considered a midwife as the killer. There’s no evidence Abberline seriously pursued this theory, and most Ripperologists dismiss the idea since little to no trace or forensic evidence pointed to a woman as the killer. But the seed was planted, growing like a stubborn dandelion in an otherwise perfectly manicured lawn.

killing-jane-coverIn 1939, William Stewart published Jack the Ripper: A New Theory. Stewart focused on four key questions:

  • What sort of person could move about late at night without raising suspicion in their own household or on the streets?
  • Who could walk the streets in blood stained clothing without causing alarm?
  • Who had the basic knowledge and skills to commit the mutilations?
  • Who could have been spotted near the body and provide a reasonable alibi?

Stewart latched onto the idea of a midwife as the killer, likely an abortionist. Trusted and often seen at all hours of the night, a midwife could easily explain her blood-stained clothing and she possessed basic anatomical knowledge. Stewart also believed a midwife’s knowledge of pressure points gave her the ability to render her victims unconscious before she killed them.

Mary Kelly’s rumored pregnancy and the unexplained sighting of Kelly hours after her death are key pieces of Stewart’s theory. Mrs. Maxwell, a reliable witness with no reason to lie, told Inspector Abberline she saw Kelly at 8:00 a.m. the morning after her death. Abberline never explained the sighting, but Stewart postulated a midwife was called to abort the baby—Mary Kelly’s neatly folded clothing, according to Stewart, indicated she’d prepared for a medical procedure—and killed Kelly. The midwife burned her own clothing and escaped in the victim’s, which explained the sighting by Mrs. Maxwell.

But what about motive? Stewart speculated the midwife might have been betrayed by a married woman and sent to prison, thus triggering the need for revenge and the attacks.

And Stewart even had a suspect: Mrs. Mary Pearcey, who in October 1890 stabbed her lover’s wife and child to death at the victim’s home and then later dumped the bodies in the streets. Stewart claimed the savage throat cutting and the discarding the bodies in a public place were key similarities that couldn’t be ignored.

Stewart’s theory was met with much criticism. Most believed he placed too much emphasis on the blood-stained clothing. Experts believe the victims were strangled first, cutting off blood flow, which means no major blood spatter. Kelly was the only pregnant victim, and the others were so malnourished the likelihood of a pregnancy was slim. Years later, Mary’s official post-mortem revealed she was, in fact, not pregnant, blowing Stewart’s theory out of the water.

Over the years, others have written about the possibility of Jack being a woman, going so far as to provide their own suspects, and while it’s highly unlikely, the idea has always stuck with me.

A savage woman roaming the streets of Victorian London during a time when women were considered special flowers, delicate and to be cared for and controlled by the men in their lives? A woman responsible for a terror-filled fall and one of the biggest enigmas in history?

The idea was too tantalizing to ignore, and the “what if” questions began. What would her motive have been? Jealousy? Revenge? A lover’s triangle?  More importantly, how could I create a modern crime fiction thriller around the idea of Jane the Ripper?

Killing Jane releases January 31 from Vesuvian Media, but you can read more about Jane the Ripper in my short nonfiction story KILLER SHORTS: Jack Jane the Ripper, on sale now.




STACY GREEN is the author of the Lucy Kendall thriller series and the Delta Crossroads mystery trilogy. All Good Deeds (Lucy Kendall #1) won a bronze medal for mystery and thriller at the 2015 IPPY Awards. Tin God (Delta Crossroads #1) was runner-up for best mystery/thriller at the 2013 Kindle Book Awards. Green started her career in journalism before becoming a stay-at-home mother and rediscovering her love of writing.

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