Directed by MDF Productions
London, 1888. In a ten-week period, someone murders five women in a down-and-out neighbourhood called Whitechapel. The murders are brutal: most of the victims – all prostitutes – are found disemboweled. The murderer is never caught. But as the first serial killer of the media age, he gets a name we all know to this day: Jack the Ripper.
He’s been the subject of hundreds of books, dozens of movies and TV shows. And today there are still people who study the Jack the Ripper murders and keep alive the memory of the Autumn of Terror. These are the men brought together by The Real Jack the Ripper, to tell the chilling tale of a murderer who got away with it.
The five women killed by Jack the Ripper were all desperately poor, pushed into prostitution by hunger and addiction. Ironically, it’s the way they died that has kept their memory alive. Mary Ann Nichols, the first victim, was estranged from her five children, but her descendents haven’t forgotten her. Canadian Maureen Nichols recently discovered she’s a direct descendent of Mary Ann, and travels to London to learn as much as she can about her tragic great-great-grandmother.
Welcomed by well-known Jack the Ripper tour guide Philip Hutchison, Maureen visits the Whitechapel neighbourhood. Today it’s a thriving Asian immigrant community, but in the 19th century it was a slum that provided scant shelter to the poorest of the poor. She learns about the London of her unfortunate ancestor’s time – and the legend that’s kept the names of five indigent women alive for more than 125 years.
Why is Jack the Ripper still important, the documentary asks. Why do we care? The reasons are complex: Jack the Ripper’s crimes were extensively documented by London’s popular press, and investigated by the famed Scotland Yard. And yet he was never caught. That leaves us free to speculate about his identity – to tie just about any Victorian figure we want to the Ripper legend. And yet the reality is probably much more complex and sordid than any of the stories that permeate popular culture: five women who had run out of options in life were brutally killed by a man who was probably too ordinary to get noticed. A man whose identity will likely never be known, but who lives on in our nightmares to this day.