WHO was Jack the Ripper? It’s the six million dollar question and one that most likely will never be answered.

There are as many suspects as there are weird and wonderful theories when it comes to identifying one of the most infamous serial killers in history.

Jack the Ripper was Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll! It was a Royal conspiracy! It was Queen Victoria’s doctor (who incidentally came from Essex). It was a woman, probably a mad midwife’! All of these theories and more have been made - and most widely discredited -over the years. Yet it seems that every week a new twist in the saga emerges. Most recently, British academic Dr Hallie Rubenhold made headlines when she claimed that the Ripper’s victims were NOT in fact prostitutes but simply lower class women who had fallen on hard times. In her book – The Five – she argues that at least three of the five women the Ripper butchered in the East End of London back in the Autumn of 1888, held jobs such as laundry maids and servants.

Dr Rubenhold believes the victims have been “dehumanised” and were unfairly branded prostitutes simply because of their gender and social status.

Although again, this is just the latest in a long line of theories, if we look at how the notorious nineteenth century murders were reported right here in Essex- it’s clear Dr Rubenhold has a point - at least when it comes to the attitudes that were held towards prostitutes 130 years ago.

The Southend Standard first mentions the murders in late October 1888, when the newspaper featured an article headlined:

“The East End Murders.”

The story described the findings of the inquest into the Ripper’s third victim Elizabeth Stride who was butchered in the early hours of September 30, 1888 in Whitechapel.

After outlining the bloody details of her violent murder and detailing how the perpetrator had pledged to kill again through letters sent to the newspapers and the police, the article goes on to say something truly astonishing about the culprit:

“It may be stated however that although the miscreant avows to his intention of committing further crimes shortly, it is only against prostitutes that his threats are directed, his desire being to respect and protect honest women.”

So, in other words- rich married women did not have to worry- he only targeted ‘dishonest prostitutes’.

The next time the case appeared in the Southend Standard it was under the headline of the “Whitechapel Murders” - the term most commonly used today to describe the case. It was November 15, 1888 and the Standard reported

“Another crime by the murder-maniac” - “More revolting than ever.”

The murder of Mary Kelly - the young woman considered to be the Ripper’s fifth and final victim- makes for grizzly reading. This part of the case has also two strong Essex links

“At a quarter to eleven on Friday morning a woman was found with her head nearly cut off, in a room in a house in Mcarthy’s Court,” the article begins.

It goes on to describe how Mr John M’Carthy, the owner of the house in which Mary Kelly had been renting, was one of the first to witness her mutilated body after he broken into her room.

“I cannot drive away from my mind that it looked more like the work of a devil than of man. I had heard a great deal about the Whitechapel Murders but I declare to God I had not expected to see such a sight as this ,” he told reporters.

“The whole scene is more than I can describe. The poor woman lay on her back on the bed, entirely naked. Her throat was cut from ear to ear right down to the spinal column.

“The ears and nose had been cut clean off. The stomach and abdomen had been ripped open.

“The face was slashed so that the features of the poor creature were beyond all recognition.

“The liver had likewise been removed and the uterus had been cut out. The clothes of the women were lying by the side of the bed as though they had been taken off and laid down in an ordinary manner.”

One of the first police chiefs on the scene following he discovery of Mary Kelly’’s mutilated corpse, was Superintendent Thomas Arnold. He was the head of H Division, Whitechapel, at the time of the Jack the Ripper atrocities, although he had been away on leave during the earlier murders of Martha Tabram and Annie Chapman. Arnold had been born in Brentwood, Essex and had worked his way through the ranks to become a top police chief.

Upon arriving at Mary Kelly’s home Arnold ordered for the door to be burst open with a pickaxe and then sent for a police photographer to take an image of the corpse.

Three days after the murder of Mary Kelly, a man named George Hutchinson came forward to give a statement - offering detectives one of the best descriptions of the possible suspect yet.

Hutchinson was labourer and is thought to have come from Essex. He had certainly been to the county on the day of the murder as the Southend Standard reported he had seen Mary Kelly on his way back from Romford.

She had asked him to lend her sixpence however he replied: “‘I cannot as I am spent out going down to Romford’

“She then walked towards Thrawl Street saying ‘I must go and look for some money’, “claimed Hutchinson. In his statement to police, which was printed in the Standard, Hutchinson claimed he then saw Mary Kelly talking to a man coming in the opposite direction.

“He tapped her on the shoulder and said something to her. They both burst out laughing. I heard her say: “All right” to him and the man said: “You will be alright for what I have told you”. He then placed his right hand around her shoulder. He also had a kind of small parcel in his left hand with a kind of strap around it. They both went up the court together.”

Hutchinson described the man as: “‘Aged about thirty four or thirty five; height five feet six inches; complexion pale; dark eyes and eyelashes; slight moustache curled up at each end and hair dark; very surly looking; dress – long dark coat; collar and cuffs.

Hutchinson’s eye witness account, was a breakthrough for the police, who were drowning in public pressure to solve the case. However over the decades, like so much in Ripper studies, scholars have discredited his statement - questioning in particular his ability to provide such a detailed description of the suspect. Although Mary Kelly is considered to be the final of the five ‘canonical Ripper murders’ , there were also several gruesome murders of prostitutes in the east end of London in the weeks and months following Kelly’s death.

Even years later, tensions were still high. In 1893 when a Rochford woman named Emma Hunt, was found with horrific stab wounds, many questioned if the Ripper had struck again, but this time in Essex.

“Is it possible that “Jack the Ripper” is about again? was one of the newspaper headlines of the time. Dressmaker Mrs Hunt, 40, was found in a brook in Rochford with her throat savagely cut. Investigations wrangled on for months with the authorities arguing over whether the widow had committed suicide or fell victim to a brutal murder. Just like the Whitechapel Murders the ‘Southend Mystery’ case of Emma Hunt’s death was never solved.