Jack the Ripper May Really Have Been Jill the RipperS

Well, more like Lizzie the Ripper, but somebody (don't deny it) was going to make a gratuitous Jack and Jill joke, and hopefully this opening gambit will head any attempts at macabre doggerel about Jack and Jill trying to murder each other off at the commenting pass.

The Birmingham Mail reported earlier this week on a new book by a former British solicitor named John Morris, who, at 62 years young, has written a book called Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman, in which he argues that Welsh-born Lizzie Williams, the wife of surgeon Sir John Williams (himself a prime suspect for the Ripper), killed women because she could not conceive. Morris wrote most of the book with the help of his late father Byron, and, despite the library hours the two men logged during which some Jack the Ripper descendent probably menaced them in an effort to keep their findings secret (this is more or less the plot of The Historian), the new theory hasn't been well received among the larger community of Ripper experts.

Morris thinks that this may have something to do with the popular perception that women don't serial murder people — they get serial murdered, and even when they do serial murder, they don't do it with knives, which apparently are total penis weapons. Defending his research, Morris explained that other Ripper experts have a really hard time even considering a female suspect for the Whitechapel murders:

There's absolutely no doubt that the Ripper was a woman. But because everyone believes that the murderer was a man, all the evidence that points to a woman has always been ignored.

The Ripper formerly known as Jack (for anyone who didn't get to watch an edited version of From Hell on a transcontinental flight in the spring of 2002) struck at least five times over ten weeks in 1888, killing East End prostitutes Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, three of whom had their wombs removed. Morris thinks that these post-mortem hysterectomies are some of the best evidence supporting his theory because Lizzie Williams, born in 1850, couldn't conceive. In, according to the Birmingham mail, her "unhinged" state of childlessness, she took revenge for her condition on more fecund women.

Let's, for a moment, set aside the misogynistic assumptions Morris has to draw in order to produce a baby-crazy female prostitute killer and consider his other pieces of evidence, namely, that none of the Ripper's victims were sexually assault; that personal items were laid out at the feet of Annie Chapman in a "typically feminine manner"; that remnants of a cape, skirt, and hat were found in the ashes of Mary Kelly's fireplace, though Kelly had never been seen wearing them; and that three small buttons from a woman's boot were found near the body of Catherine Eddowes. Pretty compelling, eh? Morris says that the small, seemingly disjointed clues scattered throughout the crime scenes "taken individually, may mean little, but when grouped together a strong case for a woman murderer begins to emerge." Not long after the murders, moreover, Lizzie Williams suffered a nervous breakdown, and later died in 1912 without ever having been questioned by the police.

It seems that Morris has to make not an insignificant number of generalizations about women and femininity to cast Williams as a woman so deranged by childlessness that she would kill prostitutes as a way either to exact some sort of social justice or "possess missing body parts," as Coroner Wynne Baxter posited as the Ripper's primary motive during the Annie Chapman inquest. The idea, too, that the manner in which clothes were arranged could seriously be considered evidence assumes a certain amount of discreteness between the genders — that men, for instance, fling clothes wantonly about a murder scene while women fold them nicely at the foot of the bed. Without having read the book, it's not quite fair to accuse Morris of generalizing along gender lines, because, of course, inherent in the argument that the Ripper could under no circumstances have been a woman is the (incorrect) assumption that women aren't capable of the same violent acts as men, which is its own ostensibly polite and gentlemanly version of misogyny, one that severely reduces the dimensions of womanhood.

Birmingham author claims that Jack the Ripper was a woman [Birmingham Mail]