A fresh look at the lives of the women murdered by Jack The Ripper

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack The Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. Published April 9 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Photos courtesy of the publisher.

–by Michael Pierce

Polly Nichols. Annie Chapman. Liz Stride. Kate Eddowes. Mary Kelly. Except for the circumstances surrounding their deaths the stories of these women would, most likely, be lost to history. Instead, they are known today for being the canonical victims of Jack the Ripper.

There may have been more, but we’ll never really know, just as we will likely never know the identity of the Ripper.

What we do know is that these five women were daughters, mothers, sisters, wives and lovers. According to most contemporary accounts, they were all stereotypical prostitutes. In The Five, author Hallie Rubenhold challenges that narrative.

Hallie Rubenhold

Utilizing contemporary sources, including surviving coroner’s inquest records, Rubenhold paints a very different picture of these women. They are all hard luck stories, stories of women down on their luck because of the circumstances life threw at them.

According to the author, not a single one of them has the word prostitute contained in any of the official inquiries into their deaths. Rubenhold is able to trace their movements through time and place, providing readers with a good luck into the circumstances of their births and, ultimately, their lives in the Whitechapel district of London. A place where they barely existed on the pennies a day needed to secure a meal and a bed for the night in one of the area workhouses.

Still, these women spent many nights sleeping under the stars, in out-of-the-way spots in one of London’s worst neighborhoods, making them prime fodder for other people with bad intentions, and especially so for one man with evil intentions.

The Five will definitely change your perception of the ladies who fell victim to the Ripper. Part social history, part murder mystery, you’ll never again look at the lives of these women through the jaded eyes of history. Hallie Rubenhold sums it up best.

“They were women. They were human beings, and surely that in itself is enough.”


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