In their article, “The Jack the Ripper Murders,” Keppel, Weis, Brown and Welch stated that the signature characteristic of posing was evident in the Jack the Ripper murder series (1). In their view the Ripper deliberately spread the legs of his victims in order to degrade them and to shock the discoverers of their bodies. But how confident can we be in this assessment? Some Ripperologists have suggested that spreading the victims’ legs was necessary in order to perform the abdominal and genital mutilations, and that the victims’ legs could simply have been left in that position without any particular intent or design on the part of their murderer. So who’s right? Let’s take a closer look at this issue.
It’s important to note at the outset that other serial killers have deliberately spread the legs of their victims in order to degrade them, so there is ample “precedent” for this behavior occurring in the Jack the Ripper murder series. Murders committed by Morris Frampton and George Russell provide examples of this (2).
Keppel et al. cite data from the state of Washington which showed that only 2.7% of murder victims had cutting or incising wounds (3). When we examine these mutilation murders further, we find that the victims were only rarely found in unusual body positions. The combination of mutilation murder and unusual body position occurred in only 0.05% of cases (4). It’s reasonable to expect that, outside of the Jack the Ripper murder series, this combination would have been very rare in Victorian Britain as well. Even in cases specifically involving abdominal and genital mutilation, we should not expect to find the body of the victim in a sexually degrading position. As evidence of this, we need look no further than the July, 1889 murder of Alice McKenzie. The abdominal and genital areas of McKenzie’s body were mutilated, but her body was found lying on its side (5).
What all of this means is that if the degrading position of the victims’ legs in the Jack the Ripper murder series was a mere artifact or nonsignificant, what we would expect to see is a random distribution of this trait across the series, if we even saw it at all in a series of that length. Apart from the Stride murder, which appears to have had special circumstances attached to it, what we instead see is the regular occurrence of the trait at one crime scene after another: Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelly, Ellen Bury. This regularity of occurrence provides ample proof in and of itself that the degrading position of the victims’ legs was deliberate in all of these cases.
Even without reference to the position of the victims’ legs, there is evidence that posing occurred at a number of the crime scenes. The heads of some of the victims, including that of Ellen Bury, were turned to one side. At the Eddowes crime scene, a piece of her intestine was deliberately placed between her left arm and her body. At the Kelly crime scene, her kidneys, uterus and one of her breasts were placed beneath her head to serve as a demented “pillow.” Since we already know, then, that Bury was attentive to and actively manipulating the appearance of the bodies at these murder locations, it is correct to conclude that the position of the victims’ legs, which apart from the victims’ injuries was the most visually striking aspect of the crime scenes, must have been deliberate as well. And if the positioning of the victims’ legs was deliberate in these cases, then it follows that it must have been deliberate at all of the murder sites.
Finally, at the Eddowes inquest, Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown gave his opinion that Eddowes’ assailant was positioned to the right of her body and not between her legs when he performed his mutilations (6). More recently, Ripperologist Sam Flynn, in a 2006 article in Ripperologist (“By Accident or Design?”), reached the same conclusion, writing of Eddowes’ abdominal incision, “Most of the main cut sweeps quite clearly from Eddowes’ left to her right side—i.e. it ‘shelves’ precisely as you’d expect if a right-handed killer were crouching to Eddowes’ right” (7). If Eddowes’ assailant was positioned next to her body and not between her legs when he mutilated her, then obviously the position of her legs could not have been a mere artifact, but must have been by design. And again, it follows that if it was deliberate here, then it must have been deliberate at the other crime scenes as well.
No matter how we approach this issue, we must arrive at the same firm conclusion: William Bury posed the bodies.
(1) Keppel, Robert D, Joseph G Weis, Katherine M Brown and Kristen Welch. “The Jack the Ripper Murders: A Modus Operandi and Signature Analysis of the 1888-1891 Whitechapel Murders.” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 2.1 (2005): 16.
(2) Keppel, Robert D and William J Birnes. Serial Violence: Analysis of Modus Operandi and Signature Characteristics of Killers. Boca Raton: CRC (2009): 27,29,169.
(3) Keppel, Robert D, Joseph G Weis, Katherine M Brown and Kristen Welch. “The Jack the Ripper Murders: A Modus Operandi and Signature Analysis of the 1888-1891 Whitechapel Murders.” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 2.1 (2005): 18.
(5) Evans, Stewart P. and Keith Skinner. The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion. N.Y.: Skyhorse (2009): 497,502.
(6) Ibid., 230.
(7) Flynn, Sam. “By Accident or Design.” Ripperologist 73 (2006): 8.