Sex or No Sex
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Sex or No Sex: Was Jack the Ripper a Sexual Serial Killer?

 Amanda Howard

The argument rages on regarding the Ripper’s motive for killing his victims. Was he a sexual deviant set on raping and pillaging who committed murder to escape detection?  Was he a doctor who sought to remove the female sexual organs for scientific research at the dawn of the modern medical age? Or was he a cold and callous madman who took pleasure in murdering the unfortunates who walked the cobblestoned streets of London’s East End?

Many Ripperologists tend to dismiss the possibility of the Ripper being a sexually motivated serial killer. Some state, inconclusively, that the victims were not sexually assaulted. But I must ask, given the extent of the victims’ injuries and a lack of forensic testing for such a crime, how did doctors in Victorian England’s prudish times know that the women were not raped? After all, we are talking about women who worked as prostitutes and were not renowned for bathing, particularly between customers.

 The murders committed by Jack the Ripper were not the first of their kind. Similar crimes had occurred across the Continent as well as in America. The motives of Jack’s contemporaries’ murders were often sexual in nature. During 1806-1809, Bavarian Andreas Bichel raped, tortured and murdered the young women he enticed to his home promising to tell their fortunes. Like Jack, Bichel sliced open the women’s abdomens and removed their organs. Unlike Jack, he preferred his victims alive when he began the dissections and masturbated over their writhing bodies. 

 In 1871, Eusebius Pieydagnelle, a Ripper-type killer from France, claimed he mutilated and murdered his victims to achieve intense orgasms. In 1874, in America, fifteen-year-old child-killer Jesse Pomeroy also claimed to climax when mutilating, beating and murdering the children he abducted.

 Though we are unable to question Jack about his crimes, or know for certain his exact motives, the posing and mutilations of his victims point directly to the crimes being sexual in nature.

 According to former Bronx Police Commander Vernon Geberth, M.S., M.P.S, an expert in sex crimes, lust murders can be defined as:

 ‘…homicides in which the offender stabs, cuts, pierces or mutilates the sexual regions or organs of the victim’s body. The sexual mutilation of the victim may include evisceration, piquerism, displacement of the genitalia in both males and females and the removal of the breasts in a female victim (defeminization). It also includes activities such as “posing” and “propping” of the body…’

 You could say that this definition for a sexual (lust) motive was written specifically for the Ripper murders. Using the above definition and a break-down of the five murders may provide a glimpse into the sexual nature of the crimes and the possibility that Jack was a rapist as well as a murderer.

 Mary Ann ‘Polly’  Nichols

 The most amazing aspect of the Nichols murder, the first recognised victim of Jack the Ripper, was the initial assessment by Dr Rees Ralph Llewellyn, who failed to notice the victim’s extensive abdominal injuries. It was only after the woman had been moved to the mortuary and her skirt lifted that a workman made the discovery.

 Evidence of the state of cleanliness of the body also differs from Llewellyn’s description to that made by the scene-of-the-crime officer. At the Inquest into the woman’s murder, Inspector John Spratling of J Division noted that ‘the skin presented the appearance of not having been washed for some time previous to the murder.’ Dr Llewellyn’s notes, however, state her thighs were clean. Some may say that this comment may be the doctor’s polite way of suggesting a lack of evidence of sexual contact, but the woman’s movements in the final hours preceding her death prove that she had made some money from soliciting and it was unlikely she had washed thoroughly enough that a lack of intimacy in the hours preceding her murder could be inferred.

 We remember from the records that Polly had been evicted from the doss-house owing to a lack of money; yet she had purchased a new bonnet that day from her earnings. She was also very much the worse for drink when last seen by Emily Holland an hour before her death. Nichols had no other source of income except prostitution, and had made enough money for alcohol and a hat during that fateful day. Since there is little doubt that Polly had had sexual relations prior to meeting Jack the Ripper, how can anyone be certain that he did not have sexual contact with her also?

The period between the last eye-witness’s sighting of Nichols and her body being discovered was approximately half an hour. This afforded plenty of time for the killer to attempt sexual intercourse with the victim, possibly as he inflicted the knife wound to her throat or even as a ruse to get her into a compromising position where she could not fight her killer as he viciously murdered her.

Annie Chapman

John Evans, the night watchman at Crossingham’s lodging house, watched Annie Chapman walk along Little Paternoster Row in the direction of Brushfield Street and head towards the Spitalfields Market at about 1.50 am on Friday 7 September 1888. Annie’s last words to the man were to ensure that her bed at the lodgings would not be rented, as she set out, worse for drink, to ply her trade to earn eight-pence to pay for her bed.

The next possible sighting of the woman was about 5 am. Some say at that time she was already dead and secreted into the darkness at the feet of John Richardson as he cut an offending piece of leather from his boot whilst sitting on the steps of the backyard at 29 Hanbury Street. Others believe she was last seen at 5.30 am talking with a man outside the address. Elizabeth Long said she heard Annie answer ‘Yes’ to a man’s ambiguous question: ‘Will you?’ Within a few minutes of that possible eye-witness account, another man, Albert Cadosch, claimed he heard a scuffle and the word ‘No!’

Annie’s body was found at approximately 5.55 am, some twenty-five minutes after she had probably last been seen alive. According to Dr George Bagster Phillips, who was on the scene within half an hour of the body’s discovery, Annie had been dead more than two hours, as made evident, he claimed, by the onset of rigor mortis.

Eyewitness accounts are, at best, unreliable, and using the initial signs of rigor mortis to establish a time of death in modern society would be naïve. As stated in the Daily News, ten days after Annie’s death, ‘Very grave doubt now exists as to the exact time when the woman Chapman was murdered.’ [1] We can assume that she died between 1.40 and 5.55 am - an extensive four-hour-plus time frame.

At any rate, the woman was attacked at some-time during the night. As James Kent stated after seeing the body, it appeared that Annie had been ‘on her back and fought with her hands to free herself [from her attacker].’[2] Annie was alive and conscious and aware of the malicious intent from her killer when the attack began. She had suffered what would now be referred to as defensive wounds: ‘The face and hands were besmeared with blood, as if she had struggled.’ [3]

She was found with her bare legs apart and covered with blood, frozen in a final degraded pose as she struggled against her attacker. This position suggests that Annie’s killer had knelt between her legs, a common attack stance taken by rapists and sexual serial killers.

At the inquest into her death, John Davies, one of the lodgers at 29 Hanbury Street, described the area in which Annie was found:

‘There was a little recess on the left. From the steps to the fence is about 3 ft. There are three stone steps, unprotected, leading from the door to the yard, which is at a lower level than that of the passage. Directly I opened the door I saw a woman lying down in the left-hand recess, between the stone steps and the fence. She was on her back, with her head towards the house and her legs towards the wood shed.’ [4]

From the steps to the fence there were only 3 feet (91 centimetres), leaving little room for Annie to be lying on the ground with the killer kneeling beside her as is commonly believed. Jack the Ripper probably knelt between her legs as he killed and mutilated the woman. This position would have allowed the killer better access for penetration or masturbation over the body.

Such information would surely have been left out of Victorian newspapers.  Research to find any specific details of a rape or other violent sexual crime in the 1800s has led to nought. No such information is detailed in media archives from the era of Jack the Ripper.

But one must look at it logically. Annie had gone out into the night to earn money for a bed  at Crossingham’s lodging house. She had plied her trade for possibly two to four hours before her demise. It can be assumed she must have met with at least one client during that time to leave enough evidence that any sexual interference by Jack the Ripper would be impossible to discern. 

Elizabeth Stride

Elizabeth Stride was the lucky one, if anyone is ever lucky who is brutally murdered. Unlike the other victims, she was neither mutilated nor had body parts removed following her death. Whether it was because the killer was disturbed or had other plans, we will never know definitively. Nonetheless, her crime was more than likely part of the series and within a short period of time the killer set upon his next victim to satisfy his lust.

Catherine Eddowes

 At the inquest into Catherine Eddowes’s death, the ‘experts’ of the time finally discussed the possibility of sexual intercourse. Dr Frederick Gordon Brown stated that there had been ‘no indication of coitus’. This was the only time that the question was answered, though what ‘indication’ Dr Brown was looking for remains unknown. For the moment we will assume that he meant that no seminal fluid was found.

 For most of the evening prior to her death, Catherine Eddowes had been incarcerated for being drunk and impersonating a fire engine. Does this mean that she was making wailing sounds as she ran around the streets or perhaps that she simulated a fire-hose and was caught urinating in public? The exact nature of the charges is unknown. In any case, until forty-five minutes before her death Catherine was in the drunk tank at Bishopsgate Police Station and unable to ply her trade.

 Catherine was released from police custody at 1 am on 30 September 1888, the same time that Elizabeth Stride was being murdered at Dutfield’s Yard. The woman decided to take a long walk home and, unbeknownst to her, headed towards her death.

 The last eyewitness accounts place her in the arms of a man ten minutes prior to the discovery of her body.  This gave the killer at least 10 minutes to kill and mutilate his victim, or, if the eyewitnesses were wrong, up to 45 minutes to inflict the injuries.

 After such an unsuccessful evening, the Ripper wanted blood and possibly sex. He had not completed the job with Elizabeth Stride, who was neither mutilated nor sexually assaulted. She was murdered and dumped in Dutfield’s Yard, where she was chanced upon almost instantly. The killer fled the scene, only narrowly escaping detection. So, in search of another victim, the Ripper found Catherine Eddowes, still under the influence of alcohol, stumbling home through an extended route.

 Serial killers who murder at least two or three victims usually follow a pattern. As the number of murders grows, they occur more frequently; the time between each murder decreases. The killers will hone their skills and become more adaptable to the situation. The double event shows that this is true of Jack. Since he could not ‘complete’ the murder of Elizabeth Stride, he sought out a new victim.

 A serial killer will often increase the infliction of mutilation injuries or use over-kill on a victim. These are cases where any number of injuries could have caused death, such as stabbing, shooting and strangling the same victim, and this happens particularly when a failure occurs. The mutilations committed by Jack were about to increase exponentially with the penultimate victim and explode, almost literally, with the final one.

 Catherine’s wounds were far greater than those inflicted on the previous victims, Annie and Polly. Jack not only mutilated Catherine’s abdominal region, but also sliced her face, a common escalation in serial-killer murders. Yet the wounds were not frenzied, as many would expect, but slow, deliberate slices. Jack carved tiny triangular flaps into Catherine’s cheeks and nicked her eyelids. 

 Let’s now examine Dr Brown’s initial assessment of the crime so as to ascertain any possible sexual contact or sexually motivated injuries. As mentioned earlier, Dr Brown stated that there was ‘no secretion of any kind on the thighs’,[5] further saying that there were ‘no traces of recent connexion’ and concluding that Catherine had not had sexual intercourse before her death.  But, given the significant injuries that had occurred in the genital and anal regions, how could he be so sure?

 In his reports, Dr Brown discussed the long cut that had originated at her breastbone and continued down her body, round her navel and ‘down the right side of the vagina and rectum for half an inch behind the rectum. There was a stab of about an inch on the left groin. This was done by a pointed instrument.  Below this was a cut of three inches going through all tissues making a wound of the peritoneum about the same extent.’ [6]

 The blood loss, even when the circulatory system was no longer working, would have been significant. Finding approximately 15 mls of seminal fluid amongst the mutilations and blood would have been nigh on impossible.

 There is also the possibility that the killer did not concentrate his emissions on the woman’s genital region. Today, at some crime scenes, investigators look beyond the immediate area where the body lies. Bodily fluids including semen, vomit and excrement may be found nearby, though not actually with the body. The killer may have moved out of the blood and ejaculated nearby, if he so desired. 

 Nonetheless, the absence of seminal fluid on the thighs of the victim does not prove convincingly that the killer murdered the woman without sexually motivated intent.

Mary Jane Kelly

 Jack the Ripper had many hours to inflict his basest desires upon Mary Jane Kelly,  producing one of the most horrific murders in the annals of crime. Her body was mutilated almost beyond recognition and some of her injuries uncovered her bones. How could doctors in 1888 know whether the victim was assaulted, prior, during or after her death and mutilation?

 If a case like this occurred today, sexual-assault swabs would be used to detect seminal fluid round the regions that would have once been Mary Jane’s orifices: her vagina, anus and mouth, and even her ears and eyes. In the presence of such a mutilation, these areas, although they no longer resembled their living anatomy, would still warrant checking, as would the stab wounds.

 A killer intent on rage alone would not require the time that Jack needed to murder and mutilate his victim. Jack the Ripper had a plan for Mary Jane Kelly; he was methodical though maniacal in her mutilations. He defaced and defiled her entire body, leaving very little evidence of the woman that was. What Jack the Ripper left behind after so many hours alone with his victim was nothing less than horrific.

 But could Jack have spent so long with a prostitute without sexual satisfaction?

 Mary Kelly was heard singing at 1 am by a neighbour, Mary Ann Cox, who went out on the streets to ply her trade. Earlier, Mrs Cox had seen Mary enter her tiny bed-sit with a man with a carrotty moustache. Later Kelly was seen in the company of a man of a foreign or Jewish appearance whom Kelly befriended and with whom she walked back towards her room. The man was heard saying to Mary ‘You will be alright for what I have told you.’ The man’s hands were round her shoulders and together they entered Mary’s residence.  Had the man just convinced the woman that he was not the Ripper?

 According to Mary Ann Cox, when she returned home at 3 am, Mary’s room was in darkness, though other witnesses claim to have seen Mary later that morning.  

 Regardless of the precise time of Mary’s murder, her killer had plenty of time to spend mutilating and murdering the woman as well as indulging any other desire he may have needed to satisfy. Without going into the minute details of the well-documented knife wounds inflicted on Mary, it suffices to say that the attack did not show the speed that the Ripper had displayed in the other murders. He took his time, wielding his knife as he chose, without fear of interruption.

 Mary Kelly was naked. When police opened the door to her bed-sit, she was only wearing a flimsy chemise - a garment resembling a vest or a singlet. The rest of her clothes were found neatly folded on a chair. Other clothes in the room were used as fuel for a fire to light the room and were found in the ashes of the cooling fireplace.

 In previous murders, the killer had pushed up the skirts and underclothes of the victims in order to inflict the wounds. He had also disfigured the faces of the later victims.  This time the killer had his victim undress, so he had a completely blank canvass to inflict his handiwork upon. Unlike the others, Mary’s dead body was moved from one side of the bed to the side where the killer was standing or perhaps sitting, so he could gain better access to her and work on her further.

 In the later post-mortem examination no mention is made of any sexual contact with the victim. Yet we are aware that she had been seen in the company of two men in her room in the hours preceding her death and we can assume sexual relations had occurred with at least one of these men.  Such evidence, however, has not been noted anywhere in the subsequent notes. The Ripper also eliminated any visible signs of sexual contact when he removed Mary’s outer vaginal area with the large slice that denuded her right thigh, pubis and buttock. Further evidence of sexual contact was impossible to find with the vagina and uterus removed and found drenched in blood, along with one of Mary’s breasts, under the pillow upon which her mutilated face rested. 

 The chance of finding any seminal fluid in the bloodbath that was Mary’s room would have been nigh on impossible in 1888.  Today, tests can be conducted to prove such motivation conclusively.

 Then and Now

 Today, a simple rape kit swabbed over the relevant areas of a victim allows investigators to search for a likely suspect. Swabs are taken of the victim’s genital area, anus, mouth, eyes and ears, as well as of the orifices made by the killer.  Rapists and sexually motivated killers do not just concentrate on the ‘usual areas’ for penetration. Some have been known to use knives to ‘make’ their own orifices, through which they would then penetrate their victims, often leaving an ejaculation behind.

A forensic technician these days would have difficulty pin-pointing visually areas of semen on a body so brutally destroyed as Mary’s, but even the smallest amount could be easily found using rape kits and testing.  Yet, given the savagery that befell Mary, we cannot expect a doctor in Victorian England to be able to find the evidence needed to prove whether she had or had not been sexually assaulted.

Today, more than a century has passed since the crimes occurred and we have learned much about sexually-motivated crimes and how to detect them. Though a rape kit is a standard form of evidence collecting, we have many ways to prove such acts have been perpetrated, such as ‘alternate light sources’. We’ve also spent the past 100 years or so interviewing serial killers, rapists and their ilk and learning more about them and about the why and how of victimology.

 Prostitutes are often the targets of serial killers who consider them as easy targets or invoke the religious and social stigma associated with them as justification for their murder.[7]  Jack the Ripper was no different. Though motive remains unclear, victimology provides evidence that the killer did not want to spend time looking for a more suitable victim, choosing convenience over the search for ‘the right victim’ - unless you subscribe to the theory the Ripper’s victims were killed because they were a ‘blackmailing circle of friends.’

 I have believed that Jack the Ripper was a sexually-motivated killer from the very beginning of my research. The mutilations were mainly concentrated in the areas that define a woman: the genital regions, breasts and face. The killer took great pains to remove the wombs of several of the women; thus, in a simplistic sense, eradicating what made them women.

 Was the killer perhaps attempting to eliminate the evidence he had left behind? Although, in Victorian England, a killer could not be identified from semen, he could eliminate the idea that he had raped his victims, or perhaps, knowing them to be prostitutes, he may have cut out their wombs to provide a cleaner albeit bloody orifice for him to satisfy his lust.

 Though these thoughts may be repulsive to some, the situation they describe is not uncommon. Semen has been found in knife wounds in rape and murder victims and the killer’s motivation has been to inflict as much pain and degradation on the victims as possible. I believe that Jack was a subscriber to this school of sadistic murder.

 All-in-all, Jack the Ripper has provided us with a blue-print for sexually motivated murder. Whether he raped his victims or not can never be conclusively proved. But the wounds and mutilations he inflicted on his victims supply links to modern-day rapists and killers, who - we know and can prove - have performed similar injuries for sexual stimulation and release and perhaps reflect back onto Jack as one of the forefathers of violent deviant sexual murder.



 Daily News, London, UK, (1888)

Daily Telegraph, London, UK,  (1888)

Geberth, Vernon J, Anatomy of a Lust Murder Geberth, (1998),

Krafft-Ebing, Richard von, Psychopathia Sexualis, (1906)

The 26 Stages of Death, (2006)

Wikipedia, (2006)



[1]           Daily News, Monday 17 September 1888


[2]           Daily Telegraph, Thursday, 13 September 1888, Page 3


[3]           Daily Telegraph, Thursday, 13 September 1888, Page 3


[4]           Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, 11 September 1888, Page 3

[6] ibid.



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