Jack the Ripper: London’s Most Notorious Killer
Directed by Jordan Dale (2020)
This is the second Jack the Ripper documentary my wife and I watched the other night, and it was terrible. My wife certainly had some things to say about it.
After history’s longest flying logo, this documentary is offensive right out of the gate, opening with extreme panning close-ups of the autopsy photos of the five canonical victims. Narrator (and fishing expert?) Liam Dale sounds ridiculous, doing his best impression of a vaudeville villain explaining his evil scheme. It’s so absurd I assume Dale is out there right now, cackling over a woman tied to a railroad track and twirling his waxed mustache.
This is another documentary that is just the narrator talking over pieced-together stock footage and cheap re-creations (I recognized some of the clips from The Unsolved Killings of Jack the Ripper). It doesn’t even have the benefit of involving an actual Ripperologist, or historian, or cop, or any kind of expert. It’s just Dale’s lurid, over-pronounced, over-written narration describing some of the facts of the case in the most sensationalistic way humanly possible.
It spends a lot of time cutting between period photos of Whitechapel and shots of the modern neighborhood. The narrator describes “dark desperate streets” where “poverty, degenerative behavior, depravity, and lawbreaking were just everyday occurrences.” Gotta love that “blame the victim” language, accusing the poor of being the architects of their own misery and ignoring the entrenched systems supported by the rich and powerful that create and promote the squalor and crime.
It mentions that there were eleven Whitechapel murders, and kicks off with Martha Tabram, “typical prostitute.” By this point, Dale had said “prostitute” so many times, five minutes into the documentary, that my wife cried out “prostitute prostitute prostitute prostitute!” Other overused words: “ghastly,” “vicious,” and “killer.”
After briefly describing Whitechapel and its immigrant population, and opining about “down and out alcoholics,” Dale mentions a dockyard fire and then moves on to the “next chapter in this twisted tale”—the Nichols and Chapman murders. Here Dale introduces me for the first time to the delightful phrase “four-penny knee-trembler,” which is now a permanent part of my vocabulary.
He suggests Chapman may have been murdered elsewhere and dumped, which I’ve never heard before. But he soldiers on to a gory, detailed, and gleeful description of Chapman’s mutilations, without saying why this might be the case. This is also the first time I have personally encountered someone calling the Ripper murders “The Mutilation Series” and the Ripper “The Mutilator.” Is that a thing?
“This is trash.”– Kunochan’s Wife
Mentions of cleared suspect John “Leather Apron” Pizer, John Richardson’s misplaced soggy apron, and Annie Chapman’s lung disease lead to discussion of the Deerstalker Hat Man, who a witness describes as a “foreigner,” by which they meant “Jew.” The antisemitism baked into the Ripper case is always so much fun, although that’s hardly this documentary’s fault..
What is the documentary’s fault is the salacious way it handles the Double Event. In a grotesque and tone-deaf aside, Dale says that the educated, Scandinavian Elizabeth Stride was somehow better than the other victims and less deserving of a horrific mutilation murder. Eww. Then he moves on to Catherine Eddowes, who we hear went hop-picking once, but learn nothing else about—except through lovingly graphic shots of her autopsy photo.
Dale relates a story I hadn’t heard before, that Kate Eddowes told the deputy at her workhouse she knew who the Ripper was. The deputy was worried she might become a victim, but she supposedly reassured him she was safe. Wikipedia briefly mentions something along these lines, but I’m going to look into it more.
Another gross, weird thing in this documentary: Each time a crime scene photo is shown, the documentary adds a white shape suggesting a chalk outline, showing where the body might have been. This would be fine—except each outline features prominent breasts. Like, somebody was really into giant Ripper victim breasts. Like, we wouldn’t know it was a lady if they didn’t have huge tits?
Dale tells the story of the Goulston Street graffito, and Charles Warren washing it from the wall to prevent an antisemitic riot. One has to agree that Warren was a terrible cop but a good human being.
Then it’s on to the “From Hell” letter and it’s gruesome attachment, Kate Eddowes’ supposed kidney. The documentary has an opinion on this.
Although a modern journalist would find it nigh on impossible to acquire a human kidney to promote a good story, in 1888 it would have been the easiest thing imaginable. A strategic trip around the workhouses and mortuaries could well have provided a morally-questionable newsman with the kidney that George Lusk received. It would have undoubtedly come from the corpse of a heavy-drinking East End prostitute, and such a kidney would also appear very similar to that belonging to Catherine Eddowes.
What the fuck? Every corpse in Whitechapel was ” undoubtedly” a “heavy-drinking East End prostitute?” Folks were handing out stolen human kidneys like cabinet puddings?
“I’ll never get this time back.”– Kunochan’s Wife
Finally—finally—we get to Mary Jane Kelly, who Dale tells us was “not the broken wreck that her predecessors had been.” Apparently, “Black Mary” got into fights, and this was because she was Irish. Wow, anti-Irish racism in 2020. This documentary really lives Victorian Britain.
Dale suggests that Kelly was not murdered by the Ripper, but by Kelly’s boyfriend Joseph Barnett, who staged a Ripper murder to cover his tracks. To be fair, the Kelly killing differs somewhat from those of Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes; she was much younger, was murdered indoors, and the killer spent time on the mutilations, perhaps as much as two hours.
Then there’s a litany of suspects: the so-called “Dr. Stanley,” the “sexually insane” Montague Druitt, serial killer George Chapman, occultist Robert Stephenson, supposed diarist James Maybrick, and medical quack and accused “unnatural offender” Dr. Francis Tumblety.
Dale also wastes our time discussing “black magic,” the idea that the crime scenes formed a pentagram, and the theory that a magical ritual required the “body parts of a harlot.” “Harlot,” nice. Good work.
“Fuck that piece of shit!”– Kunochan’s Wife, re: “Jack the Ripper: London’s Most Notorious Killer“
This is definitely the worst piece of Ripper media I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve seen this. I would not recommend this hour-long documentary to anyone unless I despised them and wanted to make sure they were completely turned off to Ripperology. The people who made this travesty deserve to live in Lambeth Workhouse for a week chewing rotten gristle off of cow bones while picking oakum with bloody fingers.
I didn’t like it.