I will start by saying that I am not a Ripperologist, a criminologist, or any sort of serial killer expert. Everything in this article is my opinion and my opinion only, based on the available facts and my understanding of serial killers. I will give a few details to jog memories and allow me to support my thoughts on the case.
First, there are the canonical 5. These are the five “confirmed” victims; Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes, and Kelly. Kelly was the worst, found in her room. The others were all killed on the streets and alleys of the desolate and desperate area known as Whitechapel. In the From Hell letter, he claimed he ate Eddowes kidney. Stride and Eddowes were killed the same night with no mutilations to Stride’s body, just the familiar throat slitting, but she was the only one not mutilated… leading to the theory that the Ripper was interrupted.
Death was caused by the main artery in the left side of the neck being severed. The first two victims had their throats slit twice, while the last three only had it done once. Nichols was carved up after death, but her killer didn’t take any of her organs. Chapman, Eddowes, and Kelly all suffered from mutilations and missing organs. Stride had her throat slit, but there was no mutilation. Stride and Eddowes were killed the same night, leading to the term “The Double Event.” While most people believe that the killer was interrupted during Stride’s murder, there is really no evidence to support or dismiss the theory. Eddowes was killed the same night in a different section of Whitechapel, however, it was an easy walk from where Stride was murder to where Eddowes was murdered. The main reason Stride is considered a Ripper victim is because she did die of a single cut to the main artery on the left side of her neck. Also, the Ripper was heavy handed with the throat slashing and the gash on Stride was indeed, deep. I will not argue about the canonical five, smarter people than me have decided they are all victims.
I will argue that it is highly unlikely Nichols was his first victim. Despite the double slashing of the throat and the less severe mutilations to her body than the others, slitting someone’s throat is not easy; even from behind. The neck is full of cartilage, muscles, small bones, tissue, and organs. Not to mention there are a handful of veins and arteries on either side that are not well protected, but are very messy. A first time killer slitting someone’s throat from behind, in the dark, is going to get bloody, they are also going to be surprised by the resistance they encounter when they do slash deep enough to hit all the muscles, small bones, etc. Furthermore, she was stabbed repeatedly and had her abdomen slashed open. Yet, they didn’t find bloody glove prints, bloody handprints, bloody boot prints, bloody knee prints, etc. How does a killer covered in blood manage to not leave some sort of impression around the body? The only good explanation is that he was expecting it and took counter measures. If you are stooped, bending, or kneeling over your victim while cutting her to bits, you have to know what to expect to not leave a boot print (according to Scotland Yard, none were found and they did look… thanks for the book on Scotland Yard’s toughest cases!).
Unfortunately, finding Jack’s first victim(s) would be tough. Murdered prostitutes weren’t being found nightly, but it happened more than people cared to admit (or acknowledge). Also, one must consider the possibility that Jack was a transplant and not originally from Whitechapel. He could have been from anywhere (and the suspect pool is evidence of that) and his first murders weren’t associated with him because they were in a different country.
As far as Jack dying or being imprisoned, I’m not so sure about that either. There are a list of murders after the Ripper’s case went cold in dozens of countries that could have been his. There were even a few in Whitechapel. Furthermore, there is evidence that some serial killers really do just stop. BTK did. If he hadn’t decided to taunt the police a decade after the last confirmed murder, he wouldn’t have gotten caught. This means it’s possible that Jack, having filled his souvenir case, stopped.
Now, my thoughts on Jack the Ripper: Nichols wasn’t his first kill. He had some skills when the first of the canonical five were found. It’s also really unlikely that he was a butcher, medical student, or doctor. Some of the cuts were precise; other cuts were not precise or neat like they claim in the movies. Furthermore, the organ removal was crude, that doesn’t say doctor, medical student, or butcher. A butcher would understand how to remove organs, possibly even better than a doctor or med student at that time. Despite the dozens of letters, only the one with Eddowes kidney was likely from the Ripper. This means he wasn’t the glory hound he’s portrayed to be. Besides, sending the kidney was all about the shock factor or else he wouldn’t have said he ate the other half. If history has taught us anything about serial killers it’s that some love the limelight (like The Zodiac and BTK) and some don’t (The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run never sent a single letter, the bodies said enough). The Ripper was more like The Mad Butcher than The Zodiac in this instance. Morbid curiosity and a desire to inflict death is enough to make him kill and mutilate his victims and run off with their organs. If the mutilations had happened ante-mortem, I would agree that he was a sexual sadist, but they weren’t and since he wasn’t fixated on just the genitals or reproductive organs of his victims, he probably wasn’t getting his jollies off on it. Plus, prostitutes have always been a good victim pool for serial killers. It’s a lot easier to get away with murdering prostitutes and drug addicts than housewives. This means that killing prostitutes also doesn’t necessarily require a sexual paraphilia or obsession. Finally, it is plausible that Jack just stopped. The murder of Kelly was way over the top, it was almost theatrically horrific. If he continued to kill, he probably backed down on the mutilations and he just escaped detection because prostitutes were murdered in Whitechapel before and after Jack… some were even mutilated.
As a side note, in the mid-1890’s, a female prostitute was found in a NYC hotel room. Her throat had been slit and she had been several mutilated, much like Kelly. The press at the time did scream that The Ripper had come to New York and one of Scotland Yard’s strongest suspects was an American. However, it could be a copycat since no other bodies ever turned up in New York with so much in common with the Whitechapel victims.