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I am Jack the Ripper

In just 43 chilling words, the spectre of one of Britain’s most infamous and grisly serial killers is raised when a postcard claiming to be written by Jack the Ripper goes under the hammer on 30th April 2018.

Mary Kelly

The postcard was received at Ealing Police Station on 29th October 1888 from someone claiming to be the beast responsible for the brutal murder of at least five women in the slums of the East End. Victorian London was stunned and horrified by the gruesome deaths, involving women whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations and one victim, Mary Kelly, being especially badly mutilated. She was murdered on 9th November 1888, an interesting date for our card.

Hope you liked the half of kidney

Our card was one of a number of notes sent to police claiming responsibility during the long-running manhunt, but the postcard has a very strong provenance due to the period it was sent and the fact it was contained in police files. It reads:

“Beware there is two women I want here they are bastards and I mean to have them my knife is still in good order it is a students knife and I hope you liked the half of kidney. I am Jack the Ripper.”

 Police provenance

Jack the Ripper is far and away the most discussed serial killer in the world and is still big news. We have a card allegedly written by Jack the Ripper and are in the fortunate position of nobody being able to say the card was not written by Jack, but equally we cannot prove it was. Nobody has ever discovered the identity of the Ripper, though many cranks and venturers claim they have done so. Our card is the first time a Ripper letter/card has ever been offered on the market for auction with police provenance. Clearly many such epistles were written at the time, but none with police provenance have come up for sale, so it is unique in the auction world. The card has been checked by Stewart Evans, the recognised expert on the Ripper letters/cards and agrees that it is contemporary with him, or perhaps I should say her these days. No doubt a crank will come up with the politically correct theory that Jack was in fact Jacqueline. I shouldn’t joke, some thought Mary Pearcey could have been the killer. An American film company made a film about our card, which is being shown across America originally in April, but now I gather it will be July. All in all it is an unusual item for an auction house of our size to handle.

Background issues

I have always been rather fascinated by the Ripper story. I studied History at Cambridge, and part of our course was the socio economic effects of the industrial and agricultural revolutions that created a huge population rise, the most dramatic in Britain’s history. This of course led to many peoples from assorted countries wanting a piece of the pie or fleeing persecution, Britain being the wealthiest country in the world. As a consequence, sinks like Whitechapel grew up with massive issues of immigration, unrest, alcoholism, poverty and lawlessness both political with the Fenians, Anarchists etc. and criminal.

Making of a legend

Stewart Evans, the acknowledged Ripper expert, states that there were surprisingly few murders in Whitechapel, but plenty of violent and other crimes. Why did Jack become so famous? Jack’s identity has never been discovered and is almost certain to remain unknown, which keeps the mystery alive. He committed some very nasty crimes of female mutilation that stand out for their savagery, but that alone would not have made him so famous. Two letters changed everything. The letters known as Dear Boss and saucy Jacky were delivered to the police. It is almost certain the two were written by reporters from the Central News Agency to gain sensational publicity for the story and money for themselves. These two letters first suggested the murderer’s name was Jack the Ripper - he was known as the Whitechapel Murderer or the Leather Apron murderer before the letters. The Central News Agency gave huge publicity to the two letters and Jack the Ripper was born to become the most famous serial killer in the world. He still is. As the short doggerel poem received by the police suggests, Jack will never be found.

I’m not a butcher, I’m not a Yid, Nor yet a foreign skipper, But I’m your own light-hearted friend, Yours truly, Jack the Ripper.

Full lot description

'I am Jack the Ripper' card. The card measures 2.75 inches by 4.75 inches and is written in ink. The condition of the card is good for its age. The card was posted to Ealing Police Station and received on the 29th of October 1888. It has been in the police Ripper files until they decided the case was finally closed, because no one would ever know the identity of the Ripper. It was given to the vendor's husband, a Police Constable and member of the Metropolitan Police Force, as a memento for his retirement from the force in 1966. Unwanted items were simply thrown away. One officer found and kept 300 such documents which he has now given to the National Records Office who deface them with a stamp. The PC kept the card in a drawer until his death, where it has remained with his widow.

The card was received by the Ealing Police station and added to the large file concerning Jack the Ripper. The card states, "Beware there is two women I want here they are bastards, and I mean to have them my knife is still in good order it is a students knife and I hope you liked the kidney. I am Jack the Ripper." The front has a pencil date 29th October 88 stating when the card was received by the Ealing Police Station, as well as a somewhat illiterate attempt to send it to the right person, please see the images.

There are some interesting facts about this letter. The date is really quite interesting. Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the Canonical Five, was murdered on 9th November 1888, eleven days after the card was received. The Canonical Five are the women most agree were murdered by the Ripper, though some disagree. The fifth image of the murder victims is the horribly disembowelled body of Mary Kelly. There is mention of his 'students' knife in our card. Some believe that the Ripper had some medical training from the way he cut up his victims, but this is not universally accepted. The kidney that was mentioned also appears in the 'Letter from Hell', another Ripper letter, where the writer stated he had fried one of his victim's kidneys and 'it tasted nice.' Our card is definitely of the period and has police provenance.

Many theories have been produced for the identity of Jack the Ripper from royalty to suspicious locals and even suggesting the painter Walter Sickert, who unfortunately for the theorist was in Dieppe at the time visiting his mistresses.

The most unusual aspect of our card is its rarity. No such card with police provenance has been offered for sale at auction. Other letters and cards were sent to fulfill the egos of various people, but are in files or lost. We have consulted the Ripper Museum and the White Chapel Society. Stewart Evans, the author of a book on the Ripper letters and the world expert on the matter has also given his opinion that our card is right for the period and is one of the letters the police received. The great beauty of the card is that with its police provenance, it is a unique Ripper item for sale, and no one can prove it is the Ripper himself, but equally no one can prove it is not.

There are images of the Canonical Five. In the following numerical order: 1. Mary Anne Nichols, 2. Annie Chapman, 3. Elizabeth Stride, 4. Catherine Eddowes - Two images of contemporary drawings of her body in Mitre Square where she was murdered and a drawing of her dreadful mutilations at the hands of the Ripper, 5. Mary Jane Kelly - the only victim murdered in her room, all the others were outside. The Ripper had more time inside and committed dreadful butchery on her body including partly skinning her. Many thanks to Stewart Evans for allowing us to scan the images from his book Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper is the most famous serial killer long after his death - why? He certainly committed some dreadful murders, but so did some others, though in White Chapel there were not that many murders at the time. Two letters changed everything about him and his infamy. The letters were received by the police and known as 'Dear Boss' and 'saucy Jacky'. Undoubtedly they were written by journalists working for the Central News Agency to gain sensational publicity for the Agency and a wider readership as well as some police bashing, which the press loved to do. In these letters the name Jack the Ripper appeared for the first time, so Jack the Ripper was born. As his identity has never been found, the mystery continues to this day.

After reading a great deal about the Ripper story, I have found the police to have been remarkably thorough in their investigations. The senior policeman, Charles Warren, was a remarkable man, effective soldier, archeologist and poet. He and his force faced terrible problems apart form Jack - political riots, poverty riots and wholesale press barrages against him and the police. The methods used were very thorough and modern in some ways such as the use of profiling. If DNA testing had been available then, we would have no mystery and a forgotten Jack the Ripper.

Further images: Sir Charles Warren, Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to whom many of the Ripper letters were addressed; Riots 1887 - Sir Charles had a lot more than Jack the Ripper to contend with at the time with a raw and largely ill trained police force. The last image is a Punch cartoon making the police look stupid. Journalists forever try to be clever, but few are wise.

The Jack the Ripper Postcard features in our 30th April 2018 sale which can be viewed here. For more information on the card, please contact Jonathan Riley of Grand Auctions.

Update - the poatcard sold for an incredible £22,000 to a collector in America.