Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous murderers of all time. He killed five women in London in 1888 in gruesome fashion. But did Jack the Ripper ever murder people in other countries? Specifically, did he commit a terrible crime in New York City? Aaron Gratton explains.

The Nemesis of Neglect, an 1888 Punch magazine cartoon showing Jack the Ripper as a phantom in Whitechapel.

Anyone familiar with British crime history will know the name Jack the Ripper and the Canonical five, but did the killer’s onslaught cross the Atlantic?

In London, England, five women were found brutally murdered in 1888; all bearing similar injuries that suggested a surgical blade was used as the murder weapon. Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly would all be collectively known as the Canonical five, whose lives were brought to a devastating end at the hand of the serial killer simply known as Jack the Ripper.

Many experts believe those five murders, all of which occurred under the mask of the night in Whitechapel, a district in the English capital, to be the killer’s only victims. However, events that transpired three years later in New York question the legitimacy of those claims.


Timeline of Events

·       August 31, 1888: Mary Ann Nichols is found dead at 3.40am, she suffered two severe cuts to the throat and the lower part of her abdomen was ripped open by a jagged object

·       September 8, 1888: Annie Chapman’s body was discovered at 29 Hanbury Street, also with two cuts to the throat and her abdomen completely cut open – it would later be discovered that her uterus was ripped out

·       September 27: The first letter signed from Jack the Ripper, entitled ‘Dear Boss’, is received by the Central News Agency

·       September 30, 1888: Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes are killed just an hour apart from each other with the former’s body found in Berner Street and the latter’s in Mitre Square

·       October 16, 1888: George Lusk, who headed up the investigation, received the famous ‘From Hell’ letter signed by Jack the Ripper, containing half a kidney that is believed to have belonged to Catherine Eddowes

·       November 9, 1888: Mary Kelly, believed to be the killer’s last victim, is found dead in Dorset Street Spitalfields

Other bodies that were originally thought to have been linked to Jack the Ripper were found in the months and years after the five murders, but experts have since ruled out the possibility of the killer having any involvement.



Half-an-hour before the discovery of Annie Chapman’s body, a witness claimed to see the woman at 5.30am with a foreign, dark-haired man fractionally taller than the 5 feet tall Chapman. If accurate, the description would match that of Aaron Kosminski, a Polish barber who arrived in London in the early 1880s.

An investigation into the killings claims to have DNA evidence linking Kosminski to the murders, although the time between the events and the investigation have cast serious doubt on the results. In truth, no one will ever be able to definitely name the killer.

The nature of the murders would suggest a killer with a background in surgery, due to the precision of the cuts and removal of various organs and genitalia. On top of this, the letters penned with the name of Jack the Ripper also suggest that the killer, or at least whoever was behind the correspondences, to have poor literary skills owing to misspellings and bad handwriting.


Did The Ripper head to New York?

Almost three years after what was thought to be the killer’s final victim was killed, Carrie Brown was found strangled with clothing and mutilated with a blade in New York on April 24, 1891, sparking rumors that Jack the Ripper had crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Chief Inspector of New York City, Thomas Byrnes, had boasted on more than one occasion if the killer had ever shown up in his jurisdiction that he would be caught in a matter of days. Three more murders took place in the following 11 days after Brown’s murder, and rumors of a letter from Jack the Ripper sent to Byrnes, taunting the Chief Inspector with a bloodied body part, were rife. This was officially denied, but several police and newspaper sources claimed the rumors to be true.


One last Letter

Nothing else was then heard of the killer for two years since the events in New York City, until October 1893 when a newspaper received a letter believed to be from the killer. The correspondence bore details of the murder of Carrie Brown and, when inspected by a police officer from Scotland Yard, the handwriting of the letter was said to match that as seen in letters received in London in 1888.

If the letter containing details of the murder is indeed from the killer, known as Jack the Ripper, it would be the last known correspondence of the murderer. This is, of course, far from concrete evidence that the same killer that roamed the streets of London in 1888 showed up in New York three years later.

In fact, London’s Metropolitan Police categorically ruled out any involvement of the killer in the death of Carrie Brown in 1891, suggesting this was the work of a copycat that may have been inspired by Jack the Ripper. The theories remain as to the identity of Jack the Ripper, and whether or not the killer did, in fact, turn up in New York, moved on to another city or remained in London without causing suspicion.


Aaron works for the Jack the Ripper Tour in London, UK. You can find out more about the walking tour here.





In this article Janet Ford discusses the horrific act of infanticide in the nineteenth century with the help of records from London’s Old Bailey court – with cases from London and (from 1856) further afield. It provides an insightful look into this terrible crime in Victorian England…

The Old Bailey in the early nineteenth century.

The Old Bailey in the early nineteenth century.

In the nineteenth century there were 203 cases of infanticide recorded in the Old Bailey.

Of the 203 cases, 83 people were found guilty, 114 were found not guilty and one was a ‘misc’ verdict. Out of the 83 who were found guilty, only 18 were actually found guilty of killing, with three of those being found insane and two with a ‘recommendation’. 65 were not guilty of killing but guilty of the lesser crime of concealing the birth. This shows that even though it was a highly emotional and shocking crime women were not automatically found guilty. The reason why so many were found not guilty of killing was often due to medical evidence, such as the health of the baby and mother. There was also an increased involvement of character witnesses in the courts, who could explain the background of the person, and an increased interest in the criminal mind, especially those of women. Finally, there was more of an understanding of childbirth itself.


What the cases show about the crime and society

The role of Medical people

As all the cases involved doctors, surgeons or midwives, there was a need and want to have physical evidence, rather than just hearsay, in order to get the right verdict and justice. They would have knowledge and experience of all types of childbirth, and so they could provide evidence of it being accidental, deliberate or it being too difficult to tell.


What it shows about Childbirth and its effects on crime

The records show two main aspects of childbirth: the physical effect on the baby and the emotional aspect. The emotional aspect of childbirth was the shame of having a baby out of wedlock - but also of having the father run out during the pregnancy, not being sure who the father was, not wanting to be a single mother, or sexual assault. It meant that women felt they had to injure or kill their baby, conceal the birth or self deliver. They were seen as criminals, which many were, but many were also victims of social attitudes and even of crimes themselves. The physical aspect of childbirth was the consequence of these elements, as women felt they had to deliver on their own. This meant there was no other person to help if the delivery was difficult. An example of the physical affect can be seen with this statement from Doctor Thomas Green in Ellen Millgate’s case.  

Health of the mother and child

The cases show that the health of both the mother and baby were taken into consideration and used as evidence. The health of the mother, such as if she was epileptic, would have affected her ability to care for the baby properly. Poor health helped the mother’s case, as it was out of her control, as did the baby being premature. An example of health being used as evidence is shown with Ellen Middleship, who was found not guilty.

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Born alive

One of the main reasons why so many were found not guilty or only guilty of concealing the birth was the baby being born dead on delivery. It was out of the mother’s control, and so she would have been found not guilty. In many cases, it was too difficult to tell if the baby had been born alive during the delivery, as shown with the case of Elizabeth Ann Poyle.

Personal aspects

Along with medical evidence, personal aspects were also taken into consideration. Personal elements such as good character, age, previous children and the relationship with the father were all taken into account. These elements could show that the mother could not have committed the crime, as it was out of character, or at least helped to lessen the punishment, which did happen with many women. An example is shown with Sarah Jeffery giving a statement about Jane Hale, who was guilty of concealing but not of killing.   



The most shocking aspect of the cases, whether the women were found guilty or not guilty, was violence. Violence could have been caused by cutting the cord, getting the child out, falling, or hitting. This was one of the most difficult aspects of a case, as it could be difficult to determine if injuries were caused by the birth or on purpose. What helped resolve this was medical knowledge, an understanding of childbirth, or eyewitness accounts. The understanding of childbirth helped to explain why there were marks on, for example, the neck and head. This was due to ribbons or rope being used to get the baby out, or the baby falling during childbirth. Even though the marks caused by childbirth were not committed on purpose, it is still shocking to read, as shown with Ellen Millgate - the marks were around a vulnerable part of the baby. With the help of eyewitness accounts, it was only in a few cases where it was determined that the injuries were committed on purpose. An example of this can be seen with Ann Dakin giving evidence in the Joseph Burch and Caroline Nash case, who were both found guilty and given four year penal servitude.

It is one of the most shocking cases due to the violence and a reminder that parents could abuse their own children. But also, as with many of the other guilty cases, it shows that women could be quite cruel and violent. Another element of violence was getting rid of the body. The main example is from this description by James Stone of what he found in Martha Barratt’s room. She was found guilty of concealing the birth but not of killing.  

Mercy towards women

Even with the violence, and the shame of committing the crime, the verdicts and the punishments show that there was an understanding and sympathy towards women, as the majority were found not guilty of infanticide or guilty of a lesser crime. This was due to a better understanding of women, society, childbirth, and the criminal mind over the century.

The cases show that infanticide was a very complex crime, as it involved and was affected by so many factors - health, childbirth, social attitudes, babies, violence and high levels of emotion. It also shows the various sides of the 19th century…


If you found this article of interest, do tell others. Tweet about it, like it, or share it by clicking on one of the buttons below…


Anne-Marie Kilday, A history of infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

M Jackson, Infanticide: historical perspectives on child murder and concealment, 1550-2000 (Ashgate, 2002)

Old Bailey Online, January 1800-December 1899, Infanticide 

Ellen Millgate, 28th November 1842

Ellen Middleship, 21st October 1850

Elizabeth Ann Poyle, 22nd May 1882

Jane Hale, 28th November 1836

Joseph Nash and Caroline Nash, 24th October 1853

Martha Barratt, 9th April 1829