Human Interest

Road to Ruin: The Women of Jack the Ripper

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2018 marks the 130th anniversary of the Jack the Ripper murders which were committed in Whitechapel, London in 1888. A great deal of speculation and myth has encircled the killer’s true identity since then, capturing the world’s imagination in a way few serial killers have either before or since. After such a long passage of time—and no living record available to us—it’s easy to become desensitised to the true horror of these crimes. Yet, at their root, remains this truth; real women—who’d once breathed, married, and bore children—had their lives brutally taken from them. Left behind were grieving families and friends who, with those tasked to investigate, endured a dreadful trauma few of us could imagine today. This month’s feature will aim to bring into focus the human faces of two of the Ripper’s victims; Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride. To discover more about what it would’ve been like as a police detective in the 1880’s, please read my August feature: The Life of a Victorian Detective. 

Annie Chapman: Daughter, Wife, and Mother

According to the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website,, Annie was born Annie Eliza Smith in September of 1841. Her parents, Ruth Chapman and George Smith, married in February 1842. Annie had three sisters; Emily Latitia (born: 1844), Georgina (born: 1856), and Mirriam Ruth (born: 1858). Annie’s brother, Fountain Smith, was born in 1861. 

(Above: Annie Chapman and her husband, John, in 1869.)

Annie married coachman, John Chapman, on the 1st May 1869. One may assume, then, the photograph above was taken around the time of their marriage. Annie was twenty-eight years old when she married John. Between 1870 and 1880, Annie and John bore three children; Emily Ruth (born: 1870), Annie Georgina (born: 1873), and John Alfred (born: 1880). As was the case for many families during the nineteenth century, the Chapman’s had to endure anguish caused by death and disease. Again, according to the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website,, John Alfred was a cripple, while Emily Ruth suffered epileptic seizures. John Alfred was sent to a home where, according to Paul Begg’s book, Jack the Ripper: The Facts, Annie would visit him from to time. Tragically, Emily Ruth died of meningitis at the age of twelve in 1882.  

It’s a well-known fact Annie Chapman was a prostitute at the time of her death. What you may not know, though, is she was forced into prostitution following the death of her husband on Christmas Day in 1886. Despite the two separating in either 1884 or 1885, John paid his wife 10 shillings a week, which she subsidised by doing crocheting and selling flowers. Though there is some suggestion Annie and John may have separated due to Annie’s drunkenness, Annie is said to have cried when speaking of John’s death to her friend, Amelia Palmer, in 1888. 

If Annie was suffering with alcoholism at the time of her separation from John, one could highlight the death of her first child and illness of her third as contributing factors. While it’s true child mortality rates were high during the nineteenth century, one mustn’t assume parents grieved any less for the loss of their children simply because death in infancy was commonplace. The fact John continued to provide Annie with money—albeit on an irregular basis—may suggest a degree of affection between the two. 

On the other hand, it should be noted, husbands estranged from their wives would continue to support them financially even if they were no longer living together. This was, usually, due to women having no property or assets of their own. Wives would also continue to care for the children of their estranged husbands which, in turn, could limit their employment options even further than they already were. Lastly, single women had difficulty in finding suitable accommodation (presumably because of the connotation such an arrangement had with prostitution). Based upon the research I’ve done, I can’t be certain Annie’s second child, Annie Georgina, was still in her care at the time of her death. What I can say, though, is Annie had been lodging at Crossingham’s lodging house when she died. 

In the early hours of Saturday September 8th 1888, Annie Chapman’s body was discovered in the backyard of 29, Hanbury Street (coincidentally, the 8th September falls on a Saturday this year, too). Her funeral was conducted in secret on Friday 14th September 1888 in the City of London Cemetery (Little Ilford) at Manor Park Cemetery, Sebert Road, Forest Gate, London, E12. She was buried in public grave 78, square 148 (her grave no longer exists today, having been buried over in the years since her death). 

Elizabeth Stride: From Sweden to London

According to the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website, Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Gustafsdotter on the 27th November 1843 in Torslanda Parish, north of Gothenburg, Sweden. As the Ripper’s victims were murdered in London, England, I’d assumed they were all born there. I was very surprised to read of Elizabeth being Swedish, Catherine Eddowes being born in Wolverhampton, and Mary Jane Kelly being born in Limerick, Ireland, then. Elizabeth Stride’s parents were Beatta Carlsdotter and Gustaf Ericsson. She became “Stride” when she married John Stride on March 7th 1869 at the parish church of St. Giles in the Fields, London. She was twenty-five years old when she married.

Like Annie Chapman’s marriage, Elizabeth’s to John broke down by either 1881 or 1882. By this point, according to the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website, Elizabeth is lodging at the common lodging house at 32, Flower and Dean Street. John Stride died in 1884 of heart disease, though Elizabeth had, reportedly, claimed her husband and children had died in the Princess Alice steamer disaster of 1878, presumably to garner sympathy when applying for financial aid. For the first five years of her marriage to John, the couple kept a coffee house in Chrisp Street, Poplar, then in Upper North Street, Poplar, and, finally, Poplar High Street. I’m uncertain as to why Elizabeth’s and John’s marriage broke down. What is clear, though, is she wasn’t residing with John at the time of his death. It must be noted that, like Annie Chapman, Elizabeth made money via means other than prostitution. Namely, sewing and charring. 

Those familiar with the charity, Barnardo’s, will also be familiar with its founder, Dr. Thomas Barnardo. Four days prior to Elizabeth Stride’s death, on the 26th September, Dr. Barnardo paid a visit to the lodging house on Flower and Dean Street where he found some frightened women and girls discussing the Ripper murders. It’s reported that one of the women said, “We’re all up to no good, no one cares what becomes of us! Perhaps some of us will be killed next!” Following Elizabeth’s death, Dr. Barnardo viewed her body and confirmed she was one of the women present in the lodging house’s kitchen. It’s unknown whether or not Elizabeth was the one to make the above statement, but the mere fact she was present when it was made is chilling. 

Elizabeth Stride’s body was discovered on the 30th September 1888 in Duffield’s Yard. She was buried on Saturday 6th October 1888 at East London Cemetery Co. Ltd., Plaistow, London, E13. Grave 15509, square 37. The sparse funeral was paid at the expense of the parish by undertaker, Mr Hawkes.

I hope, by providing you with the above information about the lives of Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride, you have been able to envision them as human beings. Rather than the mutilated corpses left behind by the unidentified killer, Jack the Ripper. I had to keep this feature relatively brief, but there’s much more information out there about the lives of the Ripper’s victims. I’d therefore encourage you to seek it out as, like I said at the beginning, these women were once living, breathing people. They deserve as much—if not more—respect and attention from us, and future generations, than Jack the Ripper—whoever he (or she) was. 

Sources of reference:

Casebook: Jack the Ripper 

Produced by Stephen P. Ryder and Johnno

Begg, Paul Jack The Ripper: The Facts (Robson Books, London, 2006)


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