‘Bad Women: The Ripper Retold’ overturns the myth of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper

True Crime October 18, 2021
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Listen to ‘Bad Women: The Ripper Retold’

You may think you know the story of Jack the Ripper: London’s most fabled unidentified serial killer who brutally murdered five women in autumn of 1888. Woman after woman was murdered in alleyways and backstreets of poverty-stricken East London. The brutality of the murders, often leaving his victims literally gutted, earned the killer a reputation known around the world. But Hallie Rubenhold can say with complete certainty that the story you’ve heard is wrong. And “Bad Women: The Ripper Retold” is overturning the Jack the Ripper story we’ve accepted as true.

The Five: Polly, Annie, Kate, Elizabeth and Mary-Jane

Instead of focusing on Jack, who he could be, what his motives were, how his identity has managed to evade us for over a century, this 15-part podcast “Bad Women: The Ripper Retold” is telling the stories of his victims. Rubenhold is a historian and author specializing in 18th and 19th century social history, women’s history, and prostitution. She had previously written a book about the sex trade in the brothels of London, which was picked up and made into Hulu/Amazon’s Harlots. In search of her next project, she couldn’t help but be drawn to the most famous prostitutes in all of history: the ones murdered by Jack the Ripper.

So, she went on to write The Five, the first full-length biography about the lives of Jack’s five victims. She found in her research that the final days and moments of the five women’s lives had been painstakingly researched. Their movements tracked in desperate attempts to catch a serial killer. But Rubenhold couldn’t help but ask about the other days of their lives. Who were they? And how did the end up a victim of the coldest cold case in history? In media, Polly, Annie, Kate, Elizabeth and Mary-Jane have been reduced to nothing more than cartoons.

The “Prostitutes” stories

While Jack’s identity has remained a mystery, and finding background on an unnamed man is impossible, what isn’t impossible is finding out more about the women he murdered. All of their lives can be tracked through the years: marriages and children, husbands and housing. They lived full lives outside of the East End before ending up caricatures of prostitutes, deemed unworthy of respect or even research in the shadow of their killer. Some of them, like Polly Nichols, didn’t ever sell sex, it was just assumed they were prostitutes by police. So how did we let the Ripper myth get this far?

“Bad Women: The Ripper Retold” will introduce to you a late 1880s London, the political, financial and trading capital of the world. But it was also a city of poverty, where slums were overcrowded and infamously unsanitary. And none more so than the neighborhood of Whitechapel, where poverty, violence, and vice were the name of the game. Rubenhold gives us a tour of the Ripper’s hunting ground, from the markets to pubs to brothels and overflowing prison cells.

Rubenhold thought that these women were prostitutes, murdered while selling sex on the streets. But what she found proved her beliefs totally false, and that has landed her in a storm of criticism. “Bad Women: The Ripper Retold” is challenging the myth of Jack the Ripper and Polly, Annie, Kate, Elizabeth and Mary-Jane. This is the true story of the murdered women and a critique of the society that let us believe they were undeserving of our sympathy.

Listen to ‘Bad Women: The Ripper Retold’

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