Serial killer Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of London more than 120 years ago and we still haven't stopped talking about him. The infamous killer who was never caught lives on somewhere between folk hero and bogeyman, but his victims -- all prostitutes, living at the bottom of London society -- are barely remembered at all.
More than a century later, our obsession with the Ripper is still so fierce that the recent, ongoing serial killer case in Long Island is drawing major comparisons. Unlike Jack the Ripper's victims, the eight women whose bodies were found recently on Long Island didn't walk the streets and back alleys searching for clients. They advertised their services in a thoroughly modern way -- on Craigslist. And they still ended up dead.
We all breathe a sigh of relief after hearing that. Oh, he's just killing hookers. Nothing to see here. Read a bit, get titillated, move on.
An excerpt from All Voices reads: "All of the victims were prostitutes, advertising on Craigslist. It is now believed that the killings are related and that Suffolk Country has a serial killer with an eye on Craigslist and a taste for prostitutes."
"Prostitutes," it says (twice). Note it doesn't say "women" nor does it say "young women in their 20s" (which they all were). It calls them all "prostitutes." That is what they were. It's as if to say: Never fear. You are not in danger. He only likes "prostitutes."
Why is it so much easier to read about serial killers who kill women -- and hookers at that? If these were children or businessmen, might we be reacting differently?
Jack the Ripper was never caught even though he was incredibly brutal, splaying his victims open, slitting their throats, slicing off body parts, and taunting the police.
One hundred-twenty years later, we at least give the semblance of caring more. We will look hard for the killer and try to find him. Besides, the Long Island "Ripper" has already killed more women than Jack, who "only" killed five women that we know of for sure.
I learned who Jack the Ripper was around the same time I learned what prostitution was. This was when I was about 7. At the time, I remember being baffled by the idea that anyone cared. After all, weren't they doing something illegal? Wasn't this their punishment for that? I have long since realized how simplistic my 7-year-old mind clearly was, but not everyone has grown up, it seems.
Think of serial killers Aileen Wuornos or Ted Bundy. We couldn't kill those people fast enough. Wuornos was by and large depicted as a complete monster who killed innocent men. Bundy killed school girls and girls who wanted to help him. Both had movies made about their crimes, but neither has been celebrated like Jack the Ripper.
He wasn't the first serial killer and yet the coverage of his crimes far surpassed any serial killer before him. His story is largely told as though he were some member of the ruling class or, at the very least, a rather dashing young man in a top hat who was merely stopping in to say hello ... with a giant KNIFE.
He isn't quite a villain and not quite a hero, it seems. Is that only because he killed hookers? If he killed "innocents" like Bundy or Wuornos, might he be depicted as the monster he really was? It's hard to say.
Do you think of prostitutes' deaths as less scary?
Image via USM MS photos/Flickr