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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 73, November 2006. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
By Accident or Design? A Critical Analysis of the Murder of Catherine Eddowes


The horrific injuries inflicted by Jack the Ripper upon Catherine (Kate) Eddowes in the early morning of 30th September 1888 have been the subject of much discussion, and not a little controversy. Whereas some commentators have discerned no medical skill at all on the part of the murderer, it remains the opinion of others that her wounds were structured or conformed to some deliberate pattern. Some take this, together with the manner of Kate’s evisceration, as evidence that her killer possessed a degree of surgical skill.

It is curious that this belief has persisted for so long in the specific case of Jack the Ripper, although it is fair to say that the popular media have played their part in sustaining the notion. The cinema, in particular. has kept the flame alive with its forays into Ripper territory, but also, more subtly, by preserving the archetype of the “good boy gone bad” elsewhere. With such iconic characters as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and others achieving mass popularity, it’s small wonder that we find the idea of Jack as “lapsed medic” so compelling.

In the case of each of these villains, as with the mythical “Dr Jack”, we see considerable skills, power and knowledge diverted from the cause of goodness and redeployed in the service of evil. This is an idea that resonates at the very heart of human experience, the key to its appeal perhaps echoed in the ambivalent role of mother as provider and punisher. Small wonder, then, that we find the notion of Jack the Ripper as “saint-turned-sinner” so seductive, stubborn and widespread.

However ingrained those beliefs may be, a strong case can be made for casting them aside. This article seeks to demonstrate that the Ripper neither needed, nor exhibited any such surgical skill throughout this dreadful sequence of murders. We focus on the Mitre Square murder primarily because it was in this case, uniquely so in the Whitechapel series, that the medical testimony focused on the qualitative aspects of the wounds, and to this extent we are indebted to Dr Frederick Gordon Brown, who saved for posterity the true, vicious horror of the Ripper’s technique. It is thus to Dr Brown’s meticulous notes that we must first turn.

Brown’s Description of the Facial Wounds

The randomness and savagery of the Ripper’s attack on Catherine Eddowes’ features are readily apparent when one examines the medical evidence carefully. Dr Frederick Gordon Brown lists nine specific wounds to the face, only one of which lacks detail. Elsewhere, Brown’s post-mortem description provides a great deal of information about the nature of the wounds, which enables us to interpret how they were probably inflicted.

A line-by-line examination of Brown’s notes is therefore instructive, and they are summarised below:

BROWN’S DESCRIPTION: 1) A cut of about ¼ inch through the lower left eyelid dividing the structures completely through the upper eyelid on that side, there was a scratch through the skin on the left upper eyelid.

WHAT WAS DESCRIBED: What Brown makes clear is that the cuts on both eyelids were of slightly different character. The wound to the left eyelid comprised a vertical cut from the cheekbone upwards, which would have passed close to the vertical centre of the eye, and which trailed off to a mere scratch on the upper left eyelid.