28 May 1988
London, May 25 - Reuters
A hundred years on, Jack the Ripper is a growth industry. Tourists with a taste for the macabre are sipping cocktails named after him, lurid paperbacks are being published about him, and a feminist campaign has been launched to complain about people cashing in on him.
Known only by his nickname, the Ripper stalked the slums of Victorian London and killed the first of his female victims 100 yaesr ago this August. Since then he has come to represent an archetypal murderer of the most brutal kind. He is a favourite of publishing and film industries eager to satisy the public thirst for horror.
This year - months before the anniversary of the first murder - the Ripper moneymaking machine has shifted into top gear to launch a variery of new products.
To add to the glossy new books there will be a television blockbuster later this year starring Michael Caine as a detective. But this burst of commercial interest has prompted bitter criticism from feminist groups in Britain, who say it is morally wrong to make money out of a killer.
Jack the Ripper murdered five women, and some think more, in a reign of terror lasting less than three months.
As he claimed more victims his taste for mutilating the bodies grew, reaching a climax with the death of 24 year old Mary Kelly who was found hacked almost to pieces in the autumn of 1888. She was three months pregnant.
After that the killings stopped, the police admitted they had failed to catch the Ripper, and a legend sprang up around the mysterious knifeman.
The neighbourhood where he picked his victims, prostitutes driven by desperate poverty to solicit in a dangerous slum, is now a well worn tourist circuit.
Trips around the murder spots include a stop at the "Jack the Ripper," a drab pub frequented by one of his victims, which offers a crimson cocktail called the Ripper Tipple.
Meanwhile self styled experts and authors on the case are still coming up with new angles on the mystery of the killer's identity. "Without post mortem examinations, fingerprinting and blood tests, the detectives had little to aid them and failure to identify the murdere has fuelled profuse and imaginative speculation among amateur sleuths," said criminologist William Waddell.
Jack has entered the realms of fiction as a swarthy gentleman in a top hat and cloak, making his getaway down gaslit alleys through swirling fog. In this guise he has appeared in over 20 films, from a Swedish porno comedy to scisnce fiction epics.
"It has become an historical whodunnit like one by crime novelist Agatha Christie," said Donald Rumbelow, author of The Complete Jack the Ripper.
Except that in the real world, the Ripper got away with it.
Suspects range from an impoverished immigrant to a grandson of Queen Victoria, and one book published this year invites the reader to a game of "Pick Your Ripper" from among the possible culprits.
But critics say such promotions are sick, encouraging aggression against women and providing a role model for copycat killer.
They cite as evidence one of the lastest Ripper products - a computer game featuring graphics of a naked woman in a sexy pose, lying dead in a pool of blood.
"All this is obscene. It's definitely not a bit of harmless fun," said Annie Blue, a spokeswoman for Action Against the Ripper Centenary.
The group was formed in March this year to oppose commercial exploitation of the anniversary and violence against women.
Its supporters have already staged protests out side the Ripper pub, which sells Ripper T-shirts as well as cocktails.
The pub, for most of its history known as the Ten Bells, was renamed Jack the Ripper in 1974.
"It's paying tribute to a man who murdered woman," said one critic. But Yvonne, the pub landlady, disagreed. "There's nothing gory about it. It's a great whodunnit and that's what attracts people," she said.
Rumbelow, a police sergeant, suggests a link between modern murders and the Ripper myth. In his book he mentions a number of cases possibly inspired by the Ripper killings, including one in which a convicted murderer told police he was Jack and wanted to buy a black cloak "like the one Jack the Ripper wore."
Rumbelow also examines the case of Peter Sutcliffe, from the northern county of Yorkshire who was dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper and was jailed for life in 1981 for 13 murders.
Deborah Cameron, a college lecturer and feminist who researched the Ripper case for recent book, accused Ripper enthusiasts of unwittingly trivialising violence.
"The question for society is not which individual man killed but why so many men have done it and still do," she said.
Fellow feminist Annie Blue agreed. "How can a society call itself caring when it worships killers and forgets the women who were killed?"