Jack the Ripper’s victims ‘were NOT prostitutes but homeless women’

Jack the Ripper’s victims were NOT prostitutes but homeless women killed in their sleep, claims new book

  • Hallie Rubenhold has found evidence to suggest the women died in their sleep
  • Historian points to inquest reports showing they were lying down when killed
  • Four women were found in the street with no money, pointing to rough sleeping
  • She claims researchers have failed to question Victorian narratives about them
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Jack the Ripper’s victims were not prostitutes but mainly homeless women, a new book has claimed.

Historian Hallie Rubenhold has found evidence to suggest four of the five women murdered by the unidentified serial killer were slain as they slept in the street. 

She points to coroner notes from the time that point out that all the women were stabbed to death while lying down, with minimal struggle and no noise.

Dr Rubenhold argues that ‘sexist’ attitudes of policemen at the time and researchers in the 130 years since have led to inaccurate beliefs about the victims. 

Her new book The Five claims to be the first full-length biography ever written about the women, revealing the untold stories of their lives before they were killed.

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Jack the Ripper’s victims were not prostitutes but mainly homeless women, a sensational new book has claimed

Only Mary Jane Kelly was a prostitute at the time, she claims, while there is no suggestion former sex worker Elizabeth Stride was soliciting on the night she died.

Meanwhile, the other three victims – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman and  Catherine Eddowes – had working-class jobs as servants and laundry maids.

The Ripper killed his victims in Whitechapel, east London, between September and November 1888, but his identity has never been discovered. 

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Dr Rubenhold points out that many women slept rough in the notoriously deprived district, and that police often ‘conflated female homelessness with prostitution’.

Four of the five women were found in the street with no money, pointing to rough-sleeping rather than soliciting, she added. 

Mary Jane Kelly, the Ripper’s final victim, was the only one discovered in her bed, having worked as a high-class sex worker in Westminster. 

Dr Rubenhold’s new book The Five claims to be the first full-length biography ever written about the women, revealing the untold stories of their lives before they were killed

Dr Rubenhold told the Telegraph: ‘There is so much more evidence to suggest they were killed in their sleep than that they were working as prostitutes, but the narrative has always gone with the latter view. 

‘People are always surprised when I remind them that most of the victims were in their 40s.

‘Their sexual capital was extremely reduced so they would have found it difficult to ‘turn tricks’.

‘They were depicted in the sensationalist Victorian media as struggling, but there was no evidence of any struggle.’

The first of the victims, Mary Nichols, was found dead on the afternoon of August 31, 1888, in a gateway in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel. She had been disemboweled.

The mutilated corpse of Annie Chapman was found in the backyard of number 29 Hanbury Street at 6am, just over a week later on September 8.

Elizabeth Stride was found dead on September 30, in Dutfield’s Yard, off Berner Street.

It is believed the Ripper may have been interrupted while cutting her throat, as the rest of her body was untouched.

Later the same day the body of Catherine Eddowes was found in Mitre Square in the City of London, with her uterus and kidney removed and her cheeks slashed.

Mary Kelly, who was Jack the Ripper’s final known victim, was found in her room in Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, on November 9. 

Despite contemporary beliefs, none of the women came from Whitechapel: they were from Holborn, Knightsbridge, Gothenburg, Wolverhampton and Wales. 

Victorian police suspected the Ripper was a butcher but they were never able to track him down. 

Last year, a book claimed that an apparent ‘confession’ found beneath the floorboards of a Liverpool cotton merchant’s bedroom was authentic.

The memoir includes the line: ‘I give my name that all know of me, so history do tell, what love can do to a gentleman born. Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper.’

But critics questioned how the book, purportedly belonging to businessman James Maybrick, came to be found and whether the claims were genuine.

  • The Five is released on February 28 through publisher Penguin

Their stories finally told: Five things you didn’t know about The Five



1. Mary Ann, also known as ‘Polly’, grew up in Holborn, off Shoe Lane, in the same warren of streets where Charles Dickens’ set Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist.

2. Was born Mary Ann Walker, the daughter of a blacksmith and the wife of a printer.

3. She, her husband and her five children were among some of the first families to live in the ‘all mod-cons’ Peabody Buildings which was based in Stamford Street, Lambeth.

4. Slept rough in Trafalgar Square with hundreds of homeless during the period of the Trafalgar Square Riots in 1887.

5. Had lived as a servant in well-to-do Wandsworth shortly before her death. 


1. Was the daughter of a trooper in the Household Cavalry who later became a gentleman’s valet for an MP and a Crimean War hero.

2. She spent the majority of her life in London between Knightsbridge, Belgravia and Piccadilly.

3. Lived on a country estate in Windsor prior to her death.

4. Annie spent a year in one of Britain’s first alcoholic rehabilitation centres specifically opened for middle-class women.

5. Towards the end of her life, Annie walked from Whitechapel to Windsor during Christmas to see her dying husband. 


1. Was born Elisabeth Gustafsdotter, the daughter of a farmer in Stora Tumlehed, outside of Gothenburg, Sweden.

2. Worked as a maid for an oboist in the Gothenburg Orchestra and his wife.

3. Emigrated to the UK in the employment of a wealthy English family and lived in a house near Hyde Park.

4. Married John Stride, a carpenter and the son of a property developer in Sheerness. Together they ran coffee houses in Poplar.

5. Became an accomplished fraudster and claimed to have survived the sinking of the Princess Alice on the Thames in 1878. Later convinced a seamstress, Mary Malcolm that she was her long lost sister.


1. Katherine Eddowes was the daughter of a ‘firebrand’ union agitator from Wolverhampton.

2. During her childhood, she was selected to attend the Dowgate Charity School, in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

3. Lived for a time in Birmingham with her uncle, a celebrated bare-knuckle boxer.

4. Travelled the country with her common-law partner, Thomas Conway writing and selling ballads.

5. Had Thomas Conway’s initials tattooed on her forearm.


1. Was the only career sex worker among the five victims and lived in Knightsbridge.

2. Claimed to have been from both Ireland and Wales, yet didn’t speak with an accent.

3. Was probably trafficked to Paris, but somehow managed to return to London.

4. Lived for a time off the Ratcliff Highway with a family of Dutch brothel keepers.

5. To this day remains an enigma. Her real name was almost certainly not Mary Jane Kelly.

From Hell: The infamous serial killer who terrorized Victorian London

Jack the Ripper is thought to have killed at least five young women in Whitechapel, East London, between September and November 1888, but was never caught.

Numerous individuals have been accused of being the serial killer.

At the time, police suspected the Ripper must have been a butcher, due to the way his victims were killed and the fact they were discovered near to the dockyards, where meat was brought into the city.

There are several alleged links between the killer and royals. First is Sir William Gull, the royal physician. Many have accused him of helping get rid of the alleged prostitutes’ bodies, while others claim he was the Ripper himself.

A page from the Illustrated Police News page covering the murders of Jack the Ripper

A book has named Queen Victoria’s surgeon Sir John Williams as the infamous killer. He had a surgery in Whitechapel at the time.

Another theory links the murders with Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence.

At one point, cotton merchant James Maybrick was the number one suspect, following the publication of some of his diary which appeared to suggest he was the killer.

Some believe the diary to be a forgery, although no one has been able to suggest who forged it.

Other suspects include Montague John Druitt, a Dorset-born barrister. He killed himself in the Thames seven weeks after the last murder.

George Chapman, otherwise known as Severyn Kłosowski, is also a suspect after he poisoned three of his wives and was hanged in 1903.

Jack the Ripper is thought to have killed at least five young women in Whitechapel, East London, between September and November 1888

Another suspected by police was Aaron Kosminski. He was admitted to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum and died there.

Dr Thomas Neill Cream poisoned four London prostitutes with strychnine and was hanged in 1892.

Some of the more bizarre links include Lewis Carroll, author of the Alice in Wonderland books, who taught at Christ Church until 1881 – which was at the forefront of the Ripper murder scenery.

Winston Churchill’s father – Lord Randolph Churchill – has also been named as a potential suspect.

Crime writer Patricia Cornwell believes she has ‘cracked’ the case by unearthing evidence that confirms Walter Sickert, an influential artist, as the prime suspect. Her theories have not been generally accepted.

Author William J Perring raised the possibility that Jack the Ripper might actually be ‘Julia’ – a Salvation Army soldier.

In The Seduction Of Mary Kelly, his novel about the life and times of the final victim, he suggests Jack the Ripper was in fact a woman.

Police discovering the body of one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, probably Catherine Eddowes

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