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The Psychopath Case Study: Jack the Ripper

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Between 1888 and 1891, several brutal and violent murders occurred in Whitechapel, London. All the victims were poor females who were said to be prostitutes. The murders involved several signature characteristics that include: overkill, incapacitation, sexual degradation, genital mutilation and much more. The serial killer who was named “Jack the Ripper” was never captured and to this day there is much specialization on who and why these murders were committed.


Six murder cases were linked to Jack the Ripper because of the same brutal characteristics or modus operandi displayed. The killer targeted white, female prostitutes between 24 and 45 years old. The evidence shows that when the women hiked their skirts in preparation for sex, the killer grabbed their throats and strangled them (Keppel, Weis, Brown, Welch, 2005, p. 14). The killer would engage the victims around midnight and early in the morning. All of the linked murders occurred in a three-month period and located within one mile of each other. In addition to the strangulation of the victims, Jack the Ripper mutilated and posed the victim’s bodies. The main component of Jack the Ripper’s signature include the control of the victim and progressive picquerism (Keppel et al., 2005).

Picquerism is deriving sexual pleasure through stabbing, cutting, or slicing another person or by observing these actions (as cited in Geberth, 1996). Jack the Ripper did not follow the traditional roll of sexual degradation with his victims, but found other ways to control his victim and satisfy himself. He used a knife to penetrate the victim, and satisfied himself through the eroticized power of violence, the domination of the victim, and the mutilation and bleeding of the victim, rather than sexual intercourse (Keppel et al., 2005). Jack the Ripper escalated in his violence towards the women he killed. The removal or organs and their placement at the scene were also part of the evolution of the killer’s signature (Keppel et al., 2005). There were several other murders in White Chapel during the reign of Jack the Ripper, but the killer did not engage in the same pattern of escalating signature behaviors exhibited by Jack the Ripper, including the careful planning of the murders, picquerism, and the posing and mutilation of victims (Keppel et al., 2005).

A Killer’s Background

Jack the Ripper was never caught or identified, but it is evident that he was a psychopath and had a violent hatred towards women. Bartol and Bartol (2012) state that murderers described as excessively sadistic and brutal tend to have many psychopathic features (p. 179). Jack the Ripper was definitely sadistic and brutal and displayed an unusual attraction to death by spending time with his victim’s body postmortem. The psychopath is unable to feel genuine, meaningful affection for others (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 177) Also, the fact that he was never caught shows that he fit in with his surroundings. Psychopaths may, for months on end, be responsible citizens, faithful spouses, and reliable employees (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 176). Since Jack the Ripper was never caught, several profiles have been created to understand why these violent crimes were committed. The one aspect of these crimes that is most focused on is the choice of victims.

All were females and they engaged in prostitution. Was their job of choice the reason they were selected or the fact that they were female? Also, the killer targeted specific areas of attack, stabbing and slashing the breast, genitalia, abdomen, and sexual organs of the victims (Keppel at al., 2005). There is also speculation that Jack the Ripper had another male accomplice and they were involved in a homosexual relationship. Their childhood experiences, especially of their mothers, fuelled their fear and hatred of women, which became intensified by the strong ties of their homosexual relationship (“Jack the Ripper Unveiled, “1992, Vol. 340, Issue 8821).

The relationship Jack the Ripper had with his mother is unknown, but the violence towards women can only make one speculate that something went afoul with the women in his life. Jack the Ripper was clearly a serial killer that terrorized London during a time that lack forensic and profiling capabilities. Today, many researchers have studied these brutal cases and have tried to form some opinion on who committed these crimes and why. Studying the brutality of the crimes has given some insight into the killers mind, but the motives are still unknown. The best ways to truly understand Jack the Ripper is by studying and comparing some recent serial killers, and hopefully that will help to understand what causes people to behave the way they do.

Bartol, C., & Bartol, A. (2011). Criminal behavior a psychological approach. Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education Jack the Ripper unveiled?. (1992). Lancet, 340(8821), 722.
Keppel, R. (2005). The Jack the Ripper Murders: A Modus Operandi and Signature Analysis of the 1888–1891 Whitechapel Murders. Journal of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling, 2(1), 1-21

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