English Serial Killers of the 19th Century
A serial killer is a person who has killed three or more people over a period of more than a month. Usually a serial killer's motive for taking multiple lives lies in psychological, sexual or ritualistic gratification. The killer usually targets victims with at least one similar characteristic, whether it be their occupation, race, gender or appearance. Psychoanalysts and fore sic specialists have identified common characteristics among serial killers such as low IQ, inability to maintain a job, abusive history from family members and more. However, these observations are far too general and there are frequent exceptions. Society's inability to successfully categorize serial killer personalities has allowed these horror stories to reoccur time and time again. Serial killers have fascinated as well as terrorized society throughout human history. Some of the most prolific and notorious serial killers were found in England during the 19th century.
Possibly the most infamous serial killer of the 19th century is the killer who became known as Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper's murders took place in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. There is an unusually large amount of speculation concerning the number of victims who were actually killed by The Ripper. Many murders in the same area were assumed to be by the hand of Jack the Ripper, but it cannot be proven. There are five known victims known today as "the canonical five". Their names were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. These five murders were undoubtedly committed by the same hand. The women all worked the streets of London as prostitutes. Each woman had deep gashes in their throats and deep, violent abdominal punctures and slashes. The media sensationalism surrounding the events only creating more panic among the citizens of Whitechapel. A series of letters were sent to government officials and journalists claiming to have been written by the killer who identified himself as "Jack the Ripper". There is a great deal of skepticism surrounding these letters. Some academics and various serial killer enthusiasts proposed that the letters were a haux put on by pranksters or journalists themselves in hopes to sell more news papers. Some of these letters however, such as the "From Hell Letter" were accompanied by organs belonging to the victims, which to some, authenticated the legitimacy of the letters. The identity of the killer has yet to be discovered which only adds to the sensation of his (or her) crimes. In addition to the killer's anonymity, the gruesome nature of his murders continues to shock and interest society today.
There were literally hundreds of suspects in the case of Jack The Ripper. Any petty thief or sexual deviant was under scrutiny by the authorities and the media. Other suspects were convicted murders of separate, but equally serious crimes; one of these suspects being George Chapman. Chapman was a serial killer who became known as the Borough Poisoner after poisoning at least three women using an acid called tartar-emetic which ensured that his victims face a painful death. His three known victims were named Mary Spink, Bessie Taylor and Maud Marsh. They were all murdered between 1897 and 1902. What is unusual about his crime is the lack of motive. He did not gain anything from taking the lives of these three women so it is assumed his motives were psychological and not financial.
Another suspect in the case of Jack the Ripper is Thomas Neill Cream. Similarly to Chapman, he poisoned his victims.He has ten known victims. His first victim was his mistress who he had convoked to chance her will in his favor. He was convicted and sentenced to life in jail, but his brother was able to bail him out. After that he fled to Chicago where he performed alleyway abortions and other illegal operations that claimed the lives of four more individuals and he went on to poison five prostitutes. After trying to frame two reputable local doctors for his crimes, he was eventually found out and sentenced to hanging. His last words before being hung were "I am Jack the…." It is unknown whether his confession was truthful or an attempt for fame after his death.
Although most serial killers are men, female serial killers have proven to be equally as notorious and disturbing as their male counterparts. Case studies of female serial killers have evidence that suggest that women are more likely to kill people who are close tho them in an emotional rage or for marital gain, unlike male serial killers who are known to kill strangers for more psychological reasons. Female serial killers during the victorian era often earned the title of a "Black Widow" in reference to the spider's tendency to kill their mates.
One notable female serial killer of the 19th century was Mary Ann Cotton. Cotton poisoned at least 18 individuals by poisoning them with arsenic between 1852 and 1870. She poisoned all 12 of her children, three of her husbands, a lover, a friend and her mother. She claimed that they all died of gastric fever and she would relocate all around England to avoid suspicion. She would collect the insurance money from her husbands which added up to about half a year's earnings for each husband. She settled in Southern England with her one surviving son, Charles where she works as a nurse. She raised the suspicion of her boss when she asked him to give her son a job to keep him occupied and out of the way, when he denied her request she responded "I won’t be troubled long. He’ll go like all the rest of the Cottons." When Charles died of a "stomach fever" just days later, Cotton's boss alerted authorities. After an investigation of Cotton's background and discovering seventeen additional cases of spontaneous gastric fever, Mary Ann Cotton was arrested and sentenced to death. During her execution, onlookers sang a nursery rhyme named after Mary Ann Cotton.
One of the most prolific serial killers of the 19th century happened to be a woman. Her name was Amelia Dyer. Amelia took advantage of the trend "baby farming" to try and scheme mothers out of their money. Baby farming was an adoption-like process that was frequently practiced by prostitutes or mistresses who wanted their pregnancies and children to be a secret. They would pay a nominal fee to essential abandon their child in the hands of a stranger in exchange for secrecy. Amelia Dyer would accept these children and assure their safety to their mothers, but then would go on to neglect the children until they died. In order to get more children and more money, Amelia Dyer decided that it would be more efficient to murder the children instead of allowing them to die of neglect. Amelia was discovered when the body of a baby was found in a river wrapped in packaging that geared her address. She was executed for her crimes in 1896. Some even suspect that Amelia Dyer may have been Jack the Ripper but to her size and sociopathic tendencies.
With the rise of violent crime and sensationalism in the media it was clear that forensic science and investigative techniques needed to evolve. Alphonse Bertillon developed anthropometry with was a method of documenting and organizing files of criminals. Anthropometry called for the measurements of criminals such as arm span and shoe size. This information was particularly helpful in identifying repeat offenders. A version of his methods is still used today. In addition to his invention of anthropometry, he also invented the classic mugshot to help further identify criminals and repeat offenders and provide justice for victims and their loved ones.