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Dissecting Jack-the-Ripper : An Anatomy of Murder in the Metropolis

Elizabeth Hurren


Jack-the-Ripper has been an historical prism for international studies of crime, history and societies. This article re-examines the infamous violent homicides from a new medical perspective. In a cold case review, original evidence of a secret trade in the dead poor is presented, neglected in crime historiography. Trafficking in bodies and body parts to teach human anatomy to medical students was the norm in the East End of London in 1888. The business of anatomy – peopled by body dealers and their accomplices – had the medical infrastructure to provide a deadly disguise for the serial killings. Those that fell from relative to absolute poverty, in death, supplied dissection tables in major teaching hospitals across London. Its social wallpaper could conceivably have camouflaged homicide in the Metropolis.

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Full text document will be published online on December 2018.


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First lines


In 1888, the true identity of Jack-the-Ripper confounded the Metropolitan Police of London and created a publishing sensation that has turned into a global industry of true-crime genre. Numerous armchair detectives have speculated about the identity of the serial killer, the motivation for the murders, as well as the precarious lifestyles of the five iconic female victims, and their poverty setting in the East-End. Paul Begg is one of a number of modern commentators who have recently concluded : “the identity of Jack the Ripper isn’t really very important. It’s the story of those crimes and the women who died and of the society and times in which they lived that matters and that holds the enduring fascination”. This article builds on this observation by returning to the shadowlands in which the main victims lived and worked, re-examining what their personal connection to Jack-the-Ripper may have been. Whilst it may never be possible to name Jack conclusively, it is feasi...

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Electronic reference

Elizabeth Hurren, « Dissecting Jack-the-Ripper : An Anatomy of Murder in the Metropolis », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [Online], Vol. 20, n°2 | 2016, Online since 01 December 2018, connection on 23 June 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/chs.1667

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About the author

Elizabeth Hurren

Reader in the Medical Humanities in the School of History of the University of Leicester. She is renowned as an international scholar of the history of the body, with wide-ranging research interests in death, dying and poverty studies. In 2007 she published in the prestigious Royal Historical Society Series, Protesting about Pauperism : Poverty, Politics and Poor Relief in late-Victorian England. This was followed in 2013 by her ground-breaking study entitled Dying for Victorian Medicine : English Anatomy and its Trade in the Dead Poor, 1832 to 1929, short-listed in 2015 for the British Medical Association’s Book of the Year Prize. In 2016, her latest book, now in press with Palgrave Macmillan, will be Dissecting the Criminal Corpse : Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England. Elizabeth was editor of Wellcome History from 2012 and continues to be a board member of Family and Community History, as well as historical consultant for Historic Royal Palaces, London. -

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