A historian who has told the true story of Jack the Ripper’s victims has spoken of the “offensive”, “stupid” and almost “laughable” trolling she has received from Ripperologists.
Hallie Rubenhold said she had even been compared to Holocaust denier David Irving for her book, in which she challenges the traditional narrative that the murdered women were all sex workers.
The reaction had been extraordinary, Rubenhold told the Hay festival. “I knew it [the book] was going to be controversial. I had no idea how controversial. There are people out there who feel they have ownership of these women’s stories and there is an orthodoxy.
“If you question those ‘facts’, then God have mercy on you. The response I’ve had to this has been unbelievable.”
Rubenhold argues three of the five women were not sex workers and paints a more rounded picture of their lives.
This has led to accusations of Rubenhold having a cynical, feminist agenda and that she was trying to make Jack the Ripper work for the #Me Too age. “Well, #MeToo hadn’t actually happened when I started writing the book,” she said.
“It is absolutely absurd, it’s offensive and it’s laughable. The amount of trolling … and it’s constant.”
Rubenhold was asked why people still felt so passionately about the case. There was an element of wanting to “solve” it; and a sexual side to it, she said.
“It is probably the most famous unsolved murder case ever and up until the 1920s, 1930s there was a real genuine fear that he could strike again and there was an imperative to find out who he was and catch him.
“But at a certain point, Jack the Ripper died … he is dead. There is no imperative now to figure out who Jack the Ripper was.”
She said a lot of sleuthing was ego-driven. “It’s, ‘I’m going to be the person who finally cracks this case’. Never mind the fact the law has moved on. You cannot go back to newspaper reports from 1888 and think you can solve a murder in 2019. It is never going to happen.”
The five victims were Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Each had their throats cut and four had their entrails removed.
Rubenhold said the best-known and most popular of the victims was Kelly and there was an element of it being titillating because she was beautiful and young.
The truth about the victims was far less glamorous: “They were sick, starving, brutally treated women who died a terrible, terrible death … I cannot see what is sexy about that.”
Rubenhold said she was shocked no one had written a full-length book about the victims. “What an unbelievable omission,” she said. “We have literally libraries filled with information about Jack the Ripper. The same material over and over and over again, and nobody has actually thought to sit down and do a full book about this?”