You know him from legend (I'm told this is far more likely if you're not from the UK) and from loads of films and t.v. episodes that somehow manage to work him into their stories. Sherlock Holmes defeated him--twice. In one novel he turned out to be Holmes! One iconic science fiction program said he was an alien possessing people and drinking the fear of his victims. Another said he was human, a twisted idealist recruited (eventually) by ancient aliens to serve a strange purpose of their own.
In fact, we don't even know for certain that he signed himself "Jack The Ripper." Yeah, there was a letter (famously postmarked "From Hell") but there's no real proof the killer actually wrote it. Over a hundred such letters got written and delivered in 1888 London, purporting to be from the killer that terrorized the city's imagination. At most maybe two might have been genuine. Maybe. Writing those letters was the Victorian equivalent of sending out a computer virus.
The more things change...etc.
What fascinates perhaps most of all is how little is really known about Jack (he was initially known as "Leather Apron") versus what people think they know. And not simply in the popular imagination! People who've actually studied the murders and those involved come away extremely sure of some conclusion -- one usually tentative at best, downright silly at worst. Did you know Lewis Carrol is a suspect? Yep, the author of Alice in Wonderland. Someone claimed that if you rearranged the letters of some of Carrol's poems you get the equivalent of "I am Jack The Ripper, Honestly I am." Almost incidentally, this simply is not true. Really. Dr. Neill Cream is another suspect, rather more popular than Carrol--despite having been in a Chicago prison at the time of the murders. You'd think that would have ended it, wouldn't you. Surprisingly (or not), no it didn't. Just as the total lack of any evidence to support it has never seriously impeded the spread of the so-called "Masonic Royalist Conspiracy Theory." This one has been even been filmed twice!
Here it is in a nutshell. The Duke of Clarence (Queen Victoria's grandson) married an Irish Catholic maid to get her into bed, and they had a daughter. A group of Masons, essentially the Powers-That-Be in 1888 England, whisk away the maid to an insane asylum where she's victimized in some way to make her mad. Then they set an elderly physician recovering from a stroke named William Gull to find and kill the five witnesses to the marriage -- all of whom are now prostitutes in Whitechapel. He does this in a ritual fashion according to the rules of the Masonic Order, even leaving graffiti in chalk on the wall near one of the murders, implicating the Masons (all in the interest of keeping a secret mind you). Gull had lost the use of one hand as a result of the stroke. Just thought I'd mention that. Oh, and funny how there aren't any other Masonic victims to be found murdered in a way Jack killed those five prostitutes -- whose mutilations varied quite a bit from victim to victim, anyway.
Nonsense. Every single word. But not so surprising, when we still live in a world where Paul is dead, George Bush is an evil genius who coordinated 9/11, where Barack Obama's 18-year-oold mother for some reason went to Kenya to give birth to her first child but managed to cover up this (if true, at the time) totally innocuous fact by subverting Hawaii's health department, where the Holocaust and Apollo moon landings were both special effects tricks created by Hollywood, and the Jackalope roams free in certain parts of rural Texas.
I don't believe any of this. Just for the record. But people do. Lots of them. Well, the Jackalope would be cool -- I can sympathize with that belief, anyway. But as for the rest...
Does it strike you that some people really cannot handle complex information and try to reduce it to manageable, if paranoid, chunks? Or who cannot handle not having the answers to certain questions -- like Who was Jack the Ripper?
I don't know. No one does. It seems very unlikely we'll ever find out. And that isn't very comfortable, is it?