Using newspaper accounts, public records, and recollections of friends and family, The Five presents the lives – in contrast to the deaths – of the five ‘canonical’ victims of Jack the Ripper. As a social history, and an exercise in Victorian Era prosopography, it provides the cultural and socio-economic contexts to the circumstances which resulted in their unfortunate place in history.
In March 2019 a study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences made the claim that DNA analysis from a piece of clothing from one of Jack the Ripper’s victims had finally revealed the killer’s identity. In historian Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, she corrects the 130 year old historiographical imbalance between popular media’s fascination with the search for the Ripper and its apathy surrounding the lives of the women whom he murdered.
Before reading this book, I too shared the vague assumption that ‘The Five’ were poor, young, East End sex workers. Not quite. Four were in their mid to late 40’s, three previously married. One was a Swedish immigrant, and one received a childhood education that wouldn’t be compulsory for another generation. Only the youngest (mid 20’s), and last killed, was a known participant in the sex trade of London. Not coincidentally, she is the most enigmatic and least traceable. Who the others were, and were not, are exhaustively researched in these biographies which spotlight the cultural, socio-economic, and gender biased climate of the times. This climate had no small part to play in the circumstances leading up to their horrific fate.
‘The Five’ were victims long before 1888, and long before the world found it necessary to name them so.