Dec 31, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

The Only Known Composite Image of Jack the Ripper Has Been Found

One of the most famous unsolved serial killer cases in history is that of Jack the Ripper – the eleven notorious stabbing murders and mutilations of prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London, England, between 1888 and 1891 which terrified the populace at the time due to the widespread coverage of the bloody killings, the frustratingly inconclusive investigations, the long list of possible suspects which included doctors and butchers, and the sudden end to the murders. “Jack the Ripper” has been added to the lexicon and is used to this day for serial killings, prostitute murders, mutilations and the like. As proof, a recent headline boasting that the ”only known facial likeness of Jack the Ripper” has been found generated huge amounts of attention in the mainstream media. If the authorities know what he looks like – make that ‘knew’ because this particular likeness dates back to the time of the murders - why didn’t anyone then, later or now catch the killer … or at least positively identify him?

Is that the guy on the cane?

“The only reported facial composite of notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper, which was carved into the handle of a walking cane, has been recovered in Ryton.”

That announcement was issued in a press release this week by the College of Policing – a professional organization for the police in England and Wales involved in the training and development of officers. It is separate from the Home Office – the ministerial department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order – and is located in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire. In addition to a National Police Library archiving all writings having to do with British police work, the College of Policing also houses historical artifacts related to crimes. In 2015, Bramshill Police Staff College closed and one of its prized artifacts – a unique walking cane carved with the alleged face of Jack the Ripper – disappeared without a trace … just like its inspiration. (You can see a photo of the cane here.)

“The walking cane was originally given to Chief Inspector Abberline by his team in 1888 at the conclusion of his most infamous case, The Whitechapel murders, which were committed by Jack the Ripper and still remain unsolved.”

Most of the City of London Police files on the Whitechapel murders were destroyed during World War II in the Blitz. Those few that survived identify some of the officers who conducted door-to-door searches for witnesses and clues, collected forensic material, located and interviewed suspects – as many as 300 were investigated and 80 were detained. One of those officers was Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline, who was on a team sent from the Central Office at Scotland Yard. The College of Policing press release notes that Chief Inspector Abberline was an experienced officer and expert crime solver with the Metropolitan Police - eventually becoming the highest-ranking chief inspector at the Criminal Investigation department of Scotland Yard. If anyone could solve the Whitechapel Murders and catch Jack the Ripper, it would be Abberline. As we know, that didn’t happen. Nonetheless, when Detective Inspector Abberline went back to Scotland Yard without solving the crime, he was still given a nice parting gift – the walking cane carved with a face said to be the only known image of the killer. Who carved it? How did the artist acquire the only known facial composite of the killer to make the image? Unfortunately, it seems those details disappeared in the blitz as well.

Detective Inspector Abberline retired from the Metropolitan Police in 1892 after 30 years of service and died in 1929. The carved wooden cane at some point ended up in storage at the Bramshill Police Staff College. That facility opened in 1948 as the National Police College and the National Police Library and was originally located in Ryton-on-Dunsmore. In 1960 it was moved to Bramshill until it closed in 2015. Its historical records and collections were then moved back to Ryton-on-Dunsmore to the College of Policing. Anyone who has ever moved knows how easy it is for a small item like a wooden cane to be lost in the chaos of packing, moving, unpacking and putting away – even a cane as historically important as the Jack the Ripper one.

“Finding this cane was an exciting moment for us. Jack the Ripper is one of the biggest and most infamous murder cases in our history and his crimes were significant in paving the way for modern policing and forensics as it caused police to begin experimenting with and developing new techniques as they attempted to try and solve these murders, such as crime scene preservation, profiling and photography.”

Antony Cash, Content Creator at College of Policing, doesn’t say how the cane was found, but highlights its importance. Not only is it the likeness of the infamous serial killer, it shows how even a massive police investigation of a horrific series of murders and mutilations is only as good as the evidence eyewitness accounts – and one big piece of evidence from the Whitechapel murders was a small wood carving based on a composite drawing. When compared to the sophisticated facial recognition software, vast array of surveillance cameras and ubiquitousness of cell phones today, it is a wonder we have any unsolved crimes. How long did Detective Inspector Abberline stare at that composite drawing – burning that image into his mind so he could identify the killer if and when he was confronted by him. It is entirely possible that Abberline had such an encounter and didn’t know it – that was the frustration felt by the police and Scotland Yard detectives working on the case for so long without success.

Would Jack the Ripper escape being caught on surveillance cameras or cell phones today? 

“This walking cane is such a fascinating artifact which represents such a historically significant time in policing, and it’s amazing that we can put it out on display here in Ryton, alongside the original newspaper cuttings, so that our officers can see first-hand how far we’ve advanced in policing since then.”  

The Whitechapel murders began in 1888. Whoever the killer was, he is long dead. Could today’s powerful computers and facial recognition software scan Abberline’s cane and compare the image to drawings, paintings, old photographs, newspaper clippings and other images of faces from that time and possibly identify Jack the Ripper once and for all? That would be a rare and highly unlikely possibility bordering on miraculous – and the police story of the past two centuries.

And somewhere in England, a police inspector and a murderer would simultaneously roll over in their graves.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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