Was Jack the Ripper a slaughterman? Modern implications of human-animal violence


Andrew Knight investigates the case of Jack the Ripper and posits whether he might have been a 19th century slaughterhouse worker. He highlight the links between violence inflicted on animals, and that which is perpetrated on humans. Reproduced with permission from SARX.

Life in 19th century London was harsh. Workers’ rights were a futuristic fantasy, and those lucky enough to have employment commonly worked both day and night. Cart driver Charles Cross was one of those ‘fortunate’ souls. At around 03:40 AM on 30 August 1888, whilst en route to work, Cross spied a body in front of a gated stable entrance [1] (p. 27). A speedily summoned surgeon estimated that prostitute Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols had been murdered just 10 minutes previously. Her throat had been twice cut, and her abdomen savagely mutilated, by a series of violent, jagged incisions [1] (pp. 35, 47). Although unaware at the time, those present were witnessing what would subsequently be considered the first murder of the world’s most infamous serial killer—Jack the Ripper.

In the following 10 weeks four local women would share Polly’s fate. All were prostitutes, living and working in the impoverished East London slums, and all but one had their throats cut prior to abdominal mutilation. All efforts by the London constabulary, and subsequently, local vigilantes, to identify the killer, remained fruitless, and a climate of fear descended upon the city. The extraordinary brutality of the murders, combined with the enduring mystery of the killer’s identity, resulted in a fascination with the case that remains strong to this very day.


Could Jack have been a slaughterman?

Over 100 theories about Jack’s identity exist, ranging from the credible to the bizarre. However, as described in our detailed study recently published in Animals [2], multiple factors combine to create a remarkably compelling theory that he was very probably a local slaughterhouse worker. Numerous small-scale slaughterhouses existed in East London in the 1880s.

First, careful examination of a mortuary sketch of one of Jack’s victims reveal several aspects of incisional technique highly inconsistent with professional surgical training. The main abdominal cuts appear to have proceeded in the wrong direction, and their degree of raggedness exceeds that which would be probable in any person possessed of even minimal surgical skill, even when working under conditions of haste and poor light. And yet, in that poor light, with his victims awkwardly positioned at ground level, rather than on a dissecting table, Jack nevertheless successfully located and appropriated certain specific internal organs, with a speed that would have put most medical students to shame.

At the autopsy of Catherine Eddowes (Jack’s fourth victim) Phillips and Brown – the examining pathologist, and police surgeon, respectively – found that the injuries could have been inflicted by a person who had been a hunter, butcher, slaughterman, or a qualified or student surgeon [3] (p. 208). However, Jack also speedily dispatched his victims with full thickness throat incisions, extending nearly ear to ear. This is the main technique commonly used both historically and contemporaneously, to kill and bleed out land animals intended for human consumption.

Jack was also able to swiftly overpower and dispatch multiple victims, in close proximity to streets that were busy even during the early hours of the night – yet never a sound was heard. Such strength would have been necessary for, and induced by, the physical nature of the work in the slaughterhouses of this era. As described in the Birmingham Daily Post, “. . . a slaughterhouse is at its best but a chamber of horrors . . . in which oxen and sheep become beef and mutton under the hands of the brawny, half-naked pole-axing men” [4]. Half-naked, no doubt, because of the hard physical labour involved, and the exercise-induced body temperature increases and sweating.

Slaughterhouses and violent crime

Conditions in historical slaughterhouses for both animals and workers were exceedingly harsh. Modern slaughterhouses have become vaster, more impersonal, industrialised systems of killing, within which systematic animal abuse continues. Since 2009, British animal advocacy organization Animal Aid has covertly filmed within 12 randomly chosen British slaughterhouses. Cruelty and law breaking were rampant in 11 out of 12. Animals were kicked, slapped, stamped on, hoisted by fleeces and ears, and thrown into stunning pens. They were improperly stunned and killed, including by throat-cutting, while still conscious. Some were deliberately beaten, and pigs were burnt with cigarettes [5]. With more than 70 billion terrestrial animals slaughtered annually by 2013 (the most recently reported year, by April 2017) [6], slaughterhouse abuse is one of the greatest animal welfare concerns today.


Additionally, modern sociological research has highlighted clear links between violence towards animals, and that perpetrated on humans. To some degree, this is understandable – even inevitable – for slaughterhouse workers. If they allowed themselves to feel appropriate sympathy and concern for the animals, given their status as sentient beings who experience fear, pain and stress, and who do not wish to die, it would interfere with their abilities to fulfil the roles required of them, and hence, their economic survival. As noted by Dillard [7], “By habitually violating one’s natural preference against killing, the worker very likely is adversely psychologically impacted”.

Particularly disturbing are significant increases in the most violent crimes in communities surrounding slaughterhouses. After analysing 1994–2002 data from 581 U.S. counties, Fitzgerald and colleagues [8] reported that total arrest rates, and arrests for violent crimes, rape and other sex offenses, were increased among slaughterhouse workers. Particularly noteworthy were increases in sexual assault rates. Offences included sexual attacks on males, incest, indecent exposure, statutory rape, and “crimes against nature”. As noted, “Increases in slaughterhouse employment had a significant positive effect on rape arrests across the entire time period under study” (p. 174).

After analysing 2000 data from 248 U.S. counties, Jacques [9] similarly found that slaughterhouse presence corresponded with a 22% increase in total arrests, a 90% increase in offenses against the family, increased aggravated assaults, and a 166% increase in arrests for rape. In East London in the 1880s, such effects may very well have contributed to the creation of the world’s most infamous serial killer. Given dramatic modern increases in numbers of animals slaughtered, they should hardly be of lesser concern today.

It may once have been necessary to kill other sentient creatures in order to survive. Such excuses no longer have any merit, and indeed, the modern business of animal slaughter profoundly harms the animals abused and killed, the workers required to kill them, and even their surrounding communities. It undeniably harms consumers whose health is damaged by overconsumption of animal products [10-11]. It is clearly time to end our destructive social dependence on industrialised animal slaughter.


Professor Andrew Knight MANZCVS, DipECAWBM (AWSEL), DACAW, PhD, FRCVS, SFHEA is the Founding Director of the University of Winchester Centre for Animal Welfare, and established its MSc Animal Welfare Science, Ethics & Law. For more information about this programme, click here.

  1. Evans, S.P. and Skinner, K. (2000). The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. London: Constable and Robinson.
  2. Knight, A. and Watson, K.D. (2017). Was Jack the Ripper a slaughterman? Human-animal violence and the world’s most infamous serial killer. Animals7, 30. http://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/7/4/30, accessed 26 Jun. 2017.
  3. Evans, S.P. and Skinner, K. (2002). Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders; Document Pack. Kew, UK: PRO Publications.
  4. Anonymous (1888). The meat supply of London. Birmingham Daily Post, 24 December 1888: 7.
  5. Animal Aid (2016). The “Humane Slaughter” Myth. http://www.animalaid.org.uk/h/n/CAMPAIGNS/slaughter/ALL///, accessed 27 Jun. 2017.
  6. Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (2017). FAOSTAT (Database): Livestock Primary (2017). http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QL, accessed 03 Apr. 2017.
  7. Dillard, J. (2008). A slaughterhouse nightmare: psychological harm suffered by slaughterhouse employees and the possibility of redress through legal reform. Georget. J. Poverty Law Policy 15: 391–408.
  8. Fitzgerald, A.J., Kalof, L. and Dietz, T. (2009). Slaughterhouses and increased crime rates: an empirical analysis of the spillover from “The Jungle” into the surrounding community. Organ. Environ. 22: 158–184.
  9. Jacques, J.R. (2015). The slaughterhouse, social disorganization, and violent crime in rural communities. Soc. Anim. 23: 594–612.
  10. Walker, P., Rhubart-Berg, P., McKenzie, S., Kelling, K. and Lawrence, R.S. (2005). Public health implications of meat production and consumption. Public Health Nutr 8: 348-356.
  11. Sinha, R., Cross, A. J., Graubard, B. I., Leitzmann, M. F., & Schatzkin, A. (2009). Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Archives of internal medicine, 169(6): 562-571.

A leap in the right direction for Europe’s farmed rabbits

The welfare problems created by ever-increasing intensification of animal farming are affecting a surprising array of species. The following invited article about those impacts on rabbits, and key recent developments in the campaign to protect them, was authored by James West, Senior Campaign Manager at our partner organisation Compassion in World Farming

At Compassion in World Farming one of our flagship campaigns is End the Cage Age: we are aiming to eliminate the farming of animals in cages throughout the EU. I am delighted to share that this campaign took a positive hop forward for rabbits at the end of January, following a vote by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.

Members voted in favour of a report, which is backed by many scientists, which could result in the protection and improvement of the welfare of Europe’s 320 million (1) farmed rabbits. This is potentially huge news and is the closest we have come to securing new legislation for Europe’s farmed animals in over a decade, so it is vital for us to keep the pressure up on Europe’s decision makers and ensure progress on this issue.

Currently, over 99% of rabbits farmed for meat in the EU spend their lives confined in tiny, barren cages. There are very serious welfare issues affecting rabbits in these systems. The floor space and height is often so restricted that caged rabbits are frequently unable to move around and adopt normal postures such as lying stretched out, sitting and standing with their ears erect, turning around comfortably or even taking a single hop.


Figure 1. Farmed rabbits in a barren cage

Unfortunately, the amendment that would have included the introduction of species-specific legislation did not pass. We will battle on in the drive for this legislation in the plenary session in March.

However, the Agriculture Committee voted in favour of many recommendations within the report, including EU member states needing to encourage rabbit farmers to phase out conventional battery cages and replace them with higher welfare but affordable alternatives, such as park systems.

Compassion has exposed farmed rabbits’ terrible plight over the years through undercover investigations and achieved mass media coverage for two investigations, one in 2012 and one in 2014, helping to raise awareness of this cruel trade.

Last May we presented a 600,000 signature-strong petition to Europe’s Agriculture Ministers, calling for an end to the farming of rabbits in cages, and recently we asked children throughout the EU to send in rabbit drawings of how they believe rabbits should be kept. Unsurprisingly, these are pictures of rabbits outdoors, featuring vast green, grassy fields with words such as ‘freedom’ and ‘no cages’ strewn across them. We delivered these drawings to MEPs ahead of last Wednesday’s vote urging them to vote in favour of the report.

We will continue to lobby MEPs in the coming weeks and push for legislation, and the other recommendations within the report. This has brought farmed rabbits to the forefront of the public and political agenda, and now that they are on the agenda, we intend to keep them there.

1. Estimated FAOSTAT figures for 2010-13

Seasons Greetings from the Centre for Animal Welfare

As the Christmas lights cast a twinkling glow upon the ancient cobblestoned streets of Winchester, and students and staff head for the ice rink beneath the cathedral, or for even more distant, sunnier shores, there is a brief period in which to pause and take stock, before semester starts again. In the blur of activity during the academic year, little time is given to appreciate what is achieved. When that time finally comes, however, the results surprise us. This second year of our operation has proven no exception.

In May we formally launched our new 
Centre for Animal Welfare (CAW) at a high-profile event, attended by senior University representatives and around 100 external guests. Animal advocate Heather Mills and TV actor and animal cruelty activist Peter Egan shared their inspiring stories about campaigning for animal welfare.

In June, along with Winchester’s 
Institute for Value Studies, we were proud to co-host North Americans Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka – authors of the ground-breaking Zoopolis: a Political Theory of Animal Rights. Guests and others speakers from across the UK attended. The seminar was a great success!

In September we commenced our new B
A (Hons) Animal Welfare & Society, and our MSc Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, which have progressed extremely well. I’m convinced we now have some of the most exciting courses currently available in these fields.

In September I also chaired a key London Symposium 
Raising Standards at the Time of Slaughter: Analysing the Potential Impact of ‘Brexit’ upon Animal Welfare, organised by the Public Policy Exchange. It felt extremely topical given the huge potential implications of Brexit for animal welfare.

In October we signed a formal partnership with the 
International Fund for Animal Welfare, a world-leading animal advocacy NGO. This adds to the partnership agreement we signed last year with Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). We feel delighted to be working with them both.

In November we hosted our 
Animal welfare and Religion symposium. Six leading speakers variously represented the animal welfare movement, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and other Eastern religions, and Paganism. It felt extremely gratifying to see the common threads of concern for animals, compassion, and commitment to animal welfare, running through all of them. Access their videos from the Symposium here. It seems the religions have more in common than often appreciated.

This was a major and well-attended symposium, at which Winchester also became the first university to sign the 
CreatureKind Commitment. Developed by our Visiting Professor David Clough from the University of Chester, the agreement commits signatories to recognise the impacts of intensive farming on humans, animals and the environment, and to undertake a programme of reducing consumption of animal products, sourcing remaining products from higher welfare sources, setting goals for improved practice, and regularly reviewing them.

As stated by our Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Elizabeth Stuart, who signed the commitment on behalf of the University, ‘The University of Winchester is a Church foundation, values-driven institution, committed to high standards of environmental sustainability, Fairtrade practices and animal welfare. Signing the CreatureKind Commitment connects our values with our practice. With Compassion being at the heart of our institution, we seek to improve the lives of animals used in the production of meat, dairy and eggs, and reduce the demand for animal products from factory farms.’

CAW members also gave several high profile presentations during 2015. Highlights included presentations by:

• our Visiting Professor Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of CIWF, on ‘The role of livestock in sustainable agriculture’, at the Committee on World Food Security Annual Plenary, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, in October
• our PhD students Madelaine Leitsberger and Christine Nellist at several international conferences, on their work focusing on animal ethics and animal theology
• myself, examining how systematic reviews of animal experiments demonstrate poor contributions to human healthcare, at the Science Instead of Animal Experiments Congress in Cologne in October, and the EU Scientific Conference: Non-Animal Approaches, in Brussels in November – jointly, to around 600 attendees
• my inaugural professional lecture ‘
Was Jack the Ripper a slaughterman? Unexpected journeys in animal welfare’, in December – again to a scarily large audience. Any who have had to deliver such a lecture themselves will understand the extent of my relief that this event went well!

Additionally, our work was presented at conferences as remote as Peru and the US, in one case successfully by Skype.

We also had a series of key publications in the field of animal welfare and ethics, representing some of the amazing diversity to be found within this field, including:

• on
the intelligence of orcas, and the adverse impacts they experience when confined within oceanaria and used for performances. We hope and expect this work will contribute to the international campaign to end the use of orcas for these purposes
• the 
most comprehensive study to date of the health and nutritional aspects of vegetarian vs. meat-based diets for companion animals
• the 
contributions (or lack, thereof) of invasive animal research in contributing to the treatment of the important childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and several others. Our full list of recent publications is available here.

None of this would have been possible without all the partners in the animal welfare field we work with: our CAW members, partner organisations, and of course our many wonderful PhD, masters and undergraduate students! Thank you everybody! May you all have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Prof. Andrew Knight is Director of Winchester's
Centre for Animal Welfare