By Brad Dison
The brutal unsolved murders by the individual commonly referred to as Jack the Ripper is one of the most famous criminal cases in history. In 1888, Jack the Ripper violently murdered at least five women in London’s Whitechapel district. Some authors claim there were many more victims, several even speculate on the real identity of the murderer. However, the case remains unsolved.
Since his horrifying murder spree, newspapers columnists have used the name Jack as a place name whenever the culprit of a crime was unknown. There have been many bad Jacks such as “Jack the Kisser,” a man who kissed unwilling women, “Jack the Peeper,” what we now call a “Peeping Tom,” “Jack the Smasher,” who broke into homes and destroyed everything within without taking a single item. One irritated newspaper columnist argued that “the ‘Jack’ business has become a fad among the vicious and nothing short of a few doses of cold lead will cure it.”
There was another Jack, who had his own unique crime spree. Unlike Jack the Ripper, our Jack struck in broad daylight rather than at night. Like Jack the Ripper, our Jack attacked and disappeared seemingly without a trace. Jack the Ripper’s murder spree, by most accounts, only lasted a few weeks and occurred within a small geographic region. Our Jack victimized girls in multiple cities and in multiple states. The first reports of our Jack were in Brooklyn, New York.
On Thursday morning, January 8, 1891, Miss Lulu Hewittwalked the several blocks from her home on Schermerhorn Street to her school at the corner of 3rd Avenue and State Street in Brooklyn. During her walk, Lulu felt something cold touch her neck, but thought little of it since it was a cold morning. When she arrived at school, her friends pointed out that something of hers was missing. She remembered that a man, whom she was unable to describe except that he was tall and slim, had passed unusually close to her while she was walking.
A week later, January 15, a young girl named Mamie McMurray peered into a store window on Grand Street. After a few minutes, she realized something of hers was missing. Mamie was focused on the items displayed in the shop’s window and failed to notice anyone approach her. She looked around but saw nothing and no one unusual.
On January 20, two young girls, Eva Whitehead and Nellie Kaiser, left their school at noon to visit Eva’s aunt’s home for lunch. Eva’s aunt lived just a few houses down from the school. In the middle of a crosswalk, Eva felt a slight tug and thought something had gotten caught on one of her jacket’s buttons. She adjusted her jacket and continued to her aunt’s home. When she and Nellie arrived, Eva’s aunt pointed out something was out of place. Only then did Eva realize someone had tried to steal something from her. Jack had failed this time. Eva remembered that a tall, slim man had brushed close by her side in the crosswalk. Nellie was unaware that anything had happened and had not noticed the man.
At about 8:30 a.m. on January 26, Gertrude Breast left her home and walked toward her school. During her walk, she noticed a man whom she had seen on several occasions. She had previously suspected that the man was watching her. As she neared her school, she noticed someone was walking unnaturally close to her. She turned and saw the man whom she had suspected of watching her. The man, armed with a large knife or a pair of scissors, grabbed the object of his obsession, cut it free, and quickly walked away. Gertrude was in shock. She was the first to give a proper description to police. She said the man was “about 30 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches, medium build, light mustache, black derby hat, blue pea jacket.” Even with Gertrude’s description, police were unable to locate a suspect.
At first, police doubted that the attacks had taken place. However, three young boys had seen Gertrude’s attacker, armed as Gertrude had described, just before the attack. During their investigation, police learned of other girls who had been Jack’s victims. In the Summer of 1890, Florence Billings had an almost identical encounter with Jack. Unlike Gertrude, she was unable to provide a description of Jack.
Jack seemed to disappear for a while. He, or most likely a copycat, began his dastardly deeds again in 1914, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This Jack used the darkness of “5 and 10 cent ‘movie’ theaters” to commit his crimes. Jack sat in theaters and watched as the crowd entered and took their seats. Then, he selected his victims and calmly sat directly behind them. Only after the film ended would the girls realize that they had been victimized. These incidents became so frequent that movie theaters in the region began showing warnings on their movie screens before the feature presentation.
Although Jack put a cold blade next to the throats and necks of numerous young girls, he was no murderer. Jack never physically harmed his victims. Most of them only realized they had been victimized well after the attack had taken place. Incidents such as these occurred in multiple cities in the United States. Many more cases certainly occurred but were never reported to police or printed in newspapers. Jack had a condition known as trichophilia. Jack’s obsession was cutting and collecting long braided hair. Because of his infatuation, newspapers dubbed him “Jack the Snipper.”
1. Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, February 20, 1889, p.4.
2. The Brooklyn Citizen, January 21, 1891, p.1.
3. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 28, 1891, p.6.
4. The Hope Pioneer (Hope, North Dakota), April 22, 1892, p.2.
5. The Des Moines Register, June 5, 1905, p.5.
6. The Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1914, p.13.
7. The Sacramento Star, April 28, 1914, p.8.
8. The Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 1947, p.21.
9. The News (Paterson, New Jersey), January 22, 1947, p.30.
10. The Birmingham News, July 27, 1947, p.10.