A reconstruction of a murderer's face has reawakened interest in one of the world's most famous unsolved mysteries: Who was the serial killer behind Britain's "Jack the Ripper" murders in 1888?
More than 100 suspects have been suggested over the years, including Lewis Carroll (author of "Alice in Wonderland") and Victorian painter Walter Sickert (who was fingered in a book by crime novelist Patricia Cornwell after a $4 million investigation). This week, the BBC is throwing a spotlight on a dark-horse candidate: German merchant seaman Carl Feigenbaum, who was executed in New York in 1896 for a totally different killing.
Feigenbaum was convicted for the murder of his landlady in Manhattan, and his attorney, Willam Sanford Lawton, said afterward that his client admitted to having an "all-absorbing passion ... to kill and mutilate every woman who falls in my way." It was Lawton who first suggested that Feigenbaum was behind the murders of women in London eight years earlier.
More than a century later, retired British police detective Trevor Marriott has put together Lawton's claims and other evidence to build a case against Feigenbaum, and the case received a big boost from the BBC One program "National Treasures Live."
Marriott matched up shipping records with the timing of some of the murders, and suggested that Feigenbaum's ship could have been docked in London at the time. He also argues that not all the killings attributed to Jack the Ripper were done by the same person, based on his analysis of the locations and the different ways in which the the victims were slashed to death.
The traditional lore surrounding Jack the Ripper is that he must have been familiar with anatomical dissection, because he removed the internal organs of his victims so quickly and skillfully. Marriott contends that the organs couldn't have been cut out at the scene of the crime, but were removed at the London mortuary by doctors in training.
To add a little spice to the story, Marriott provided the BBC (and Cosmic Log) with a reconstruction of Feigenbaum's face, based on a description of the suspect from his New York admittance form.
Does Marriott make his case? Xanthe Mallett, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Dundee who reported on the story for BBC One, says she's still on the fence. "Initially, I thought Carl Feigenbaum was that serial killer. His profile fit," she writes on the BBC website. "But further evidence ... may show these murders were not all committed by the same person. Feigenbaum could have been responsible for one, some or perhaps all."
Others put less stock in Marriott's hypothesis. In a detailed analysis published on "Casebook: Jack the Ripper," one of the best-known websites for Ripperology, Wolf Vanderlinden says Marriott's theory is "plausible but not proven":
"Could the Ripper have been a German sailor? Or an American sailor? Or a Portuguese sailor? Or a Malay sailor? Of course. Could he have been a butcher, baker, tinker, tailor, beggar man or thief? Of course. Could he have been Carl Feigenbaum? Not with the almost complete lack of evidence that has been presented to support his candidacy. Wishful thinking cannot solve this puzzle."
In an email, Marriott acknowledged that his theory has been a hard sell among "hard-line Ripperologists," particularly because of the dissection issue:
"The thought that the killer, after killing the victims, removed these organs has been an integral part of the Ripper mystery for 123 years. In fact it is one of the reasons that has kept the Ripper mystery alive all of these years. So of course there are those that for whatever reason want to keep it as it is and choose not to accept new findings."
What do you think? Will the mystery ever be solved, or will it continue to be one of the world's best-known unsolved "cold cases"? To add to the mystery, here are some links to past speculation in the case of Jack the Ripper:
- Analysts put a mustached face on Jack the Ripper
- Records shed light on the Ripper's victims
- History's greatest unsolved crimes
- Casebook: Jack the Ripper
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