Jack the Ripper wasn’t Left-handed!
You’d think that after all this time that journalists would get the story correct, or to put it a different way, get the story “right”, as in “right-handed killer”. Jack the Ripper was right-handed. Had they done their job properly over the many years since the crimes I wouldn’t have to do their jobs for them. A little research would have unearthed the truth about the killer, says James S. Borthwick of www.Left-handersInternational.com.
Although completely wrong and supported inappropriately by prejudice, the very suggestion that Jack the Ripper was left-handed came from, ironically, the very best of sources: Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn, the very doctor who was responsible for, and carried out, the Post Mortem on Polly Nichols. Dr. Llewellyn’s findings were summarized by then Police Inspector John Spratling. The following is an excerpt of a Post Mortem Report.
Post Mortem Report:
(…) her throat had been cut from left to right, two distinct cuts being on the left side, the windpipe, gullet and spinal cord being cut through; a bruise apparently of a thumb being on the right lower jaw, also one on the left cheek, the abdomen had been cut open from center of bottom of ribs along right side, under pelvis to left of stomach, there the wound was jagged; the omentum, or coating of the stomach, was also cut in several places, and two small stabs on private parts; apparently done with a strong bladed knife; supposed to have been done by some left-handed person; death being almost instantaneous.
Why did Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn initially believe that the killer was left-handed?
One clue is to be found in the newspaper reports of the day. Both, The Times and The Telegraph reported in their issues of September 1st 1888, that Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn believed Jack the Ripper might be left-handed.
The Times continued: “He made a second examination of the body in the mortuary, and on that based his conclusion, but will make no actual post mortem until he receives the coroner’s orders.”
Dr. Llewellyn concluded that Jack the Ripper might be left-handed before even carrying out a post mortem! And when he did come to conduct the post mortem, he had already made up his mind. Sadly this denotes much more of a prejudice towards left-handers than the objective, reasoned conclusions of the pathologist.
In the case of Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn. It seems that left-handers were the chosen minority to pick on. But why? What was the association in Dr. Llewellyn’s mind between murder and left- handedness?
It was wrongly believed that left-handers were three times more likely to be criminal, and noted: “The percentage of left-handedness is much higher in the abnormal class of people, e.g.: mental defective. insane, incorrigibles, criminals, etc.”. How unbelievably phobic this was, says Borthwick, to come to these kinds of conclusions.
It was thought, indeed that left-handers were willfully rebelling against the so-called right-handed ‘norm’, and that left-handedness was psychologically determined, and that it therefore indicated a rebellious or non-conformist nature.
His left-handed assertion seems to be based on two things: the direction of the knife wounds and the precise location of the facial and throat bruising. Dr. Llewellyn asserted that the knife wounds ran from left to right.
Now this was the case with all the victims, except possibly Mary Jane Kelly (the final victim), who was so extensively carved up that it doesn’t appear to have been noted which direction the neck wound (or wounds) ran in, as it would be impossible to ascertain.
If they were inflicted from behind a standing victim, a left-hander would inflict wounds which ran from right to left.
The more likely scenarios are that Jack the Ripper inflicted his knife wounds from the victim’s side or from behind her head. A left-handed killer would have to squat by the victim’s right side and inflict left to right wounds, or he would squat by the left side of the victim’s head, steadying the head with his right hand and inflicting the neck wounds with his left hand. This would produce a right to left cut.
A right-handed killer would squat by the victim’s left side and inflict right to left knife wounds, or to the right of the victim’s head, steadying the head with his left hand and inflicting a left to right would with his right hand.
The facial bruising observed by Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn also gives us a clue to Jack the Ripper’s handedness. He recorded that there were bruises on both sides of her face: one, apparently a thumb mark, on the right lower jaw, and another on the left cheek.
This indicates a right-handed attack from the top of Nichol’s head, as clearly outlined above. Jack the Ripper would have gripped her head with his left hand, thus forming the bruise on her right lower jaw with his thumb and the bruise on her left cheek with his fingers. He then inflicted the knife wounds with his right hand.
Further indications of Jack the Ripper’s handedness can be obtained from the abdominal mutilations. The most productive information on these is to be found in the Catherine Eddowes murder. In this particular case there is a great deal of information: there are full-length photographs and annotated drawings.
At first glance, assuming the cut was inflicted downwards, it appears that the abdominal wound veered to the left, indicating a left-handed knife user. In fact, Dr. Brown’s evidence makes it quite clear that the wound was inflicted upwards from the abdomen towards the sternum. This means the wound veered right, right-handed knife usage.
The forensic expert Prof. James Cameron examined both the photographs and the sketches and concluded that Jack the Ripper was dextral: “The incision,” he remarked, “drags to the right, as would happen, and is deeper as more viscera is exposed.
There is a further clue which may point to the final, fatal neck wound being inflicted with the right hand. Dr. Phillips, one of the doctors who carried out the examination of Mary Jane Kelly, observed that there was a large quantity of blood on the right side of the pillow and sheet and under the right hand side of the bedstead. He therefore believed she had been killed while lying further back on the bed and then subsequently moved towards the killer so he could carry out the mutilations.
The initial position of Mary Kelly’s throat – up towards the corner of the wall – would have made it awkward for Jack the Ripper to inflict the neck wound left-handed: not impossible by any means, but left-handedness would have been a distinct handicap in such a position.
All of this points to the inescapable conclusion that Jack the Ripper was right-handed. Dr. Llewellyn himself later came to doubt his own initial conclusion. A note penned by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, dated 19th October 1888, records the following:
“At first the Doctor was of the opinion that the wounds were caused by a left-handed person but he is now doubtful.” Macnaghten, in the Scotland Yard version of his ‘Memoranda’, also noted: “The theory that the Whitechapel murderer was left-handed, or, at any rate, ambi-dexter’, had its origin in the remark made by a doctor who examined the corpse of one of the earliest victims; other doctors did not agree with him.
The belief that these assertions are perceived to be true is ignorant. They do help explain why the conception of Jack the Ripper as left-handed became so widely accepted. Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn’s initial belief that Jack the Ripper was left-handed became absorbed into Ripper lore. It has sustained long after subsequent doctors had disagreed with this, and Dr. Llewellyn himself had retracted his initial statement.
Too little, too late! Superstition is a dangerous thing as well as completely ignorant. The finger also points directly to the media that didn’t check facts, they just re-cycle misinformation. Very few do any real research into anything to do with left-handedness and that’s a big problem, says Borthwick.
At least now we can safely and confidently say that if they ever find out the real identity of this man, one thing is absolutely certain, …
“Jack the Ripper wasn’t Left-handed”!