Mary Ann Nichols was the first canonical victim of Jack the Ripper. (The London Press counted nine murders but according to the police there had been five murders committed by the Ripper. This analysis focuses on these five canonical victims and their cases.)
On the 31st of August in 1888 Nichols was found in Whitechapel in the early hours of the morning with her throat cut and with a seriously injured abdomen, including her genitals.
The mainstream conservative and even the moderate liberal press accepted the police theory about gang-blackmailing of low-class prostitutes as the main motive for the first canonical murder. Moreover, they went on urging the authorities to tackle with the poor social conditions in Whitechapel. The liberal media attacked the police and the government for their incompetence.
The Times had a modest headline ‘Another Murder in Whitechapel’ that lacked the sensation news though implied that murders in the area were not surprise. In contrast, the Star’s front-page article and its multiple sensational headlines wallowed in horror news: ‘A Revolting Murder, Another Woman Found Horribly Mutilated in Whitechapel, and Ghastly Crimes by a Maniac’. It is important to note the usage of the word ‘maniac’.
Other dailies accepted the police’s theory of a blackmailing gang of criminals as suspects murdering the prostitute for demonstrating their rule.
Sunday papers always had the chance of publishing a more detailed reportage on the cases since they had time to collect their information from various sources. The Reynolds’s front-page article included a detailed description of the crime scene and the mutilations. Although their reporter wrote that the crime had been ‘too horrible to describe or even hint at’ the article went on describing the event. The Lloyd’s had a front page ‘appetizer’ and carried on with the details on its 7th page, furthermore they published interviews with some local people. The People had a very detailed, but just a back-page reportage.
As for the local papers, the East End Observer sent a reporter to the mortuary who asked the keeper to show him the victim’s body. The detailed description started with the passage about the face (the Fleet Street press reports had never mentioned anything about this before), he continued to write about the severed throat and the horrific mutilations of the abdomen. But the gore stopped there.
Initially none of the reports dared to go further and did not describe the injuries of the intimate parts.
Local papers also tried to emphasize their opinion that Whitechapel had not been as bad as the exaggerated Fleet Street reports suggested and they dealt with the murder as ‘a fresh stain’ on the district’s reputation.
Press on the Nichols Inquest
‘There were several incisions running across the abdomen. There were also three or four similar cuts, running downwards, on the right side, all of which had been caused by a knife which had been used violently and downwards’.
Not much is known from contemporary press reports about how far downwards those cuts ran. Rumours said that there had been two smaller cuts on Nichols’ genitalia although it cannot be found in any official report.
Most of the articles dwelled long upon the victim’s missing front teeth, the cut on her throat and the bruises on her face. The severe mutilations below her belly were not revealed to the public.