Use of words and expressions


Doing a search in the Press Report Archive on the word ‘portion’ gives more than 400 results; on contrary, having done a similar search on words such as ‘vagina’ came up only with four (!) matches.

All newspapers from the Victorian era avoided to use the term ‘prostitute’. Euphemism, elision and circumlocution came forward and most dailies referred to these victims as ‘fallen woman’, ‘woman of the street’, ‘sister of the abyss’ and ‘the frail, shabby, outcast sisterhood’. ‘Unfortunate’ was the commonly and the most accepted word for referring to the victims’ profession.

‘Rape’ as a word did not occur except when citing the actual criminal charge. Words like ‘assault’, ‘outrage’ or ‘outraged to death’ were the commonly accepted replacements for describing such crimes without having the adjective ‘sexual’ before them. Having done the same search in the archives on the word ‘sexual’ there have been only few matches in connection with the cases.

Although all the victims were prostitutes, none of the newspapers published any details on these women having clients at these nights. Only a few mentioned the doctors’ conclusion as there had been no signs of ‘recent connexions’.

Volume of the news reports

Total numbers of published columns in the main dailies the day after the discovery of each body are the following:

The Nichols murder got approximately 30 columns, the Chapman murder 101, the Double Event (Stride and Eddowes) 214 and Kelly murder 105.

The female body

Newspapers in 1888 did not publish photographs of the victims’ bodies and readers had to rely merely on their own imagination to have their ‘voyeuristic pleasure’ while reading about the inquests, testimonies and descriptions given by reporters.

Editors knew that murder sold well and were aware of the fact that reading about violence triggered much less embarrassment than reading about sexual perversity. Searching through the articles and press coverage of the inquests in connections with the murders it is obvious that only a few publishers had problems with writing about the mutilated bodies until those mutilations arrived at the lower abdomen. But the brutal act of removing the uterus and other organs baffled them enough to behave awkwardly.

Even the respected Times had an extremely detailed report on the 3rd of September 1988 on the Nichols inquest and they did not restrain themselves in describing the injuries – until the genitals. At that point the text becomes rather vague:

There was a circular bruise on the left side of the face, which also might have been inflicted by the pressure of the fingers. On the left side of the neck, about 1 in. below the jaw, there was an incision about 4 in. in length, and ran from a point immediately below the ear. On the same side, but an inch below, and commencing about 1 in. in front of it, was a circular incision, which terminated at a point about 3 in. below the right jaw. That incision completely severed all the tissues down to the vertebrae. The large vessels of the neck on both sides were severed. The incision was about 8 in. in length. The cuts must have been caused by a long-bladed knife, moderately sharp, and used with great violence. No blood was found on the breast, either of the body or clothes. There were no injuries about the body until just above the lower part of the abdomen. Two or three inches from the left side was a wound running in a jagged manner. The wound was a very deep one, and the tissues were cut through. 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.

The press never hesitated when reporting the almost decapitating throat cuts nor on the cuts on the faces, still they avoided to name the vaginal injuries (e.g. the cut-out womb). ‘Some portions had been excised’ – this was how most of them quoted the inquest. Even the sensationalist Sunday papers used the same word, ‘portion’ for the missing organ. Until the forensic doctors revealed that ‘certain portions’ were missing from the bodies of Chapman and Eddowes, the press did not pay much attention to the lower body parts. The reporters also found it extremely difficult to write about the desexation of the victims without feeling or being awkward.

There were hundreds of letters written to the editors; however, the paucity of complaints about published gore suggested that only few readers had serious problems with the matter. The need of the public for sensation horror news seemed to have overcome the need of the hypocritical high-brow community of the West End.