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December 21, 2021 32 mins

Children around the world are taught about Jack the Ripper and shown graphic images of his victims. Is that wise? Are we in danger of normalising his crimes and encouraging those who seek to venerate and even emulate him?

Hallie Rubenhold talks to students and teachers, and hears from crime novelist and Ripper investigator Patricia Cornwell about finding a way to discuss the Whitechapel murders without glamorizing the killer.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:15):
Pushkin. Susanne Blamire's left school with good grades in psychology,
sociology and English literature. Her mother took great pride and
how bright and articulate she was. When she wasn't studying

or horseback riding, Susanne worked in a care home. Her
duties there and the people she helped inspired her to
train as a nurse, and she enrolled in college. But
a drug habit and the constant need for money to
feed it pushed Susanne in a different direction and to
adopt an alter ego that she hid from her family.

She became Amber, a sex worker. I hated her being
a prostitute, said her boyfriend. I turned a blind eye
because we needed the cash. In twenty ten, age thirty six,
and years on from her own college studies, Susanne was
approached by a graduate student. He was pursuing a doctorate

in criminology at the nearby university, but he seemed to
have a special interest in the women who worked in
the red light area near his home. He'd photograph them
for an exhibition, he'd explain. Susanne accompanied him back to
his apartment. As they approached his door, they chatted amicably,
perhaps He was telling her about his studies, his PhD thesis,

and his focus on homicide in the Victorian era. As
Susanne entered the flat, she would have seen a large bookcase,
shelf after shelf of true crime and book after book
about a man. Her host seemed to genuinely admire Jack
the Ripper, and then behind Suzanne, the apartment door shut.

I'm Halley Rubin, hold, you're listening to Bad Women. The
Ripper retold a series about the real lives of the
women killed by Jack the Ripper and how we got
their stories so wrong. One side, money plenty and friends

too by the score. Then fortune smiled upon me. Now
one pass my dome, aloney and not we Harne seems

to line me. I'm co Susanne Lamiers entered the apartment
of Stephen Griffiths in the early hours of a Saturday.

On the following Monday morning, the building's custodian sat down
to review the weekend surveillance camera footage. It was a
routine chaw checking for minor antisocial behavior, but what he
saw unfold on the screen would sicken and appall him.
A terrified Suzanne fled from the apartment just Minutes after

her arrival, Griffiths pursued her, and then, well aware that
he was being filmed, he brutally murdered Susanne and dragged
her body back to his flat to carry out yet
more unspeakable acts. The custodian hurriedly called the police. Griffiths
was waiting when they arrived, and was only too happy

to brag about other similar murders he'd committed. Reading true
crime books certainly doesn't make you into a murderer and
orders embarking on a PhD in criminology. But Griffiths and
violent men like him often don't just study the likes
of Jack the Ripper. They celebrate them, venerate them, and

just occasionally emulate them. When I began researching the victims
of the Whitechapel murders, I had perhaps naively underestimated the
depths of some people's interests in serial killers, and the
breadth of books, online forums and podcasts eager to service
this demand for gore. Some of what I've seen and

heard since is deeply troubling. Nor was I quite prepared
for where I would encounter some of the most disturbing content,
content that elevates the killer and denigrates his vict tis.
If you were shocked that a major British university would
sanction a man like Griffiths to indulge his warped interest

in murderers, you may be as astonished as I was
to learn that many children are being taught about Jack
the Ripper in school. This particular teacher very much had
a very entertaining way of showing history. A little bit
questionable afterwards, but at the time the issue never crossed
my mind. This is Sydney. She learned about Jack the

Ripper in history class at an international school in France
when she was thirteen years old. It was very much reiterated.
You know, some of these women were getting drunk every night,
and you know they were saying that if they were sober,
they would have been able to escape the killer. At
the time, Sidney didn't question her teacher's framing of the
story with its clear victim blaming. Now understanding the severity

of alcohol addiction and the negative effects of it, it's
not really fair to teach children that it could have
prevented these women from being murdered. If she didn't spend
her last money on drinks, she would have made it
through the night like it excused and was an explanation
for the murders. Back then, Sydney was really into police
procedurals like CSI an NCIS, so who'd done it? Approach

that didn't reflect on the victims, just felt normal. We
actually created an FBI type crimesying board which had pictures
of rumored killers strings attached to maps, just how you
would see it on TV. She was also unfazed by
the graphic descriptions of the injuries too, but other students

were rather more upset, like I remember even that some
people are squeamish and they had to leave the class.
I've heard similar things from former students around the globe.
One art teacher at an elementary school would end his
classes were stories of the murders, culminating in the savage
mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly. A drama teacher staged a

play depicting the killings year after year after year. But
it's in history classes that most people have learned about
Jack the Ripper, and what they were taught is completely
divorced from reality and objectionable to the memories of the victims.
Some history teachers plumped their classes down in front of
the Hollywood film From Hell to Endure Johnny Depp's cockney accent.

Thank he's taking more organists and swallow that totally debunked
Royal conspiracy theory. Other educators create worksheets that dismiss the
women as prostitutes and helpless alcoholics, and invite pupils to
catalog the injuries of each woman to earn a good grade.
And when I look and reflect on it now, I'm
incredibly embarrassed about what I used to do. Simon Beale

teaches history at a school in London, So what we're
looking at here is how I originally taught. He's showing
me the resources he once used in his classes. On
Jack the Ripper, I'd get that cheap kind of paper
tablecloth you get for parties, and I'd stretch it out
all over it, put an outline of a body, a
map of Whitechapel, and it would be a kind of
two to three lesson investigation, where the first lesson would

be about the killings, then it would be about the suspects,
and they'd keep writing all over it. Pupils would then
embellish these pieces of paper with bloody knives and very
detailed imagery of who the killer was and things like that,
and I was incredibly proud of it. What historically is
there to be derived from that exercise? If you challenge
me on it at the time, I would have said,

I'm giving them a range of information. I'm getting them
to draw conclusions, come up with theories, weigh up evidence,
and then present it, which all sound incredibly useful in
a history classroom. I could do that doing lots of things.
It doesn't have to be about a brutal series of
killings to do all the things I've just mentioned. Simon
grew worried that the historical tale he was sharing was

thin and threadbare. There are a few vigorously researched history books, remember,
and the details that were available centered on Gore, which
wasn't exactly age appropriate. It he wouldn't have taught any
other historical period in this way. What I find most
shocking is actually the kind of maturity of the content
we're using with pupils of kind thirteen to fourteen years old,

who just aren't ready to see it. With those younger pupils,
we're using crime scene photography and the autopsy reports, but
we're not preparing them for it, or actually doing any
duty of care afterwards about kind of their reaction to
seeing these things. It's just often we've done and we're
doing something else afterwards. God, I don't know if anybody's
ever ready to see it, to be honest, No, absolutely,

and we're not giving them the choice. Quite often they're
arriving the lesson not knowing what they're going to be studying,
and then suddenly that's what they're looking at. You wouldn't
teach about the Zodiac killings or the Son of Sam
killings in your history lessons. You understand that that's for
an adult audience, But there's something about Jack the Ripper
that has almost taken away any age rating and anything
goes when discussing those killings, because it's in some way

mythologized in the national, maybe even international consciousness. Simon was
a s teaching the tired old Ripper myth that you've
heard demolished bit by bit during this series. He began
to fear his classes were just perpetuating falsities about Polly Annie,
Elizabeth Kate, and Mary Jane and teaching his pupils something
dark and pernicious about how violence against women should be understood.

Pupils only know about Jack the Ripper, probably because their
teacher taught it to them. If they taught it to
them as about them being these victims, they'll probably then
go on to just see them in that lens. I
can't say that there isn't someone that was in my
lesson that saw it and thought, okay, this has always
been going on, not that these are rare, extreme cases

that really needs sensitivity. When they're covered. Boys may well
come away with this idea that violent killings are something
that men do and it gets lots of attention, notoriety potentially,
And then when you think about the girls in your classroom,
it really can accidentally lead into the eye that they're victims.
And while you might want to show how the role

of women in the Victorian period was difficult, if you
do the Chat the Ripper killings in a certain way,
If you just focus on the killings, all you're doing
is women get brutally killed, and it happens a lot.
Men are on top, they get to do what they want,
sometimes they get away with it, and what happens to
these women and their lives beforehand are incidental. So Simon

has ditched dis old Lesson plan, and now he doesn't
teach about Jack the Ribber anymore. Instead, he uses the
lives of the five women do examine what it was
like to be a poor Victorian. It's much more about
their lives and much more about the various things pulling
women down from being able to live in any way
in equitable life compared to men. I'm trying to almost

avoid even talking about their death in the resources I use. Now,
it's just got the date of their death, and if
people's notice it, we might have a conversation. But what
I found is that they're so interested by their lives
and the different interactions and the different opportunities each of
them had, that it may never come up. Simon's experience
shows that we underestimate our students if we assume that

only blood, gore and police procedurals will get them excited
about history. But individual teachers like Simon are just interpreting
guidelines they get from higher up. Very broadly speaking, how
does Jack the Ripper fit into the edexcel curriculum. He
is part of the investigative policing content in the Whitechapel

Historic Environment. EDEXCEL is the name of the body that
sets and Mark's exams for many young people in the UK.
Mark Antstein manages the history qualifications for fifteen to eighteen
year olds. I wanted to know how much thought had
gone into the Ripper myth and the curriculum, and the
answer was not much. The body of material primary sources

is negligible. That actually came as a surprise to me
when I started doing my research in this, and I'll
admit that's something I wasn't aware of either in terms
of including it in future specifications. That's something that we
could continue to look at. I think there is a
value to looking at late Victoria in Whitechapel. I think
it's a valid question as well to say do we
want to continue to include the investigation of the Ripper

murders within that content. Mark also agreed that where teachers
still show their students graphic content or films like from Hell,
they need to be invited to think again. I hope
things have moved on a bit from that. Where they haven't,
I think we need to do more to encourage change.
So it's looking promising. And while we were making this podcast,

the publisher of Edxcel's textbooks announced it would correct references
to all the women being prostitutes. Thank you for bringing
this to our attention. The firm tweeted, we plan to
revise and update this paragraph to reflect Hallie Rubinholt's recent
groundbreaking work. Change is underway in the world of education,

but many of us still have our misconceptions about the
Whitechapel murders. Force time and again in books, on TV
and in newspaper articles. One of the biggest voices on
the topic is Patricia Cornwell. Can she help change the
way the old story is told and shift the spotlight
away from the killer? Well, I'm finally able to ask

her in person. The rippery told will return shortly. Anybody
that thinks it's fun getting involved in this case, it's
not fun. I can't check the rip off because this

certainly lost me far more money than I ever earned
to spending it on all the research and stuff that
I had to do. But you should never stop trying
to find a truth about anything. Patricia Cornwell's telling me
about the millions of dollars she's spent employing experts and
purchasing artwork and letters by Walter Sickard in her quest
to unmask the painter as Jack the Ripper, Can I

persuade her to concentrate her energies on the stories of
the victims. I think you have to do both, because
this is my opinion, part of the way that we
honor the victims is you have to unflinchingly stare in
the face what was done to them and why and how.
You have to or you will never reconstruct their final
moments when they were the most isolated and desperate they've

ever been, and we need to bring them back to life.
But you still have to deal with who's doing this.
You still have to look at the one who's preying
on these people and why. And I honestly think, whether
we like it or not, the world's curious about that.
We can't help but be curious about the monsters. And
to face the reality that when you've marginalized and victimize

any group of people or any individual, you make them
vulnerable for harm because predators watch to see who is vulnerable.
Patricia agrees, however, that will never truly know this predator's identity.
That was the stupidest thing I ever did was to
call all that first book about Jack the Ripper case closed.
I was way to share myself back then? Am I

younger salad days? As we say in the South, because
it will never be closed that no matter what, what
do you think that justice would really look like in
the Jack the Ripper case, what's going to happen today?
The closest you could ever get is simply excavating for
as much truth as you can find. That includes with
the victims. Like you know, if there had been someone

who thought they were a descendant of Mary Kelly and
thought there was an exclamation possible and thought you could
really find those remains and do DNA on it and
maybe do mitochondrial and perhaps figure out who she really was,
that is the beginning of justice, because you're restoring someone's
identity to them. I've always thought the saddest thing in
the morgue are the other people. We don't know who

they are. I can't get Patricia to change her mind
about continuing to hunt down the murderer, but what happened
to the five genuinely incenses her. She's personally and deeply
outraged by their is. I know you're not interested in
who Jack the Ripper was, and you know this is
why we make a really good harmony here because I
go after the bad guy and you're going after the victims,

and I'm interested in them too, But I really want
to nail this mother, you know what he because she
shouldn't get away with it. First of all, let me
just say this yet. People have known the names of
these people for a long time, but what they've never
had is a real historian like you to humanize them
and to look beyond just the usual lore. These were desperate,
homeless people who are just trying to survive under dreadful conditions.

Patricia has always spoken about the women respectfully and with
great empathy, but she's previously stuck to the idea that
all five was selling sex on the nights they died.
It seems she's now more willing to accept my theory
that homelessness played a bigger role, and she also agrees
that society failed these women and continues to fail them

modern counterparts. I believe that nothing ever ends. These cases
still go on today, and if we try to fix
it as best we can, we are not re engineering
life the way we should. Maybe we can prevent this
from happening again. We gain more understanding not only into
what can cause victimization, but also to get more insights

into what goes haywire with people who might perpetrate things
like this. We don't want those monsters among us. We'd
like to fix that somehow. It's also about society taking responsibility.
It's about like when we have people on the margins,
when we have people who are not looked after, when
we don't care about mental health, well, we don't care
about people who are sick because we don't want to care.

That's on us. That's right. I totally agree with you
that we have to know what happened to people in
order to understand how bad it was. But I think
we can also tip over too far into a danger
that we glamorize violence with focusing on Jack the Ripper.
How can we get this balance right? You are absolutely right.

I mean, I'm sorry, but I find the ripper walks offensive.
I'm sorry, I really do. I find the commercial industry
of this offensive. It's turned him into a comic book hero,
and that takes away from the reality, from the pain
and the suffering and the absolute terror that these victims felt.
I honored them by trying to show the reality of
what was done to them. You know, it's funny if

you go to University College at Oxford, as I recall
from long ago, there's this beautiful sculpture of Shelley the
drowned poet, you know, all white and marbly and elegant,
with his beautiful body dead on the shore. And let
me tell you what. That ain't what he looked like
when he washed up. That is not the reality of
violence and death. And just like you don't like these
prostitute quote sex workers depict it as these women in

their fancied bustles and low cut whatever. I don't like
victims looking like it was nothing. I just went to sleep.
She's pretty disgusted by the market for ripper related items too,
the mugs and the teddy bears and the shot glasses.
What would she say to the people who buy this stuff.
It's dangerous and it's offensive. Let me take that photograph

of Mary Kelly on her bed, ladies and gentlemen to
put it on an FFF and T shirt and say,
you know, trick or treat, because that's what you're doing.
You're saying trick retreat. Well, it wasn't trick or treat
for these people, and it wasn't trick retreat for the
cops that were horrified and shocked and traumatized. It wasn't
trick retreat for coroners who had to deal with these bodies,

and those family members who to this day descendants don't
know whatever happened to certain and her grandmother they had.
So it's offensive. And what I would say is, I
don't blame you for participating this ignorance, but would you
step back for a minute and look at this realistically
and ask yourself should you be doing this? The answer
is no, you should not be doing this. Patricia is

a writer of fiction and she's just published to twenty
fifth thriller featuring heroine k Scarpetta, who first appeared in
the book Post Mortem. But Jack the Rippa represents an
unusual foray into true crime for her, and Bad Women
is closer to true crime than any of my previous work.
So I asked Patricia what responsibilities we have when it

comes to representing real life pain and suffering. I think
you've got to be careful. I'm very cautious about true crime.
The Ripper is as much as I want to get
into that, and to be honest with you, one of
the reasons I could and do it with abandonment is
I didn't really feel that I was going to hurt people.
If you have a mother who's been murdered in recent

time and then you do an in depth thing on it,
the people who have suffered through that suffered through it again.
And while I'm not saying you shouldn't write about it,
I'm saying for me, though, I would have a hard
time doing that. I've talked to prisoners on death row
before and that's not my favorite thing to do. I
don't really like spending time with the darker side of this.

It was a British person who said this many years ago,
and I've never forgotten it. Of somebody who said we
mustn't celebrate what should be condemned. So when I decided
to write Post Mortem back in nineteen eighty nine, when
I began that book, I said, and I was working
in the morgue, I said, how do I do this?
How do I tell a story and show what I
know without it being prurient and maybe feeding the wrong thing?

And I said, well, don't celebrate it. And the way
you don't celebrate it is tell it completely from the
forensic mythologist, the doctor's point of view because her empathy
is with the victims and her outrages towards a piece
of crap that did it. And that is my mathematical
algorithm for what I do. And I would be the
first to say that there are times when I feel
like I've crossed that line. You think you're being so

graphic because you should, and then in hindsight, you go,
maybe I should have backed it down a little bit.
And probably the last ten years I'm much less graphic
about some things than I was earlier on because I
just think it's too much. It strikes me that Patricia's
books on Jack Thrippa are quite graphic in places, and
to TV documentaries have shown horrific close up images of

the dead women. Does she think she's crossed the line here? No,
I don't feel as too graphic because I'm only portraying
to you the anatomical and forensic facts. And if I
talk about the way the incisions were made and Katherine
Edau's body, I'm simply relaying to you reconstructing what exactly
was there and what was done. That's different from fictionalizing

that the person's walking down the sidewalk and the guy
comes up behind her, and then next thing you know,
you're turning it into sort of violent pornography, and that
I don't do, which is why for a brief period
when I started writing Scarpetta novels from the third person
point of view, where I had to show what the
killer was doing and what the victim was doing, I
had to get away from that because then I have
to show those things that I just don't want to.

I'd rather see it through Scarpetta's eyes and fix it
after the fact. So that is a struggle because, as
Hippocrates basically said, do no harm, and I don't want
to do harm if I can avoid it. I really
enjoyed talking to Patricia. There's still plenty of things we
disagree on, but a commitment to the victims is impossible
to doubt. She's also right on one big thing. True

crime can do harm, but it can also be incredibly valuable.
The genre of true crime starts with ripperology. It starts
with Jack the Ripper. This is journalist Billy Jensen, whose
work focuses on missing persons and unsolved cases. The worst
thing to do is not tell a story. You know,
if any of those stories can get us closer to

the answers. If we keep on telling them, then let's
keep telling him. I just wish that we told a
lot more stories. Billy has a podcast series, The Murder Squad,
Jensen and Holes, and he's developed his own concept of
true crime. I think true crime two point zero is
where people can get involved, whether it's just via social media,

whether it's doing the investigations on their own. We're in
a big crisis in America right now when it comes
to our media because the Internet decimated newspapers. Every one
of these stories that we see on true crime started
with a newspaper article, so you're having less people out
there covering these stories. It's going to be up to

citizens to do it. You're not gonna make any money
doing it, but it's going to be up to citizens
doing it, reading police reports, digging into that because the
newspapers just don't have enough people to do it, or
the newspapers are completely gone. This kind of crowdsource crime
investigation demands care be nice and use your head, you know,
don't be an asshole. There are important rules, says Billy,

and they're very similar to the rules of journalism, things
like don't name names, publicly. Don't give out people's addresses,
but you can get involved and you can do a
lot of good work. And that's what we do on
Murder Squad, and we've helped solve a couple of cases.
And also getting loud on cases true crime can shine
a light on cases that have been forgotten or overlooked,

and citizen investigators can be a useful tool. Here no,
we cover this case of this woman who was murdered,
Rebecca Gould. You know there were probably a couple of suspects.
We got really loud because we have a very popular podcast.
We did a two parter this is a murder from
twenty years ago. They arrested somebody in between the first
and second episodes. But does Billy ever worry that they

can turn crime solving into a kind of game the
sort of past time I've criticized some repperologists for pursuing
I don't care if it's in a game. If at
the end of the day, if this guy has caught
in this guy's and cups the victims family doesn't care
that there was somebody that was doing that and trying
to solve the murder of their loved one instead of
playing a video game. Author Gillian Lauren, who interviewed serial

killers Samuel Little and has told the stories of his victims,
feel similarly about the power of true crime. I think
there's a lot of criticism around true crime that maybe
I don't feel subject to because I actually am a
victim and a survivor, so I think, don't turn away,

deal with it responsibly. Crime is as much of a
piece of humanity is love. Robert Kennedy said, every culture
gets the criminal they deserve, and I think, you know,
was Samuel Little the criminal we deserved in a society

that was dismissing women, dismissing the poor, dismissing the homeless.
I mean, he's certainly a criminal that is gonna, hopefully,
if dealt with responsibly in a narrative way, shed a
light on that, not capitalize on it or exploit it.
True crime then can be a useful lens for understanding

the lives of others and for looking at where as
a culture we've gone wrong and must do better. But
all too often it spills over into exploited of entertainment
and tabloid clickbait. When murder obsessive Stephen Griffiths was arrested
for the murders of Shelley Armitage, Susan Rushworth, and would

be nursed Suzanne Blamire's. He perhaps yearned for the notoriety
of the killers he'd studied. His choice of weapon and
vile assault on his victim's corpses were awful enough, but
he also hankered after a nickname to equal the rippers.
When as to identify himself in court, rather than state

his name, he called himself the Crossbow Cannibal, causing the
victim's families to sob in the public gallery. Many newspapers
were only too happy to keep using his self styled moniker,
and it was seen in headlines around the world. So
yet again, our fascination with the viciousness and cruelty of

a murderer threatens to overshadow and obscure the women he killed.
There are already teevy documentaries looking at his life and
his motivations, and books listing everything from his taste in
music to the depravity of his crimes. This is going
to be a doucy of a case. Yeah, this is
a lot. There's also no shortage of podcast episodes with

his chosen nickname and the title the cannibal crossbow killing, Sir,
the crossbow cannibal killing, which everyone feels right to you. Yeah, alliteration,
you can do it. I hope neither of them feel
right to you. But as for Suzanne, Blameyer's well, she
fades into the background. She's just another bad woman. Like Polly,

her marriage soured, like Annie, her comfortable life evaporated thanks
to addiction. Like Kate, she drank, and like Elizabeth and
Mary Jane, she fell back on sex work to make
ends meet. When Susanne's killer was sent to prison for life,
her grieving mother issued a statement saying that she too

was serving a life sentence. She concluded by asking the
public not to dismiss or judge Suzanne and the other
dead women. At the end of the day, nobody deserves this,
she wrote. All these girls were human beings and people's daughters.

In the season finale of Bad Women, will return to
eighteen eighty eight for one last time to look at
the impact of the White Chapel murders on two families.
We'll hear how Annie Chapman's brother was brought to his
knees by her death, and will learn the sad story
of butcher Jacob Levey, whose mental health problems nearly ruined

his family but also saw him added to the list
of men who were accused of being Jack the Ripper

Bad Women. The Rippery Told is brought to you by
Pushkin Industries and me Hallie Ribbinhold, and is based on
my book The Five. It was produced and co written
by Ryan Dilley and Alice Fines, with help from Pete Norton.
Pascal Wires sound designed and mixed the show and composed
all the original music. You also heard the voice talents
of Soulboyer, Ben Crow, Sarah Bows, Melanie Gutridge, Gemma Saunders,

and rufus Wright. The show also wouldn't have been possible
without the work of Mila Belle, Jacob Weisberg, Jenguera, Heather Fane,
Carlie mcgliori, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Maraino, The Talmulad, Eric Sandler
and Dan Yellow look on with special things to my
agents Sarah Ballard and Ellie Karen
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