Ripper suspect: Lizzie Williams

Most serial killers are expected to be men. Female serial killers, the FBI lectures us, tend to use bloodless methods of murder, such as poison or strangulation. Jack the Ripper, therefore, is highly unlikely to have been a women. although the idea was indeed around at the time of the murders. More recently, John Morris has accused not just a woman, but the wife of a man who has himself been named as a Ripper suspect.

Born Mary Elizabeth Ann Hughes, Lizzie married Dr. (later Sir) John Williams in 1872. John became a private doctor to the royal family in 1886 and was named as a Ripper suspect in 2005 by one of his own descendants. Tony Williams and Humphrey Price claimed that John’s missing diaries from the time surrounding the murders meant that he, personally, had been the Ripper and did not want to leave a record of his activities.

In 2012, however, John Morris decided to take things a step further: the diaries are missing, he argues, because they contain John’s worries about his wife, Lizzie, who later confessed to him that she had in fact been the murderer.

The argument here is that, after a childhood of being spoiled and given everything she ever wanted, Lizzie found herself in a childless marriage. Sir John is meant to have decided that the problem lay with his wife, so he sought out another woman to provide him with an heir. He happened upon Mary Jane Kelly, a poor East End sex worker who had at least proven herself fertile because she already had a son, and John embarked on an affair.

Lizzie, having discovered this, flew into such a fit of rage and jealousy that she embarked on an entire murder spree. She’s supposed to have killed the first three of the Canonical Five victims in order to simply prove to herself that she could indeed murder a woman – although why she’d want to practice on women who had done nothing to her isn’t entirely clear. Really, to make this work, there needs to be some sort of explanation as to why she didn’t just go murder her husband’s mistress, since other women died prior to Mary Jane Kelly.

Morris argues that Lizzie, having made certain that she could wield a weapon – perhaps her husband’s own scalpels – somehow tracked down Catherine Eddowes, heard her give the name “Kate Kelly,” and mistook her for Mary Jane Kelly. This is Morris’ explanation for why Catherine Eddowes was so horribly mutilated following her murder: Lizzie used a knife in a fit of feminine pique and wanted to ensure that her husband would never find his mistress attractive ever again.

It also explains the long pause between the murder of Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly: Lizzie, upon discovering that she had murdered and mutilated yet another innocent woman, was taken aback and needed some time to regroup. Was she steeling herself for yet another murder? Upset that somehow she was now a multiple murderer and hadn’t yet even worked her way up to her true target? Whatever the reason, Lizzie was still able to take herself in hand in order to murder and mutilate the woman who might have, in time, given her husband the child he wished for.

After which Lizzie did in fact have a mental breakdown, confess the murders to her husband, and throw herself on his mercy (while perhaps blaming him for a bit that she was forced to become a murderer in the first place). John destroyed his diaries, saw that his wife got a rest cure, and the Williamses were safe from suspicion until the early 2000s.

We all know about hell’s fury and women scorned, and Rudyard Kipling would like to inform us that the female of the species is indeed more deadly than the male, but what do you think? Are the Ripper murders really the result of a woman seeking revenge against her husband’s mistress?

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