As someone who is fascinated by true crime, I thought I knew everything about the Jack the Ripper case, or at least everything we knew about it.
Yet if you asked me about the victims, all I could tell you were their names, where the bodies were found and the “fact” they were all prostitutes.
I regret to say that until recently, I didn’t give them too much thought as actual people. That was until I heard about The Five. It finally hit me that I was ignorant, for crying out loud these women were more than tally marks for the Ripper. I knew then that I needed to fix that, and I knew how.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold, documents the lives of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane.
Right off the bat, one of the few things I believed beforehand was disproven. The whole “The Ripper only killed prostitutes” narrative. Only Elizabeth and Mary-Jane were, apparently.
According to Rubenhold “Labelling the victims as ‘just prostitutes’ permits writing about Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary-Jane even today to continue to disparage, sexualize and dehumanize them; to continue to reinforce values of madonna/whore.
“The victims of Jack the Ripper were never ‘just prostitutes’; they were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and lovers. They were women. They were human beings, and surely that in itself is enough.”
This is not an easy read, but a necessary one in my opinion. It isn’t just about these five women, but Victorian society and how it operated. Namely, how it treated those less fortunate. Arguably, how we still do. I’m naturally a rather emotional person, so I found reading this a bit taxing at times. I had to put it down every now and then as it got to me.
It is a tragic book, for these women to survive some horrific things, only to have dirt thrown on their names through history is disgusting to me. I feel shameful for not giving these women a second thought for years.
I think The Five has changed my relationship with true crime. From now on I am going to do more research about the victims, not just viewing them as a number. Something that I should have done from the beginning admittedly, but I am sure I am not the only one who has done this.
We always focus on the killer, we may be able to name the victims but it’s the killer that gets the spotlight and the attention. We need to pay more respect to the deceased.