By Ted Remington
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, Vol. 10:3 (2003)
Abstract: This essay explores the phenomena of hoaxes as communally constructed narratives by examining the series of letters sent to authorities claiming to be from Jack the Ripper. The study looks at how and why the character of Jack the Ripper was created through these letters, and why this figure became a site of public fascination at the time (and remains so today). More than simply the work of cranks or psychotics, a study of the letters reveals them to be a way of articulating and managing collective anxieties. Through the work of Kenneth Burke, the essay suggests that the “Ripper letters” provided a symbolic way of dealing with the social trauma and complex emotional responses triggered by the brutal murders of several prostitutes that gripped London’s East End in the autumn of 1888.