Jack the Ripper To the Italians, 'The Phantom of Death' is the name given to a 1988 crime thriller directed by Ruggero Deodato, and starring Michael York with Donald Pleasence. To the English and the Americans, though, this is a very nice sub-title to assign to a 50 minute documentary made in 1995, about some chap called Jack. Jack the Ripper. You may have heard of him? HaHahaHAha!

Jack the Ripper: Phantom Of Death

This 'Biography Channel' special, hosted by Jack Perkins, and narrated by Brian Saxton, chronicles the 'Jack the Ripper' murders of 1888. Yet for this well-polished program to be able to carry out this task, it presents stock photography, re-enactments, and one on one pre-recorded interviews with experts very familiar with this historical crime. These include: Caleb Carr: Author of 'The Alienist'; John Douglas: From the FBI Behavioural Science Unit; Stewart Evans: British Police Officer; Donald Rumbelow: Crime Historian; plus Martin Fido and Melvin Harris: two noted Ripperologists.  

What now follows is a basic breakdown of how this documentary plays out:

  • How many people did Jack the Ripper kill?  According to this feature, from August 1888, to November 1888, he murdered five prostitutes in total. They were called: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Kelly.  
  • Why did the media decide to promote this crime at that particular time?   This was the year of the first London Mayoral election, and the press wanted to highlight the squalid living conditions the people in East London had to put up with.
  • Why? Was it that bad?   Yes. Yes they were. Whitechapel was an overpopulated area full of crime and poverty, bursting at the seams with an influx to immigrants flooding in from foreign climes.
  • How were prostitutes perceived during this period?   To the working class they were poor unfortunate women, down on their luck, trying to make ends meet in the only way they knew how. Whereas to the privileged society, they were nymphomaniacs, not worthy of any attention whatsoever.
  • Why was it believed that the killer was a surgeon?   After the second murder was committed, the coroner assigned to this case -- a Doctor George Bagster Phillips -- stated that the culprit must have had some sort of anatomical knowledge. But when this news leaked out through the press, another noted coroner was brought in -- a Doctor Bond of Westminster -- who contradicted this theory. 
  • How was Jack given his name?    There was a letter sent to the police concerning these crimes -- now called the 'Dear Boss' letter -- which signed off with this exact designation.
  • Was anybody arrested for this series of killings?   Yes. A Polish boot maker called John Pizer --- also known as Leather Apron -- not that this charge ever stuck.
  • Who did Chief Constable, Sir Melville Macnaghten, state was 'The Ripper' three years after the last killing?   Although he was not directly involved with this investigation, he thought that is could have been:
    • Montague Druitt -- a teacher who committed suicide by drowning in the Thames.
    • Michael Ostrog -- a Jewish lunatic sent to a mental asylum after the last killing.
    • Aaron Kosminski -- another lunatic sent to a mental asylum after the last killing. This one was Russian though.
  • Where they any other suspects?   Of course there were! Such as:
    • David Cohen -- a possible suspect whose name came to light from asylum records.  
    • Doctor Thomas Neill Cream -- an ex army man turned rogue.
    • Jill The Ripper -- which was a theory posed by the 'Sherlock Holmes' author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
    • George Chapman -- a convicted wife poisoner. 
    • Robert D'Onston Stephenson -- a strange journalist.
    • The Royal Conspiracy -- watch the film 'From Hell' for a dramatic take on this theory.
    • J.K. Stephenson -- Prince Edward's homosexual tutor.
    • James Maybrick -- a deranged cotton merchant from Liverpool.
    • Doctor Francis Tumblety -- an unscrupulous American Doctor who fled back home not so long after the last murder.

The legend continues...

The weather is bad outside. Really bad. So bad in fact that I thought I'd cheer myself up a bit, by watching another one of my many-many 'Jack the Ripper' documentaries.

Jack the Ripper
Oi! Don't laugh! Sometimes when I indulge myself in this manner, I can find some 'real beauties'! But before I tell you if 'Jack the Ripper -- Phantom of Death' is a 'beauty' or not, please allow me to relay some facts about this show plus it's participants. (1) The 'A&E Television Network' first broadcast this documentary on the same day of the Oklahoma City bombing -- the 23rd of May, 1995. (2) As well as being a writer of note, Caleb Carr has also starred in the film, '200 Cigarettes', and produced the television movie, 'The Osiris Chronicles'. (3) John Douglas was one of the criminal profilers involved with the development of the 1991 Hopkins / Foster crime thriller, ' The Silence of the Lambs'. (4) The host of this show, Jack Perkins, once parodied the host of 'The Mystery Science Theatre hour', Michael J Nelson. (5) Martin Fido was part of the team that attempted to disprove the 'Maybrick Diary' in the television documentary, 'The Secret Diary of Jack the Ripper'. (6) Respected author, Melvin Charles Harris, was born in Newport on the 19th of February, 1930, and I'm afraid to say died some time in 2004. (7) Stewart Evans was the chief Ripperologist on the Disney film, 'From Hell', and was the first person to point the finger at the American quack doctor, Francis Tumblety. (8) Donald Rumbelow was born in the same year as Bruce Lee, John Lennon, Al Pacino, and my dead uncle Colin -- 1940 -- plus has his own 'Jack The Ripper' walk too.

Newspaper Cartoon about Jack the Ripper

Mary Kelly Death Photo
Alright. So with that out of the way with, let me just state for the record that 'Jack the Ripper - Phantom of Death', isn't a bad program to watch. In my eyes it's like 'a beginners guide' to the 1888 Whitechapel murders, and was able to present its findings in a very amicable way.

I'm sure you know what I mean by this if you've watched this 'formatted feature' previously. Step One: Introduce the crime. Step Two: View the victims. Step Three: Highlight the history: And Step Four: Showcase the suspects.

Not a bad format to follow, is it, dear reader? Plus it had some pretty decent experts to tell you what they thought about the who, the what, and the why. Furthermore, although the majority of this shows findings weren't really news to me, there were a number of nice little incites' I didn't know about -- like the invention of the sneaker for instance, or that Martin Fido dyes his hair.

But please note: I am a Ripperolgist. So for any program to show me something new would have been a bloody miracle. Still, that doesn't take anything away from this program, does it Jack?

I think that was a 'yes'.