Modeling Ripper Street

Using a model, criminologists have proposed a theory about where the infamous Jack the Ripper lived in Whitechapel. They say the technique works because most criminals operate close to their home or workplace but keep a “buffer zone” around it.

‘We know where Jack the Ripper lived’

By using the latest geographical profiling techniques based on the locations of the Ripper’s five victims, experts believe the Victorian serial killer lived in Flower and Dean Street in London’s notorious East End.

Canadian criminologist Dr Kim Rossmo and Steve Le Comber of Queen Mary, University of London, used a mathematical model to find the location.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival Dr Rossmo said: “All the victims lived very close to Flower and Dean Street.

“The last victim was seen less than a block away picking up a customer, and that was probably her last customer, probably the Ripper.

“So it is safe to say it was none of the Royal family as people have speculated. It is unlikely they would have frequented an area like that, and we think the Ripper is someone who lived on that street.”

Two victims Catherine Eddowes and Elizabeth Stride were killed on the same night, September 30 1888.

Eddowes apron was discovered in nearby Goulston Street alongside a message, believed to be written by the Ripper which read: “The Juews are not the men that will not be blamed for nothing.”

Dr Rossmo claims that if a line is drawn between the location of the victim’s bodies and he apron it suggests the Ripper was heading towards Flower and Dean Street.

This makes some sense for current crimes but not for ones with a cold trail. Flower and Dean Street, just off Brick Lane in Whitechapel, no longer exists after being bombed in the Second World War. Not that that would help if it still was there…

This is a model, derived by algorithms, which means the results are only as good as the parameters and assumptions put into it. It’s a nifty idea but it likely can NOT be show to be verified or nullified at this time, so many years after the events took place.

It just seems that any “Ripper” news is a way to get publicity.


  10 comments for “Modeling Ripper Street

  1. busterggi
    June 6, 2014 at 8:20 PM

    Identifying Jack the Ripper is the adult way of imitating a three year old shouting, “Mommy, look at me!”

  2. H.K. Fauskanger
    June 7, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    By now, I guess we can all agree that the Ripper must be dead anyway, so what’s the point?

  3. busterggi
    June 7, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    The late Robert Bloch would disagree.

  4. Massachusetts
    June 7, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    I saw an interesting documentary that theorized the Ripper was a German merchant sailor, who eventually moved to the US and was caught and executed for perpetrating a similar crime, Near New York City, if I recall correctly. They made an attempt to demonstrate his ship was in port at the right times, etc., but some key evidence was missing in the ship’s company logs, still extant. That lead to a conclusion that was alluded to a conspiracy theory, but I thought most of the documentary was interesting and seemed plausible.

  5. James G
    June 7, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    There are all sorts of mysteries of varying antiquity that people still spend a lot of time trying to understand. As our understanding of the world improves, why would we be surprised that some of us want to use it to try and shed light on them?

    Whether it’s the Piltdown man, what caused the social collapse on Easter Island, the Justinian Plague, or the shroud of Turin, we are constantly applying new ideas to old puzzles. Every now and again we even manage to solve one or two.

    It sounds like the focus of their research is on disease control, and like many researchers they applied their technique to an old well known mystery to see what popped out. It’s not as impressive as Einstein explaining the precession of Mercury’s perihelion, but little is. There’s nothing here to suggest their work is pseudoscience, or based on bad assumptions, or intentionally sensationalist.

    Here’s a more balanced news item:

  6. James G
    June 7, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    (Sorry for the double post, but) It occurs to me that applying science to these will known mysteries is also a good way to get people interested in science.

    If you can get their attention by applying your technique to Jack the Ripper, they may hang around to hear you explain how it can also be used to locate the source of a disease outbreak.

    If you instead open with ‘Geographic profiling as a novel spatial tool for targeting infectious disease control’, the title of their paper on the subject, you will probably get a more muted response from the public.

    Here’s the paper itself (free full text!):

  7. Scott Hamilton
    June 8, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    It makes me sad to read things like this. You’re talking about Carl Feigenbaum, and there’s no evidence he ever visited London, let alone was Jack the Ripper. He was connected to the case by his defense attorney in New York, but what you have to understand is that around the turn of that century claiming your client was Jack the Ripper was a surprisingly common defense strategy. Maybe not in the courtroom, but to the press. The theory was that everyone knew Jack the Ripper was crazy, so if your client was Jack the Ripper that proved he was crazy and therefore deserved leniency.

  8. Nucular
    June 8, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    While my spidersense tingles at any claim of ‘identifying the Ripper’, it is quite pleasant to see statistical approaches to forensic profiling get some airtime. The popular concept of profiling as a sort of terribly clever intuition is sadly not confined to gripping TV shows – academics, police forces and other agencies have very much taken the FBI ‘behavioral sciences unit’ approach which seems to me little different from what you’d get from a psychic (with the same dangers of actually misleading investigators, especially if they ‘believe’ in it), but from people who should know better. Statistical, geographical and actuarial approaches are far less sexy, but also far less pseudoscientific – imperfect, sure, but actually falsifiable: Sharon’s correct note that it relies on several important parameters and assumptions at least highlights this difference, in that the research may well be flawed, but this is at least transparent and testable.

  9. spookyparadigm
    June 8, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    My issue is with the ridiculously over-the-top news article in which their method is a Ginsu knife of analysis in that it slices and dices and does everything else.

    But yeah, it’s not a bad idea, if properly done.

  10. Ian Oldfield
    June 25, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    Interesting that Kim Rossmo should identify a single street using his Rigel product, which uses interpolation and therefore, creates a smoothed area surface that by it’s nature is non-specific to single streets. Indeed, his own map on his Texas university website and his company site at ECRI, show several streets in the target area, so why now single out one?
    Perhaps he was moved to make this claim following the recent publication in a British forensic publication, showing a profile map based on Ordnance Survey street segments, indicating a ranking of streets, with Dean & Flower street as No.2? The profile was produced and presented at several fora, during and since my career as a Metropolitan Police officer. What a pity those reporting didn’t do a bit more homework and realise British technology had created this ‘news’ several years ago.

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