Jack the Writer: A Verbal & Visual Analysis of the Ripper Correspondence


by

Dirk C. Gibson

DOI: 10.2174/97816080575111130101
eISBN: 978-1-60805-751-1, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60805-752-8



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This study of the Jack the Ripper correspondence is a valuable addition to the volumes of extant published material on thi...[view complete introduction]

Table of Contents

Foreword

- Pp. i-iv (4)

Katherine Ramsland

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Preface

- Pp. v-xiii (9)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Introduction to the Ripper Correspondence

- Pp. 3-18 (16)

Dirk C. Gibson

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The Ripper Correspondence was Authentic

- Pp. 19-30 (12)

Dirk C. Gibson

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The Ripper Correspondence was not Authentic

- Pp. 31-44 (14)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Authentic Ripper Letters From 1888

- Pp. 45-65 (21)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Later Letters

- Pp. 66-76 (11)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Theme Categories and Dominant Themes in the Ripper Correspondence

- Pp. 77-92 (16)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Major Themes in the Ripper Correspondence

- Pp. 93-104 (12)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Meaningful Themes in the Ripper Correspondence

- Pp. 105-120 (16)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Minor Ripper Correspondence Content Themes

- Pp. 121-146 (26)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Visual Analysis of the Ripper Correspondence

- Pp. 147-161 (15)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Conclusion

- Pp. 162-172 (11)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Ripper Correspondence Master List

- Pp. 173-183 (11)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Appendix: The Ripper Correspondence: Mass Communication Dimensions of the Whitechapel Murders

- Pp. 184-209 (26)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Bibliography

- Pp. 210-212 (3)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Subject Index

- Pp. 213-221 (9)

Dirk C. Gibson

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Foreword

O Have You Seen the Devle

Did Jack the Ripper write these words? If so, was he (or she) trying to be poetic or was he just a poor speller? Did he write any of the letters that were sent during that bloody rampage in London’s Whitechapel in 1888? Or was he entirely oblivious to the strange flood of correspondence? If he did write any (or many), how can we tell which ones?

Many people believe it is a proven fact that the killer known as Jack the Ripper picked his own moniker, taunted the police with their failure to catch him, and played a successful game of cat-and-mouse. That’s probably because so much serial killer fiction depends on these devices for suspense and the villain’s development. As we absorb oft-repeated cultural narratives, we start to believe they’re true. But this doesn’t help us establish the actual facts about Jack. Communications professor Dirk C. Gibson attempts to rectify this.

Prior to this eBook, he published Clues from Killers: Serial Murder and Crime Scene Messages. He covered a number of cases in which killers wrote letters to the police or some media agency. The Zodiac, Dennis Rader (BTK), the Son of Sam, and the DC Sniper are among them. So is Jack the Ripper, which foreshadows Gibson’s acceptance of him as a correspondent.

A key question is this: What do offenders gain from writing such notes? Some of them have told us. Rader strove to be included among the elite serial killers. When his early crimes weren’t connected, he had to do it himself, so he proceeded to explain what fuels serial murder. He even nicknamed himself. The Zodiac liked taunting the press and police. It seems that his letters made him feel superior. Albert Fish, a sadist, wrote to a victim’s mother to relive his crime and envision her reading his description of killing and eating her daughter. With red ink, Lucian Staniak sought to punish victims and society alike. What, then, did Red Jack gain? Gibson believes that a series of letters are quite revelatory on this point.

He’s not the first to focus on the Ripper correspondence. In 2001, for example, Stuart Evans and Keith Skinner published an illustrated compendium of letters attributed to Jack the Ripper. Among the hundreds that arrived to news agencies and Scotland Yard with advice on how to investigate the case were correspondences ostensibly from the killer. Apparently, it was a fashion to send a “Jack the Ripper” letter to the police, so it was difficult to sort out which – if any – might be authentic. The Evans/Skinner book is a collection worth having, if only to see the variety of missives sent. It’s also valuable to look through this eBook as one goes through Gibson’s analysis.

For many Ripperologists, three letters stand out as potentially authentic. They’re known, respectively, as the letter “From Hell,” the “Dear Boss” letter, and the “Saucy Jack” postcard. The “Dear Boss” letter, which seemed to accurately describe one of the fatal attacks, was signed, “Jack the Ripper.” The “Saucy Jack” note came quickly after, with a similar tone and handwriting. Both went to the Central News Agency, while the “From Hell” letter was sent to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, with half a kidney. Its style and tone are different but not its themes. It did not bear the Ripper signature.

Which brings us to methodology. Past researchers who’ve make claims about the letters have supported their approach with whatever “scientific” method was in vogue in their day. For example, one analyst used “microphotography,” or magnification, before stating that nearly three-dozen letters were by the same hand. Various handwriting experts have also provided expertise. However, no one has yet convinced today’s core group of Ripper exerts that we can tell beyond doubt that the killer wrote letters, or proven which ones were from Jack.

So, let’s consider some facts about handwriting and content analysis. Handwriting experts make a fundamental assumption: no two people write exactly alike, so a careful analyst can distinguish one person’s writing samples from another’s. Repeated usage over a long period of time supposedly crystallizes a specific idiosyncratic style that will vary only slightly over the years. When conducting an examination, analysts look at “class characteristics,” which are formed from whatever writing system the author learned, and “individual characteristics,” or features unique to that individual. It is the latter that play an important role in forensic analysis.

An investigator might try to link a known specimen (“exemplar”) written by an identified person with a questioned document of unknown origin. Or the investigator might try to link several questioned documents to a common source. Since, we have no proven exemplars from Jack the Ripper, the second approach must suffice. If there are significant dissimilarities between two questioned documents, then it's likely that there are two different authors, unless the differences can be accounted for, such as the author having an accident between writing the items, or taking medication.

However, similarities are not necessarily a definitive indication, since even the most unique factor in a person's handwriting may show up in someone else's. Handwriting analysis, then, falls short of the proofs provided by, say, DNA or toxicological analysis. In fact, a 2009 report about the state of forensic science, based on a two-year study under the auspices of the National Academy of Science, questioned the legitimacy of including handwriting analysis on the accepted list of sciences. Yes, it’s been around for well over a century as a forensic tool, but the approach depends too heavily on the subjective elements of experience and interpretation.

So, let’s look at content analysis, also called forensic stylistics, attributional analysis, or linguistic analysis. Similar to handwriting analysis, the basic premise for content analysis is that no two people use language in exactly the same way. The method, often performed on computers, involves a detailed analysis of the content of a questioned document to compare what is written to what a potential source reads or generally writes. It also involves comparing content across documents. Some examiners claim that they can detect distinct features as precisely as anything this side of fingerprints and DNA.

The pattern of unique differences in a person's use of language, along with repetition of those traits and themes throughout his or her writing, offer internal evidence that links a person to a questioned document, or links two or more documents to one another. The language used can help establish the writer's age, gender, ethnicity, level of education, professional training, and ideology. The key items are vocabulary, spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation habits. Other kinds of textual evidence might include borrowed or influential source material, document formatting, and the physical document itself.

Gibson examines several of these items. To support his argument that the Ripper was an avid letter-writer, he explores claims made by other researchers. He also performs a detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis, and describes and defends his methods before he dives into the content. Gibson acquired as many letters as he could find from a range of sources. After putting them in order as best he could, he devised a long list of “content categories” or themes for comparisons. He also looked at subjects and people who were mentioned repeatedly, key phrases, and certain visual elements.

Finally, he uses this material to demonstrate what most concerned the killer, which brings us back to our original question: what do offenders gain from writing these letters? If Gibson is right, it’s all here in the pages that follow. Although Ripper scholars will be fascinated with the minutiae, I suspect that the average reader will be more interested in what motived Saucy Jack to kill and disembowel prostitutes.

Whether an examination of this depth proves that Jack the Ripper was a fervent and “saucy” correspondent I leave to readers (and other experts) to decide. That Gibson has made a contribution to Ripperology with his careful and multidimensional analysis is beyond dispute.

Katherine Ramsland
La Salle University
Philadelphia
USA


Preface

1. INTRODUCTION

This is an eBook about the ‘Jack the Ripper Letters,’ perhaps the single most controversial aspect of the Jack the Ripper crimes. I contend that the key to understanding the Ripper crimes lies in the letters sent to news bureaus, newspapers, a variety of law enforcement officials and other individuals. This eBook has been long overdue.

2. THE WORTHLESS RIPPER LETTERS

Virtually all authorities on Jack the Ripper have tended to denigrate the importance of these documents. Interestingly, the same authors who have rejected the authenticity of these letters nevertheless frequently include pictures of some, and virtually all authors include a chapter on the letters in their books. I beg to differ on the value of these items.

3. A RHETORICAL PERSPECTIVE & PURPOSE

This eBook was written to advance our understanding of the Ripper crimes. Through a rhetorical perspective which posits that the Ripper crimes were part of a mass communication campaign, basic Ripper facts can take on revealing new meanings [1]. Because these letters as a collective genre of rhetoric are worthy of study, this eBook aims to offer a mass communication and rhetoric-based examination of the Ripper crimes and these exciting rhetorical artifacts.

Because of the narrow focus of this work centered on the Ripper letters many common Ripper topics will be excluded. I will limit this analysis to the Ripper letters, and the rhetorical campaign which produced them. Thus, I name no new suspects, endorse no old suspects, and in general leave such paths untrod.

This eBook depends on and is aimed at explication and illumination of the intrinsic legitimacy and meaning of the Ripper letters. They were obtained from the British Public Records Office, the Corporation of the City of London and a variety of other sources, and have been subjected to rhetorical and historiographical analysis.

In addition, the electronic bibliographic resources of the Ripper Casebook were tapped. This handy Ripper information source contains links to primary sources such as contemporary newspaper and magazine stories, official police reports, and related documents of incalculable historic significance. Also obtained and perused were virtually all of the extant Ripper books, amounting to approximately 85 in number.

If the Ripper letters, or many of them, are found to be bona fide communications from the Ripper, we will be forced to rethink virtually every now-accepted fact and theory pertaining to the Ripper crimes. This treasure trove of self-produced rhetorical behavior, I am convinced, is the key to unlocking the continuing mysteries of the unsolved Ripper murders.

This rhetorical explanation for the Ripper crimes is quite radical, compared to conventional Ripperology. I am not attempting to criticize any particular Ripper authority, or the entire discipline of Ripperologists, with an admittedly unconventional premise. But, when all the signs point to a rhetorical activity, it would be foolish of us to ignore those signs and fail to at least explore an alternative avenue leading to an enhanced explanation of the Ripper crimes.

4. ECOLOGICALLY VALID USE OF THE LETTERS

A word about my use of the letters is in order. The Ripper correspondence is replete with errors. The authors made spelling mistakes, left words out, used the wrong words, and violated English language rules regarding punctuation, grammar, syntax, use of upper and lower case letters, spacing, and others. Instead of using “sic” to show that these were mistakes of the original letter writers and not the author of this eBook, I have left the letters as they were. To do otherwise would seriously disrupt the ‘flow’ of this eBook, add many words, and worst of all alter the appearance and content of the letters.

This rhetorical explanation for the Ripper crimes is quite radical, compared to conventional Ripperology. I am not attempting to criticize any particular Ripper authority, or the entire discipline of Ripperologists, with an admittedly unconventional premise. But, when all the signs point to a rhetorical activity, it would be foolish of us to ignore those signs and fail to at least explore an alternative avenue leading to an enhanced explanation of the Ripper crimes.

5. THE BASIC FACTS OF THE JACK THE RIPPER MURDERS

This eBook is a specialized analysis of one aspect of the Ripper crimes, the correspondence attributed to the criminal. It is not my intent to duplicate the hundreds if not thousands of excellent extant explanations of the methods and details of these murders. However, a keen manuscript reviewer suggested that some contextualization for the reader might be helpful, and I agree that a relatively brief rendition of the basic facts of the murders would be appropriate.

The most basic facts about the Ripper offenses have been published repeatedly since the times of the crimes. Contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts covered the stories of each murder in considerable detail, and subsequent articles continually appeared to rehash the cases and speculate about the identity of the killer. Books have been published frequently since the days of the murders. It is fair to say that the crimes are a matter of common knowledge, with so much information on the public record.

Prior to writing this section, I reviewed a half-dozen of the numerous credible and reliable sources on the murders, to refresh my memory abut the particulars of the murders and associated crimes. These sources included: Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner, The Jack the Ripper A-Z. London: Headline Books, 1996; Philip Sugden, The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1994; Paul Begg, Jack the Ripper: Uncensored Facts. London: Robson Books, 1989; Tom A. Cullen, When London Walked in Terror. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965; Donald Rumbelow, The Complete Jack the Ripper. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975; and Stewart P. Evans and Keith Skinner, The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2000.



There are of course numerous versions of the facts of this case. For instance, there is disagreement as to the precise number of Ripper murders. Some authorities accept five genuine Ripper victims--Annie Chapman, Polly Nichols, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, and Mary Kelly. For the purpose of this study, seven Ripper murders will be identified. I believe that Martha Tabram was the earliest Ripper victim and that Alice McKenzie was the last.

A. Martha Tabram

The initial Ripper slaying most likely took place in the early morning hours after a holiday, Bank Holiday Monday, on August 7, 1888. The victim was Martha Tabram, who is sometimes mistakenly identified as Martha Turner. Her body was discovered on the steps outside of No. 47, George Yard Building, at approximately 4:45 a.m. It was noted that numerous people lived in the very near vicinity of the crime scene, yet no one reported hearing anything.

Tabram was about five feet, three inches tall, and relatively chubby at the time of her death. She was dressed in a dark bonnet and a black jacket with a green skirt and brown undergarment and stockings. Tabram had been married to Henry Samuel Tabram but they separated thirteen years before her death. She was born Martha White on May 10, 1849. Her last address was a common lodging house at 19 George Street, Spitalfields.

Tabram was brutally slain, stabbed at least thirty-nine times. And the wounds were not irrelevant but deadly, with two serious stab wounds in the right lung and an additional five in the left. One deep wound was made to the heart, and there were five stab wounds in the liver. The stomach had been penetrated a half-dozen times, her clothes had been rearranged and her body posed in a sexually suggestive position, with her legs spread wide apart and her clothing bunched up to reveal her sex organs. Dr. Thomas Killeen believed that two different knives were used in the assault.

B. Polly (Mary Ann) Nichols

Nichols died on the last day of August in 1888. Her body was discovered at about 3:45 in Bucks Row, after she was last seen alive at approximately 2:30 a.m. She was turned away by the deputy lodging keeper at a common doss house, the equivalent of today’s homeless shelters, but she had promised to return soon with money to obtain lodging for the night. No one heard a thing during her murder.

Mary Ann Walker was born in August of 1851. She married William Nichols, a printer, on January 16, 1864. They had two children, a boy and a girl. The marriage reportedly ended between 1880 and 1881 due to her chronic drinking. She was about five feet, two inches tall, with gray eyes and dark hair. She wore a rusty-colored ulster, a brown linsey dress, two petticoats and black stockings at the time of her death. She last lived at the White House, 56 Flower and Dean Street.

The mutilations were frightening and fearsome. Her throat had been deeply slashed from ear to ear. According to some accounts she had been disemboweled with a jagged but deep incision, while others reported a series of cuts to the abdomen.

C. Annie Chapman

She was killed in the back yard of a lodging house at 29 Hanbury Street, shortly before the discovery of her body at 6 a.m. on September 8, 1888. Chapman was last seen alive at 5:30 a.m. Seventeen people lived in the house whose back yard served as the crime scene, with scores more in adjacent buildings, yet no one heard a sound.

Chapman was born in 1841 as Eliza Ann Smith. She was married to John Chapman in 1869, but she abandoned her husband and two or three children in 1881. From that point until her death she worked as a prostitute and lived with a number of men, most notably a man named Jack Sivvey or someone who worked as a sieve-maker. She was a short lady, barely five feet tall. Her last address was 35 Dorset Street, the Crossingham’s Lodging House.

Chapman was savagely mutilated. Her body was posed as Tabram and Nichols had been, and her feet were flat on the ground with her knees elevated and her black skirt bunched above her waist. She had been almost decapitated, and she was in fact disembowled. Coroner Wynne Baxter announced that her uterus was missing.

D. Elizabeth Stride

One of the most interesting aspects of the Ripper case was the so-called Double Event. On a single evening, September 29-30, 1888, two lives were viciously taken in an all-night killing spree. Elizabeth Stride and Catharine Eddowes fell to the Ripper’s knife.

Stride was first on September 30, 1888. The time of death, although a bit imprecise, was estimated at between 12:46 and 12:56 a.m. Her body was discovered in a place called Duffield’s Yard, outside an establishment known as the Socialist’s Club. A man returning to the yard, Louis Diemschutz, found Stride’s corpse just inside the unlocked front gate. Despite the presence of several people in nearby rooms with open windows, no one heard anything suspicious.

She was born as Elisabeth Gustafsdotter, the daughter of Gustaf Ericsson and Beata Carlsdotter, on November 27, 1843. The public records of Gotheburg, Sweden, recorded her occupation as prostitute in March of 1865. Stride married John Thomas Stride on July 10, 1866, but they had separated by 1978. She lived with Michael Kidney, a laborer, for the last three years she was alive. At her death she wore dark-colored garments, and a dark, fur-lined coat. She was among the tallest victims, at five feet, five inches in height. She and Kidney lived in a room at 33 Dorset Street.

Stride was the only Ripper victim not subjected to some kind of physical mutilation. It is widely believed that the unexpected arrival of Diemschutz interrupted the Ripper before he could accomplish his typical mutilations. She died at about forty-five years of age.

E. Catharine Eddowes

Eddowes was killed as little as forty-five minutes after the discovery of Stride’s body.

City Police Constable Edward Watkins discovered her body at 1:44 a.m. in Mitre Square. When he had last patrolled the crime scene, twelve to fourteen minutes earlier, all had been quiet. There were several people in the vicinity, including a night watchman, but once again no one heard a sound.

Catharine Eddowes was born to George and Catharine Eddowes in 1842 in Wolverhampton. She left home between 1861 and 1863 with Thomas Conway, who lived on a military pension. They had three children, two boys and a girl. When the couple separated in 1880 because of her infidelity and alcoholism she took her daughter Annie and Conway took the boys. Eddowes lived with Michael Kelly, a porter, for the last seven years of her life. She had curly black hair and an attractive, petite facial bone structure. She did not know her real age, but it is estimated that she was approximately 43 years old. She last lived with Kelly at 52 Flower and Dean Street.

The mutilations in this case were completely over-the-top, and exceeded the previous body disfigurement by a considerable margin. Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown arrived at the crime scene and reported dispassionately on the mutilations, which included disembowelment. Her nose had been nearly cut off, and parts of an ear were severed from the body. Tiny nicks were made on her eyelids, perhaps to simulate eyelashes. Her body was posed as the others had been, with the victim’s legs spread and naked and the clothes pulled up to reveal private parts.

F. Mary Kelly

Mary Kelly is the final of the canonical five, generally-accepted Ripper victims. She was the only victim believed to have been slain indoors. And for this reason the Ripper had the time and privacy to perpetrate the most terrible mutilations on this victim. Kelly died in the early morning of November 9, 1888. Several neighbors reported hearing a woman say, “murder,” once at approximately 4:00 a.m.

She was born around 1861 to John Kelly, an ironworker, in Limerick. Kelly had a half-dozen brothers and a solitary sister. She married a man named Davis, a collier, in 1879, but it is believed that he died in a pit accident within two or three years. She turned to prostitution to support herself. She spent much of her last year and a half with a man named Joe Barnett, At the time of her death she was 25 years old, described as stout with blue eyes and blond hair, five feet two inches tall. Number 13, Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, is where she met her death.

Kelly’s body was badly abused. Her throat was cut from ear to ear almost to the spine, and the head nearly severed from the body. She was disemboweled and much of her entrails was extracted from her body. Her breasts were cut off and placed on a bedside table, along with her liver and part of her intestines. The flesh was cut from her legs. Some reports suggest that her uterus was taken, while others claim that her heart was missing.

G. Alice McKenzie

Clay-Pipe Alice was found murdered in Castle Alley between 12:25 and 12:50 a.m. on July 17, 1889, nearly a year after the other killings in the series. Nevertheless, there are sound reasons to link the McKenzie slaying to the Ripper crimes. James Monro, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Criminal Investigation Division (CID), linked the crimes based on the case evidence, and Dr. Thomas Bond concurred. Bond had attended inquests or been at crime scenes in almost every Ripper murder. Once again no one heard anything.

She was born around 1849 in Peterborough. Also known as Alice Bryant, she took up with John McCormick sometime in 1883 and they lived together until her death. She had suffered a thumb injury in an industrial accident. She worked as a washerwoman and charwoman, and resorted to prostitution when necessary to make ends meet. McKenzie was freckle-faced.

She was found with her throat cut in a couple places, and she was left posed in a similar manner to the other Ripper victims. There was a long cut from her left breast to her navel, and seven or eight cuts on her abdomen.

6. PREVIEW

The first section of this eBook provides a basic orientation to the Ripper correspondence, and to this specific work on that subject. The initial chapter explains the significance of the Ripper correspondence, and details the methods of analysis used in this study. The second chapter argues the case for accepting some of the Ripper correspondence as being authentic, while the third chapter asserts that the letters were all hoaxes.

The Ripper correspondence items reasonably attributable to the Ripper are presented in the next two chapters. Ripper letters from 1888 are shared in chapter four, while the later letters from the Ripper are discussed in chapter five.

Chapter six introduces my system for classifying the Ripper correspondence into content, people, language and visual traits categories. The content themes noted in the Ripper letters, or the topics covered, were divided into four groups based upon the frequency of their occurrence. Also discussed in chapter six are the three dominant Ripper correspondence themes.

Major themes, those mentioned quite often but less often than the three dominant content themes, are presented in chapter seven. Chapter eight discusses meaningful Ripper content themes, and chapter nine covers the relatively minor content themes. The visual characteristics of the Ripper correspondence are described in chapter ten.

This eBook’s concluding chapter contains the summary. Most importantly, it offers a quantitative analysis demonstrating that the correspondence produced by the Ripper actually differed little from that written by imposters. In addition, a series of general conclusions is advanced.

Part of text in this eBook has been previously published in JGIP - Journal of Global Intelligence & Policy Volume: 1, Issue: 2.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this eBook content has no conflicts of interest|.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Declared none.

REFERENCE

[1] Gibson, Dirk C. (2010, September). “The Whitechapel Crimes as Public Relations.” Ripperologist. 31-43.

Dirk C. Gibson
Department of Communication & Journalism
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque
USA
E-mail: dirkcgib@unm.edu

List of Contributors

Author(s):
Dirk C. Gibson
The University of New Mexico
USA




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