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Jack The Ripper versus Sherlock Holmes

The most famous serial killer and the greatest detective

Author: SherlockExtra - Translator: Revati

Sherlockian Holmesian

1. Legendary figures from the world of crime – and the question arises: Why Hercule Poirot would have not been able to catch the monster of Whitechapel?

An agonizing scream sounds in London’s most dreadful slum in the middle of the night. Who hears it, trembles from fear, closes all doors and covers his/her head with pillows, or lurks at the dark corners of the streets. Everybody knows that someone gets killed nearby. An old soothsayer forms the actual date, 1888 from matchsticks on her table, then she contemplates over it… at last she sweeps off the first number and picks out one stick from each of the upper right part of the eights. She is perplexed to see what remains: 666 – the number of Satan. She begins to tremble and tears appear in her eyes…. Out there, in the dark, wet slips two men are running, one tries to escape, the other chases him. At last they reach a dead end – they stand face-to-face, only seeing each other’s silhouettes. Two men in long coat and hat, both knowing that this moment was inevitable, it determinates their fate and may lead to a fatal duel. One of the figures holds a blood-stained knife in his hand….Their next actions will be crucial….Two men, surrounded by the world of blood and violence. And now, now there’s tension between them, and death will strike again soon….

We all imagine the meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper somehow similarly. Though the great detective never existed, out of respect we talk about him as if he were alive. He is undoubtedly the king of sleuths, who ranks higher than an other genius of detective stories, Hercule Poirot. Agatha Christie’s Belgian private detective was born not long before the massacres of Jack the Ripper, but he only arrived to Great Britain during World War I (There is no accurate date of Poirot’s birth, his creator mentions in a story that he was born around 1884, while fans and experts determined three or four other possible birthdates). So when he is in England, the Belgian detective is elder and dumpy, which is not an advantage when someone wants to chase criminals. While Conan Doyle’s Mycroft Holmes seldomly goes anywhere except from his favourite places, Poirot visits the crime scenes if it is needed. He makes field work, from which Sherlock Holmes states that it differentiates him from Mycroft, whom he calls armchair detective. Sherlock is much more active in field work than Poirot, but he is young and more energetic. He’s able to move fast and he is talented in fencing, baritsu and shooting. Hercule often relies on the reports of experts working for the police, while his British colleague makes experiments himself, because this increases the speed of his investigation, what is an enormous advantage. He also uses modern methods that are not common at Scotland Yard. He is a one-man crime solving army, whose methods were later used, and are still in use today in real life (Recommended link: Dr. Edmond Locard). It is an advantage for Holmes that he is young and lives in London when the Jack the Ripper murders occur, and he is already a highly educated and experienced detective by that time. While Poirot has only a few police acquaintances in London and he doesn’t now many civilians either, Sherlock has his brother, Mycroft, who has access to almost everything. He can also use the Baker Street Irregulars, he is familiar with the criminal organizations, and he knows how to gain information from strangers. Reckoning with his knowledge of chemistry, sociology and graphology, the Ripper’s message on the wall could have told him more than the Belgian detective. Irrespectively of this Poirot is clearly many people’s favourite.

Hercule Poirot and the greatest detective:

Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes

Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes

Since 1888 it is evident for countless people that Sherlock Holmes is the only person who could have caught the most well-known serial killer of the world. The detective genius chases the Ripper in several pastiches, movies, and in a computer game as well. The stories seldom deal with the differences between these two men – and, surprisingly, they also have some things in common. This article focuses on the similarities.

We warn those who would like to know the Ripper’s identity that we won’t present you a name. The murders happened many, many years ago, evidence wore off, the police made lots of serious mistakes during the investigations, and lurid newspapers and people’s vivid imagination gave rise to far too much false statements. The case became too complicated, with more fiction than fact – just like the Kennedy assassination in 1963. There are debates on the number and identity of the Ripper’s victims as well, what makes the situation even more difficult. Some experts say there were more victims, not just the „general five” (Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly), and there are even debates on who belongs to the general five... Violent crimes were common in London’s slums, and newspapers made such a huge publicity for the Ripper cases, that there were undoubtedly some people who wanted to imitate the gruesome killings or to get rid of some unbeloved female relative or acquaintance. This article compares two legendary figures from the world of Victorian crime, and we do hope that it will be enjoyable and thought-provoking.

2. The bloody hunters of the world of crime

The two celebrities of Victoian England became famous thanks to their bloody passions – Jack the Ripper had his brutal killings, while Sherlock Holmes solved even the most complicated cases brilliantly. Their birth was full of blood too. Probably the man who later got the nickname Jack the Ripper was successful only in his horrible killings during his life. We first encounter Sherlock Holmes in a laboratory where he conducts an experiment to find a method to trace haemoglobin. Holmes was glad to meet his would-be flatmate, dr. Watson, and he excitedly told him what an extraordinary thing he achieved. The murderer was stimulated by killing and mutilating the women, while the detective’s driving force is solving mysteries and saving lives. They both were the first and unique in their activities. It is often stated that the Ripper was the first serial killer, though there were others before him who have taken the lives of more than one people. Jack was the first modern serial killer – because of his brutality, his mysteriousness, and above all, because of the media hype around him. Sherlock Holmes was the first consulting detective – he created this professional for himself and he was unique in it. There are many misbeliefs around his character (we have a long list on them in a separate article: Common misbeliefs).

Jack attacked poor women, so robbery was surely not his goal. The hero of Baker Street investigated cases free of charge that were interesting enough. They both were ready to take the risk of their passion. The monster of the slums hunted on a densely populated area, so the chance of discovery was high. Sherlock Holmes risked his life without hesitation in fights or when he made experiments. The Ripper experimented when he mutilated his victims, he left terrible human torsos. These men expressed themselves through their actions, they gave signals about themselves this way. Their passion was an extremely powerful motivation. No wonder that their deeds captured the imagination of countless people. They appeared in front of the public almost at the same time (Sherlock Holmes in 1887, Jack the Ripper in 1888). Their actions were a good talking point, and people loved to guess their next movements.

Newspapers made their figure well-known, because journalists realized that these extreme topics guarantee high sales. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Baker Street genius originally gave his hero another name, but his publisher urged him to find a name that is more British (Read more: The name of Sherlock Holmes). Initially the Ripper was called Leather Apron, he got his universally known nickname later. In Doyle’s novels the good doctor, John Watson chronicles the adventures of Holmes that are printed in a newspaper. Jack was real, and his killings made it to the headlines. Later many people wrote stories or letters as if they were Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper. Some even wore costumes. These two men became tourist attractions and many pastiches and film adaptations were made using their stories. A real horror industry had been built up on them, which changes and flourishes as time passes. Media promotes brutality, so we can be sure that in the future there will be even more shocking shows based on the characters. Both have symbols that are connected with them (knife, deerstalker hat), and it made it easier to stick into people’s minds. But many think, based on only very few information that they know everything about either Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper. The true cultural value of Sherlock Holmes and the social changes that were caused by the Ripper murders seem to be uninteresting for many. They content themselves with tiny pieces of half true or false information, though they can only give shallow knowledge. These people don’t see through the deeper relationships, and they don’t realize that there is hope even behind these awful things as well. Hope that the world is changing and one can learn from mistakes. Jack’s rampage and Sherlock’s fictional investigations made people realize that they have to do something against the dangerous world. In the Canon Holmes points out that crowded cities are the ideal scenes for committing crimes. His parents were landowners living in the country, but he moves to the busy London. His reason is simple: solving crimes is his passion, and the city is the best place to do it. London was the best for Jack the Ripper as well – he caught his victims in the suburbs. The fact that the majority of the murderers attacks close to the place where they live and that the Ripper could escape each time suggests that he knew the city well. Sherlock Holmes knew it as the back of his hand. The Ripper’s is the oldest accessible criminal profile, the techniques and methods of investigation developed since then and the police had more money to buy equipment. The killing of prostitutes brought forward the deep social crisis of poverty, which later led to the improvement of the slums. Thanks to the most popular fictional detective the French dr. Edmond Locard started a new branch of science under the name of forensics, and many Sherlock fans chose to be forensic scientists. Both the Whitechapel horrors and the literary pleasures given by Doyle’s stories helped raise awareness of serious problems and mitigate them. Without them we would live in a more brutal and dangerous world. These characters show excellently how significant changes may result from good or bad events.

In Jack the Ripper’s case the question under debate is that how many victims the notorius killer had and whether he was sexually motivated or not (Forensic expertssuch as John Douglas and Laura Richards think he was). The canonical Sherlock Holmes was asexual, because his profession was the most important thing in his life, which was very time-consuming. Yet his character is often changed in adaptations and he is shown as someone who thinks sexuality is very important. Some people would like to see the sleuth in the arms of Irene Adler or John Watson – but they may somehow feel deep inside that his character is irreconcilable with this forced picture. Sherlock respected Irene Adler, that is all, and in addition she left the country with her husband whom she truly loved. John Watson’s love interests have always been women, he married more than once. Holmes is simply too solitary, he could not live in relationship. Profilers presume that maybe there were some women in Jack the Ripper’s life, but he had only been able to form short-term relationships, he was a loner. They think his mother was too dominant, and it is a fact that most serial killers had problematic relationships with their mothers. We don’t know much about Sherlock’s childhood, but Jeremy Brett, the legendary British actor who portrayed him for ten years, told that maybe the sleuth didn’t get motherly love as a young boy. It is also true that many people grow up lacking love, yet not all of them become criminals. Probably Jack suffered from some kind of trauma and he was unable to go on. Now we reached an important difference between the two characters. Sherlock Holmes was excellent in problem solving, save when he was lacking new cases and he turned to cocaine to avoid boredom. He helped others and managed his own life masterfully. He had self-discipline. He could perfectly adapt to others and new situations. He became successful with hard work, and he could be rightfully proud of that. He understood human realtionships and deeds. He was calmer and more emphatic than the Ripper – the latter was full of anger and hatred.

Jack The Ripper and Sherlock Holmes

Jack attacked his victims at night, but it is possible that he made observations, read articles about himself and returned to his former crime scenes in the daytime. The master sleuth was also more active at night, he caught criminals and used the dark hours to contemplate on his cases. While the Ripper despised his victims, Holmes could respect the criminals he caught. He never despised people based on their religion, social or financial status. The former Leather Apron was driven by anger he felt towards women, that is why he mutilated them after the killings. Sherlock Holmes spoke about the intelligence of women in a derogatory way till he met Irene Adler, but after their encounter he changed his mind. The Ripper sticked more and more to his obsessions (the mutilations became more and more brutal). He could not feel compassion and he could not give help – this is another huge difference between him and Holmes (Recommended article: Sherlock Holmes and women).

The phantom of the slums wore a long coat and a hat. Different witnesses saw a top hat, a hat and even a deerstalker. The Baker Street genius also had a long coat and a deerstalker in the Canon and in some adaptations (More information: The deerstalker hat of Sherlock Holmes). These items hide the details well. The coat made the Ripper able to conceal his knife, the bloodstains on his clothes and the organs he took away. Sherlock Holmes also has some things with him that can help his investigations: magnifying glass, pencil/pen, chalk, tape. Thanks to their clothes the two men could easily mingle with the crowd, and they weren’t suspicious in any way. There were some horrific murders before the Ripper’s time, and when he began the gruesome series of killings, the media warned of the dangers of being outside the streets alone. It is a fact that the prostitutes had to go out and work for their living, but they thought the killer is a possible client and trusted him based upon his behaviour. At several scenes the police found grapes or sweets – if Jack gave the women these, he must have been extremely kind and persuasive. Sherlock Holmes is a master of making people to trust him. He knows a lot about human behaviour, so it is easy for him to find out the best way to win someone’s trust. The great detective is an excellent actor, yet his motives are always good and he works for the sake of humanity. The Ripper attacked his victims unexpectedly. Holmes made unexpected moves and he even lied, but he always did these to aid his investigations. Just think of The Hound of the Baskervilles, where he makes people believe he has to stay in London, while in fact he travels to the moor to make some observations. We also have to mention A Case of Identity, where he has too few evidence to hand down the wrongdoer to the police, who knows it and therefore is very sassy with Sherlock. The sleuth picks a riding crop but he doesn’t hit the man who runs away. Holmes can master his anger, what cannot be said about Jack the Ripper.

Jack decided that guilty women must die. He hunted them down and mutilated them. He became the judge and the cruel, cold-blooded executor in one person. Sherlock Holmes is the best detective of the world, his vast knowledge and unique methods made him outstanding. He became a one-man crime-fighting army who combines several branches of science. Jack’s driving force was his primitive anger. Without doubt nowadays, with modern methods and equipment police would catch him and a judge would pass a sentence over him. In a democracy it is the most rational thing that the investigative, judicial and executional branches are separated. The Baker Street genius was on this opinion as well, and he hands over criminals to the police when it is possible. But sometimes he makes exceptions. As long as one’s fault is accidental and he/she means no danger to society, Holmes plays the role of the judge and he penalizes the criminal or he lets him/her go (Just a few examples: The Abbey Grange, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Blue Carbuncle). Sherlock had not only high IQ (Intelligence quotient), he also had EQ (Emotional intelligence) as well (Link: Wikipedia – EQ). This enabled him to wisely impose a more humane penalty than the law – but only when the criminal sincerely regretted the felony or he/she was ill. While the Ripper violated the laws, Holmes respected them, but he ranked mercy higher than any law. It was clear to him that there are cases when someone’s own conscience is the toughest of all judges. We would like to underline the fact that Sherlock Holmes had EQ. That is why it is a misbelief that he was antisocial, an emotionless machine. He is a detective, a judge and an executioner at the same time. He represents the law, humanity and science, while Jack personifies the most primitive, bestial instincts. Leather Apron could never put himself into the shoes of a detective, however Sherlock can feel deep sympathy and is able to find out the motives and upcoming moves of criminals. Jack despised his victims – Holmes respected people who were smarter than him.

Both men could use the characteristics of other for their own purposes. They could manipulate them. The prostitutes were sitting targets for Jack, because these women were in need of money, poverty and drinking weakened their bodies. They couldn’t afford healthy food and their work consumed their power. Alcohol also influenced their condition negatively, they couldn’t recognize accidental suspicious signs, and they were unarmed. Their clothes suited for fast intercourse, so these were easy for the Ripper to get rid of before killing and mutilating. He knew exactly that he can catch these derelict women easily. He got what he wanted. Sherlock Holmes was also a quick hunter. He solved the majority of his cases very fast. One reason for that was that he was very effective at getting information. It was clear for both characters that their eccentric activity impresses and shocks people.

The murders in 1888 were popular because they were parts of a multiple mystery. Killing, strangulation, dominance, revenge, mutilation, racism, corpses in morbid postures, possible cannibalism, poverty, fear, secrets of the royal family, a helpless police – all things emerged that made the case exceptional. It burnt into the minds of people. Conan Doyle’s Canon was also very popular and enchanting, yet the Scottish writer gifted us with such a detective – the king of detectives – who is easy to like, and it is quite believable that Holmes could have been able to catch the Ripper. He had everything for that.

Jack The Ripper versus Sherlock Holmes


1. - Laura Richards: Jack the Ripper, the first serial killer (2006) – documentary
2. - FBI Criminal Profile - "Jack The Ripper" Profile made by John Douglas in 1988
3. - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
4. - Poirot stories by Agatha Christie

Author: SherlockExtra - Translator: Revati --- © All Rights Reserved.

Sherlockian Holmesian


Sherlock Holmes Hercule Poirot world best detective

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