One of the many discussion points surrounding the case of ‘Jack the Ripper’ is what kind of knife the murderer used. There has been much speculation over the years. Some were convinced the length gave it credence as a mortuary knife. The police believed it to be a slaughterer’s blade. It is widely accepted that Jack used just one knife. Some thought it was some kind of leather-repair knife. Some even believed it was a custom-built design. I think it is none of these.


The police at the time believed the murderer was possibly a slaughterman, in particular a Jewish one. Their obsession with the Jewish community did not end with this, but it is one such example. In the process of Kosher slaughtering (precisely the shechita munachat technique), the blade used was around 6-8 inches and narrow. On the face of it a good fit. Except it had a squared-off end. It could have caused the throat-cutting; after all, that is its purpose. Without a sharpened tip (or ‘ground down’ as one inquest testimony mentioned), it would not fit the purpose of the post-mortem mutilation. Such crude customisation could have been possible.

However, using this method in the Jewish tradition of slaughtering most species would not have affected the carotid artery (the one thing that unites all victims). There is an exception, which would be in cattle slaughter. Any deviance outside of the specific techniques would deem the meat non-kosher. There was no wiggle room here. Objectively it must be noted that it could well be possible that Jack was a Jewish cattle slaughterer with a customised blade. We know this was on the police’s mind, as deep in the archives, there is a reference to them consulting Jewish specialists in this area. They never did find such a man.


I believe James was given a verbal description of how to effectively cut a human’s throat efficiently by severing the carotid artery. Innocently and inadvertently, this description was to become Jack’s method of murder. The knife was most likely some form of a hunting knife. It was a proxy for a tool that was already heavily misused. The release this time came from being in physical contact with the internal organs of slain prostitutes. The absolute power their deaths provided him. These urges can be defined as a form of Necromutilomania. His brain was most likely in stage three of neurosyphilis at the time of the murders. This condition may have triggered and escalated his darkest fantasies into action. Throw in drugs and alcohol, and that is quite an explosive psychological cocktail.

Back to the knife. When discussing the blade, I am drawn to the American Civil War, where soldiers in close combat would often ruthlessly slit the throats of the enemy. The most popular blades for this purpose were hunting knives, fighting knives and Bowie knives. All of which would be better candidates for the knife than some of those previously mentioned in this case. Such knives would not be easily recognisable in 1888 London. The American Civil War was from 1861 – 1865. Despite many of the blades being produced in Sheffield, they all but exclusively made their way to America.


If you were likely to be involved with close-combat or planned on using stealth assassination techniques against your enemy, then knowing how to slit one’s throat efficiently would be an excellent method to learn. Although you would never be formally trained in any official manuals or guides, you most likely would have had some informal training by those who knew the most effective methods. The knife pictured above is a ‘Fighting Knife’ example. They all came with leather sheaves which you could attach to a belt. Knives subsided towards the end of the war, but they were heavily used in the early stages.


Here is a first-hand account of throat-cutting in the heat of battle of the American Civil War:

“During a subsequent lull in the fighting, details from the 2nd Kansas ranged the field, cutting the throats of Confederate wounded. “We found that many of our wounded had been mutilated in many ways,” reported the surgeon of the 33rd Arkansas Infantry. “Some with ears cut off, throats cut, knife stabs, etc. My brother . . . had his throat cut through the windpipe and lived several days.”


You can find out more about how I believed James Maybrick came to be the owner of such a knife in my book “Jack the Ripper: Threads”.


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