Macabre Jack the Ripper/Ed Gein (Medical Question)

Straight up… this is weird.

I will supply cites and background upon request, but I will certify that my interest is purely academic! My only intent in applying any knowledge gathered in this thread would be in writing a semi-educated work of non-fiction that would end up languishing on my hard drive.

I have been reading about Jack the Ripper lately. In at least one of his murders and in some of the cases involving Ed Gein, there are comments about the removal of the entire female reproductive organs.

In some of the contemporary Ripper literature, it is difficult to tell if people are simply being a bit squeamish or if procedures were a bit less comprehensive than one would expect in today’s CSI culture, but, from what I can tell, the killer did more than simply cut away the skin of the vulva. There are also numerous comments on the “skill” of the killer in his ability to remove the parts that he did in the way that he did.

My question is, how difficult would it be for someone to remove a woman’s reproductive system presuming that the health of the woman is not a concern? With a man, I can see how one could probably accomplish the task with a pair of hedge clippers. But, with a woman, would it require an extensive understanding of anatomy? Would someone with no knowledge be able to do it, just by looking?

I understand Gein had extensive reading material and did well in school in that respect. I also understand that he may have had experience in field dressing game animals. There has also been discussion of the possibility that JtR was a Doctor.

But what would removing a woman’s vagina entail? How about just the uterus? How about everything from labia majora to ovaries so that one could carry it away in a box and not even stand out as you walked down the street?
I apologize in advance for such a grusome question, but it is almost Halloween, so what better time?

BTW— all links are wikipedia and I would consider them purely scholastic.


In the course of getting a biology degree I did a lot of dissection of various mammalian species, including some time with a human cadaver. I also hunt, so I’ve field dressed a variety of animals. IMO, removal of the female reproductive system wouldn’t require much knowledge beyond what could easily be gleaned from an anatomy text. A sharp knife is really all that would be required.
As for the Ripper’s skill level, I think it was greatly overstated.

I’ve also had the pleasure of watching several cadaver dissections and the uterus is pretty distinctive looking and easy to locate. A non-pregnant uterus is pretty small…only about the size of an avocado, so I see no problem with chucking it in a box and sneaking it out. The only issue I can think of would be the blood. In the cadavers I saw dissected, there was very little blood…I don’t know if they drain it or what…but with a person who had just been killed, there would be a lot of blood. I think basic knowledge of anatomy would be all that was required.

Basic knowledge as in having seen people naked or basic knowledge as in having read a book or knowing what one will find once you started cutting?

I tend to favor the argument that “the Ripper’s” skill level was overstated, but:


Imagine you were looking to cut out a — please forgive my inelegant verbiage — pocket pussy.

I’m really not trying to be disgusting about this, I’m truly curious and many police reports and the like — especially from the Ripper period — could be taken to mean anything from “took out all the internal organs” to “removed the vaginal lips.”

Would it simply be a matter of cutting connective tissue, or would it be impossible because of the musculature?

A good sharp knife, used with a will by a man of reasonable strength could accomplish what you describe. Enough knowledge of anatomy to do so wouldn’t require much more than looking at diagrams in a text or two.

If you doubt me, remember that hunters regularly completely eviscerate animals that are human-sized or larger with just a hunting knife.

From what I’ve seen of the post mortem photos of the Ripper’s victims, he was using the blade vigorously, but not with any notable skill. I believe the media of the time played up that angle because it made the tale that much more lurid.

I don’t, and that’s part of the question… I’ve seen deer after they’ve been field-dressed and it looks like a pretty straightforward exercise with a little experience. But simply removing the viscera in it’s entirety seems significantly different from removing a woman’s reproductive tract in the dark.

It sounds like you have seen more than I have and I am not any bit of a Ripper afficionado. In fact, the question came up somewhat by accident.

I semi-remembered that Gein collected something like nine “vaginas” — again, I’m not sure what exactly he was collecting since many people use the terms vagina and vulva interchangably. I can’t quite imagine how one would remove just the vulva and be left with anything resembling a human female’s genitalia, but obviously he did.

In the case of the Ripper it’s starting to sound to me like he was more or less mutilating bodies and there was and is a lot of misinformation.

With a long enough blade and enough rage or excitement, one could simply plunge the knife in from below, just behind the pubis, then run it around on the inside aspect of the pelvis cutting aganst the bone. This would core out a plug of tissue that might include the rectum and/or anus, vagina, portions of the bladder, and any random loops of intestine that got in the way. The plug would be freed up superiorly wherever the knife entered the peritoneal cavity, but would tend to be held in place by the colon or upper rectum (unless severed) and the ligamentous attachments of the uterus.Pull down on this core and sever it and you could probably include the uterus, although you might leave an ovary or two behind. Expect to be drenched in gore and filth at the end of the process.

Anyone else carve pumpkins today?

I do hope your theoretical killer doesn’t “toast the seeds”, as it were.

Which, of course, is one of the pervasive questions surrounding the Ripper. How did he manage to walk away without it being immediately apparent what he had done. Even if he didn’t do as you say and instead just willy-nilly slashed out the guts, he would have been covered with gore.

FWIW— what I recall of the reading I did about Gein, he did cut out the rectum and anus of one of the women killed as well. I don’t know about the women he dug up.
Oh, the Halloween schedule got mangled this year and we — my son and I — didn’t carve the pumpkin, so I’m looking up pumpkin recipes… NO PIE.

The covered with blood thing isn’t the issue it’s made out to be. If the victim was already dead before the Ripper began rummaging about in her guts there would be no great mess involved. The spattering and spraying only happens while the heart is still beating.
To reference experience with animals again: I’ve slaughtered goats by cutting their throats on numerous occasions without ever getting more than a few drops on my hand; if one cuts the throat deeply from behind, the death is very quick and the blood doesn’t spray on the knife user. I’ve completely eviscerated deer and larger animals, after killing them, without getting much more than my hands and wrists bloody. Most of that smearing came from reaching up inside the thorax to extract the heart and lungs.
The Ripper is among the most famous of serial killers, but most of what people believe about him is utter b.s.

Too right. I found an interesting site that seems to have a fairly even take on the importance of JtR and the reason so much disinformation surrounds his case.

As I said, I’m not a Ripper “fan.” I stumbled on an intersting Graphic Novel while looking for some Halloween themed reading. I was thinking of doing something similar as part of my drawing hobby. (I wanted to try drawing some of the women’s faces from before the killings and then include a autopsy sketch (like this very SFW) of after.

I can see your point about blood not splattering in a post mortem mutilation. I have no experience with slaughtering animals and have only hunted pheasants and other game birds.

But, reading this description of the murder of Annie Chapman:

…makes it hard to believe there wouldn’t have been a large amount of blood and gore on the perpetrator.

I’m not arguing with your experience, but I am curious… could something so grusome be accomplished, post-mortem, without someone being essentially covered with blood?

To reiterate: if he began his internal desecrations of the victims after death, there is no reason more than his hands and wrists needed to be bloody. There would be some blood, but it would tend to collect inside the body cavity itself and pool there or under the corpse. The intestines are actually held together in a neat package by membranous tissue; pulling them out en masse is no great trick nor is it messy. I know that this sounds difficult to believe unless you’ve actually seen an animal eviscerated; but the fact is that removing organs from a dead animal or human isn’t a messy process. It’d actually be easier on a human. You could lay out the corpse supine and commence to cutting at the abdomen with no problem. On a quarupedal animal, the way the legs are attached to the body makes it a more awkward process; their sticking straight up and tend to get in the way.
If the Ripper had enough self-control to not be deliberately smearing and wallowing in the blood of his victims, he could have completed his activities and walked away sufficiently clean to not be noticed by casual observers in the Victorian night.