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Jack the Ripper letters written by the same person, forensic linguist confirms

"In addition to the historical value of my findings, they could help forensic linguists to better understand the important issue of individuality in linguistic production," researcher Andrea Nini said.

By Brooks Hays
Jack the Ripper letters written by the same person, forensic linguist confirms
The front of the famous "Saucy Jacky" postcard, one of the earliest pieces of mail signed by "Jack the Ripper." Photo by University of Manchester

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Two of the most famous letters signed by Jack the Ripper were penned by the same person, according to the analysis of a forensic linguist at the University of Manchester in Britain.

Jack the Ripper is an unidentified serial killer believed to be responsible for a string of brutal murders in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888.

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The killings were known as the "Whitechapel murders." In a letter to a local neighborhood watch group, an author claimed responsibility for the violence. The author signed the letter "Jack the Ripper."

A flood of similar letters -- to newspapers, police stations and neighborhood groups -- followed.

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The vast majority of the letters were obvious hoaxes. Criminologists and historians have suggested many were written by journalists hoping to boost newspaper sales but some believe the earliest letters were authentic.

Forensic linguist Andrea Nini wanted to see if there were links or patterns among the early letters. He focused on the earliest and most famous pieces of mail: the "Dear Boss" letter and the "Saucy Jacky" postcard.

"I came across the Jack the Ripper letters a few years ago and I was surprised to know that there had not been any forensic linguistics analysis of them, so I thought that I could apply modern forensic linguistic techniques to uncover evidence about their author," Nini said in a news release.

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Nini identified distinctive linguistic phrasings shared by the two pieces of writing. He also found links between the two letters and a third, known as the "Moab and Midian" letter.

"My conclusion is that there is very strong linguistic evidence that these two texts were written by the same person," Nini said. "People in the past had already expressed this tentative conclusion, on the basis of similarity of handwriting, but this had not been established with certainty."

Nini detailed his findings in the journal Digital Scholarship in the Humanities.

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"In addition to the historical value of my findings, they could help forensic linguists to better understand the important issue of individuality in linguistic production," Nini said. "Since all the hoaxers tried to mimic the style of the original 'Jack the Ripper,' we can use the database of the letters to understand how people fake writing style -- and how successful they are at imitation. The results indicate that it is very difficult to do so."

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