A kidney from hell? A nephrological view of the Whitechapel murders in 1888

Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2008 Oct;23(10):3343-9. doi: 10.1093/ndt/gfn198. Epub 2008 Apr 11.


In the poor Whitechapel district of the East End of London in the fall of 1888, at least five prostitutes were brutally murdered, and in all but one case, also mutilated. The murderer was never caught and became known by his nickname 'Jack the Ripper'. The left kidney and the uterus were cut out and taken away from one of the victims named Catherine Eddowes. A kidney was also cut out of the body from another victim, but not taken away. Two weeks later, George Lusk, president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, received a small cardboard box with half of a longitudinally divided kidney and a letter entitled 'From hell' claiming that the kidney inside the box was taken from the victim. The kidney was brought to Dr Thomas Horrocks Openshaw, the Curator of the London Pathological Museum, where the kidney could be microscopically examined. The press jumped on the topic and made a circumstantial case that this kidney had been indeed torn from the body of Catherine Eddowes. According to the later memoirs of Major Henry Smith of the City Police published more than 20 years after the incident, the kidney left in the corpse of Catherine Eddowes was in an advanced stage of Bright's disease and the kidney sent to George Lusk was in exactly a similar stage. Today, the majority of criminologists believe that the kidney sent to Mr Lusk was a hoax as were other letters signed with Jack the Ripper. However, the murderer took organs from his victims, and in the case of Catherine Eddowes, the kidney. Serial killers often mutilate their victims and abscond with the removed body parts as trophies. By removing the kidney from Catherine Eddowes, Jack the Ripper may have tried to take possession of the conscience, emotions and desires of one of his victims, attributes residing in the kidney as described in the Bible. Jack the Ripper was never caught; many suspects have been suggested, and the murder series ended as suddenly as it had begun. We will never know who this mentally disturbed 'nephrophilic' was. Today, the story of Jack the Ripper is part of contemporary culture.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Criminology / history
  • Female
  • History, 19th Century
  • Homicide / history*
  • Humans
  • Kidney*
  • London
  • Nephrology / history
  • Sex Work / history