On this day in 1888, the first of London's Whitechapel Murders was committed. Over the course of three years, 11 women — all of them prostitutes — were killed in grisly fashion. The murders have never been solved, but at least five of them are thought to be the work of a single serial killer who became known as Jack the Ripper. The Whitechapel District, located in London's East End, was a cesspool of crime and poverty, and murders and assaults were commonplace.
The investigation into the Ripper killings marks the first attempt, albeit an unsuccessful one, to catch a murderer through the use of psychological profiling. The identity of Jack the Ripper has never been determined, though fascination with him persists and theories abound. The murders stopped in 1891, probably because the killer died, was imprisoned for another crime, or left the country altogether.
Today marked the opening, in 1895, of the sensational libel case, Wilde vs. Queensberry, in London. For a number of years, Oscar Wilde had been having an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, the handsome, spoiled, reckless son of the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde was utterly smitten with Douglas, known as "Bosie," and was quite happy to indulge his every whim. The Marquess, a hotheaded brawler most famous for creating the modern rules of boxing, had his suspicions about their relationship, and showed up at Wilde's home in 1894 armed with threats: "I do not say that you are it, but you look it, and pose at it, and that is just as bad. And if I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you." Wilde responded, "I don't know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rules are to shoot on sight."
The following February, the Marquess left a calling card at Wilde's club, on which he had written, "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite [sic]." Since this amounted to a public accusation of a felony, Wilde sued Queensberry for criminal libel, at the urging of his lover. Queensberry's only defense was to prove that the charges were true, and set about to do so with the help of an army of private detectives. He presented so much evidence that Wilde protested helplessly, "I am the prosecutor in this case." He dropped the case, on the advice of his lawyer, and Queensberry was acquitted, but soon afterward a warrant was issued for Wilde's arrest on charges of sodomy and gross indecency. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to two years' hard labor, the maximum sentence allowed under the law