The New York Post was almost breathless in its reporting. “Move over, Ted Bundy”, it suggested, there’s a “new-old serial hottie in town”.

This extraordinary article accompanied an AI-generated image of Jack the Ripper, which was recently created by a Welshman called Jeff Leahy.

Leahy – a “Ripperologist” – has long been interested in this sequence of murders in Whitechapel, London in 1888 and believes that “Jack” is likely to have been a Polish immigrant called Aaron Kosminski. For what it’s worth, I think that he’s probably right in that deduction and even Madame Tussauds, when it re-opened its Chamber of Horrors, used a picture of Kosminski within their exhibition.

However, what I found much more interesting was the description of this serial killer as a “hottie” and therefore how he had been fetishized as attractive and desirable.

The Herald: Ted BundyTed Bundy (Image: free)

The New York Post went further, describing the AI image of Kosminski as a “dashing gentleman with a darkly alluring, wild-eyed energy”.

The deliberate pairing of this AI image with Ted Bundy was also intended to emphasise how handsome Kosminski must once have been, given that Bundy – who confessed to 30 murders prior to his execution in 1989 – is popularly regarded as good looking, and has been portrayed on film by such actors as Mark Harmon, Cary Elwes and, most recently, Zac Efron, all of whom have classic, Hollywood, leading-man looks.

Should it matter whether a serial killer is handsome or ugly? In other words, whether or not someone who repeatedly kills women has sex appeal and conforms to our accepted notions of being good looking, almost as if that excuses what he has done? Of course not. How he looks is irrelevant but it’s even more insidious when this type of reporting merely serves to mask the reality of the lives of the women that he has murdered.

Nowhere in the widespread newspaper coverage of this new image of Jack did the women who were killed get described. When they were mentioned in some of the broader reporting of the story, they were routinely described – almost dismissed – as having been “prostitutes”, as if that in itself served to explain why they had died.

It all seemed like a binary and reductive process: the serial killer was handsome and therefore excusable and newsworthy; the victims of the serial killer sold sexual services and therefore were ugly and undeserving of our sympathy or attention.

Actually, I wasn’t even convinced by the image and simply wondered if the AI software that Leahy had used merely created a conventional image of male beauty that today’s audience would find acceptable, as opposed to what might have passed for being handsome in the Victorian era.

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What’s also disappointing about this story is that, whether deliberately or not, it has all but ignored the work of the social historian Hallie Rubenhold and her wonderful book The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper.

Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for non fiction in 2019, the book not only tells the backstories and therefore gives a voice to Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane – the so-called “canonical five” victims of Jack the Ripper – but also exposes the misogyny that has served to feed the Jack the Ripper myth. Rubenhold, for example, persuasively argues that several of these women have been wrongly characterised by errant, ex-husbands as “prostitutes” and that terms such as “street walking” did not necessarily imply sex work in the Victorian era.

So, for me, while Rubenhold did much to push forward our understanding of this sequence of murders by reminding us that real women had died in the most awful of circumstances but who had been ignored and silenced, the AI generated image of Aaron Kosminski merely reprises some old cliches about serial killers more generally and Jack the Ripper specifically and once again renders his victims invisible.

Does that matter?

It does. It matters because, within what I now persist in calling the “murder entertainment industry”, the stories that are told about murder, the people that commit it and the victims who are killed, shape a misunderstanding of a real phenomenon, which in turn hampers our ability to do something to improve the situation.

These stories are increasingly, almost exclusively, told within and by the media, which routinely selects and chooses those that it wants to tell, whilst ignoring other murder stories entirely. These stories therefore serve to create an impression of what murders and murderers are like, and the circumstances in which they will typically be committed. And, as the murder entertainment industry seems to have become fixated on serial murder, the stories that we tell rarely describe the reality of murder, who gets killed, by whom, where the murder will take place and what we might be able to do to reduce the incidence of this lethal violence.

I don’t think that it would surprise anyone, for example, if I was to describe that 9 out of 10 murderers are men. What usually does take people by surprise is the fact that 7 out of 10 of the victims of murder are also men, and that most of those are aged between 15 and 25.

The Herald: Jack the Ripper's victims are all too often forgottenJack the Ripper's victims are all too often forgotten (Image: free)

Two women per week are murdered in the UK, often by their partner or ex-partner but, despite this depressingly stubborn statistic, murder is overwhelming a male, and usually a young man’s phenomenon. Nor is it usually understood that more people are murdered in their home, rather than in an outdoor public space like a park, street, or alleyway (like four of the victims of Jack the Ripper), or in an indoor public venue like a pub or a nightclub. In Scotland, for example, between 2010 and 2020 83 per cent of all female victims and 55 per cent of all male victims were murdered in a residential dwelling.

From this perspective, the refocussing of our attention onto what Jack the Ripper might have looked like therefore merely perpetuates some inaccurate stereotypes about murder and murderers and takes our attention away from the more pressing realities about who it is that kills and gets killed.

David Wilson is Emeritus Professor of Criminology