Jack the Ripper

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The Nemesis of Neglect, cartoon which appeared in Punch, September, 1888

Jack the Ripper is the name given to an unidentified individual who murdered five prostitutes in the East End of London, England in 1888. Considered history’s first modern serial killer, Jack the Ripper’s savagery in inflicting the murders rocked the highest levels of the British government.


Britain in the late 19th century was the zenith of the Victorian era, an age marked by advances in art, literature, social, political, and scientific ideas. It was also marked by the expansion of the British Empire, and from Canada to India to Australia it could be rightly said that the “sun never sets on British soil.” Despite Queen Victoria being one of the most respected of the European monarchs, old hereditary norms were augmented if not outright replaced by a growing wealthy commercial class, and rising with them was a growing middle class. Nobility was no longer a requirement to be a lady or a gentleman; one of the new middle-class could attain those distinctions by attending any of the prestigious schools of Harrow, Eton, Oxford, Rugby, or many others.

Set apart from the above classes was the working class, who made a living churning out goods or parts in the factories for little in wages, with reforms slowly making their way through Parliament. Immigrants from the continent had arrived over the years, with Jews, Poles, Russians, and others fleeing persecution in their old countries or simply seeking a better life. In London the proximity of the River Thames meant dockyard workers, and “dirty industries” like tanning leather and tallow also attracted laborers willing to work such menial jobs, competing with Britons for what jobs were available.

The East End districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields had claimed the highest concentration of the poor and underprivileged in all of London, and they were packed in to the point where living conditions were almost unbearable; indeed, an outbreak of cholera there killed three thousand people in 1866. Charles Booth, a social reformer, conducted a survey in 1887[1] and concluded that 13% of East Enders were chronically poor, with a large part of that percentage he considered to be “…the class for whom a decent life is not imaginable.”

With these conditions came crime. Roaming the streets were robbers, thieves, gangs, and prostitutes, and such women in turn would be easy victims to the others. Despite the threat, they still walked the streets at night, hoping to glean enough money to pay the rents charged by unscrupulous landlords. On April 2, 1888 one Emma Smith was attacked by four gang members, and she would die of peritonitis a short time later, but not after describing her attackers. On August 7, the body of Martha Tabram was found in Whitechapel bearing 39 stab wounds. However, these and other crimes – in addition to the overall living conditions within the East End – were largely ignored by the higher levels of government. What would follow just a few short weeks later was something that couldn’t be ignored, and would send shockwaves throughout Britain.


Polly Nichols

In the early-morning hours of August 31, 1888 a constable discovered what he thought was a sleeping woman on a street named Buck’s Row, Whitechapel. Upon closer examination he noticed the deep slash cuts on her throat. Her name was Mary Ann Nichols, a prostitute earning a meager living, and known as “Polly” on the streets. When her body was taken to the morgue and undressed, the examiner found deep slashes to her abdomen; she had been disembowled, and her uterus was missing.

Annie Chapman

Half a mile from Buck’s Row police examined the body of Annie Chapman on September 8; she was found lying on her back within a gated entry. Her throat was slashed and, like Polly Nichols, she was disemboweled, her intestines draped over one shoulder. Her sex organs and bladder were missing.

Nearby lying in a drainage bucket police found a leather apron of the kind used by butchers and tanners. A Jewish butcher named John Pizer lived and worked nearby, and he was known locally by the nickname “Leather Apron.” When knowledge of the artifact became public a small riot ensued that forced police to arrest Pizer and take him to jail, in part for his own safety; he would be dropped as a suspect a short time later.

Following Chapman’s killing a large amount of letters arrived at the London Metropolitan Police headquarters and the various news agencies serving the city. These letters would offer advice on how to catch the killer or offer sympathy. Well over two hundred of them had claims of being from the killer himself, and naturally they would be dismissed as mere hoaxes; despite this a few stood out. One was received on September 28, 1888, addressed to the Central News Agency; it was dated three days before, and it gave the police a chilling nickname:

Dear Boss,
I keep on hearing that the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work that last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me and my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I can’t use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha ha. The next job I shall clip the lady’s ears off and sent to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife is nice and sharp and I want to get to work right away if I get the chance. Good luck.
Yours truly,
Jack the Ripper.
Don’t mind me giving the trade name. Wasn’t good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it. They say I’m a doctor now ha ha.

Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes

The “double event” took place on the early morning of September 30, 1888. At 1 A.M. the body of Elizabeth Stride was discovered in a narrow courtyard off Berner Street. Her throat had been slashed but no other wounds were made, suggesting the killer fled after being interrupted. Some 45 minutes later the body of Catherine Eddowes was found in Mitre Square, disemboweled with her intestines draped over her shoulder; her face had been slashed as well, with an attempt made to clip the ears. One kidney was also missing.

Later that morning a letter was received by the Central News Agency, and at the time it seemed to confirm the validity of the previous message; it has since been known as the “Saucy Jack” letter:

I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip. You’ll hear about Saucy Jack’s work tomorrow. Double event this time. Number one squealed a bit. Couldn’t finish straight off. Had no time to get the ears for police. Thanks for keeping the last letter back till I got to work again.
Jack the Ripper

A third, more ghoulish letter was sent not to the police or the press, but to a man named George Lusk, who had recently been appointed the president of a newly-formed vigilance committee, created to patrol the streets of Whitechapel in the hopes of stopping the killer. Earlier that month he had requested police protection, having claimed his house was being watched by a "sinister, bearded man". The letter came in a small box, and enclosed with it was half a human kidney. Although no conclusive evidence can be found, researchers are fairly convinced it was taken from the body of Catharine Eddowes. The poorly written letter was dated October 16:

’’From hell’’
’’Mr. Lusk’’
’’Sir I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman prsarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate was very nise I may send you the bloody knif that too it out if you only wait a whil longer’’
’’Catch me when you can Mister Lusk’’

The Goulston Street Graffito

A possible clue left by the Ripper was a sentence chalked on a blackened wall at the entrance of 108 Wentworth Model Dwellings in Goulston Street. The words were discovered by Constable Long at 2:55am on September 30, directly above a blood-stained portion of Catharine Eddows' apron lying some 300 yards away from her body.[2] The words were not present at 2:20am, the last time Long had passed that spot. The graffiti read "The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing", although other witnesses, including other police officials, remembered it as "The Juwes are not the men That Will be Blamed for nothing", and it became controversial almost immediately. No formal record of the words exists, however, as the Metropolitan Police ordered them to be erased at 5:30am, despite City requests that they should first be photographed. This was done because the police feared the words would provoke anti-Semitic attacks by the local populace, especially as the Wentworth Model Buildings were largely populated by Jewish immigrants.

The word "Juwes" has caused much debate as to whether or not the graffiti was intended to expose, confess, create false suspicion of, or refute Jewish association with the crimes. It is also disputed that the word "Juwes" even refers to Jews at all. To that end, Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, later issued a statement saying that "Juwes" did not mean "Jews" in any known language, in order to silence to press who were speculating that "Juwes" was Yiddish for "Jews". For this, he was personally thanked by the chief Rabbi.

Another theory which has been fairly recent is that "Juwes" refers to three central characters in Masonic lore - Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum.

Mary Jane Kelly

On November 9 the body of Mary Jane Kelly was discovered in her single room lodgings by her landlord. Unlike the other victims she was young, about 25 at the time of her death, and still attractive. Despite being born in Ireland and growing up in England and Wales, she sometimes went by the French-sounding Marie Jeanette Kelly. She is last seen alive at about 2:00 AM that morning, working the streets for her rent, and encountering a well-dressed man about 5'7" and 35–36 years old.[3]

When the police arrived later that morning they would encounter one of the most horrific crime scenes ever recorded. Kelly was gutted and butchered; body parts and internal organs were either on a table next to the bed or at various places about the body, and her left arm was thrust into her abdomen. Her face was carved in a manner to leave her unrecognizable, and both thighs were cut down to the bone.[4]

Senior Police Officials

Of all the police involved in investigating the Ripper's crimes, three senior officials were not only closely involved in the matter, but also left behind copious notes which have not only provided modern researchers with valuable information, but have also assisted in narrowing down the list of potential suspects.

Sir Robert Anderson

Anderson (1841 - 1918) was an Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police CID and the officer in charge of the Whitechapel Murder Investigation from 6 October 1888, until the file was closed in 1892. He remains the only person to state in writing that the identity of the Ripper was known, although he never named him.

He took up his position at Scotland Yard on 31 August 1888, the day Mary Anne Nichols was murdered. Interestingly, he described her death as 'the Second of the Crimes", indicating he believed Martha Tabram's to be the first. He was booked off on sick leave and Chief Inspector Swanson stood in for him. Anderson sent Swanson a memo, reading, "I am convinced that the Whitechapel murder case is one which can successfully grappled with if it is systematically taken in hand. I go so far as to say that I could myself unravel the mystery provided I could spare the time to give undivided attention to it."

Ironically, he left for Switzerland to convalesce on the day of Annie Chapman's murder (8 September) and did not return until 6 October, after the double murder of Elizabeth Stride and Catharine Eddows. Confronted by these deaths, he claimed, "I will hold myself responsible to take all legitimate means to find him." Amongst these legitimate means was an attempt to have all known prostitutes found on the street after midnight arrested. This suggestion was rejected, whereupon he somewhat strangely let it be known that prostitutes could not and would not be protected by the police. he was later to comment that, "however the fact may be explained, it is a fact that no other street murder occurred in the "Jack the Ripper" series". However, as it is not clear when he issued the warning, it is not sure if Kelly's murder took place before it was issued, or he did not include her murder as a "street murder" seeing as it had taken place behind closed doors.

Anderson described his suspect, which he never named, as follows: "...the killer was a sexual maniac of a virulent type; he was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders and that if he was not living alone, people knew of his guilt and refused to give him up to justice. The Police had made a house-to-house search for him and investigated every Man in the district whose circumstances were such that he could go and come and get rid of his blood-stains in secret. The conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews, for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their own to Gentile Justice. I will add, that when he was caged in an asylum, the only witness to his crimes immediately identified him, but would refused to give evidence against him."

In his later memoirs, The Lighter Side of My Official Life, published in 1910, he added a new paragraph, stating "In saying he was Polish Jew, I am merely stating a definitely significant fact. And my words are meant to specify race, not religion. For it would outrage all religious sentiment to talk of the religion of a loathsome creature whose utterly unmentionable vices reduced him to a level lower than that of the brute."

Sir Melville MacNaughten

McNaughten (1853 - 1921) was the Assistant Chief Constable, CID, Scotland Yard from 1889 to 1890, and later rose to the rank of Assistant Commissioner in 1908, succeeding Anderson. He was instrumental in narrowing down the list of victims to the commonly excepted "canonical five", providing a complete breakdown of all the cases during the scare, from the murder of Emma Smith to the Pinchin Street case. He wrote in his memoirs that "...suffice it at the present to say that the Whitechapel murderer committed five murders and - to give the Devil his due - no more." He went to say that "the greatest regret of my life was joining the force six months after "Jack the Ripper" committed suicide."

He left behind what is known as "The Macnaughten Memoranda", seven typewritten pages and two handwritten inserts, which contain copious notes about the crimes, including notes on each of the womens' murders. Halfway through the document, he makes the following claim, "I enumerate the cases of 3 men against whom the Police held very reasonable suspicion. Personally, after much careful deliberation, I am inclined to exonerate the last two, but I have always held strong suspicions regarding number 1 and the more I think the matter over, the stronger these become. The truth, however, will never be known and did at one time lie at the bottom of the Thames." He then goes on to name, in order, M.J. Druitt, Kosminski and Michael Ostrog; the latter described as a "mad Russian doctor, a criminal and unquestionably a homicidal maniac. He was said to be habitually cruel to women and carried upon him his surgical knives and other implements. His movements on the nights of the murders cannot be accounted for."

Chief Inspector Donald Swanson

Swanson (1848 - 1924) was a close associate of Anderson, and headed up the Whitechapel investigation during Anderson's absence between 1 September and 6 October 1888. Interestingly, he is more well known for his efforts in defusing the impact of the Jameson Raid in South Africa, and delaying the outbreak of the first Boer war until 1899. It is thanks to notes that he left behind, including copious marginalia written in a copy of Anderson's memoirs, that researchers were able to link Kosminksi and Anderson's unnamed suspect.


Through the years, from the time of the active investigation, until the present day, many people have been put forward as suspects, some famous, some obscure, some known only by a description, such as "the Lodger" or "Leather Apron". However, subsequent research, as well as notes left behind by the three most important senior policemen involved in the case, have allowed researchers to narrow the field to three likely suspects, namely Montague John Druitt, Aaron Kosminski and Aaron Davis Cohen.

Montague John Druitt

Druitt (1857 - 1888) was a schoolmaster (he was dismissed from the school where he taught, Mr Valentine's School, Blackheath, on 30 November for "being in serious trouble at the school") and barrister, who committed suicide sometime after 3 December 1888, the last time he was seen alive. This date, however, only stems from his brother's recollection at Druitt's inquest that "he had not been seen in chambers for over a week." His body was fished from the Thames on 31 December and was found to have stones in the pockets, weighing it down. He left a note in which he said, "Since Friday I have felt that I was going to be like mother (his mother, Anne, died in an asylum, suffering from depression and paranoid delusions) and it would be best for all concerned if I were to die."

MacNaughton identified Druitt in his memoranda, saying, "He disappeared around the time of the Miller's Court (i.e. Mary Jane Kelly's) murder and his body was found in the Thames on 31 Dec, some 7 weeks after the murder. The body was said to have been in the water for a month, or more. I have little doubt from information received that his own family suspected the man to be the Whitechapel murderer; it was alleged that he was sexually insane."

He went on to surmise that, "a rational and workable theory is that the "rippers" (sic) brain gave way altogether after his awful glut in Miller's Court and that he then committed suicide."

MacNaughten's case is weakened somewhat in that there is no other mention of Druitt in any other police records and there is no evidence that the police ever viewed him as a suspect, except for a comment made in a 1903 edition of The Referee, which reads "the body of the man suspected by the chiefs of Scotland Yard, as well as by his own friends and family, who were in communication with the Yard, was found in the Thames."

Interestingly, a pamphlet entitled "The East End Murderer - I Knew Him" was published privately in 1890 in Australia. The author was purported to be Dr Lionel Druitt, Montague's first cousin, who emigrated to Australia in 1886.

Aaron Kosminski

Kosminski (c. 1864 - 1919) was Polish Jewish hairdresser who came to England in 1882. In July 1890, he was admitted to the Mile End Old Town Workhouse Infirmary where it was noted "he had been insane for two years." He was later discharged in the care of his brother, Wolf, who lived in Whitechapel. Later, in February 1891 he was admitted to the Colney Heath Lunatic Asylum, where it was noted that he had suffered from bouts of insanity dating back to 1885, bought on by "solitary vices". He suffered from aural and visual hallucinations and claimed "he was guided and his movements altogether controlled by an instinct that informed his mind." He remained incarcerated, being described as "demented and incoherent" in April 1894 and his condition deteriorated, until he could no longer answer even simple questions. He died in 1919 of gangrene of his left leg.

Kosminski, as a suspect, fits all the elements of the suspect suggested by Anderson. He was poor, Polish, Jewish, lived in Whitechapel, had family (his brother Wolf) who could both shield him and offer a place to hide and remove his bloodstained clothes. Even the claim of "solitary vices" being a cause of his illness, dovetails with Anderson's own independent assertion that the killer indulged in "utterly unmentionable vices, which rendered him lower than a beast." Anderson was also the person at the time to claim with certainty that he knew the identity of the Ripper.

Both MacNaughten and Swanson see Kosminski as a viable suspect. Swanson stated that "no other murder of this kind took place in London, after the killer had been identified at the Seaside Home. On suspect's return to his brother's house in Whitechapel he watched by police (City CID) by day and night. In a very short time, the suspect was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards - the suspect's name was Kosminski."

MacNaughten described him as, "Kosminski, a Polish Jew and resident in the very heart of the district where the murders took place. This man became insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, specially of the prostitute class and had strong homicidal tendencies; he was removed to a lunatic asylum around March 1889. There are many circs (arrest warrants) connected with this man which made him a strong suspect."

Evidence against Kosminski being the Ripper is the fact that Swanson's notes appear at times to confuse Kosminski with Cohen, especially concerning the date of death of the suspect, the fact that Macnaughten considered Druitt to be the main suspect, with Kosminski as an afterthought, plus the fact that he noted an incorrect date of incarceration. Additionally, the gap of over a year between the last murder (9 December 1888) and Kosminski's final incarceration in February 1891 would point against his involvement, as it is felt unlikely that his family could have have shielded him for so long and that his extreme schizophrenia would have prevented him from striking again during that period. However, until new evidence is found, he remains, along with Ostrog, the most likely candidate to wear the sobriquet of "Jack the Ripper".

Aaron Davis Cohen

Cohen (1865 - 1889) was brought before the Thames Magistrates Court on 7 December 1888, charged as "a lunatic, wandering at large." he was sent to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary for observation, where the medical superintendent, Dr Larder, described him as "violent, noisy and difficult to manage and that he had threatened other patients." He was also reported to have attempted suicide, damaged infirmary fittings and would shout and dance around, if left unrestrained. He was sent to Colney hatch Lunatic Asylum on 21 December. On 28 December, he was classified as being dangerous and separated from the other patients there. He died on 20 October 1889, of "exhaustion of mania and pulmonary phthisis."

Evidence for Cohen being the suspect is that no other person matching Cohen's description and that of "Anderson's Suspect" (a poor Polish Jew) was admitted to any other London asylum or infirmary during the period and his date of incarceration ties in with the end of the Ripper murders. In addition, as Swanson had suggested, he died shortly after his incarceration at Colney Heath. However, although both Anderson and MacNaughton refer to the suspect being a Polish Jew, both name him unequivocally as Aaron Kosminki. In addition, Swanson believed that the date of the identification of Anderson's suspect took place after Cohen's death.

Michael Ostrog

Ostrog (c1833 - c1894) has been identified as possibly the most likely candidate to bear the infamous name. A confidence trickster and thief, he had a criminal record in England stretching back to 1863, when he was charged with swindling hoteliers in Oxford. Described variously as "Russian," "a Russian Pole" or "a Polish Jew," he described himself as a former surgeon in the Imperial Russian Guard. He was in and out prison on a regular basis, including one occasion when he was arrested for stealing valuables from Woolich Barracks. He was chased down by cadets and was found to be wearing cricket whites when caught. (Interestingly, Druitt was a competent cricketer, being the secretary and treasurer of the Blackheath Cricket Club).

One of the senior policemen involved in the case at the time mentioned him as a suspect. The Assistant Chief Constable, Sir Melville Macnaughten, mentioned him by name in his notes, describing him in 1894 as:

...a mad Russian doctor and a convict and unquestionably a homicidal maniac. This man was said to have been habitually cruel to women, and for a long time was known to have carried about with him surgical knives and other instruments; his antecedents were of the very worst and his whereabouts at the time of the Whitechapel murders could never be accounted for.

The police were already searching for Ostrog during October and November 1888, although not in connection with the murders, and his description (5'11, dark brown hair, grey eyes, normally dressed in a "clerical" suit) matches closely to that of the man who ask a local shopkeeper's daughter for the address of George Lusk. She provided the address without a street number and the parcel containing the kidney, which Lusk received, was addressed the same way.

Theorists feel that until more details regarding his movements during the time of the murders comes to light, Ostrog remains the most likely suspect to have been Jack the Ripper.

References & Notes

  1. http://www.csiss.org/classics/content/45
  2. The time of death is taken from Constable Harvey, who walked past the square at 1:40am and reported seeing or hearing nothing out of the ordinary, and 1:45am, when Constable Watkins entered the square from the opposite end to Constable Harvey and saw Eddows' body in the southwest corner.
  3. http://www.casebook.org/victims/mary_jane_kelly.html
  4. https://whitechapeljack.com/the-whitechapel-murders/mary-jane-kelly/

External links

  • Casebook A huge repository of Jack the Ripper information.
  • Ripperologist A magazine, in publication since 1994, focused on Jack the Ripper


  • McCormick, Donald, The Identity of Jack the Ripper, John Long, 1970
  • Jones E & Lloyd J, The Ripper File, Futura, 1975
  • Rumbelow, Donald, The Complete Jack the Ripper, Penguin, 1988
  • Knight, Stephen, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, Treasure Press, 1984
  • Spiering, Frank, Prince Jack: The True Story of Jack the Ripper, Doubleday, 1978
  • Douglas, Arthur, Will the Real Jack the Ripper?, Countryside Publications, 1979,
  • Fido, Martin, The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper, Weidenfeld, 1989
  • Sharkey, Terence, Jack the Ripper, One Hundred Years of Mystery, Javelin, 1988
  • Wilson, Colin et al, Jack the Ripper: Summing Up and Verdict, Corgi, 1988
  • Begg, Paul, Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts, Robson, 1989
  • Begg, P & Fido M, The Jack the Ripper A to Z, Headline, 1991