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Jack the Ripper

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Jack the Ripper was the nickname that the British press gave to a notorious serial killer who murdered and mutilated at least five, possibly six, and as many as fourteen women in and around the Spitalfields and Whitechapel parishes of the East End slums of London in 1888 - an area covering just over one square kilometer (half a square mile). The name "Jack the Ripper" was derived from a letter and postcard sent to the Central News Agency on 27 September and 1 October, 1888 respectively.

The killer has traditionally been considered to have been left handed, but some today think that this may have been based more upon negative connotations of left handed people in that time than fact. [1] It is likely that his victims were first strangled before he used his knife, which could also account for the fact that not a single one was heard to cry out. [2] There has also been conjecture as to whether or not he had medical knowledge or training, or at the very least, an understanding of human anatomy.

The Victims

There are 5 victims that are considered the "canonical" victims. These were all considered victims at the time, and are still considered victims by the majority of Ripperologists. They are:

  • Mary Anne "Polly" Nichols, born 1845, murdered 31 August, 1888.
  • Annie Chapman, born 1841, murdered 8 September, 1888.
  • Elizabeth Stride, born 1843, murdered 30 September, 1888.
  • Catharine Eddowes, born 1842, also murdered later the same day.
  • Mary Jane Kelly, born 1863, murdered 9 November, 1888. She was the only the victim to be murdered indoors and upon whom the Ripper spent a considerable amount of time. [3]

Another woman, Martha Tabram (1849 - 1888), was murdered on 7 August, 1888. She was considered to be a victim by some of the investigators at the time, and is considered to be a Ripper victim by many. [4]. It is more likely she, however, that she was murdered by her last client, a Guardsman, or the mysterious "Leather Apron", who allegedly extorted money from the area's prostitutes.

The murder of Frances Coles (1865 - 1891), on 14 February, 1891, in similar circumstances, resulted in renewed fears that the Ripper had returned, although both the police at the time and current researchers believe that one Thomas Sadler, a violent sailor whose ship was in dock at the time, was responsible for her death. He was tried for the crime, but acquitted.

The "Jack the Ripper" Letters

The first of the letters, now named the "Dear Boss" letter, was sent to the Central News Agency from London EC on 27 September 1888 and was forwarded to Scotland Yard on 29 Spetember. Written in red ink, it was dated 25 September, and read:

Dear Boss,

I keep on hearing 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 I shan't quit ripping them ti'l I do get buckled. Grand work the 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 from 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 and I can't use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha ha. The next job I do I will keep something to send to the police just for jolly wouldn't you? Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife's so nice and sharp 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

The so-called "Saucy Jacky" postcard, posted from London E on 1 October, read:

I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you'll head about saucy Jacky's work tomorrow. Double event this time. Number one squealed a bit couldn't finish straight off. had not time to get ears for police. Thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.

Jack the Ripper

Police inspectors at the time believed the letters could have been an elaborate hoax, possibly carried out by a journalist known only as Best.

A third letter was sent to George Lusk on 16 October 1888. Lusk (1839 - 1919), who had recently been appointed the president of the newly-formed "Whitechapel Vigilance Committee." He had earlier that month requested police protection, having claimed his house was being watched by a "sinister, bearded man". More horrifically, enclosed with the letter was a small bottle, containing half a human kidney (confirmed as such after examination by Dr Openshaw, Curator of the Pathology Museum at London Hospital), preserved in spirits of wine. Although no conclusive evidence can be found, researchers are fairly convinced it was taken from the body of Catharine Eddowes. The poorly written letter read:

From hell

Mr Lusk
I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer
Catch me when you can
Mishter Lusk

Analysis of the handwriting suggested that the author "was poorly educated and had little familiarity with the act of writing. He also possessed "a vicious and cunning mind, with the capability of conceiving and carrying out any atrocity. he was intelligent enough to hold down a job and mask his true personality."

The Goulston Street Graffito

Another 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 30 September, directly above a blood-stained portion of Catharine Eddows' apron, who had been murdered some 300 yards away in Mitre Square between 1:40 am and 1:45 am that night.[5] The words were not present at 2:20am, the last time Long had passed that spot.

Officially, the message read "The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing", although other witnesses, including City Police, 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 be 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 "Jew" in any known language, in order to silence to press who were speculating that "Juwes" was Yiddish for "Jew". For this, he was personally thanked by the chief Rabbi.

Another theory which has come to the fore, along with the discredited Freemason link to the Ripper, is that "Juwes" refers to three central characters in Masonic lore - Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum.

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 know 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." The 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.

Sir William Gull and the Freemasons

The Royal Ripper - in 1976 a book[6] was published with the theory that Prince Albert Victor (grandson of Queen Victoria, and in direct line to the throne, had secretly married Mary Kelly and that the Queen had ordered Dr. William Gull to remove Mary and all who knew of the marriage. Subsequent variants of this theory had Dr. Gull doing the killings, without the knowledge of the Queen; a Masonic conspiracy to protect the throne; and even the Prince as the murderer, in fits of madness brought on by syphilis.[7] These theories were quickly, and easily debunked, but remain popular due to their gossipy quality and the use of the theory in some popular movies, including the recent "From Hell", which sadly manages to not only portray Sir William merely as a psychotic killer, but also Inspector Abberline as an opium addict. [8] [9]

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 Kosminksi 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 the most likely candidate to wear the sobriquet of "Jack the Ripper".

Aaron Davis Cohen

Cohen (1865 - 1889) was bought 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.

References & Notes

  2. Three witnesses reporting hearing a cry of "Murder!" coming from the direction of Mary Jane Kelly's room at 4am on the morning of her murder, but nobody went to investigate.
  3. Begg P & Fido M, The Jack the Ripper A to Z, Headline, 1991, pp 29-33
  4. "The Complete History of Jack the Ripper"; Sugden, Philip; p. 359
  5. 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.
  6. "Knight, Stephen, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, Treasure Press, 1984
  7. "The Complete History of Jack the Ripper"; Sugden, Philip; pp. 7-8

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