What do we know about Jack the Ripper?

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WHAT DO WE KNOW about Jack the Ripper?

Witness evidence suggests he was a white male in his 20s or 30s of average height or below. Reports on his clothing range from ‘rough and shabby’ to affluent (=wealthy or rich).That the murders took place in so small an area indicates a person living locally, but probably in a private dwelling (= residence or home) rather than in a lodging house.

The panic of the time threw up the names of dozens of suspects. The end of the murders did not stop the debate. In 1894, to debunk (= uncover) sensational newspaper theories, Assistant Chief Constable Macnaghten privately listed his prime suspects. Detectives in retirement published their favourite theories. Although many suggestions can be discarded immediately, there are several names for whom a convincing case can be argued.

Dr. Thomas Barnardo:

After Martha Tabram’s death, any doctor with Whitechapel connections mistakenly came under suspicion. Barnardo worked to relieve poverty and suffering in the East End, and viewed the body of Catherine Eddowes, having once spoken to her. But at 43, Barnardo was too old to match witnesses’ descriptions, too distinctive with his heavy moustache, and in any case too well-known in the area to escape identification.

William Bury:

Having lived in nearby Bow throughout 1888, Bury moved to Dundee in 1889. There, early the following month, he murdered and mutilated (=injured) his wifeand was hanged for the crime in March. If Mary Jane Kelly is considered the last Ripper victim, Bury is a plausible suspect.

George Chapman (Severin Klosowski):

Chapman was hanged in 1903 for poisoning three of the many women in his life. He was also known to be violent with women at times. Once a surgical student in his native Poland, he had worked as a hairdresser in Whitechapel during 1888. Despite there being no more substantial links with the killings, in later years Chapman became a strong police suspect, particularly of Chief Inspector Abberline.

Nathan Kaminsky:

A late, very strong candidate, discovered by Martin Fido in 1987 in searching for the asylum records of Aaron Kosminski. Kaminsky, a 23-year-old boot maker from Whitechapel, was an extremely violent Polish Jew who, suffering from syphilis, was committed to Colney Hatch asylum (Heim, Anstalt) in December 1888, dying a year later. He ties in with several people’s ideas about the killer. His committal (Einlieferung) and death would explain the end of the murders.


  1. Describe at least three common features of the murderer according to Witness evidence.

  2. Who of the suspects was hanged for killing his wife in 1889 and was he a serious suspect?

  3. Name the polish suspect who became a strong police suspect in later years and explain what about the other, late polish suspect doesn’t fit with the common features of Witness evidence.

More Suspects:

Montague Druitt

Assistant Chief Constable Macnaghten was convinced that Druitt was the killer, citing dubious private information. A teacher, barrister and sportsman, Druitt lived an apparently respectable life in Blackheath. However, in November 1888, he was dismissed from school for unspecified ‘serious trouble’, and soon after drowned himself in the Thames. Despite Macnaghten’s conviction, Druitt’s lack of local links and his proven whereabouts near the times of several murders make him an unlikely candidate.

Aaron Kosminski:

Kosminski lived in Whitechapel in 1888, perhaps as a hairdresser. Macnaghten thinks that he hated women, especially prostitutes, and had strong homicidal tendencies. He was committed to Colney Hatch asylum in 1891. Even so, many doubts surround naming him as the Ripper- his slight appearance; the fact that he was in circulation long after Mary Ann Kelly’s death; the fact that despite being in asylums for nearly 20 years until his death, he was considered no danger to others. It is possible, though, that Macnaghten may have mixed him up with Nathan Kaminsky, another suspect.

James Maybrick:

Maybrick was a wealthy Liverpool cotton merchant, poisoned by his wife in May 1889. He did not figure in any Ripper theories until 1994, when a diary, claimed to be that of Maybrick and recording the killings day by day, was published. However, Maybrick does not fit the age profile, his visits to Whitechapel are unproven and, most importantly, the ‘diary’ incorporates (=includes or contains) some of the classic errors which have crept into Ripper mythology.

Michael Ostrog:

Number three on Macnaghten’s list of suspects, Ostrog was an intelligent, smooth-talking Russian who, it was said, had trained as a doctor. Nevertheless, he had behind him a huge string of convictions for theft and confidence tricks, Despite Macnaghten’s interest, there is hardly anything of substance to connect him with the Whitechapel murders.

John Pizer:

Pizer was a bootmaker and part-time thug (=gangster) who frightened prostitutes into paying protection money. They, it was said, knew him as ‘Leather Apron’ (Lederschürze). At the murder scene of Annie Chapman, a leather apron was found. Two and two were duly put together to make five. Steamed up by The Star newspaper, the scream and cry went up for Pizer. On arrest he was proved to have impeccable (=faultless or perfect) alibis.


  1. Write down the name and the professions of the suspect who drowned himself in the River running through London.

  2. Describe why you think Aaron Kosminski became a suspect for Inspector Macnaghten

  3. Who of the suspects was a part-time gangster also known as ‘Leather Apron’ and why was he arrested?

Theories about Jack the Ripper:

‘We were almost lost in theories, there were so many of them’. Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline, Cassel’s Saturday Journal, May, 1892.

AT THE Time of the murders, every policeman, politician and bar-room philosopher had his own theory. The newspapers fed on them. Since then ‘Ripperologists’ have regularly presented new ideas in books with titles ending ‘The Final Solution’, ‘Case closed’ and so on. Here are some of the more popular and eccentric theories:

Jack the Ripper had surgical knowledge:

During the Nichols and Chapman inquests (gerichtliche Untersuchungen) Dr Llewellyn suggested that removal of organs may have been the object of Polly Nichol’s killing, while Dr Phillips thought that the injuries of both women had been performed with surgical knowledge, creating a host of medical suspects. Dr Thomas Bond, who conducted later post-mortem examinations and reviewed the earlier cases, spoke against this theory.

Jack the Ripper was ambidextrous:

At the Tabram inquest, Dr Killen said that one of the wounds might have been imposed by a left-handed person. But he clearly stated that the others were by someone wielding a weapon in their right hand.

Jack the Ripper was a sailor:

The idea that the murderer might come and go from a ship in the docks had a logic to it. One newspaper suggested it might be a butcher or drover on a cattle boat. A customs official linked the murders to times when two Portuguese cattle boats were in London docks. The theory clearly appealed to Queen Victoria who asked in one letter to the Home Secretary if the cattle boats had been searched.

Jack the Ripper was the government (the Masonic Conspiracy):

According to this theory, Albert Duke of Clarence, secretly married Annie Crook, said to be a Whitechapel shop girl. Mary Jane Kelly was a witness. When Annie’s child, Alice was born, Mary Jane was said to blackmail the government with the help of fellow prostitutes. The Prime Minister Salisbury, turned to his fellow Freemasons to silence them. Enter then Sir William Gull, the queen’s surgeon and Walter Sickert, the artist, who toured the area killing the conspirators. Another version of the theory has Lord Randolph Churchill ordering the killings, also involving Gull and Sickert, but this time with Montague Druitt and James Stephen doing the killing. There are too many holes in the theories to detain us further.


  1. Explain the word ‘ambidextrous’.

  2. Which theory was even liked by Queen Victoria and what was interesting about it?

  3. In which theory was Mary Jane Kelly not only a victim but also a criminal?

More theories and conclusions:

AT THE Time of the murders, every policeman, politician and bar-room philosopher had his own theory. The newspapers fed on them. Since then ‘Ripperologists’ have regularly presented new ideas in books with titles ending ‘The Final Solution’, ‘Case closed’ and so on. Here are some of the more popular and eccentric theories:

Jack the Ripper was a woman:

Some believe that the Ripper was a midwife (Hebamme) or abortionist, who could walk the streets in bloodstained clothing without raising any eyebrows. This seems unlikely as witnesses who saw victims with other people before their deaths describe men.

Jack the Ripper was a lunatic(= mad person):

Dr L. Forbes Winslow, a highly vocal, self styled ‘medical theorist and practical detective’, spent much time in Whitechapel, his earliest theory being that the Ripper was an escaped (or recently released) lunatic. Winslow also proposed that the Whitechapel police be replaced with asylum (Irrenanstalt / Heim) warders who could better spot possible lunatics.


The WICKEDNESS of the deads, the dark circumstances in which they were committed and, above all, the fact that the killer was never caught have guaranteed that Jack the Ripper would enter the realm of legend. Since the time of the murders, discussion on the Ripper’s identity has never flagged. Perhaps the chief fascination is that so little is known about what type of person he was. There was no obvious motive for the killings, and the fact that prostitutes habitually came up to men and took them to dark, secluded places would have made any murderer’s job relatively easy. ‘Ripperologists’ also disagree about which of the Whitechapel murders were the work of the Ripper himself. Some say as few as four, but the figure could well have been as high as eight.

Despite the fact that thousands of relevant documents have disappeared or been destroyed, each year sees some new hint on the mystery. Although much material is blighted by error and exaggeration, surprisingly valuable work is still done. For example Macnaghten’s thoughts took until 1959 to emerge from family notebooks, and the interesting details on Kaminsky only came to light in 1987. Of the Whitechapel murders, two things are certain- that Jack the Ripper is dead, but that the debate about who he was and what he did is very much alive.


  1. Could Jack the Ripper have been a woman? Explain !

  2. Was Dr Winslow convinced that the police were able to find Jack the Ripper?

  3. Were any new facts discovered in the last two decades and of which two things can we be certain of?

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