The mysterious serial killer known as Jack the Ripper has captivated the imaginations of people around the world since the Victorian Era. Jack was known for brutally murdering and dismembering at least 5 sex workers in The Whitechapel District of London from 1888 to 1891. Despite being spotted fleeing the scenes of his crimes by dozens of witnesses, he still evaded capture. The case has since gone cold.
Melville Macnaghten, the chief constable at Scotland Yard named three main suspects; M. J. Druitt, Michael Ostrog, and Aaron Kosminski. There are hundreds of theories with additional suspects posited by true crime junkies. For over 100 years, people have been trying to figure out the true identity of Jack the Ripper, but all of the theories are based on circumstantial evidence. However, there has been recent DNA evidence discovered to suggest that the true identity of the Ripper was Aaron Kosminski. Many people have criticized the findings, and refuse to believe the evidence. What exactly did this DNA reveal, and what circumstantial evidence points to Kosminski being the real Jack the Ripper?
SEE ALSO: 10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Jack The Ripper
A shawl that belonged to Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, was purchased by a man named Russell Edwards in 2007. He was so determined to figure out the identity of the killer, that he had the shawl tested for DNA in 2014. This genetic material was traced back to one of Aaron Kosminski’s living relatives. Edwards was also the author of a book called Naming Jack the Ripper, where he lays out his analysis of the case over decades of research.
However, there were claims that the scientist who analyzed the DNA, Jari Louhelainen, made a mistake in his analysis. Critics refused to recognize the DNA evidence until it was scrutinized in a peer-reviewed journal by other scientists who had nothing to gain from the results. In 2019, the data had, in fact, been published in The Journal of Forensic Sciences. It was confirmed that the DNA did, in fact, belong to Kosminski. However, critics still refuse to believe that accurate DNA evidence could exist on the shawl without contamination for over 100 years.
All serial killers have a tragic backstory, and Aaron Kosminski is no exception. He was raised in a Jewish family in Poland. In 1881, the Warsaw Pogrom was a violent riot against Jewish people following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. He was just 16 years old when he witnessed people being slaughtered. The family first fled to Germany before settling in England. His father was a tailor in Poland, and it is believed that he began working at a hospital, or that he was a barber. Some believe that he worked both jobs trying to support his family in England.
Many Polish refugees moved to the East End of London to the Whitechapel district. The city was over-crowded with people who were unemployed, and there were high levels of criminal activity. Many women were forced to sell themselves on the streets to survive. This was not exactly an ideal environment for someone to begin their adult life.
Jack the Ripper was thought to have had some level of knowledge in human anatomy, because he was very meticulous in the way that he dissected his victims and removed their organs. Detectives believed that this could not have been done unless he was a doctor, or had some level of medical knowledge.
Aaron Kosminski was a professional barber, and his father worked in a hospital. For multiple generations, barbers were known as “barber surgeons”. Barbers advertised with a pole containing a red stripe, to signify that people could go there for the odd combination of bloodletting, dentistry, surgery, and haircuts. At the time that Kosminski worked as a barber, the tradition of barber surgery was no longer around. However, he would have needed to know at least where the main arteries were on the neck, as to be careful when shaving men. Kosminski would have owned an incredibly sharp blade, which would have been capable of cutting flesh. He may have also learned additional medical skills from his father.
In modern studies of serial killers, one of the common threads is a deep-seated hatred towards women. This comes from a percieved notion that women are withholding sex from them after a string of female rejections throughout their life. They also may have had a terrible relationship with their mother. Jack the Ripper chose sex workers as his victims, and he removed the organs of these women. One of his victim’s faces was brutally savaged, showing that he was full of an irrational rage against this woman who he did not know.
Aaron Kosminski was 23 years old at the time of the first murder. He never married, and had very bad luck socializing with ladies. According to Meville Macnaghten, the chief constable of Scotland Yard, Kosminski was known for having a deep hatred towards women. Macnaghten wrote, “This man became insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, especially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies.”
Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were killed by Jack the Ripper on September 30, 1888. A piece of Catherine Eddowes’ apron was found on the ground soon after the murder. There was also a message written in chalk on a wall near Goulston Street, which read, “The Jews are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.” The word “Jews” was spelled “Juwes”. The misspelling, together with the double negative suggests that English was not their first language.
Many people have puzzled over this clue left after the killing spree. Some believe that this was left to blame Jewish people for the crime, while others believe it means the complete opposite. It has been a topic of much debate and speculation over the years.
The Second Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, Sir Robert Anderson, was completely convinced that Jack the Ripper was Jewish. He wrote a memoir titled The Lighter Side of My Official Life. In it, he goes into details as to why he spent the rest of his life convinced that Aaron Kosminski truly was Jack the Ripper, and that he was “safely caged in an asylum”. He also wrote, “In saying that he was a Polish Jew I am merely stating a definitely ascertained fact.”
There were dozens of witnesses who claimed to have spotted Jack the Ripper, but the reports were not always consistent. Some claimed that he was tall, middle-aged, had a curly mustache, and carried himself like an English gentleman. Others said that he was short, stocky, and clean-shaven, between 25 to 30 years old. No one can be sure what Jack the Ripper truly looked like, because there is no way of knowing which witness spotted the true killer.
Constable Meville Macnaghten wrote in a document known as the “Macnaghten Memoranda” that a Police Constable spotted a suspect on the night of Catherine Eddowes’ murder who looked identical to Aaron Kosminski. Macnaghten wrote, “This man in appearance strongly resembled the individual seen by the City PC near Mitre Square.” Tragically, many of these police files were lost during the London Blitz, so modern day web sleuths are not able to dig into the specific details of those police reports that were written on the night of the murder.
On September 8, 1888, a woman named Elizabeth Long described witnessing one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Annie Chapman, speaking to a mysterious man shortly before she was murdered. Mrs. Long could not see the man’s face in the shadows, but she reported that he had a “shabby genteel” appearance. He was wearing a dark coat, and a deerstalker hat. Long could hear him ask, “Will you?” as Annie Chapman agreed to take him on as a sex work client. His voice to sound like he had a foreign accent. They left together to complete their transaction. Annie Chapman was found killed and dismembered that night, shortly after the mysterious man paid for her services. There is no doubt that this man was Jack the Ripper.
Aaron Kosminski was not the only foreign suspect. However, this should at least eliminate the suspects who are English. Along with the misspelling found in the message left on Goulston Street, it is clear that he was a foreigner.
In 1891, Aaron Kosminski was confined to the Colney Hatch Asylum. The 5 “canonical murders” which have been officially credited to Jack the Ripper stopped soon after. Cambridge University has copies of Aaron Kosminski’s psychiatric records from the time he spent in the facility. According to the records, he heard auditory hallucinations that told him to do things. “He declares that he is guided and his movements altogether controlled by an instinct that informs his mind.” The documents also state that Kosminski grabbed a knife and threatened to slit his sister’s throat. It was clear to everyone, even his doctors, that he hated all women.
Modern doctors have diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. Some people have tried to claim that Aaron Kosminski was not a violent person, and that he was more inclined to act out in self-harm. He also refused to eat, for fear of being poisoned. So he would pick scraps of food out of the gutter, instead. However, according to Cambridge University, the references to “self-harm” were actually talking about frequent masterbation. And while he may not have been violent towards the other men in the asylum, he still has a record of violence towards women.
Sir Robert Anderson was the second Assistant Commander of the London Metropolitan Police who helped to investigate the Jack the Ripper case. Years after the case had gone cold, he wrote in his autobiography, Lighter Side of My Official Life, that he was convinced that Aaron Kosminski truly was Jack the Ripper.
Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson had a copy of Anderson’s book, Lighter Side of My Official Life, and he wrote his own notes in the margins that gave additional details. This copy of the book was later given to the media by Swanson’s grandson. According to these notes, they found a witness who could have helped to convict Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper once and for all, because a witness saw the killer’s face. However, this witness refused to testify against him, because he was Jewish. Anderson wrote, “The suspect was also a Jew and also because his evidence would convict the suspect and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged which he did not wish to be left on his mind…” Swanson added in his notes, “The suspect was Kosminski”.
Aaron Kosminski was taken to “The Seaside Home”, which is now believed to be a police convalescent home in Brighton used to interrogate suspects. However, police cannot continue to keep a suspect in custody unless charges are brought against them. Without the witness testimony from “the fellow Jew”, they could not prosecute and eventually hang Kosminski for being Jack the Ripper. Even though Kosminski was never put in jail, some would argue that a lifetime in an insane asylum would be an equally terrible, if not worse. While living in the asylum, Kosminski lost a tremendous amount of weight. His mind slipped into dementia until was not able to tell where he was, and became unresponsive. Aaron Kosminski died in 1919, when he was 53 years old.
Even though Sir Robert Anderson and many of the other investigators at Scotland Yard were convinced that Aaron Kosminski was the true Jack the Ripper, that is not enough to close the case. People are still not satisfied with this information, because there was never a proper conviction.
About The Author: Shannon Quinn writes things. Follow her on Twitter @ShannQ.