By Stewart P Evans
One of the most baffling aspects as to the possible identity of ‘Jack the Ripper’ is the now famous document penned by Chief Constable Melville L. Macnaghten, dated 23 February, 1894 and known to posterity as ‘The Macnaghten Memoranda.’ Not only has it provided a possible answer, or answers, as to the identity of the unknown killer of 1888, it has also generated much heated debate and theorising by students of the subject. Whether it provides the answer as to the killer’s identity in the three named suspects, Druitt, Kosminski, and Ostrog, is a problem that will probably never be resolved. But, quite rightly, all three have been looked at as possible ‘Rippers.’ It is fair to say that Ostrog may be omitted from the list with relative safety, in view of his incarcerations subsequent to the murders, and his possible indisposition at the time of the murders. Indeed, it is hard to see why he is on the list in the first place.
As for the other two, well at one time or another both have been top of my own list for the mantle of ‘Jack the Ripper.’ And the debates rage on. Perhaps the most likely of the two is ‘Kosminski.’ Macnaghten gave no first name, and he recorded the following about him.
From the Aberconway draft of Macnagthen’s notes: -
"No 2. Kosminski, a Polish Jew, who lived in the very heart of the district where the murders were committed. He had become insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, with strong homicidal tendencies. He was (and I believe still is) detained in a lunatic asylum about March 1889. This man in appearance strongly resembled the individual seen by the City PC near Mitre Square."
The official version of the same report ran: -
"(2) Kosminski, a Polish Jew, & resident in Whitechapel. This man became insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, specially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies; he was removed to a lunatic asylum about March 1889. There were many circs. connected with this man which made him a strong suspect."
We know from Macnaghten’s writings, that he knew of Kosminski and that there ‘were many circs. connected’ with him that ‘made him a strong suspect.’ However, that did not prevent Macnaghten adopting Druitt as his preferred suspect.
Macnaghten’s immediate superior at Scotland Yard was the Assistant Commissioner and head of the C.I.D. Dr. Robert Anderson. Every indication is that for Anderson Kosminski was the preferred suspect. Now in an unsolved series of murders where there is more than one suspect it is not unusual for different senior officers to have different ideas as to which of the suspects is the most likely culprit. And that is all we are seeing here, difference of opinion. It is not unusual nor should it be surprising as they lacked solid evidence against both Druitt and Kosminski.
Anderson’s great friend, the Inspector of Prisons, Major Arthur Griffiths, said in early 1895: -
"Although he has achieved greater success than any detective of his time, there will always be undiscovered crimes, and just now the tale is pretty full. Much dissatisfaction was vented upon Mr. Anderson at the utterly abortive efforts to discover the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders. He has himself a perfectly plausible theory that Jack the Ripper was a homicidal maniac, temporarily at large, whose hideous career was cut short by committal to an asylum."
As regards his suspect Anderson himself said, Blackwood’s Magazine, Part VI (March 1910): -
"One did not need to be a Sherlock Holmes to discover that the criminal was a sexual maniac of a virulent type; that he was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders; and that, if he was not living absolutely alone, his people knew of his guilt, and refused to give him up to justice. During my absence abroad the Police had made a house-to-house search for him, investigating the case of every man in the district whose circumstances were such that he could go and come and get rid of his blood-stains in secret. And the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were low-class Jews, for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their number to Gentile justice.
And the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point. For I may say at once that ‘undiscovered murders’ are rare in London, and the ‘Jack-the-Ripper’ crimes are not within that category. And if the Police here had powers such as the French Police possess, the murderer would have been brought to justice. Scotland Yard can boast that not even the subordinate officers of the department will tell tales out of school, and it would ill become me to violate the unwritten rule of the service…"
A footnote added: -
"Having regard to the interest attaching to this case, I should almost be tempted to disclose the identity of the murderer and of the pressman who wrote the letter [‘Dear Boss/Jack the Ripper’ letter] above referred to, provided that the publishers would accept all responsibility in view of a possible libel action. But no public benefit would result from such a course, and the traditions of my old department would suffer. I will only add that when the individual whom we suspected was caged in an asylum, the only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer at once identified him, but when he learned that the suspect was a fellow-Jew he declined to swear to him."
In his book, also published in 1910, Anderson said: -
"…In saying that he was a Polish Jew I am merely stating a definitely ascertained 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 lower level than that of the brute."
Macnaghten’s "solitary vices" and Anderson’s "unmentionable vices," of course, refer to masturbation. It leaves one wondering just how many distinguished Victorians were puzzled by the fact that they hadn’t gone mad!
To take this study a stage further we must now look at the ‘Swanson Marginalia’ which are merely annotations made in a copy of Anderson’s Lighter Side of My Official Life, by the man who was in charge of the Whitechapel Murders investigation, ex-Superintendent (in 1888 Chief Inspector) Donald Sutherland Swanson. Regarding the witness failing to give evidence against the suspect after the identification Swanson wrote: -
"because 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…"
In the margin he wrote: -
"And after this identification which suspect knew no other murder of this kind took place in London."
On the rear end paper Swanson wrote: -
"Continuing from page 138, after the suspect had been identified at the Seaside Home where he had been sent by us with difficulty in order to subject him to identification, and he knew he was identified. On suspect’s return to his brother’s house in Whitechapel he was watched by police (City CID) by day & night. In a very short time the suspect with his hands tied behind his back, he was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards – Kosminski was the suspect – DSS"
Now what is plain here is that there can be absolutely no doubt that Macnaghten, Anderson and Swanson are all referring to the same Kosminski. Likewise there seems to be no doubt that the Kosminski referred to is one Aaron Kosminski. It has been necessary to repeat all the foregoing details in order for this thesis to make sense, and to be complete for those that are not aware of all the facts, or do not have the requisite references. Research has revealed enough of the history of Aaron Kosminski to allow us to be certain of this identification. Briefly, the chronology for Aaron Kosminski is as follows: -
- Kosminski born in 1864 or 1865.
- He came to England in 1882.
- In 1888 he was aged 23 or 24 years.
- He was unmarried.
- His occupation was hairdresser.
- His first attack occurred at the age of twenty-five.
- He was admitted to Mile End Old Town Workhouse 12 July 1890.
- Assuming he was 23 in 1888, his admission to the workhouse coincided with his first attack.
- He was admitted from 3 Sion Square, Whitechapel.
- He was deemed to be able-bodied but insane.
- Three days later [15 July 1890] he was discharged into the care of his brother[-in-law], Wolf’s care.
- On Wednesday 4 February 1891 he was re-admitted to the workhouse.
- He was admitted from 16 Greenfield Street, Whitechapel.
- On Friday 6 February 1891 Dr. Edmund King Houchin of 23 High Street, Stepney, examined him at the workhouse.
- Kosminski was declared of unsound mind ‘and a proper person to be taken charge of and detained under care and treatment.’
- Henry Chambers J.P issued a committal order to that effect the same day.
- On Saturday 7 February 1891 he was admitted to the County Lunatic Asylum at Colney Hatch.
- In Dr. Houchin’s medical certificate it stated that ‘he declares he is guided & his movements altogether controlled by an instinct that informs his mind; he says he knows the movements of all mankind; he refuses food from others because he is told to do so, and eats out of the gutter for the same reason.’
- Jacob Cohen of 51 Carter Lane, St. Paul’s informed Houchin that Kosminski ‘goes about the streets and picks up bits of bread out of the gutter & eats them, he drinks water from the tap & he refuses food at the hands of others. He took up a knife and threatened the life of his sister [Wolf’s wife?]. He says that he is ill and his cure consists in refusing food. He is melancholic, practises self-abuse. He is very dirty and will not be washed. He has not attempted any kind of work for years.’
- On the reverse of the committal order the Relieving Officer for the Western District of Mile End Old Town, Maurice Whitfield, noted that none of Kosminski’s close relatives were known to have suffered from insanity and that the cause of his illness was unknown. It also stated that he was not suicidal or dangerous to other people.
- He was held there for the next three years during which time the staff altered the notes made by Maurice Whitfield deleting ‘unknown’ from the cause of his illness and changing it to ‘self-abuse.’
- On13 April 1894 Kosminski was described as ‘demented & incoherent.’
- On 19 April 1894 he was discharged to Leavesden Asylum.
- On 24 March 1919 Kosminski died at Leavesden Asylum.
These, then, are the basic facts known about the suspect Kosminski, and about Aaron Kosminski who, irrefutably it would seem, are one and the same person.
In assessing the status of Kosminski as a suspect we are left with this to judge its strength. Sir Robert Anderson, whose main case seems to rest upon the witness identification, makes the strongest assertion that he could be ‘Jack the Ripper’. However, for the identification to have been conducted suspicion must first have existed that Kosminski could be the killer. That suspicion was insufficient, on its own; to warrant his arrest or charge. So it must be the case that the identification procedure took place as a result of information received by the police that he could be the ‘Ripper.’ This information would most likely have come from family or someone who knew Kosminski, (someone like Jacob Cohen who gave the authorities information on Kosminski’s illness). If it was family then perhaps his sister (who had been threatened by him) was a likely informer, whilst the rest of the family refused to condemn him.
Whatever the suspicion was, if Anderson and Swanson are largely correct, and there is nothing to show they are not, it was deemed that an attempt at identification should take place. Whatever the circumstances we know that Macnaghten, as stated, also knew of Kosminski and that he "strongly resembled the individual seen by the City PC [sic] near Mitre Square," and "There were many circumstances connected with this man which made him a strong ‘suspect’."
Macnaghten was second in command of the CID, to Anderson from 1889 to 1901, and was in the rank of Chief Constable at this time. It is inconceivable that Anderson and Swanson (a mere Chief Inspector and later Superintendent) would know something that Macnaghten did not. As Macnaghten did know of Kosminski and his ‘circs.’, he would certainly have known about the attempted identification at the Seaside Home. In 1901 Macnaghten succeeded Anderson as Assistant Commissioner and head of the CID. The simple answer is that of the three named suspects Anderson preferred Kosminski, whilst Macnaghten preferred Druitt. There was no hard evidence against either of them. What probably swayed Anderson, and made him ‘morally’ certain of Kosminski’s guilt was the probable inclusion of Kosminski’s name in the list of names of persons with ‘opportunity’ in 1888, after the house-to house search, and the identification and the Jewish witness’s refusal to give evidence against the suspect.
From all the known evidence, the witness used for the identification must be Lawende. Indeed, he was used a week after Kosminski was committed to Colney hatch Asylum, in an attempt to identify James Thomas Sadler (arrested in connection with the Frances Coles’ murder) as the ‘Ripper.’ Only Lawende satisfactorily fills the bill as the witness.
Now the great mystery in all this is the alleged identification of Kosminski, by the witness, at the Seaside Home. How are all the apparent anomalies and contradictions thus presented addressed? There are some patent, and understandable, errors in the writings of the various police officers. They may be summed up as follows: -
- Macnaghten, "He was (and I believe still is) detained in a lunatic asylum about March 1889."
- Macnaghten, "This individual in appearance strongly resembled the individual seen by the City PC near Mitre Square."
- Anderson, "I will only add that when the individual whom we suspected was caged in an asylum, the only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer at once identified him…"
- Swanson, "He was sent to Stepney workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards.
These are confined to demonstrable errors, not assumptions, and are few. Indeed if they can be explained the recollections of Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson are remarkably accurate in relation to Kosminski, allowing for the effects of the passage of time on memory.
So what conclusions may be fairly reached from the foregoing? The following list, I would say, fairly sums up the common sense and most likely scenario: -
- The witness must have been Lawende a City Police witness, in a City murder case.
- The identification took place between 12 and 15 July 1890 at the time of Kosminski’s first attack of insanity, his short stay at the Workhouse, and whilst he was in the custody of the workhouse officials. (it would have been impossible to do after he had been committed to an asylum).
- The identification took place at the Convalescent Police Seaside Home at Clarendon Villas, Brighton.
- "…where he had been sent by us with difficulty in order to subject him to identification and he knew he was identified." – Swanson.
- "On suspect’s return to his brother’s house in Whitechapel he was watched by police (City CID) by day and night." – Swanson.
- "In a very short time the suspect with his hands tied behind his back he was sent to Stepney Workhouse [4 February 1891] and then to Colney Hatch…" – Swanson.
Thus, the only real errors at all are Macnaghten’s mistake as to the first date of incarceration ("about March 1889" and he makes similar factual errors regarding the other two suspects), Swanson’s misnaming of the workhouse and his idea that he had died ("…and died shortly afterwards.") The mistakes are understandable; in Macnaghten’s case because he probably had no dealings with the suspect in a practical sense, and may have been writing from memory. In Swanson’s case because the asylum may well have been asked to let the police know only if he should ever become eligible for release, which he patently did not, he may have assumed that Kosminski had died because of the state he was in. In the case of Anderson, his error is confined to suggesting that the identification be carried out after the suspect "was caged in an asylum." As I show later, such identification would be impossible as it would not be allowed, and would serve no legal purpose. However, Anderson was writing some 19 years after the event and was concealing the identity of his preferred suspect. It therefore requires no stretch of the imagination to say that it was easier for him, without having to detail the temporary detention in the workhouse in 1890, and the final incarceration six months later, merely to write of the identification being attempted after his incarceration. He merely simplified the account for publication. The other apparent errors, I think, can be addressed and explained quite easily.
As an experienced police officer I have never been happy with the Kosminki theorists’ explanations of what they thought happened. They all require a certain unacceptable wangling of the known facts, and acceptance of totally implausible, or impossible, scenarios. But there is a totally credible scenario that does fit most, if not all, of the known facts, and is totally plausible.
The following facts must also be accepted as irrefutable: -
- In the October 1888 house to house inquiries, according to Anderson, the police had investigated, "…the case of every man in the district whose circumstances were such that he could go and come and get rid of his bloodstains in secret."
- It is recorded that the officers engaged in these house to house inquiries were given books, expressly for the purpose, to make notes in. There must have been a list compiled of ‘every man in the district’ who fitted this criteria.
- Kosminski would have been on this list which, given the nature of the area, would have contained many similar Jews.
- The first real suspicion against Kosminski as the ‘Ripper’ must date from c. 12 July 1890, the time of his first attack of ‘insanity’ and his removal to the workhouse.
- An informer immediately communicated this suspicion to the police.
- The police must have been present at the identification.
- If the identification took place on the dates I have indicated, and the facts indicate that it did, then Kosminski’s escort would have been staff from the workhouse, not police.
- Therefore, and this would seem certain, Kosminski was never actually arrested by the police.
- The City Police watched Kosminski for the 6 months between his return to his brother’s [sic] house (15 July 1890), and his removal back to the workhouse (4 February 1891).
- Expenses would have been incurred over the identification, and the subsequent ‘watch’ on Kosminski.
Using this a starting point we can now provide a totally acceptable scenario both for the identification, and subsequent observations on Kosminski. It fully accounts for all the anomalies and baffling aspects of this part of the ‘Ripper’ story.
So this is how I would say that events took place. In October 1888 the police inquiries resulted in a long list of ‘possible suspects’ fitting the requirements described by Anderson. Aaron Kosminski was on that list, but with no other suspicion attaching to him he would be indistinguishable from hundreds of others. There would have been many Polish Jews on this list and this may have convinced the police that he was such a man.
By July 1890 the ‘Ripper’ scare had reached something of a hiatus, and there had been no public concern since the Pinchin Street torso case in September 1889. In July 1890 Aaron Kosminski suffered "an attack of insanity" which resulted in his being sent to the workhouse. The police were probably involved in his removal or someone communicated with them that he had '‘become insane,'’ and that they had suspicions that he was the ‘Whitechapel murderer.’ The police would then have found his name on their 1888 house-to-house list of possible suspects.
Kosminski was probably incapable of being interviewed properly, or was totally uncommunicative, and the police had only one person anywhere nearly approaching the status of a witness able to identify the suspect. That must have been Joseph Lawende, a Jew. We have here, then, a division of interests. The suspect was being dealt with in the Metropolitan Police area, and all the murders, except that of Eddowes, were in their jurisdiction. The only thing approaching any sort of ‘positive’ evidence would be identification by Lawende, which would place the suspect in the company of a victim shortly before her death. That evidence, of course, would be in relation to a City of London Police murder case, not a Metropolitan one.
It must also be remembered that no identification would have been allowed on a patient who had been committed to an asylum, nor would such a patient be capable of being charged and put on trial. This is another factor that determines that the identification attempt was made whilst Kosminski was temporarily held in a workhouse, but not yet (nor for 6 months hence), committed to an asylum. As regards the recollections of the senior Police officers involved one would expect Swanson’s to be the best as he was much closer to the ‘sharp end’ of the investigation and was more involved. He was also a career police officer. Neither Anderson nor Macnaghten were career policemen, but were an ‘imported’ officer corps holding the two top jobs in the C.I.D. at Scotland Yard. Anderson’s comments remain, however, essentially correct, apart from the fact that in his mind the little circumstantial evidence there was, and the alleged positive identification by the witness were sufficient to make Kosminski’s guilt a ‘moral certainty.’
Obviously the City Police would have been communicated with by the Met in relation to Kosminski and would have made Lawende available for an identification. The beauty of this explanation lies in the fact that there is nothing to show that at any time was Kosminski ever arrested by the police on suspicion of the murders. To have done so they would have required sufficient evidence to provide reasonable suspicion, and there was no hard evidence. A committed lunatic could not be arrested by the police in these circumstances, nor could he be tried. The very fact that the police could not arrest Kosminski was stated by no less an authority than Anderson himself. Anderson was often consulted by the crime writer H. L. Adam, and in Adam’s 1912 series in The People on Scotland Yard and its Secrets a reference to the identity of the ‘Ripper’ was made by Adam. He quoted Anderson saying, "Sir Robert Anderson has assured the writer that the assassin was well known to the police, but unfortunately, in the absence of sufficient legal evidence to justify an arrest, they were unable to take him. It was a case of moral versus legal proof. The only chance the police had, apparently, was to take the miscreant red-handed…"
So in this developing scenario, what I believe happened is that the Metropolitan Police arranged for Kosminski to be sent to the Seaside Home for identification. The crucial word here is "sent" as Swanson wrote, "…where he had been sent by us with difficulty…" Note Swanson’s use of the word ‘sent’ and not ‘taken.’ Some Kosminski theorists nonchalantly change the phrase to read "…had been taken by the police with difficulty." I am sure that if the police had taken Kosminski to the Seaside Home, then that is just what Swanson would have said. However, tellingly, he uses the word "sent." Also it raises the question whatever could that "difficulty" have been? The probable solution is that the police, City and Metropolitan, with joint interests here, decided to attempt the identification in order to gain something more positive on Kosminski. As the ‘Jack the Ripper’ case was so high profile, and not wishing to rekindle any panic, they decided that the best place to do it, in a police controlled environment (Kosminski was detained in the workhouse and not by the police), was the Seaside Home. It was run by the police and was away from the public eye and the capital.
The police would have to have arranged for Kosminski to be taken by escorting workhouse staff to the Seaside Home for the identification. This is probably where the "difficulty" was encountered. The only story they need to have told the workhouse staff was that there was a convalescing City police officer in the Seaside Home (Lawende, hence Macnaghten’s "City PC" slip) who could possibly identify Kosminski for an unspecified ‘serious crime.’ The workhouse authorities may have taken some persuading to agree to the procedure. At the Home the identification would have been carried out by the confrontation method. The escort would have taken Kosminski into a room where the witness was, and after the witness had taken a look at him the escort would take him back out again. It would seem likely that Lawende initially said that Kosminski did look like the man he had seen near Mitre Square with Eddowes, (hence Macnaghten’s "…he strongly resembled the individual seen by the City PC near Mitre Square"). But when Lawende was asked to make a statement to this effect he realised the seriousness of the situation, and that if he did give evidence the man could possibly be found guilty and hanged. So he declined, probably saying that although he thought it looked like the man he couldn’t actually swear to it (a witness situation that every police officer will be well aware of!). In view of what Lawende had said in October 1888 it is certain that he would not be happy to make a positive identification. This would then account for Anderson’s comment that the witness refused to swear against a ‘fellow Jew.’ However, the real reason, despite what Anderson said, was probably because he was not certain of his identification, not that he refused to testify against a fellow Jew.
The hoped for identification would have provided the only solid reason for the police to detain and question Kosminski (remember he was not, at this stage certified insane, and was about to be released from the workhouse, and allowed to go home). Thus, if they felt that he really could be the ‘Ripper,’ their only option was to put a watch on him after his return to his family. Lawende was a City witness, in a City murder case, so the cost of the observations would have to be borne by the City police, not the Met. It was and is normal police procedure for the manpower for such observations to be supplied by the force in whose area the crime took place, even if in a different force area. It was not ‘poaching’ on a different police area, it was normal practice, and the procedure is merely to inform the host force that you had/have personnel in their area. Also, it must be remembered that police officers in this country have full powers in the whole of England and Wales, they are not confined to their own force areas. Thus, here, we also have an explanation for the reported comments of retired City Detective Inspector Robert Sagar, a Sergeant in 1888, "We had good reason to suspect a man who worked in Butchers’ Row, Aldgate. We watched him carefully. There was no doubt that this man was insane, and after a time his friends thought it advisable to have him removed to a private asylum. After he was removed, there were no more Ripper atrocities." It would be interesting to know if Kosminski ever worked in Butchers’ Row. The only point in Sagar’s account that is demonstrably wrong in relation to Kosminski is the ‘private asylum’ comment. But that is a minor and understandable error if this hypothesis is correct.
For years the armchair theorists have struggled to explain the anomalies of the statements, admittedly flawed, made by Anderson, Macnaghten, and Swanson. Here we have a totally viable, and legally correct, explanation for what happened. It is, of course, not proven but it is the explanation most consistent with the facts, and with what the various police officers wrote. In my submission, it is the most plausible explanation for what actually took place in relation to the suspect Kosminski.
Stewart P Evans, 1999.