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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 45, March 2003. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
Interpreting 'Lipski'
Robert J. McLaughlin

Of all the witnesses in the Ripper case, Israel Schwartz is unique. He is the only person to see any type of attack on a victim, and the only one to be confronted by a Ripper suspect. It wasn't a mutual confrontation, and if the man who was assaulting Elizabeth Stride didn't shout 'Lipski' at Schwartz, or if he misheard what was yelled, or the second man didn't pursue him, then there was no confrontation at all. Yet this single word launched an immediate investigation that the Metropolitan Police hoped would be a clue to the murderer's identity.

Schwartz's statement does not survive but the details are given by Chief Inspector Swanson in a report dated 19 October 1888, and are worth repeating here. 1

12.45 a.m. 30th. Israel Schwartz of 22 Helen [sic - Ellen] Street, Backchurch Lane, stated that at this hour, on turning into Berner St. from Commercial Road & having got as far as the gateway where the murder was committed he saw a man stop & speak to a woman, who was standing in the gateway. The man tried to pull the woman into the street, but he turned her round & threw her down on the footway & the woman screamed three times, but not very loudly. On crossing to the opposite side of the street, he saw a second man standing lighting his pipe. The man who threw the woman down called out apparently to the man on the opposite side of the road 'Lipski' & then Schwartz walked away, but finding that he was followed by the second man he ran so far as the railway arch but the man did not follow so far. [Here there is a marginal note. 'The use of "Lipski" increases my belief that the murderer was a Jew'.] Schwartz cannot say whether the two men were together or known to each other. Upon being taken to the mortuary Schwartz identified the body as that of the woman he had seen & he thus describes the first man, who threw the woman down: age about 30 ht, 5 ft 5 in. comp. fair hair dark, small brown moustache, full face, broad shouldered, dress, dark jacket & trousers black cap with peak, had nothing in his hands.

Second man age 35 ht. 5 ft 11in. comp. fresh, hair light brown, moustache brown, dress dark overcoat, old black hard felt hat wide brim, had a clay pipe in his hand. 2

There are several questions that need to be addressed. Who was the call of 'Lipski' directed at? What does the word mean? And is it possible that Schwartz misheard what was said? Before these questions are examined, one point about the statement needs to be explained.

The person responsible for the marginal note that a Jew was believed responsible for the murders was Godfrey Lushington, Permanent Under Secretary at the Home Office.3 This logic doesn't fit well, and the opposite seems a better conclusion. With the yelling of 'Lipski' in Berner Street and the message left in Goulston Street later that same night, it would appear that someone was trying to implicate the Jewish people instead.

The official files show that the police accepted the statement made by Schwartz and found him to be a credible witness. Their initial plan was to canvass the immediate area. The idea being that Lipski may have been the name of someone involved in Stride's murder. The reason for this possibility is that in the previous year, just one block east of Berner Street, a Polish Jew named Israel Lipski murdered Miriam Angel, a fellow lodger, at 16 Batty Street. 4

Angel, who was also Jewish, was killed on 28 June 1887. Nitric acid had been poured down her throat. Israel Lipski was sent to trial for the crime, with Justice James Fitzjames Stephen presiding. The trial received plenty of attention in the newspapers.

As a result of the controversy generated by the press, and the questions about how the case was being handled, the Home Office put a great deal of pressure on Judge Stephen for a convincing conclusion to the case. Eventually, Israel Lipski confessed and was hanged at Newgate on 22 August.

Israel Lipski's actual surname was Lobulsk. After arriving in London, he changed his name. A Mr. and Mrs. Lipski were the landlords of 16 Batty Street. Perhaps he took their name out of respect or convenience. He may have even thought that Lipski sounded less Jewish. In Victorian England, it was quite common for foreigners of all nationalities and religious backgrounds to anglicize birth names.

There are quite a few letters in the files dealing with the shout of 'Lipski' and what it might possibly meant. For example, three unsigned handwritten pages, apparently copying a Home Office memo on the subject, state in part: 'It does not appear whether the man used the word "Lipski" as a mere ejaculation, meaning in mockery I am going to "Lipski" the woman, or whether he was calling to a man across the road by his proper name. In the latter case, assuming that the man using the word was the murderer, the murderer must have an acquaintance in Whitechapel named Lipski.' 5

In a report, dated 1 November, 1888, Inspector Abberline wrote that no person named Lipski could be found. 6 This suggests that the Lipskis of Batty Street had either moved away or changed their name. Given the notoriety generated by the Angel murder and the fact that 16 Batty Street was demolished in 1888 this would seem a likely scenario. 7

In the same report, Abberline stated that the word 'Lipski' was used as an insult if addressing a Jew 'and Schwartz has a strong Jewish appearance.' Schwartz was questioned at length by Abberline, but could not say to whom the 'Lipski' remark was addressed. Abberline believed it was directed at him. It is a reasonable assumption. Out of the three visible men in Berner Street at the time, Schwartz was the only one, according to his own statement, of Semitic appearance.

Abberline's experience in the East End lends considerable weight to his conclusions. But contemporary evidence must be found before his views can be supported.

Going back to 19 August, 1887, Judge Stephen wrote to his wife: 8

Just after I had settled everything nicely, came a letter from Matthews, or rather from G. Lushington, like the blind fury, with the abhorred shears, to say I must stay Lipski-ing till Monday.

Monday was the day that Israel Lipski was hanged. Even before his death, there occurred an evolution of a name taking on new meaning. Not unlike happened six decades earlier concerning the crimes of Burke and Hare.

The words 'burke', 'burked', and 'burking' are still in popular use today. Any decent dictionary will show two meanings for 'burke': 1) to murder by suffocation; and 2) to suppress or dispose of quietly. 9 The second definition is used frequently in legal and parliamentary matters.

Another contemporary example of a criminal epithet is furnished by journalist Kit Watkins: 10

Londoners are very quick to invent words from current events. I saw a fight between a lady and gentleman 'coster' in Southampton Street last evening. She was trying to scratch his face, and succeeding only too well, until his patience being worn out, he roared, 'If yer try that on again, bust me if I don't serment yer.' 'Serment,' that is 'cement' or murder and bury in the Deeming style. 11

A wave of hostility and anti-Semitism swept through London before, during, and after the trial of Israel Lipski. Everything from high unemployment to housing shortages was blamed on the Jews. On 24 August 1887, the Evening News expressed a prevailing sentiment when it stated: 'The low class of Polish Jews which Lipski belonged to are the pariahs of modern European life... In the districts blighted by their presence the standard of living and morality alike is lowered... For the man one may feel sorrow, but one cannot look with equanimity on this social cancer which is spreading in our midst, and is so baneful to all human progress.' 12

The immigration policy was challenged. The anti-alienists used the Lipski trial to put pressure on the government to halt immigration. There were clashes between Jews and non-Jews severe enough to require police intervention. Several disturbances took place around Batty Street after the trial. These scenes carried on during the Ripper murders as well.

After the murder of Annie Chapman, the East London Observer reported that 'in several quarters of East London the crowds who had assembled in the streets began to assume a very threatening attitude towards the Hebrew population of the district. It was repeatedly asserted that no Englishman could have perpetrated such a horrible crime as that of Hanbury street, and that it must have been done by a Jew - and forthwith the crowds proceeded to threaten and abuse such of the unfortunate Hebrews as they found in the streets. Happily, the presence of the large number of police in the streets prevented a riot actually taking place.' 13

In light of all this, it becomes much easier to see why Abberline believed 'Lipski' was used as an epithet.

One more interesting example to ponder is the use of 'Lipski' as graffiti. Describing the area around Pinchin Street where the torso of a woman was found four days earlier, the East London Observer, wrote on 14 September 1889:

Not far from the arch where the headless trunk was found, a pedestrian exploring the neighbourhood would find himself in Berner street, where Elizabeth Stride was brutally murdered on Sept. 30 last year, and if he proceeded a little further he would traverse the dull and wretched Batty street, where Lipski foully murdered his landlady [sic], for which he was afterwards hanged at the Old Bailey. That the memory of this notorious criminal is still fresh in the minds of the inhabitants around is shown by the fact that on a black paling opposite the arch under which the unknown body was hidden some one had written the word 'Lipski' in large chalk letters. Whether done before the discovery or after no one seems to know, but the name was there.

There is no question that 'Lipski', like 'burke' was an epithet, and in use in the East End. The reason why only the latter term has survived is mainly due to Jack the Ripper. The Lipski case faded from memory as the Ripper legend continued to grow. By 1888, the crimes of Burke and Hare were too well known for even the Ripper to erase. Yet today, few are aware of Israel Lipski.

Everything cited thus far supports the well-accepted view that 'Lipski' was hurled as an insult or threat to scare Schwartz off. Yet there are other explanations of the events in Berner Street that must also be considered.

Elizabeth Stride was known to many as 'Long Liz'. Schwartz was insistent, when questioned by Abberline, that he did not know who was being spoken to. If Stride's attacker was not speaking to either Schwartz or the man with the pipe then he could have been speaking to the victim, calling out 'Lizzie', instead of 'Lipski'. If that were the case, then it suggests a familiarity between Stride and her assailant. It could have been a regular client, or even her lover, Michael Kidney.

If neither 'Lipski' nor 'Lizzie' was shouted, a case could be made for a number of words, depending on how one interprets the event. Stride's attacker may not have liked her language or attitude and called her 'lippy'. Or a more vulgar term, 'lick me', could be seen as a demand for a sexual act. Of course, this type of reasoning on what Schwartz may have heard can be played out to the point of absurdity. With the exception of 'Lizzie', no other word seems as likely, unless the first man was using a name, or nickname, to signal the second man. In which instance, a weak case could be made for a variety of names that sound vaguely similar to 'Lipski'.

If everything happened the way Schwartz said it did in his statement, the interpretation is crucial. It could have happened the way Abberline, and eventually his superiors, believed it did. An interesting alternative, though, is suggested by Paul Begg: 'The attacker could have shouted the word (Lipski) to give the impression that Schwartz had in fact assaulted the woman, causing the Pipeman to give chase, as Schwartz indeed believed he did, and the attacker time to kill the woman and make his hurried escape.' 14 This would have been a very clever tactic employed by Stride's murderer if it happened this way. If true, it also shows that he was more than just lucky in his ability to escape detection. Some serial killers have avoided capture by being able to think on their feet. The crimes the Ripper got away with took both nerve and cunning, making Begg's idea a strong one.

One problem that arises concerning Schwartz's statement is the fact it would have been dangerous to yell 'Lipski' in a Jewish neighborhood, close to a Jewish socialist club. That would have been a huge risk to take. Though it would be lessened somewhat if Stride's assailant was a Jew also. But in that case, would he use a derogatory word against a fellow Jew? There is nothing to support it. Yet this may be the reason why Lushington believed the murderer was Jewish.

Many authors accept the notion that Schwartz was chased away by the man with the pipe, when the simple, equally plausible, explanation offered by Abberline is virtually ignored that the man with the pipe was also scared off by the shout of 'Lipski'. 15 Schwartz has often been portrayed as timid or cowardly, but was his response to the assault any different than the pipe man? With the open hostility displayed against the Jewish population of the East End, it is not surprising that Israel Schwartz made a conscious decision not to get involved. Surely, this wasn't the first such altercation he had seen. Physical altercations of one kind or another were reported in the newspapers on a daily basis. The type of incident Schwartz witnessed was nothing out of the ordinary for the neighborhood. He could not foresee that the assault he witnessed would be a prelude to murder. Unlike many other potential witnesses, Schwartz at least had the courage to voluntarily show up at Leman Street police station in a timely manner to give a statement on what he had witnessed. If the man with the pipe had come forward, there would be a more complete picture of what actually happened in Berner Street around 12:45 am, assuming that he wasn't involved in the murder of Elizabeth Stride.

Israel Schwartz spoke little or no English. But this does not mean that he didn't have any understanding of certain words or phrases. Living in England would have forced him - through repetition - to pick up some English. Slang terms and curse words are often among the first bits of a language learned. In all likelihood, Schwartz had been called 'Lipski' before, or had heard the phrase directed at others. There is ample evidence to suggest that he heard the word correctly, but like any aspect of the Ripper case, it is still a matter of interpretation.

Sources

1 Evans, Stewart P. and Skinner, Keith: The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook. London: Robinson, 2000. Published as The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000. pp. 122-23. See all of Ch. 7 as well.

2 Star, 1 October 1888, interview with Schwartz showing some differences between the two interviews. In the Star, the first man was described as intoxicated, and was trying to push Stride into Dutfield's Yard rather than pull the woman into the street. The second man yelled a 'warning' at Schwartz, not the first, and his pipe had been replaced by a knife. The physical descriptions of both men were given a little differently in the paper. Also, the Star reported that 'the truth of the man's statement is not wholly accepted.' The official files refute this, showing that his statement was taken quite seriously. Schwartz did not speak English, so the Star may have experienced a translation problem or embellished the story. The complete Star article can be found reprinted in Sugden, and Begg.

3 Sugden, Philip: The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. Revised paperback edition, London: Robinson, 1995. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995, p. 217.

4 For a full analysis of the Lipski case see Friedland, Martin L.: The Trials of Israel Lipski. A True Story of Victorian Murder in the East End of London. London: Macmillan, 1984; New York: Beaufort Books, 1984.

5 Evans and Skinner, p. 128.

6 Ibid., pp. 126-27.

7 Friedman, p. 17.

8 Ibid., p. 165.

9 See Funk and Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary, and Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary.

10 Toronto Daily Mail, 7 May 1892. Kit (Watkins) Coleman was a pioneering female journalist who wrote an extremely popular column called 'Woman's Kingdom' for the Toronto Daily Mail (later the Toronto Mail and Empire). She covered diverse topics such as poverty, true crime, politics, household hints, literature, theater, and even advice to her readers, and did so at a time when female reporters were usually allowed to cover only 'women's issues'. She traveled extensively, including several trips to England, where she wrote about Dickens' London, Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and even Jack the Ripper - most notably on 27 February 1892, when she visited the murder sites and interviewed some of the women then living in Miller's Court.

11 Later in the article from May 7, 1892, Kit wrote: 'Another evening passing along the Embankment at a late hour I heard a young girl say to her male companion - a villainous, slouching fellow - "I ain't afraid of nothink but Jack the Ripper and I don't believe as e'll ever be heard on again." "Ow do you know I ain't Jack," growled the man in a surly accent. 'I confess to feeling a shiver as I hurried by.' Kit was escorted around London on her nocturnal walks by an elderly Bow Street Inspector whom I have yet to identify.

12 Friedman, p. 195.

13 East London Observer, 15 September 1888. Not all clashes occurred between Jews and non-Jews, as shown in two articles, courtesy of Alex Chisholm, of an event that happened just a fortnight before the murder of Stride.

14 Star, September 14, 1888. 'Freethinking Jews and the Black Fast. The Workers' Friend, the Hebrew Socialist paper, of this week, announces that as a protest against the Jewish religion and the Day of Atonement, the Jewish Socialists and Freethinkers have organised a banquet for tomorrow, which will take place at the International Working Men's Club, 40, Berner street, Commercial road. Speeches will be delivered in various languages. The announcement has caused much excitement amongst the orthodox Jews, and it is rumored that a disturbance may take place at the banquet. If so, the members of the International Working Men's Club state that they are prepared, and the aid of the police will not be called in to assist in quelling it. This banquet is unprecedented in Jewish history.'

Star, September 17, 1888.
'A Feast on a Fast Leads to a Riot. While the orthodox Jews of the East end were on Saturday celebrating the Day of Atonement by fasting and prayer, the Socialist and Freethinking Hebrews held a banquet at the International Working Men's Club, Berner street, where speeches were made pointing out that the miseries and degradation of the people were not due to any Divine power, but that they were caused by the capitalists, who monopolised all the means of production and paid starvation wages. The orthodox Jews took great umbrage at this banquet, and assembled in Berner street in great numbers. The windows of the club were smashed, and when three of the men in the club went out to secure the man who did the damage, they were very roughly handled, till about a hundred of their colleagues went to their assistance. The police subsequently dispersed the mob, and guarded the club till a late hour.'

14 Casebook Message Boards (www.casebook.org), 2 January, 2001, available on CD Rom. The quote has since been erased from the online archives.

15 Evans and Skinner, pp. 127-28.  


Related pages:
  Israel Lipski
       Press Reports: Times - 11 July 1887 
       Press Reports: Times - 2 July 1887 
       Press Reports: Times - 30 July 1887 
       Press Reports: Times - 4 July 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 15 August 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 19 August 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 23 August 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 24 August 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 25 August 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 26 August 1887 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 29 June 1887 
       Victorian London: Batty Street