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An Alternate Kosminski Suspect and Police Witness: Some Perspectives and Points to Ponder
Scott Nelson


The London journalist George R. Sims, citing information he had received from Melville Macnaghten, wrote of a JtR suspect: He "was a Polish Jew of curious habits and strange disposition, who was the sole occupant of certain premises in Whitechapel after night-fall. This man was in the district during the whole period of the Whitechapel Murders, and soon after they ceased certain facts came to light which showed it was quite possible that he might have been the Ripper. He had at one time been employed in a hospital in Poland. He was known to be a lunatic at the time of the murders, and some-time afterwards he betrayed such undoubted signs of homicidal mania that he was sent to a lunatic asylum"1 (emphasis mine). Research during the past fifteen years has established that these statements refer to one "Kosminski", a Polish Jew, known to us from three principle sources: 1) the Assistant Head of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), Robert Anderson's autobiography, The Lighter Side of My Official Life, where the suspect is described, but not named; 2) the Macnaghten Memorandum of February 23, 1894, Melville Macnaghten being the Chief Constable (1889) and later the head of the CID; and, from 3) marginal notes made sometime after 1910 by retired Detective Inspector Donald Swanson in Anderson's book. Kosminski is identified only by his surname in the last two sources.

Anderson's and Swanson's views will be addressed shortly. Macnaghten's Memorandum was intended as an internal police briefing on what was then considered to be the three principal suspects of the crimes in response to a newspaper's story in 1894 that Police Superintendent Charles Cutbush's nephew, Thomas, was JtR.2 This suggestion may have been inspired by MET Inspector William Race having given interviews about the previous Whitechapel murders directly to the press.3 The Memorandum was never intended for public release and its existence was generally unknown until discovered the 1970s. Indeed, it was the last known document added to the Scotland Yard Suspects File on the Whitechapel Murders. Many documents in these files, particularly those concerning the Suspects, are missing. Information on three principal suspects was passed on, however, to at least two people, Major Arthur Griffiths, who without naming the suspects, described them in his book, Mysteries of Police and Crime (1898), and to the journalist Sims, cited above. It is the second of these suspects, Kosminski, which interests me. Who was he? Under what circumstances did he come under police suspicion? Macnaghten never mentioned Kosminski's forename in his Memorandum (perhaps he didn't know it), and neither did Swanson in his marginal notes. Recent research has established that one Aaron Kosminski was sent to a lunatic asylum two years after the last canonical Whitechapel murder in 1888; to date, no other Kosminski(y) has been found in London asylum records.

The Initial Search for the Killer

Anderson declared of the October 1888 house-to-house search throughout Whitechapel "…And the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were low-class Jews… and the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point".4 This indicates that early suspicions became confirmed at a later date. That is, in all likelihood the distribution of 80,000 hand bills at that time5 and later review of police notebooks eventually led to the capture of Kosminski. The significant point of Anderson's account was that his family sheltered him, which may account for the fact that the suspicion did not immediately fall on Kosminski. Also note the wording, first "conclusion" and then "result". Generally results lead to a conclusion. But, if we read "theory" for "conclusion" and "fact" for "result", Anderson's declaration becomes a very powerful statement. It tells us that Anderson was confidently recalling that an investigation based on circumstantial evidence had eventually led to an end result that confirmed this evidence, then no longer considered circumstantial. And he held to this view throughout his life. More on what this circumstantial evidence may have been and Anderson's "conclusion" and if he at any other time ever considered it to be "theory" a little later.

Author Phil Sugden contends that the results of the house-to-house search, completed on October 18, 1888 did not persuade the police that the murders were committed by a Jew.6 Evidence he cites in Anderson's CID minute to Warren on October 23, had acknowledged that, despite five successive murders, the CID were without "the slightest clue of any kind" (HO 144/221/A49301C/8C- reports of both Anderson and Warren). But look at the date of Anderson's rather "frank admission", as Sugden refers to it7, October 23, 1888 during which next to nothing was known about very many of the contemporary suspects, except that the killer may have been Jewish. The significant evidence of Kosminski's guilt had to wait for two or more years to surface. Here is where I think that something like the publication of Charles Booth's Map of London Poverty in 1889 (see below) would have aided the police in their house-to-house search the previous year. Lodging Houses and other buildings were delineated in black for high-crime/impoverished areas where their perceived suspect may have lived, and reddish brown for mixed crime/poverty areas. Did the police make use of it in 1889-91 to screen the addresses of those arrested or questioned in assault incidents involving knives?