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Hyam Hyams: Portrait of a Suspect
By Wolf Vanderlinden
Photo provided by Stewart P. Evans
The theory that Jack the Ripper may have been Jewish is not a new one. The area in which the murders took place was heavily populated by Jewish immigrants, and between the years 1880 and 1886 some twenty thousand Jews from Eastern Europe(1) swelled the existing numbers and created friction between Jewish and non- Jewish residents. Once the Whitechapel murder series began non-Jewish residents were quick to point a finger at these newcomers. Indeed, the first suspect to catch the public’s attention was described as a Jew who went by the nickname of “Leather Apron.” John Pizer, the man arrested for being Leather Apron, was also Jewish. In addition, at the height of the murders, an hysteria-gripped populace was desperately searching for answers to the murders by blaming Jewish rituals and customs, both real and imaginary. Besides, it was widely thought that no Englishman could be responsible for such brutal and barbaric crimes.
These long held suspicions against the Jewish residents of Spitalfi elds and Whitechapel found offi cial support in the Spring of 1910, when Sir Robert Anderson, ex-Assistant Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police CID and the man who had been in overall charge of the Whitechap el murder investigation, wrote in Blackwood’s Magazine:
One did not have 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 cases 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 con clusion 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.(2)
In a footnote Anderson added the important information that “I will only say that when the individual whom we suspected was caged in an asylum…” This reiterated a claim Anderson had fi rst made in print nine years earlier in the magazine The Nineteenth Century(3) that:
…the inhabitants of the met ropolis generally were just as secure during the weeks the fi end was on the prowl as they were before the mania seized him, or after he had been safely caged in an asylum.
Here, therefore, was the astounding news that a senior police offi cial claimed that the identity of Jack the Ripper was known to the police and that he was a Jew who lived in the area of the murders and who subsequently was “caged in an asylum.” The problem, however, was that the question of who was being referred to was still left unanswered.
A clue did surface in 1959 when Daniel Farson uncovered the “Aberconway ver sion” of Sir Melville Macnaghten’s now famous memoranda in which the ex- Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard CID, writing in 1894, stated:
I enumerate the cases of 3 men against whom police held very reasonable suspicion …. 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 strongly resembled the individual seen by the P.C. near Mitre Square.
It became a general belief that “Kosminski” was Anderson’s Jewish suspect. In the late eighties author Martin Fido began research to see if he could prove this by attempting to link anyone named “Kosminski” with the facts as they were given by Anderson and Macnaghten.
Fido made an exhaustive search of London asylum, infi rmary and pauper lunatic records covering the years 1888 to 1890. He found a Nathan Kaminsky and, eventually, one Aaron Kosminski who might have been the same man, but ultimately rejected him/them as the suspect, endorsing instead a man named David (or Aaron Davis) Cohen. He also found intriguing information about a Jewish lunatic named Hyam Hyams who recently has been put forth by theorist Mark King as a suspect in his own right.(4)
Hyam Hyams was born in Aldgate on the 8th of February, 1855, to Fanny (née Levy) and Solomon Hyams, listed as a cigar maker in the 1871 census.
By the time of the 1881 census Solomon Hyams was gone from the household and Hyam, then aged 26 years old, was living at number 29 Mitre Street, Ald gate, with his mother, three brothers – Barney, George and Morris – and two sisters – Clara and Jane – and Jane’s husband, John Abrahams. Hyam’s occupation was listed as “fruiterer.”
Sometime after 1881 Hyam Hyams married a woman named Rachel, and by 1888, the year of the Ripper murders, the couple had two children – a son named William and a new born daughter named Kate.
At about 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the 29th of December, 1888, Hyams was taken in charge by a member of the Metropolitan Police in Leman Street, Whitechapel, and sent to the White chapel Workhouse Infirmary. His condition was diagnosed as delirium tremens (a disordered state of mind usually accompanied by hallucinations and terrifying delusions brought on by severe alcoholism).
His address was given as 217 Jubilee Street, Mile End.
Hyams was discharged after thirteen days on the 11th of January, 1889, but was readmitted to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infi rmary some three months later on the 15th of April, 1889. He was admitted from 4 Bell Court Lane and listed as being married, 34 years of age, and with an occupation listed as a “General dealer.” He was also listed as having a “weak mind.” He was transferred that same day to the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum and arrived “under restraint and in a noisy condition.” At Colney Hatch he was described as “violent and dangerous (especially to wife). Injured mother’s head with chopper when attacking his wife. Epileptic and irritable after fi ts. Addicted to drink.”
On the 30th of August, 1889, after four and a half months, Hyams was discharged from Colney Hatch as being “recovered” but only ten days later, on the 9th of September, he was admitted to the City of London Lunatic Asylum at Stone, Kent, as an “insane person” after attacking and stabbing his wife. Interestingly, he was described as being the “terror of the City of London Police.”
According to the case notes Hyams’ wife had stated that she had suffered four mis carriages because of her husband’s in creasingly deranged behaviour (he believed that she was unfaithful to him) and that for the past nine years he had suffered from periodic epileptic attacks and was becoming progressively more violent.
He was said to practise self-abuse (masturbation) and was previously addicted to drink. However, it was also noted that “at times he was kind, civil and industrious, and most attentive to his personal appearance and grooming.”
Four months later, on the 4th of January, 1890, Hyam Hyams was transferred back to the Colney Hatch Asylum(5) as patient #10757. His case notes record “very frequent epileptic fi ts and then very violent and fi lthy. Otherwise quiet, but bitter against wife.” Apparently these fi ts were cyclical and Hyams would be well for about a month then “on/off for a fortnight.” He was described as a “crafty and dangerous maniac” who “destroys his bedding and paints his walls with fi lth, shouts the most obscene language and practices self-abuse.”
His delusions concerning his wife’s infi delity continued, and he suspected that the Medical Officers at the asylum were having affairs with her. He would sing and cry and “hope that God would take him.” At one point he asked for a knife so that he could kill himself, but when he was able to get his hands on a piece of sharp steel he used it instead to attack one of the medical personel by cutting his neck, although not seriously.
Throughout his confinement Hyams was described variously as being “violent, threatening, noisy and destructive” and was said to have attacked other patients and medical staff.
Hyams appeared twice in the 1891 census. He was listed as being an inmate of the Colney Hatch Asylum (as H.H, 35, cigar-maker, insane) and as also living at 40 New Street, Gravel Lane, Aldgate (as Hyam Hyams, 37, cabinet maker). As Hyams never again left Colney Hatch after his confi nement in January, 1890, it is likely that this was a bit of wishful thinking on the part of his wife, who probably dreamed that one day her husband might be returned to her cured.
Hyam Hyams died in Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum on the 22nd of March, 1913. Epilepsy and cardio-vascular de gen - era tion were listed as the causes.
It is easy to understand why Hyam Hyams might be considered a suspect in the Whitechapel murders. First of all, he was a lunatic who became progressively more violent as his mental state collapsed. He attacked more than one person with a knife. He was first institutionalized some seven weeks after the Mary Kelly murder; after which the murders stopped. He was raised in Mitre Street, just off Mitre Square where Catharine Eddowes was murdered. Also Mark King states that Eddowes’ body was found immediately outside the back window of number 8 Mitre Street, a business run by a Mr. Taylor in 1888 but which in 1861 had been operated as a cigar manufacturing business by Hyam Hyams’ uncle, Lewis Levy.
According to the 1881 census and the 1884 London Business Directory another of Hyams’ uncles, John Levy, was living at and running a cigar manufacturing business from 254 Whitechapel Road. It was right next door to this address, on the step of number 253, that Thomas Coram found a long knife wrapped in a bloodstained handkerchief the day after the murders of Stride and Eddowes.
Moreover, when Hyam Hyams was fi rst admitted to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infi rmary in December of 1888 he gave his address as 217 Jubilee Street, Mile End. Right next door, at 218 Jubilee Street, was a leather shop owned by a Mr. Marsh. In October of 1888 Mr. Marsh’s daughter, Emily, was minding the shop when a tall, strange man, dressed in a long black coat with either a Prussian or clerical collar, entered and asked for the address of George Lusk, the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. The man’s actions aroused the girl’s suspicions to the extent that when he left she sent the shop boy after him to follow him. Later on, a man loosely fi tting the description of the stranger was seen by Lusk watching his house. This was followed by Lusk receiving the so-called “Lusk kidney” in the mail.
Of greater interest is the theory that eyewitness Joseph Hyam Levy might have known Hyam Hyams and his family. Levy, who along with Harry Harris and Joseph Lawende, saw a man and woman, probably Catharine Eddowes and the Ripper, standing next to the entrance to Church Passage, which led into Mitre Square, only minutes before Eddowes’ murder. Levy stated in his inquest testimony that he remarked to Harris “I don’t like going home by myself when I see these sort of characters about. I’m off.”(6) Theorists have wondered what it was about this couple that frightened Levy. Moreover, a newspaper report(7) suggested that Levy “knows something, but that he is afraid to be called on the inquest.”
These cryptic statements, along with the information that in 1877 Levy had sponsored a Martin Kosminski’s application for British naturalization, has led some to theorise that perhaps Levy had recognized the man standing with Eddowes and was afraid to come forward with this information. This identifi cation is usually connected with the suspect Kosminski, but King makes the case that Levy must have known Hyam Hyams and perhaps recognized him as the Ripper.
It is impossible to say whether Joseph Hyam Levy actually knew Hyam Hyams or not. King points out that the 1891 census lists Hyams’ mother, Fanny Hyams, as having moved into number 24 Mitre Street. This residence had been owned by Henry Lyons, the uncle of Amelia Lewis, Joseph Hyam Levy’s wife, and Amelia had once lived there years before. Also Hyams’ uncle, Samuel, was living right next door to the Lewis family, according to the 1861 census. It is diffi cult to prove, however, whether Levy would have been aware of these tenuous connections that seem, for the most part, to have occurred more than twenty years earlier. However, as both the Hyams and Lewis families seem to have had a long connection with Mitre Street, it is always possible that Levy did know them through his wife and her family, however there is no concrete proof either way. More importantly, there is no proof that Joseph Hyam Levy actually recognized the man he saw next to Church Passage the night of Eddowes’ murder.
The same goes for much of the rest of King’s theory. It must be taken as just an interesting coincidence that Catharine Eddowes’ body was found near the back of a shop that had once, many years earlier, been owned by Hyam Hyams’ uncle. The knife found in Whitechapel Road was never connected to the Ripper murders, and Dr. Bagster Phillips, who examined it, felt that it was not the knife used in at least the Stride murder. Hyam Hyams also did not fi t the description of the man who aroused Emily Marsh’s suspicions in Jubilee Street. The stranger was about forty fi ve years of age, six feet tall and spoke with an Irish accent. Hyams was thirty three years of age at the time, described as being 5 feet 7 inches tall and probably spoke with an East End London accent.
Finally, Hyam Hyams was not Sir Robert Anderson’s Jewish suspect and, so far, there is no existing evidence that he was ever suspected by the police of having been Jack the Ripper.
Much of the case against Hyam Hyams can be dismissed or downplayed. On the other hand, Hyams’ mental condition – with violent attacks on family members and health personnel, and time spent in various lunatic asylums as this condition worsened – cannot. He is exactly the type of individual who should be investigated more closely when searching for possible suspects in the Whitechapel murders.
If the killer was not actually Hyam Hyams, it was most probably someone like him.
1) Friedland, Martin, The Trials of Israel Lipski, Macmillan London Ltd., 1984.
2) Blackwood’s Magazine, March 1910.
3) February, 1901.
4) See King, Mark, “Hyam Hyams,” Ripperologist #35, June 2001.
5) Exactly one month after Hyam Hyams returned to the Colney Hatch Asylum Aaron Kosminski was admitted. Kosmin ski was an inmate with Hyams until the former was transferred to Leavesden Asylum for Imbeciles in April, 1894.
6) The Daily News, 12 October, 1888.
7) See the Evening News, 9 October, 1888.
Begg, Paul; Fido, Martin; Skinner, Keith, The Jack the Ripper A-Z, third paperback edition, Headline, 1996.
Fido, Martin, The Crimes, Detection & Death of Jack the Ripper, George Weidenfeld & Nicol son Ltd., 1987.
Morley, C.J., Jack the Ripper 150 Suspects, self published, 2004.
King, Mark, “Hyam Hyams,” Ripperologist #35, June 2001. Nelson, Scott, “The Polish Jew Suspect - Jewish Witness Connection: Some Further Speculations,” Ripperologist #53, May 2004.