A CAST OF THOUSANDS
BY CHRISTOPHER SCOTT
Kosminski/ Lubnowski/ Cohen Family
Of all the established suspects one of the perennial frontrunners is Aaron Kosminksi. A number of major works in the Ripper canon have taken Kosminski as their subject of choice and in a made for TV film entitled "The Secret Identity of Jack the Ripper" a panel of experts, including a barrister, an ex police officer and two FBI personnel, unanimously selected Kosminski as the most likely to have been the Whitechapel murderer of the suspects whose cases were laid before them.
He was a 25-year-old Polish hairdresser living in Sion Square who, in 1890, was admitted for treatment at the Mile End Infirmary. The following February he was readmitted and then, three days later, transferred to the Colney Hatch lunatic asylum. In 1894 he was sent to Leavesden Asylum where he stayed for the rest of his life, dying at the age of 54 in 1919.
Comments both from the application for his committal and records subsequent to his admission, make it clear that Kosminki was delusional and the symptoms as described - refusal to eat or drink anything prepared or handled by others, control by voices, indolence interspersed with periods of excitation - all suggest that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia with bouts of the mood swings associated with a manic depressive illness. There are occasional references to threatened violence but Kosminski does not appear to have had a history of documented acts of actual violence.
So, how did this young immigrant, afflicted with a distressing debilitating mental illness, come to be regarded by many as the most likely to be Jack the Ripper? Well, it has to be said that of the surviving evidence - as opposed to contemporaneously recorded opinion - there is nothing that directly implicates or suggests Kosminski. His bizarre and unhygienic behaviour is documented in 1890 and 1891 but we do not know how long these symptoms had been manifesting themselves before he finally came to the attention of the authorities. If he had been behaving in such a fashion - or anything approaching it - during the time of the murders, this difficult to square with any remaining description of a man seen with any of the victims shortly before their deaths. So how did Kosminski's name get in the frame?
The answer to this lies in large part, in my opinion, in the fact that three senior police officers identified Kosminski - two explicitly and one implicitly - as among the most likely of the suspects to be the Whitechapel murderer. Robert Anderson clearly identifies him as the killer but does not name him. Donald Swanson names him but refers to him as "the suspect." Melville Macnaghten refers to him as one among three suspects who were under active suspicion - the other two being Druitt and Ostrog.
Of course, the great unknown is what police documents and files were available to them, which have since disappeared. This is as frustrating to the researcher as Macnaghten's reference to "private info" which was obviously powerfully persuasive in the formation of his opinion regarding Druitt. The opinions of three such police officials cannot be taken or dismissed lightly but until we know (if we ever do) on what factual basis such strong opinions were based it is impossible, in my opinion, to form an even remotely reliable opinion as to the validity of their suspicions.
Let us now turn to the tangled matter of the members of Kosminski's family. It is asserted that Aaron came to England in 1882. By the time of his incarceration he had two sisters, Betsy and Matilda, and two brothers in law, Woolf Abrahams and Morris Lubnowski, living in London with their families. Both sisters had married and had children before they came to England and it is not at all certain that all members of the Kosminski family came to England at the same time. As stated above, at the time of Aaron's first admission for treatment he was living at Sion Square. If we look at the 1891 census we find that this was the residence of one of his sisters and her family:
3 Sion Square, Mile End
Woolfe Abrahams aged 30 born Russia - Master tailor
Betsy aged 34 born Russia
Rebecca aged 9
Millie aged 5
Matilda aged 9 months
All children listed as born in London
The other sister, Matilda, and her husband were in that year living in New Street, Mile End:
63 New Street, Mile End
Morris L Cohen aged 33 born Poland - Boot laster
Matilda aged 35 born Poland
Joseph aged 11 born Germany
Bertha aged 9 born Germany
Annie aged 7
Samuel aged 4
Jane aged 2
Milly aged 3 weeks
Woolf aged 3 weeks
All children apart from first two listed as born in Mile End.
Here arises the first conundrum. Morris' surname was Lubnowski - he and his family are listed under that name in the 1901 census - but in the 1891 data above the whole family goes under the surname of "L. Cohen" i.e. Lubnowski Cohen. Whether this had any connection with Aaron's admission to an asylum, which took place only 2 months before this census was carried out, is not known. I said above that Aaron came to England in 1882. From the ages and birthplaces of the children of his two sisters we can get a window as to when each couple would have come.
Betsy's older child is 9 year old at the time of the census and listed as born in London. This would take us back to 1882 or the latter part of 1881, which is compatible with Aaron's supposed date of arrival. However, Matilda also has a 9-year-old child but she listed as born in Germany. As an older son aged 11 is also listed as German born we can surmise that Morris and Matilda did not come straight to England from Poland but lived for at least two years in Germany prior to their arrival in London. Also Bertha's age and birthplace suggest that the Lubnowskis may well have come to England later than Aaron and his other sister.
When we move forward to 1901 Morris has had both a change of surname (or reverted to his real name) and also of occupation, from boot laster to greengrocer:
64 Wellesley Street, Mile End
Morris Lubnowski aged 43 born Poland - Greengrocer
Matilda aged 47 born Poland
Bertha aged 19 born Germany
Annie aged 17
Samuel aged 14
Jane aged 12
Millie aged 10
The four above born in Spitalfields
Yetta aged 7
Esther aged 6
Two above born in Mile End
Golda Abrahams aged 82 - widow - born in Poland.
Apart from the extra children, the main point of interest is that Matilda's widowed mother is now living with them. This again raises certain questions. As the mother of Matilda Lubnowski née Kosminski, Golda Abrahams was also the mother of Aaron Kosminski, Matilda's brother. But why in 1901 was she using the surname Abrahams, the married name of her other daughter? I can see two plausible reasons for this, but the real reason may be something entirely different.
As an aged relative, it is possible that Golda at some stage lived with her other daughter and for some reason used their surname. The other possibility is that as a widow Golda had reverted to her maiden name - if that is the case it raises the possibility that when Betsy married Woolf Abrahams she was actually marrying a member of her mother's side of the family. Repeated searches of the 1891 census have failed to find any trace of Golda Abrahams (or under the names of Kosminski or Lubnowski or Cohen) and I have yet to trace a date for her death.
The Abrahams branch of the family by 1901 had moved right out of London, to Manchester and their details appear in the census as follows:
207 Bury New Road, North Manchester
Woolf Abrahams aged 39 born Poland - Tailor
Betsy aged 40 born Poland
Rebecca aged 19 - Tailoress
Millie aged 14
Matilda aged 10
Yetta aged 8
Joseph aged 6
Solomon aged 3
All the above children born in London East.
Harry aged 7 months born Manchester
Sam Solomons aged 22 born Poland - Tailor
I am sure that more remains to be found about Kosminski but until such an eventuality arises, if it ever does, then Aaron will remain a strongly argued and fervently supported suspect.