Contemporary Police Jack the Ripper Suspects

An unidentified assailant nicknamed Jack the Ripper committed a series of murders in the East End of London. (The murders began in 1888 on 31 August, when Mary Ann Nichols was found with her throat slashed in the impoverished Whitechapel district. Three more women were found with their throats cut in September (Annie Chapman* on the 8th, and Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on the 30th). On 9 November, the body of Mary Jane Kelly was discovered with her throat severed to the spine. The similarities between these deaths led to the supposition that they were committed by the same assailant, who was then given the nickname “Jack the Ripper.”) The identity of the killer has been widely debated and since that time over 100 Jack the Ripper suspects have been named.

Despite all the suggestions, today’s experts have not found any of the suspects strongly persuasive. However, at the time of the murders law enforcement thought several men were good Jack the Ripper candidates. Suspects as the Ripper who were popular at the time among police included Montague John Druitt, Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski, Aaron Kosminski, Michael Ostrog, John Pizer, James Thomas Sadler, and Francis Tumblety. Details about why law enforcement thought one of these men might be the Ripper follow:

Sir Melville Macnaghten, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard was a highly respected figure of the Victoria and Edwardian Eras. He was also intensely interested in the Ripper. During the 1890s the name of Thomas Hayne Cutbush surfaced among the press and the public as a possible Jack the Ripper suspect, but Macnaghten was emphatic that he could not be the Ripper. Instead Macnaghten favored Montague John Druitt as the most likely Ripper contender.

Sir Melville Macnaghten. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

His reasoning was because in February 1891, Henry Richard Farquharson, a member of parliament for West Dorset, announced that Jack the Ripper was “the son of a surgeon.” Druitt was an English barrister and educator who came from an upper-middle-class background and whose father was a surgeon. Druitt also studied at Winchester College and at the University of Oxford. In addition, at the time of the Ripper murders he was working as an assistant schoolmaster at a Blackheath boy’s boarding school. 

Farquharson did not name the Ripper suspect, but his description matched Druitt’s background. Farquharson also claimed that Jack the Ripper had committed suicide on the night of his last murder and although not involved in the Ripper investigations two other men ― Sir John Moylan, Assistant Under-Secretary of the Home Office and Sir Basil Thomson, a British colonial administrator and prison governor ― also mentioned that the Ripper escaped justice by committing suicide. Druitt had been dismissed from his Blackheath post on Friday 30 November 1888 and his waterlogged corpse was found floating in the Thames River a month later on 31 December 1888. A waterman named Henry Winslade spied it off Thornycroft’s torpedo works in Chiswick, and all indications pointed to the fact that it had been submerged in the water for about a month.

Jack the Ripper suspects - Montague John Druitt

Montague John Druitt. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

With such information Macnaghten focused on Druitt as the Ripper and he remained one of the most popular Jack the Ripper suspects into the 1960s. However, some modern authors maintained that Druitt killed himself not because of the Ripper murders but because he was homosexual or pederast. D. J. Leighton, author of the “Ripper Suspect: The Secret Lives of Montague Druitt,” also concluded that he was innocent and suggested that he could have been murdered, either out of greed by his elder brother William or out of fear of exposure for his homosexual tendencies. Today some people also claim that the only reason Druitt ever became a Ripper suspect was because of homophobia and they maintain that no evidence has ever linked him to the Ripper murders.

Another of the Jack the Ripper suspects police named was Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski. He was born in Congress, Poland, and emigrated to the United Kingdom between 1887 and 1888. Despite supposedly having a wife in Poland he married another young Polish girl, Lucie Baderski, in 1889. They had two children and while Kłosowski was with Baderski, they frequently moved in and around London until they finally settled in the United States in 1891. Eventually, however, they returned to England and that is where their relationship ended.

In 1893, Kłosowski began an affair with Annie Chapman (no relation to the September 1888 Ripper victim). Sometime between 1893 and 1894 he assumed name of George Chapman, and, in addition, over the course of a few years, he took at least four mistresses. These four mistresses posed as his wife. Of these four women, three (Mary Isabella Spink, Bessie Taylor, and Maud Marsh) were poisoned by him with the compound tartar-emetic. (When misused tartar-emetic can cause a painful death similar to the symptoms associated with arsenic poisoning.)

Jack the Ripper suspects - George Chapman

George Chapman (Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski). Author’s collection.

At the time of the Ripper murders, Kłosowski was living in Whitechapel and working as barber under the name Ludwig Schloski. After he was convicted Inspector Frederick Abberline favored him as the Ripper. Part of the reason was that Kłosowski’swife, “Braderski [sic], whom the police had discovered and who proved to have been the murderer’s first and real wife, testified that he once had attempted to kill her with a long knife ― precisely such a weapon as that with which the ‘Ripper’ is supposed to have mutilated his victims.”[1] She also supposedly told Abberline that her husband often went out during the evening and stay out for extended periods of time. In addition, the Boonville Standard out of Indiana reported in 1903 that Abberline believed Klosowski was the Ripper for other reasons:

“To begin with, there is the fact that the date of Kłosowski’s arrival in London and residence in Whitechapel [coincided] with the beginning and duration of the ‘Ripper’ murders.

Then there is the circumstance, that he studied medicine in Russia and was once an assistant surgeon. One of the features of the ‘Ripper’ murders was the horrible precision with which the assassin’s victims’ bodies were mutilated ― which … gave the idea that the criminal must be a physician.

At Klosowski’s trial … it was said that he lived in Whitechapel and was in the habit of wearing a peaked cap. Such a cap was worn by the ‘Ripper,’ … like Klosowski, he was a man of middle height, and … that each of the few persons who claimed to have seen the Whitechapel murderer described him as a ‘foreign-looking man.’

There also is the circumstance that Klosowski once attempted to kill the only one of his wives who escaped … by attacking her with a knife. But what has impressed … Abberline most strongly of all is the fact that, toward, the end of 1888, Klosowski went to the United States to live … shortly after the murders ceased in the Whitechapel a series of crimes of the same sort began in America. At the time it was supposed that some American pervert merely had been inspired to imitate the London assassin’s example.”[2]

Most historians have dismissed the idea that Kłosowski was Jack the Ripper. First, although speculation about him did crop up in newspapers when he was arrested no evidence ever surfaced that links him directly to the Ripper murders. Authorities today also note that his modus operandi (from poisoning to mutilation) would have needed to change and a serial killer making such a change would be highly unusual. Another point that eliminates him is that even though numerous reports indicate that the Ripper held conversations with some of his victims doubts exist about Kłosowski’s ability to speak English. The Ripper also selected victims unknown to him, whereas Kłosowski killed acquaintances. Furthermore, although he lived in Whitechapel, he lived far from where the murders occurred.

The third person deemed as one of the Jack the Ripper suspects by police was Aaron Kosminski. Like Kłosowski, Kosminski was an immigrant from Congress, Poland and immigrated in 1880 or 1881 with his sister’s family. There are some reports that he worked sporadically as a barber and hairdresser in an impoverished slum in London’s East End. However, due to mental illness he relied on his sister’s family for financial support and may have also needed to live with them.

Eventually, because of worsening mental problems, Kosminski was put in the Mile End Old Town workhouse on 12 July 1890 and released three days later. Some months later, on 4 February 1891, he re-entered the workhouse, probably because police put him there after he threatened either his sister or his sister-in-law with a knife. He was then transferred to the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum on 7 February and remained a patient there for three years until he was admitted to the Leavesdam Asylum on 19 April 1894.

Case notes indicate that Kosminski had been ill since at least 1885 and that doctors reported his insanity was caused by self-abuse, the euphemism for masturbation at the time. His mental illness (which was later determined to be paranoid schizophrenia) involved hallucinations and a paranoid fear of being fed by other people, which resulted in him eating litter and trash found on the streets and in garbage cans. Because of his poor eating habits, he lived in an emaciated state for many years. In fact, in February of 1919, he weighed just 96 pounds and died the following month at the age of 53.

Years after the Ripper murders happened notes surfaced revealing that at the time of the murders London police had been suspicious of a male immigrant named “Kosminski,” who was ultimately identified as Aaron Kosminski. In an 1894 memorandum written by Macnaghten, he named “Kosminski” as one of the Jack the Ripper suspects suggested by police and wrote that he had a “‘strong homicidal tendencies,’ coupled with ‘a great hatred of women.’”[3] In addition, Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, who led the Ripper investigations at the time, noted that “Kosminski” had been watched by police at his brother’s home in Whitechapel, that he was taken to the workhouse with his hands tied behind his back, and that he was then transferred to Colney Hatch Asylum where he died shortly after.

Many people today maintain that Kosminski is not a good suspect even though the five “canonical” killings occurred in 1888 and his movements were not restricted until 1891. One reason people dismiss Kosminski as the Ripper is that he was described by asylum doctors as harmless, despite the report of him brandishing a knife against his sister or sister-in-law. Another reason he seems to be a poor suspect is that his native language was Yiddish, which means his English was likely poor and he would have been unable to entice English-speaking victims to enter a dark alleyway, like the Ripper supposedly did.

Besides Kosminski, another of the Jack the Ripper suspects at the time was Michael Ostrog. He was a Russian-born conman and thief who used numerous aliases and assumed titles. Once again Macnaghten is the person who reported police thought him to be a Ripper suspect. However, no one has ever been able to find anything more serious than fraud and theft charges against him. There also appears to be nothing that links him to any of the Ripper murders and moreover, author Philip Sugden, maintains that Ostrog was jailed in France for petty offenses during the Jack the Ripper killings.

Jack the Ripper Suspects - Michael Ostrog

Michael Ostrog. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

John Pizer was a Polish Jew who police named as one of the Jack the Ripper suspects in the nineteenth century. He worked as bootmaker and was known as “Leather Apron.” When the Whitechapel murders began, many locals suspected him to be the killer. The press began reporting on the public’s suspicions and as Pizer had a prior conviction for a stabbing, Police Sergeant William Thicke believed that he likely committed a string of minor assaults against prostitutes.

Pizer and Thicke had known each other for years and when Mary Ann Nichols and Annie Chapman were killed, Thicke arrested Pizer despite there being no evidence against him. He was soon released because he had solid alibis during the two Ripper murders (he was with relatives during one of the killings and was talking with police officers when the other murder happened). Pizer maintained his innocence despite his arrest and claimed that the only reason Thicke detained him was he had animosity against him.

Annie Chapman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite Pizer’s claims of innocence and his adamant refusal that he was not Jack the Ripper some locals thought him guilty. In fact, after his release, some people who thought he was guilty continued to harass and accuse him. The hounding got so bad he ultimately filed a complaint against one of his insistent female accusers:

“The man Pizer, who was arrested on suspicion of being connected with the murder of Annie Chapman … and who gave a satisfactory account of himself, complained … that since he was released from custody he had been subjected to great annoyance. … a woman accosted him in the street, and, after calling him ‘Old Leather Apron,’ and other insulting expression, struck him three blows in the face.”[4]

Locals weren’t the only ones believing Pizer might be the infamous Jack the Ripper. A newspaper also named him as the murderer. He sued that paper and obtained monetary compensation for the false accusation.

Interestingly, in a turn of events, Pizer’s accuser Thicke was himself accused of being Jack the Ripper. It happened on 10 September 1889 when a resident of Tottenham, H.T. Haselwood, put his suspicions in writing and sent them to the Home Office. However, it was ultimately determined Haselwood’s allegations against Thicke were malicious and they were dismissed without foundation.

The sixth person consider by police to be one of the Jack the Ripper suspects was James Thomas Sadler (or Saddler). He was friends with Frances Coles, the last victim of the Whitechapel murders. She was attacked on 13 February 1891 and discovered beneath a railway arch in Swallow Gardens with two deep slash wounds to the neck. When discovered she was still alive but died before medical assistance could be rendered.

Frances Cole. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite little evidence, Sadler was arrested. Macnaghten described Sadler as “a man of ungovernable temper, and entirely addicted to drink and the company of the lowest prostitutes.”[5] Police considered Sadler a Ripper suspect until they determined he was at sea when the first four “canonical” murders took place.

The last of the Jack the Ripper suspects that police considered at the time was Francis Tumblety. He was an “Indian herb” doctor, who operated throughout the United States and Canada. He was perceived as a quack and was connected to the death of one of his patients. Fortunately, for him he escaped prosecution.

Jack the Ripper suspects - Tumblety

Francis Tumblety. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Problems however continued to dog him. For instance, in 1865, he was arrested for alleged complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. When no connection was found he was released without being charged. In addition, numerous people accused him of being a misogynist and some of friends reported that he had a collection of “matrices” (wombs) that he regularly exhibited.

In 1888 he was in England and on 7 November he was arrested for engaging in homosexual acts. While awaiting trial, he fled to France and then traveled back to the U.S. He was already notorious in the states and became even more so after newspapers began to report that that he was connected to the Jack the Ripper murders.

Despite the allegations, these charges were denied by Inspector Thomas Byrnes of the New York City police. He stated that Tumblety fled England to avoid being prosecuted for the “Fall of Babylon” act and he didn’t think it possible that Tumblety was Jack the Ripper. When Byrnes was asked why he was shadowing Tumblety if such a thing was true, Byrnes replied:

“I simply wanted to put a tag on him … so that we can tell where he is. Of course he cannot be arrested for there is no proof of his complicity in the Whitechapel murders, and the crime for which he was under bond in London is not extraditable.”[6]

Despite Byrnes denying Tumblety was a Ripper suspect, Chief Inspector of the Metropolitan Police Service, John Littlechild, mentioned Tumblety as a possible Ripper candidate. Littlechild made the allegation in letter that he sent to journalist and author George R. Sims, who was himself intrigued with the psychology of crime, consumed by the Jack the Ripper murders, and also accused of being Jack the Ripper.

*Annie Chapman was not related to Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski, alias George Chapman.


  • [1] Boonville Standard, “Is he Jack the Ripper?,” April 10, 1903, p. 3.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] P. Underwood, Jack the Ripper: One Hundred Years of Mystery (Blandford Press, 1987), p. 102.
  • [4] Reynold’s Newspaper, “Complaint by “Leather Apron.”,” October 7, 1888, p. 5.
  • [5] D. Farson, Jack the Ripper (London: Joseph, 1972), p. 58.
  • [6] R. M. Gordon, The American Murders of Jack the Ripper (Praeger, 2003), p. 7.

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