Leigh Anne Joyce
April 19, 2008
Who dun it?
“Jack the Ripper.” There are few names that have transcended through time and space that continue to intrigue and shock us even after so many years. But who exactly was Jack the Ripper. Many people today are still so captivated by his story that they dedicate their entire lives to trying to solve the mystery that went cold so many years ago. They have gone so far as to create a profile of man whose identity remains unknown even to this day and to grasp for new and even more absurd suspects just to give this murder some closure.
Jack the Ripper was described as a “man of shabby genteel appearance…wearing a dark coat.” He was also known to have a dark complexion and a “foreign appearance”, which usually meant he was Jewish. He was also described as a little over 5 feet tall. He was thought to wear a dark felt hat, and to have a beard and a moustache. However, other eyewitnesses disagree with this fact. Police Constable William Smith described him as clean- shaven. His age varies any where from 28 to 37 years old. He was also reported by all the witness to be respectably dressed. He also had a medium build. (A-to-Z, 195-196).
It is obvious, even with a basic knowledge of the crimes, that Jack the Ripper was a serial killer. According to criminalprofiling.ch, “they are white males, aged 25 – 34, of at least average intelligence, and often with charming personalities. Many were illegitimate and experienced abuse as children. They tend to select vulnerable victims of some specific type who gratify their need to control people. They prefer to kill with hands-on methods such as strangulation and stabbing. They are often preoccupied with sadistic fantasies involving domination and control of their victims.” The majority also have the means, motive, and the opportunity to commit their crimes. This summary, while not directed towards the Ripper specifically, seems to fit the image the police of the time created of the murderer. But who in Victorian Era London could have done the horrific crimes? That’s where Sir Melville Macnaghten comes in.
On February 23, 1894, Macnaghten “wrote his influential and ultimately highly misleading memorandum…to refute newspaper reports that a disturbed young man named Thomas Cutbush had been identified by Scotland Yard as Jack the Ripper” (Roland, 164). In one part of the memorandum, he “mention[s] the cases of three men, any one of whom would have been more likely to than Cutbush to have committed this series of murders” (Roland, 166). However, more than one version of the document exists, the Aberconway version and the Scotland Yard version. The Aberconway version, according to Paul Begg, is far more descriptive, containing many “personal comment[s]” (Begg, 317). Both documents though contain “errors that suggest that Macnaghten was relying on his memory” (Begg, 317). However, one item that remains constant through both versions of the memorandum is the names of the suspects, Druitt, Kosminski, and Ostrog.
Montague John Druitt was “Macnaghten’s own preferred candidate” though it is unclear why he was chosen (Begg, 318). There is no hard evidence that Druitt was the murderer even though there are some facts that can be used against him.
M.J. Druitt was born into a well to do family which unfortunately carried the curse of “failing health” (The Facts, 322). His mothers side of the family was wracked with mental instability and it is beloved that he inherited the trait which could have caused him to “become depressed and suicidal as a result of any significant disappointment” (The Facts, 325). Unluckily for him, on November 30, 1888, he was fired from his job as a teacher. Almost a month later, his body was pulled from the Thames River. Among his possessions was a suicide note which read, “Since Friday, I felt that I was going to be like mother, and it would be best for all concerned if I were to die” (A to Z, 109). It seems to many that the only reason Druitt was named in the first place was the fact that his death coincided with the end of the murders. But is that the only thing he has in common with Jack?
Druitt’s family was in agreement with Macnaghten that he was indeed, the Ripper. Both his age and his clean, presentable appearance matched what people believed the ripper to look like. There is also the fact that Druitt had no connection with the east end. It is possible that he could “have walked through Whitechapel on his way to visit his mother after her committal to the Brooke Asylum in Clapton in July 1888” (Sugden, 393). But even if that theory was correct, it would have put Druitt in Whitechapel in the summer, not during the time of the murders.
During the time that all of the murders took place, Druitt had rock solid alibis and there is and was no possible way to connect him to Whitechapel or the murdered women, leaving the police with a lack of not only motive, but means and opportunity as well.
The second suspect listed by Macnaghten is a man by the name of Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew who “lived in [‘the very’] heart of the district where the murders were committed” (mammoth, 98). He was only mentioned in the memorandum because he was “Swanson and Anderson’s chief suspect” (Roland 129). According to the memorandum, he had “become insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices” (Begg 320). According to The Jack the Ripper A-Z he had a long history of mental problems as well as a strong hatred towards women and had spent most of his life in asylums. He described his own movements as “altogether controlled by and instinct that informs his mind” and was described by his doctors at Colney Hatch to be “unoccupied” and “incoherent” (A-to-Z, 229). By April of 1894 he had become “demented and incoherent” and was transferred to Leavesden Asylum for Imbeciles (A-to-Z, 229). According to Paul Roland, “he was a docile imbecile for most of his life” up until closer to the end (Roland, 129). For this reason it is highly unlikely that he could have been capable of committing the murders. Macnaghtens writings contain many inaccuracies about Kosminski and the main conclusion is that even though he had the opportunity, he had not the means or the motive to kill the 5 women.
However, it is a well accepted fact that Kosminski had a strong hatred for women, “especially of the prostitute class” (A-to-Z 230). Unfortunately, throughout all the books, there is no record I have found to support this theory. It is thought that he “took up a knife and threatened the life of his sister” (A-to-Z, 228) There is no other mention of this incident in any other book is used for research that I could find so it is easy to argue that it never really happened.
The last suspect mentioned by Macnaghten is Michael Ostrog, who was a “habitual thief and a compulsive liar” yet again, there is very little evidence to suggest that he was Jack the Ripper (Roland, 130) Ostrog was a Russian immigrant who, for many years, associated himself with a life of crime. He spent many years in several different workhouses and was declared insane in September of 1887. Less than half a year later, he was released and left to wander around Whitechapel during the height of the murders. On October 26 1888, he missed a meeting at the police station and was “listed as dangerous. Yet he had exhibited no signs of violence” other than trying to commit suicide (Roland 131) It is highly probable that Ostrog was “in Paris, where he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for theft” (A-to-Z, 331) . While it is true that he fit the profile of the Ripper, he was never charged and he eventually disappeared in 1904. While he did have the opportunity and possibly a motive due to his insanity, did he have the means? There is little if any evidence of Ostrog even having a basic knowledge of the human anatomy and without that, it would be very difficult to do what the Ripper did.
But what if there was someone that the police had overlooked? According to Paul Roland, there is such a man, Jacob Levy. He states that, “the one tool that we have today which was not available to the police in 1888, and that is the… science of psychological profiling. The first rule of profiling is that a serial killer will almost always begin his criminal career close to home.” If you take that fact and other facts that are supplied by FBI criminal profilers, Roland believes that the “finger points at a suspect no one…has seriously considered before” (Roland, 198).
Jacob Levy was a crazy Jewish butcher who lived in the very middle of the “killing ground” with his wife and children. Levy had obtained syphilis from prostitutes earlier in his life which lead to paranoia and violent fits. Being a butcher, he also had a very basic knowledge of anatomy and “would have been untroubled handling, and perhaps even hoarding, human body parts as macabre trophies.” He also would have to ability to walk around the streets of Whitechapel covered in blood due to the fact that dozens of butchers and slaughtermen walked around town in the early hours of the morning. “He looked disarmingly normal and as such would have melted into the crowd.” (Roland 199-201)
It is fact that Jacob Levy matched the psychological and physical description of Jack the Ripper. He was the right height, 5’3”, and the right age, around 32 during the time of the murders. Also, all of the victims were found in walking distance of Levy’s home. His wife once admitted that “he does not sleep at nights and wanders around aimlessly for hours.” It also noted in his file at an asylum, “[he] fears that if he is not restrained he will do some violence to someone.” The last clue that leads Roland to believe that Levy is Jack is the fact that in the year Levy died, the “Scotland Yard officially closed the files on the Whitechapel murders.” (Roland 201)
So did Levy or any of the other suspects actually commit the atrocious murders? Depending on who you listen to, what books you read, and who you choose to believe, it is possible to make a legitimate case against almost anyone. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head to the left you can make yourself see whatever you want to. In spite of this, there is no actual evidence to incriminate anyone in the murders of the five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district in London. There is no proof, only the ideas of people who feel the need to have an answer. Life isn’t about finding answers. I think the moral of the story, whether there actually is one or not, is to be thankful for the time that we have because you never know when Jack the Ripper is going come around again!
Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper: the Definitive History. Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2005.
Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper: the Facts. London: Robson Books, 2004.
Begg, Paul, Martin Fido, and Keith Skinner. The Jack the Ripper a-Z. London: Headline Book, 1996.
Jakubowski, Maxim, and Nathan Braund, eds. The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf, 1999.
Ressler, Robert K., and Tom Scachtman. “Generalized Characteristics of Serial Murderers.” Criminal Profiling Research. 21 Apr. 2008 <http://www.criminalprofiling.ch/character.html>.
Roland, Paul. The Crimes of Jack the Ripper. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, INC., 2007.
Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf, 2002.