Through over one hundred twenty years of investigations, there have been dozens of assumptions made as to the identity of the serial killer notoriously known as Jack the Ripper. As the murders began to occur in the fall of 1888, accusations immediately began surfacing as to the profile of the killer. Questions flew as paranoia increased; each citizen of the East End began to wonder if they had encountered the killer. It could have been anyone—neighbors, friends, barbers, or even the average person on the street that offers a nod and a smile as they walk quickly by in order to continue with their daily business. Although there were many who imagined that they knew the identity of the Ripper, however, there is only one man who fits the profile relatively perfectly, and even the holes in his story can be filled upon further analysis. Severin Klosowski—also commonly known as George Chapman—was a gentlemen who had all the makings of a serial killer; he fit the profile of the Ripper, the movements and changes in his life fit the schedule of the Ripper murders seamlessly, and the later poisoning of three of his “wives” demonstrated that he was capable of senseless, cold-blooded murder while remaining completely apathetic. Many of the investigators present at his trial would later call him “a real villain” that was “capable of almost anything,” thus reasserting the belief that Klosowski certainly had the potential to be the infamous Jack the Ripper who wreaked havoc on London over a decade earlier.
Severin Klosowski was born on December 14, 1865 in a small village in Russian-occupied Poland. He was raised as a Roman Catholic by his parents, Antonio and Emilie Klosowski, and after completing primary school was apprenticed to Moshko Rappaport in Zwolen, Poland, approximately ninety kilometers south of Warsaw. Between the years of 1880 and 1885, Klosowski would train as a feldscher—an occupation that combined the roles of barber and minor surgeon—and consequently he would be qualified to perform small operations by himself or to assist in major surgeries carried out by fully qualified surgeons. Eventually, however, Klosowski became restless and traveled to Warsaw at the young age of nineteen. He intended to become a fully qualified surgeon, and took a job as an assistant to a barber-surgeon in order to finance his schooling. Although he took a course on practical surgery at the Hospital of Infant Jesus in Warsaw and studied at the Warsaw Society of Assistant Surgeons, for a reason unbeknownst to researchers Klosowski would drop out of school. It is most commonly believed that Klosowski’s first legal wife in Poland became pregnant, which prompted Klosowski to leave school in order to pursue a career in which he could provide for his family. His whereabouts for the early months of 1888 remain unclear, however, but at some point—probably in the spring of 1888—Klosowski immigrated to London (Emlsey 239-240).
Shortly after his move, Klosowski found a job as a hairdresser’s assistant and even began caring for the ill son under the pretenses that he was a qualified doctor, prompting a string of lies to begin. Klosowski would find his next job with a barber whose shop was in the basement under a public house on Whitechapel High Street, where he was working in the autumn of 1888. At this point, he was introducing himself as Ludwig Zagowski, and was interviewed multiple times by police when 35-year-old prostitute Martha Tabram—sometimes referred to as the first victim of Jack the Ripper—was stabbed thirty nine times in the early hours of the morning on August 6, 1888. The murder occurred within a stone’s throw of Klosowski’s place of employment, and it was later proven that at the time, the twenty-two year old had taken up solitary rooms in George Yard Dwellings—the very building in which Tabram was murdered (Gordon xiv).
Despite regular questioning, nothing ever came of the investigation surrounding the murder. The identity of the murderer remained unknown, and Klosowski resumed his life as usual. By June of 1889 he had established his own barber’s shop and had referred back to his real name, and it was at this point that he married Lucy Baderski after meeting her only five weeks earlier (Schachner 1). Unfortunately, Klosowski was still legally married to his first wife who had remained in Poland, and upon hearing the news of his new relations she moved to London in an attempt to “oust” Baderski. The two women appear to have cohabited Klosowski’s residence for a time, but after Baderski bore Klosowski’s son in September of 1890 his first wife gave up and returned to Poland. Klosowski and Baderski’s relationship became strained, however, when their son died of pneumonia only a few months later on March 3, 1891 (Schachner 1).
Less than one month following the death of their son, the couple decided to immigrate to New Jersey in order to establish a new life. Klosowski established his own barbershop in the United States, and soon after his arrival in the area four murders occurred that were said to have resembled the Jack the Ripper murders of a few years earlier in London. The most striking murder was that of an elderly prostitute named Carrie Brown, or “Old Shakespeare” for her “affinity for quoting the author when drunk” (Schachner 3). She was murdered in a common lodging house in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 24, 1891, and it was later determined that she had been strangled and then “savagely mutilated” (Schachner 3). Although a gentleman was arrested for the murder at the time, he was later considered innocent and the true culprit, according to many, was never found. Klosowski would not be considered as a suspect until the later murders of his supposed “wives”, but the coordination of the London and New Jersey murders with his movements worldwide are certainly something to take into consideration. At the time of the Brown murder, Klosowski and Baderski had found their relationship unraveling, and fights between them began to lead to violence on his behalf. In the trial against Klosowski in the early twentieth century, Baderski would claim that at one point Klosowski threatened her with a knife, telling her that he would simply inform everyone that she had returned to London so that no one would question her sudden disappearance. By February of the following year Baderski was six months pregnant and had had enough; as a result, she returned to London and moved in with her sister Mary. On May 12, 1891 she gave birth to a baby girl, and two weeks later Klosowski would return to London to see his new child. They briefly reconciled, but soon parted permanently despite a lack of divorce (Emsley 244). Curiously, Klosowski’s whereabouts are completely unknown between May of 1891 and the autumn of 1893, although it is believed that he may have returned to the United States based on paperwork that was found upon his arrest in 1902.
Up to this point, there are several suspicious aspects of Klosowski’s life that make him the perfect suspect for the Jack the Ripper murders. He had surgical expertise, he had a blatant disrespect for women, he had demonstrated violence—specifically with a knife—toward his wife, and his movements coincided perfectly with the times of the murders. These similarities, however, would not be the only things that demonstrated Klosowski’s ability to be a cold-blooded murderer. Upon returning to London, Klosowski became an assistant in yet another hairdressing salon, and while working there he met Annie Chapman. He asked her to become his housekeeper and she agreed, moving in with him in November 1893. It was not long before they began calling themselves husband and wife even though they had never been married, but by the end of January Chapman left Klosowski after he brought home another woman to share their bed. She would be forced to return, however, after discovering that she was pregnant with Klosowski’s child; she solicited Klosowski for supportive funds but he denied that it was his child and refused to have anything to do with her. Chapman had few options considering she was not his wife and had no legal claim on him, so she left for good in February of 1894 after he claimed that he was moving away (Emsley 242). Although she was unable to get anything from Klosowski, he certainly took something from her. From that point on, he used the name George Chapman–essentially his previous lover’s name (Annie Georgina Chapman) with all of the feminine aspects removed (Gordon 136). He would never revert back to his real name, even as he was about to be hung.
Following his split with Chapman, Klosowski returned to the East End as a hairdresser, and began posing as an American who was orphaned when young. He was always elegantly dressed and known for his easiness in attracting women, and as a result he had no problems getting what he wanted upon meeting Mary Spink, who was thirty-nine years old at the time. She was the estranged wife of a railway porter with two children, but this did not faze Klosowski as he moved into her lodging house only a few weeks after their meeting. One day the landlord found them kissing on the stairs, and told Klosowski that there was to be “no such carrying on” in the lodging house. Klosowski quickly responded that they were soon to be married, and on October 27, 1895, Klosowski and Spink donned their Sunday best and left the house early, returning only a few hours later to say that they had been married in a Roman Catholic Church in London (Emsley 245). In reality no marriage had taken place, but this did not stop Klosowski from convincing his often-drunk “wife” that she should transfer the six hundred pounds that she had inherited from her grandfather into his bank account. Chapman used a small amount of the money to purchase his own barber shop, and installed a piano so that Mary could play and sing while customers were waiting for service. Klosowski also purchased a sailing boat named the “Mosquito”, but he would not spend any more of the money until later in his life.
Upon later investigations into Klosowski’s life, witnesses of the couple said that they would often hear Mary cry out, and that she bore the marks of blows to her face and throat on several occasions. Things got worse when on April 3, 1897, Klosowski visited the shop of a pharmacist who he was on friendly terms with and purchased a bottle of antimony potassium tartrate. In November of 1897 Klosowski began poisoning Spinks, and by December a doctor had been called in. However, the doctor simply diagnosed tuberculosis and prescribed medicine that was ineffective, completely oblivious to the possibility of poisoning. Spinks continued growing weaker and weaker, and one woman who attended to Spinks in her illness said that Klosowski always “displayed a rather ambivalent attitude towards his wife. On the one hand he insisted on giving her medicine himself and sent [the nurses] out of the room when he did so, and he also pressed her to take brandy, although whenever she had either the medicine or the brandy the vomiting began soon afterwards. Clearly both were poisoned. On the day she died he shed a few tears, but to the amazement of the two women who had been nursing Mary, he went downstairs and opened the pub as usual” (Emsley 248). Spinks passed away on Christmas day, 1897 and was buried five days later, but her death did little to faze Klosowski. He sent Spink’s orphaned son Willie to Shoreditch workhouse on May 20, 1899 and would never see him again (Emsley 248).
Only a few weeks following Spink’s death—even while still in possession of Spink’s son—Klosowski advertised for a pub assistant and chose Bessie Taylor, who was thirty two years old and also susceptible to Klosowski’s spell. They were sharing lodgings after only a few weeks and began to tell others that they were man and wife. On July 18, 1898 a check for fifty pounds arrived from Taylor’s father as a wedding gift, and it was promptly deposited into Klosowski’s bank account. Using the money from Spink’s inheritance, the couple moved to Bishops Stortford, but during the Christmas of 1898 the couple was going through a rough patch in which eyewitnesses claimed that Klosowski would threaten and hit Taylor, but Taylor wouldn’t leave for fear of retaliation on the part of her “husband” (Emsley 249). In the first months of 1899 the couple returned to London, and by December of 1900 Taylor had begun to fall victim to antimony potassium tartrate. Once again, the advice and treatments of a doctor did no good, and while Taylor lay sick in bed Klosowski proceeded to pursue several of Taylor’s friends who had come to visit. Taylor proved to be stronger than Klosowski had anticipated, however, as she continued to recover following bouts of poisoning. Meanwhile, Taylor’s mother had come to care for her and kept a watchful eye on Klosowski, meaning that he was unable to give Taylor the small regular doses of antimony that he had been giving her in the past; consequently, he decided to give her a single large dose on the evening of February 12, 1901. She died a few hours later at 1:30 am on February 13, 1901, and the doctor was quick to determine that the cause of death was intestinal obstruction, vomiting and exhaustion. No further investigation was made into the murder, and Klosowski claimed poverty so that the Taylor family would be forced to pay for the funeral (Emsley 250).
Once again, Klosowski was quick to overcome the death of his “wife” and responded to an ad in the newspaper written by eighteen-year-old Maud Marsh, who was seeking a job as a barmaid. Klosowski conducted an interview with Marsh, whose mother accompanied her due to her young age. Klosowski told Mrs. Marsh that he was a widower and that Maud would be required to live on the premises of the pub so as to be available for work, and upon skepticism by Mrs. Marsh, Klosowski reassured her that Maud would be living with a family that rented a room in the lodging house above the pub. All of this was a lie, of course, as Klosowski had already taken a fancy to Marsh and delayed her coming to the lodging house until he could evict the family that had been living upstairs. By the time Marsh arrived, they were the only two residents in the building and, upon receiving the persistent attentions of Klosowski, Marsh agreed to marry Klosowski upon his sudden proposal (Emsley 252). Klosowski was upset, however, when Marsh stated that they would not share a bed until after the wedding—he was hoping to be able to avoid another charade of marriage, but instead put on his Sunday best yet again and on October 13, 1901, the couple set off to be married at a Roman Catholic church. When Marsh’s mother would ask to see the marriage certificate, however, Maud replied that Klosowski had already put it with his other paperwork, and Mrs. Marsh did not press the point.
Shortly after the “marriage”, Klosowski set fire to his pub in an attempt to collect insurance money, but investigators became aware of his plan when they discovered that all of the furniture and valuables had been removed from the premises before it was set on fire. The insurance company refused to pay and Klosowski was forced to buy another pub; shortly after, Marsh became pregnant. In April, Klosowski persuaded her to allow him to carry out an abortion by syringing her womb with a dilute solution of phenol—although it was clear that his motives were simply so that he would not have to deal with a child ruining his womanizing fantasies. As if only to reinforce his point, Klosowski soon began pursuing Florence Rayner, a new barmaid that had been hired by Marsh in June of 1902. Even though Rayner was the first to reject his attentions by reminding him that he had a good wife, Marsh soon became aware of Klosowski and Rayner’s flirtations and was quick to release Rayner of her duties (Schachner 3). Angering Klosowski proved to be a fatal mistake, and by July Marsh had fallen ill due to poisoning by antimony. This time, however, Klosowski had to deal with Marsh’s overprotective family, who insisted on her staying in a hospital despite Klosowski’s protestations. She was discharged from the hospital after only a few weeks after showing great improvement while out of Klosowski’s “care”, but soon after Klosowski began setting meals aside for Marsh so that she could “have lunch” while working in the pub; Marsh fell extremely ill yet again, and Klosowski maintained his façade by going to a local doctor’s office and asking for some medicine (Emsley 253). He made the enormous mistake of confiding in the doctor that he and Marsh weren’t married, however, which would later come back to haunt him.
Klosowski quickly “made himself responsible for all Maud’s needs and was never out of her sight for more than a few minutes…he insisted that all that she ate and drank must only be given by him” so that he could slip large amounts of poison into her food and drink. Marsh’s father found this behavior extremely suspicious, and called in his own doctor as a result. The doctor that Mr. Marsh called in happened to be the very doctor that Klosowski had confided in, and the doctor was quick to inform the Marsh family that their daughter was unwed and, unfortunately, approaching her death. Although Mr. Marsh denied this and told Klosowski that he believed his daughter would pull through, Klosowski responded by saying “she will never get up no more”—thus showing his cold-blooded enjoyment of watching his lover die a slow and horrible death (Emsley 255). In order to ensure her death, Klosowski made the second mistake of placing a poisoned bottle of brandy next to Maud’s bed. That night, both Maud and her mother drank the brandy, and upon becoming extremely ill Mrs. Marsh had discovered exactly how her daughter was dying. It was too late to save Maud’s life, however, and she passed away on October 22. Once again, Klosowski opened the pub only thirty minutes after Marsh’s death, and carried on as if the death had not occurred at all.
Although Klosowski had gotten away with two murders prior to Marsh’s death, he soon discovered that his luck had run out. The Maud family’s suspicions resulting in a full investigation of Klosowski’s past life, and eventually all three of his deceased “wives” were exhumed and examined. When Mary Spinks’ grave was opened in December of 1902—five years after her death—her body was virtually unchanged due to the preserving characteristic of the antimony. More than ninety milligrams of antimony were found in the parts of her body analyzed by examiners, and most of the poison was found in her liver and bowels, meaning that she had been given a large dose of antimony shortly before she died. Similarly, after twenty-one months underground, the body of Bessie Taylor was exhumed and the body was completely free of decomposition. There were 693 milligrams of antimony in her body, and it was determined that the last amount given to her was over 600 milligrams—“the largest amount ever recorded in the victim of antimony poison” (Emsley 256). Finally, the body of Maud Marsh was analyzed and 477 milligrams of antimony were discovered, proving once and for all that Klosowski was a cold-blooded killer. By this point, Klosowski had realized that the police were suspicious of him and had disposed of the antimony, cloths, towels, and bedding that had been present when Marsh had died. However, he still had the label from the original bottle of poison that he purchased five years earlier, providing the police with enough proof to arrest him on October 25, 1902. On December 18, the jury returned a verdict of death by willful murder after only ten minutes of deliberation, and Klosowski spent several months in Wandsworth Prison (Emsley 257). He never admitted to being Severin Klosowski, even when Lucy Baderski returned to visit him following the trial. In the end, he was executed by hanging as George Chapman on April 7, 1903, alone and with no one there to stand in his defense.
Following the death of Klosowski, a whirlwind of suspicions began to arise regarding whether or not he could have been the Ripper. As investigators went through his paperwork following his arrest, they noticed that his movements between London and the United States coincided perfectly with the dates of the Ripper murders, and due to his ability to apathetically watch his lovers slowly die, it seemed completely plausible that he was capable of doing much more. In addition, Klosowski fit the profile of the Ripper as determined from witness reports: he was of medium height, blue eyes, dark hair, and probably sported a formidable moustache turned up at the ends at the time of the Ripper murders in the fall of 1888 (Sugden 451). Klosowski also liked to dress fastidiously with a black coat, patent boots, and a high hat, and he was of foreign roots. In regard to his age at the time of his murders, Inspector Abberline stated that the only discrepancy that he had noted “is that the people who alleged that they saw Jack the Ripper at one time or another, state that he was a man about thirty-five or forty years of age. They, however, state that they only saw his back, and it is easy to misjudge age from a back view” (Gordon 150). In fact, eyewitness testimony during his murder trial in 1903 indicated that Klosowski looked significantly older than his twenty-three years at the time of the murders, and it was therefore very possible that he was indeed the murderer.
In addition to physical characteristics, Klosowski had many of the mental characteristics of a serial killer. He had an outrageous sexual drive, he was a misogynist, and was a known multicide—something which was not true with any of the other suspects. In fact, few men that were considered at the time had even committed one murder, much less serial murder such as that committed by the Ripper (Schachner 3). Klosowski also had medical knowledge and surgical skill, was out of regular work, was single at the time of the Ripper murders, and was free of family entanglements—all aspects of the criminal profile of the Ripper. In addition, according to Lucy Baderski, he was in the habit of staying out late into the early hours of the morning and, as was proven by his lifestyle, he was a lifelong womanizer who had very little respect for women and, as a result, may well have been a regular patron of prostitutes. Also, according to several witnesses, Klosowski was a “tiger” whose “heart was masked by the most insinuating and snake refinement” (Sugden 460). He “had the medical qualifications, the opportunity, the appearance, the cunning and the cruelty to have been Jack the Ripper,” and according to H.L. Adam, who was present at Chapman’s trial, “I got the impression that he was a particularly callous murderer. When most people in court were horrified he appeared to be amused. On one occasion, while a sarcastic smile was spreading over his face, he caught sight of me watching him. Immediately he straightened his face and assumed a serious expression” (Sugden 451).
In essence, Klosowski was a professional liar with a permanent façade; over the course of his lifetime he had presented four names (Severin Klosowski, Ludwig Zagowski, George Chapman, and “Smith”), two nationalities (Polish and American), and two faiths (Roman Catholic and Jewish). He was obviously cruel and apathetic to the suffering of others, and clearly demonstrated blatant disrespect for the women in his life as well as the potential for violent behavior with the threatening of Lucy Baderski with a knife while in the United States. When one adds in the fact that the date of his arrival in London coincides with the beginning of the Ripper murders and the date of his departure for the United States coincides with the ceasing of the murders—as well as the fact that similar murders arose in the vicinity in New Jersey—it is undeniable that Klosowski is the strongest suspect for the Ripper murders. In addition, Klosowski’s guilt is supported by the location of his residence at the time—he lived in the immediate area of all of the murder scenes—and the fact that Inspector Abberline himself believed that Klosowski had the potential to be the murderer. As Abberline stated upon the arrest and trial of Klosowski in 1902, “I have been so struck with the remarkable coincidences in the two series of murders…that I cannot help feeling that this is the man we struggled so hard to capture fifteen years ago” (Gordon 147). When the lead investigator on a case expresses his interest in a possible suspect, it would be foolish not to listen; therefore, Abberline’s statements should not be taken lightly and Klosowski should certainly be considered the leading suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders.
One of the most significant objections to Klosowski’s guilt as the Ripper is the change in modus operandi between the Ripper killings and the poisoning of his “wives” several years later. However, this objection can quickly be overcome following the analysis of the opinions of several experts—both from the time of the Ripper murders and from modern-day society. Inspector Abberline stated in the early twentieth century that he
cannot see why one man should not have done both, provided he had the professional knowledge, and this is admitted in Chapman’s case. A man who could watch his wives being slowly tortured to death by poison, as he did, was capable of anything; and the fact that he should have attempted, in such a cold-blooded manner, to murder his first wife with a knife in New Jersey, makes one more inclined to believe in the theory that he was mixed up in the two series of crimes…if the theory be accepted that a man who takes life on a wholesale scale never ceases his accursed habit until he is either arrested or dies, there is much to be said for Chapman’s consistency. You see, incentive changes; but the fiendishness is not eradicated. (Gordon 153)
Perhaps a more academic standpoint comes from John Douglas of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who stated that “some criminologists and behavioral scientists have written that perpetrators maintain their modus operandi, and that this is what links so-called signature crimes. This conclusion is incorrect. Subjects will change their modus operandi as they gain experience. This is learned behavior” (Sugden 461). In conclusion, although Klosowski’s change in modus operandi may seem like a difficult point to overcome in declaring him to be Jack the Ripper, it is by no means impossible. There have been many serial killers in history that have effortlessly changed their method of killing for any number of reasons, and there is nothing to prove that Klosowski was not simply one of those unique serial killers. Regardless, one cannot deny that there are countless facts supporting Klosowski as Jack the Ripper, while there is only one that threatens to maintain his innocence.
Over the course of one hundred twenty years of investigations there have been dozens of accusations as to the identity of Jack the Ripper; however, investigators do not need to look any further. From his physical characteristics to his mental capacity, Severin Klosowski certainly fits the profile. When combined with the concurrence of his transnational movements with the Ripper murders as well as his demonstrated capability of cold-blooded multicide, it is hardly debatable that Klosowski was indeed the infamous Jack the Ripper who spread fear across London throughout the fall of 1888.
Emsley, John. The Elements of Murder. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Gordon, R. Michael. The American Murders of Jack the Ripper. Guilford: The Lyons Press, 2003.
Schachner, Thomas. “George Chapman.” Casebook. 2009. 5 April 2009.
Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. New York: Carrol and Graf Publishers, 1994.