Into the Mind of Jack the Ripper: A Comparison of the FBI’s 1988 Criminal Profile to the Suspect Aaron Kosminski
The case of Jack the Ripper is considered to be one of the most infamous murder mysteries of the twentieth century. Many aspects of the gruesome murders that occurred during the fall of 1888 still remain a mystery today. Many individuals remain interested in the ripper case, and continue to investigate different aspects and evidence involving the case. However, despite ripperologists’ relentless investigation, the true identity of Jack the Ripper has yet to be unveiled. Over the century, numerous suspects have been suggested as the true ripper. Suspects range from individuals of various monetary backgrounds, nationalities, and motives. Some individuals point to conspiracy theories or claim that the ripper was a distinguished person such as author Lewis Carroll or Prince Albert Victor. However, with every suggested suspect, another wave of argument, inconsistencies, and discrepancies follow closely behind. In reality, no suspect fits the ripper case with enough certainty to be overwhelmingly deemed as the perpetrator. Thus, despite the numerous suspects of Jack the Ripper, it is doubtful that the real perpetrator was or has been a suspect in the investigation.
However, the passage of time since the murders has not deterred many legitimate investigatory services from lending their skills and opinions regarding the identity of the assailant. In 1988, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved in the ripper case and compiled a criminal profile of the ripper based on the evidence found at the crime scenes of the canonical five victims. Based on the FBI’s criminal profile of the perpetrator and evidence of the ripper case, the most likely suspect that currently exists is Aaron Kosminski, a polish Jew that lived in Whitechapel during the murders and was committed to a mental institution in 1891. Based on the current lists of suspects, Aaron Kosminski best fits the FBI profile. Since then, other professional investigators and ripperologists have stated their belief that Kosminski is the most likely suspect. Also, much case evidence exists to suggest that Kosminski’s guilt was the belief of lead investigators Sir Robert Peel and Chief Robert Swanson after the murders during the early twentieth century.
Due to conflicting records and a general lack of information, much of Aaron Kosminski’s early life remains unknown. It is generally believed that Kosminski was born in 1864 or 1865 in Klodawa, Poland. He lived briefly in Germany before emigrating to England in 1882 when he was seventeen (Begg 331). He had a brother named Woolf and at least two sisters named Betsy and Matilda. Little is known about his parents, and it is believed that his father was not present in his life from an early age (he did not emigrate with the family to England). Also, the whereabouts of Kosminski’s mother remain unknown until 1891, and it is possible that she was absent during much of his adolescence (Casebook 7).
Family interviews and records indicate that during the first few years after emigrating to England, Kosminski worked as a hairdresser in East End and never married (Begg 331). On July 12, 1890, Kosminski was admitted to the Mile End Old Town Workhouse at the insistence of his brother. According to workhouse records (which was probably information given by Woolf Kosminski at the time of admittance) states that Aaron Kosminski resided at 3 Sion Square and had been insane for two years (Begg 331).
Kosminski was discharged on July 15, 1890, only three days later, into the care of his brother (Begg 331). Little is known regarding his condition for the next several months until he was readmitted to the same workhouse on February 4, 1891. Again, he was discharged from the workhouse three days later and sent to the colony lunatic asylum at Colony Hatch (Begg 334). During his admittance to Colony Hatch, an initial physical and emotional examination was given. This proved to be a wealth of information regarding Kosminski’s mental status. According to Paul Begg, the examination noted that Kosminski had been “insane for six years (since 1885)”, suffered physically from self-abuse, was manic and incoherent, had a fair physical state, and was not dangerous to others, suicidal, or epileptic (Begg 334). Doctor E.K. Houchin declared Kosminski insane stating, “He declares that he is guided and his movements altogether controlled by an instinct that informs his mind; he says that he knows the movements of all mankind; he refuses food from the gutter for the same reason” (Sugden 402). Dr. Houchin continued commenting on his unclean, disheveled appearance and the fact that he had been unemployed for several years (Sugden 402). It was also noted in the report that Kosminski had allegedly threatened his sister with a knife (Begg 335, Sugden 402).
Kosminski’s approximate three year stay at Colony Hatch was marked by “aural hallucinations” (Sugden 403), visual hallucinations, refusal to work, uncleanliness, and before being discharged was described as “demented and incoherent” (Sugden 403). Only one report described him as being violent when he “took up a chair, and attempted to strike the charge attendant” on January 9, 1892 (Sugden 403). On April 19, 1894, Kosminski was transferred to Leavesden Asylum, where he remained for the last twenty five years of his life. His emotional and physical health deteriorated until he died March 24, 1919 (Scott 1).
The identity of Aaron Kosminski as a suspect remained unknown for many decades after the murder investigation had ceased. In 1907, Sir Robert Anderson’s book, Criminals and Crime, claimed that Jack the Ripper had been identified years ago, had been “safely caged in an asylum”, and had not written the ‘Jack the Ripper’ letter (Sugden 397). Further details were revealed in Anderson’s memoir, The Lighter Side of My Official Life, published in 1910. According to his writing, the ripper was a low-class Jew that lived in the vicinity of the murders. He continued stating, “The only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer” positively identified the suspect, but refused to testify once he learned “that the suspect was a fellow-Jew” (Sugden 398).
The identity of this suspect remained unknown until 1959, when a copy of Sir Mellville Macnaghten’s draft report of 1894 was released to the public. According to Macnaghten, Kosminski, a polish Jew suffering from insanity, was second on the list of probable suspects (Sugden 399). The latest evidence regarding Kosminski was revealed in 1981. Sir Robert Anderson’s memoirs, annotated by Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson, were found among some of Swanson’s old belongings. His annotations convey his belief that Kosminski was the polish Jew that Anderson had referred to in his writings. In the margins, Swanson had noted that the witness refused to testify because the suspect was a fellow Jew and he did not wish to be responsible for his execution. He also stated that “after this identification… no other murder of this kind took place in London” (Sugden 400). According to Swanson’s notes, Kosminski was watched by the police between workhouse stints and died shortly after he was admitted to Colney Hatch (Sugden 400).
Nearly seven years later, the FBI released a profile for the Jack the Ripper murders. When considering the suspects individually, each suspect possessed similarities with the profile. However, Aaron Kosminski possesses more similarities than any other suspect to date. He was a white male with 28 to 36 years of age. He was most likely single, never married, had poor hygiene/disheveled appearance, but blended in with the poor crowd of East End. As the FBI profile suggests, Kosminski is noted in medical records as possessing diminished emotional response and a low self-image (Sugden 403). He most likely lived and worked in Whitechapel, close to the murders. Also, Kosminski had no medical knowledge or surgical expertise necessary to commit the crimes, was of average intelligence (lucky not clever), and was a victim of a broken home (Rossmo 11). The profile stated that the perpetrator was interviewed by the police at some point during the investigation and did not write any of the “Jack the Ripper Letters”. Similar to the suggestions of the profile, Kosminski was mentally disturbed, behaved erratically, but did not commit suicide (Rossmo 11). This last point regarding the perpetrator’s mental status is especially crucial when distinguishing Kosminski from other suspects. Finally, the FBI profile indicated the belief that the perpetrator resided very close to where the murders took place, and it is apparent that Kosminski resided very near the center of canonical five murders (House 14).
Although the profile suggests many similarities, it is important to understand that the ripper profile does not fit any subject perfectly. Many aspects of the profile cannot be related to Kosminski, because details from his earlier life remain unknown. For example, the profile suggests that the perpetrator had difficulty interacting with individuals, especially women (Rossmo 11). However, no medical records indicate that Kosminski ever had difficulty with women in particular. It also suggests that the assailant desired control and dominance over others (Rossmo11). Medical records described that although Kosminski exhibited manic symptoms, he was docile and withdrawn at other times (Sugden 403). No evidence suggests indicating that he was of particularly controlling nature, and several hospital assessments indicated doctors’ beliefs that he was not violent. The profile suggests that the perpetrator most likely possessed a solitary menial job Monday through Friday, however, the hospital records indicated that Kosminski had been unemployed for years. Due to the fact that little is known regarding Kosminski’s childhood, it is difficult to corroborate the FBI’s beliefs that he was raised by “a dominant female figure who drank heavily, consorted with different men, and physically, possibly sexually, abused him” (Rossmo 11). It is not known if Kosminski set fires or abused animals as a child. Finally, the profile indicated that the perpetrator most likely was nocturnal, drank in local pubs, and was witnessed walking around Whitechapel at night. However, no known information regarding Kosminski exists to describe his sleep or living patterns, and only one witness positively identified Kosminski (Sugden 409).
There are other factual discrepancies that prevent Kosminski from being labeled the ripper as well. One such issue is the fact that Kosminski was not admitted to Colony Hatch until 1891, two years after the murders stopped. Thus, it is misleading for Swanson to have claimed that no brutal murders had occurred after Kosminski was admitted to an asylum. In reality, the murders ceased nearly two years before his admittance.
Secondly, Kosminski did not die soon after entering Colony Hatch, but lived there for twenty eight years (Sugden 401). Anderson’s unfortunate error casts a question of credibility on his all of his statements regarding the suspect.
Finally, that the positive identification of Kosminski by the unknown witness occurred nearly two years after the murder. Sugden, along with many others, believe that the witness was most likely Joseph Lawende (Sugden 407). Even though Anderson stated that the witness immediately identified the suspect, it is doubtful that this identification could withstand in a court of law.
Regardless of these controversial factors related to the investigation, Kosminski has been identified by many investigators as the most likely suspect for the murders. In his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, John Douglas, one of the most acclaimed FBI criminal profilers, identified Kosminski as the most likely candidate for the murders.
Although Kosminski seemed to fit my profile and evaluation, I cautioned…that a hundred years after the fact, I could not prove that he was the actual killer. What I said was that Jack the Ripper would either be Aaron Kosminski or someone like the man I was describing. And I stand by that (Douglas and Olshaker 79).
Other investigators have identified Kosminski as the most likely suspect as well. Christopher Scott, author of “Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands”, described other incidences in which Kosminski was named as a lead suspect.
Of all the established suspects, one of the perennial frontrunners is Aaron Kosminski. 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 murder of the suspects whose cases were laid before them (Scott 1).
Despite the inconsistencies in historical records and the unanswered questions regarding his childhood and whereabouts between the murders and his institutionalization, Kosminski remains the most likely candidate out of the few most popular ripper suspects. This belief is shared by a variety of professional investigators and ripperologists, and it appears as if Sir Robert Anderson and Chief Inspector Robert Swanson believed this as well. The FBI profile, although created nearly a century later, suggests that Kosminski best fits the criteria for the ripper based on evidence found at the crime scenes. Discrepancy and controversy exist when questioning the validity of every popular ripper suspect. Thus, even though Kosminski is the most likely assailant, the ripper may have never been considered a suspect by police. Due to the continuing controversy and time that has elapsed, it is probable identity of Jack the Ripper will forever remain a mystery.
Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History. Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2005.
Douglas, John and Mark Olshaker. The Cases that Haunt Us. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
House, Robert. “Aaron Kosminski Reconsidered.” Casebook: Jack the Ripper. 20 April 2009 .
Rossmo, Kim. “Jack the Ripper.” Center for Geospacial Intelligence and Investigation. 15 April 2009 .
Scott, Christopher. “Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands.” 2004. Casebook: Jack the Ripper. 17 April 2009 .
Sugden, Philip. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper: New Edition. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002.