George Chapman, Aaron Kosminski, Charles Cross, Carl Feigenbaum, even Prince Albert Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria – these are just a few of the names that have been suspected at some time or another of being the real Jack the Ripper.
The 1888 Whitechapel murders have been a source of fascination for coming up to 150 years now. The grisly nature of the murders, the dark and dingy setting in the poverty stricken back streets of East London with their confusing and changing names, the social and cultural influences of the time, the lack of detective and forensic knowledge and techniques that we take for granted today – all have contributed to the fact that we have never learnt the true identity of the real Jack the Ripper.
Any lack of arrests at the time of the murders (and subsequently) was down to one significant factor- there was no real evidence.
George Chapman, for example, also known as Severin Klosowski, was a Polish immigrant living in the East End of London during the time of the murders. From 1897 George Chapman underwent a number of relationships that all ended in the death of the woman. Mary Spink, Bessie Taylor, and Maud Marsh all passed away early on in the relationship. When Maud Marsh’s family became suspicious, their family doctor ordered an exhumation of the previous two wives, and poison was found in their systems.
As a result, George Chapman was arrested, found guilty of murder, and executed in 1903. It was after his death that connections started to be made between George Chapman and the Jack the Ripper murders. For example, he arrived in London as an immigrant around the same time as the first murder. He was located in the same area and emigrated temporarily to America at the time that the murders stopped.
However, it was clear that any evidence was circumstantial and coincidental. Plus, there was no reasonable explanation as to why someone who murdered the Canonical Five so violently would then turn to a more quietly insidious method of poisoning.
Victorian London was a confusing place to live. At the time of the murders, there were many streets carrying the same name or having undergone various name changes just to add to the confusion. There were two White Rows, two John Streets, two Montagues Streets, three Church Streets, three Devonshire Streets, three George Streets, all close to one another. In fact, one George Street in Whitechapel was directly parallel to another.
This kaleidoscope of streets (many of which no longer exist) threw a lot of the facts that influenced the hunt for the real Jack the Ripper into jeopardy. In which George Street was the Satchell Lodging House located? This was the boarding house where Martha Tabram was living at the time of her murder. Although some of the confusion was cleared up, it all added to the overall emergence of doubt and obfuscation when pinpointing the identity of the real Jack the Ripper.
Much speculation has been cast on the identity of Charles Cross as Jack the Ripper in later years due to the fact that he gave a false name when reporting to the police the fact that he had found the freshly murdered body of Mary Nichols.
It was only 125 years after the murder that the fact was unearthed that he had lied about his identity – and that threw up a whole new raft of questions and debates. It transpired that Charles Cross was actually Charles Lechmere.
Had he given a false name because he was actually interrupted as he was leaving the scene of the crime, having carried out the murder himself?
Again, any evidence is circumstantial, and the narrative worked into proving or disproving the accusation – which leaves us no closer to discovering the identity of the real Jack the Ripper.
Aaron Kosminski is probably the most well-known of suspects and is linked to the one piece of physical evidence that has since been put through modern forensic tests – Catherine Eddowes’ shawl. The blood stained shawl was allegedly found on the body of Catherine Eddowes when her body was discovered. It was later removed from official police evidence and passed down through the generations of a mysterious family until it was bought in an auction by author Russel Edwards in 2014.
Several DNA tests were carried out on the shawl, which unearthed mitochondrial DNA that matched descendants of both Catherine Eddowes and Aaron Kosminski.
The great gaping gap in this forensic evidence, though, is that there is no official record of the shawl being found on the body or taken in evidence. The story is just that – a story, so the true provenance of the shawl cannot be firmly linked to Aaron Kosminski as the real Jack the Ripper.
Once again, any connections between Aaron Kosminski and the murder are circumstantial and coincidental. Producing forensic evidence 130 years after the event means it is difficult to create enough of a case to get Kosminski arrested – particularly as he has been dead for the best part of a century.
The truth is we will never get to the bottom of understanding who the real Jack the Ripper was, and chances are the police never even came across the true suspect. Do you have your own theory? We would love to hear your thoughts on one of our walking tours. Book your tickets today and tell us what you think.