The Top Five Jack the Ripper Suspects

DATED: 24.04.18

Warning - this article contains graphic content.

For over 130 years, the murders committed by Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel, London, have baffled the world.

Officially known as the Whitechapel murders, they started in the year 1888 during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and have continued to fascinate armchair detectives ever since.

The killer was known by many names during the so-called Autumn of Terror - "Whitechapel Jack”, “Leather Apron”, “Red Jack,” and of course, “Jack the Ripper”. Whoever he was, most researchers feel he was the person behind the murders of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. However, some believe that Jack the Ripper could have been responsible for as many as eleven murders in and around the impoverished area of London’s East End between 1888 and 1891.

After the largest criminal manhunt in British history, the police had interviewed over 8,000 people, shortlisting over 300 suspects and detaining 95 others. Eventually, the London police force conceded that they were never going to catch the elusive fiend.

130 years and hours of careful study and research later, most historians have outlined the five most candidates most likely to be Jack the Ripper.

If you’d like to find our more about the suspects and Jack The Ripper, click here to book yourself on to London’s Number One Tour.

The five main Jack the Ripper suspects are:

Montague John Druitt

london at nightThe Jack the Ripper murders ended as abruptly as they started, with many feeling the killer had either died or been locked away.

One London detective, Sir Melville McNaughton, was convinced the Ripper committed suicide by throwing himself into the River Thames. This was certainly the case with a young teacher and barrister called Montague John Druitt.

Druitt was an Oxford-educated man; he came from a good family in Wimborne and worked as an assistant schoolmaster in Blackheath in London, around 10 miles from where the murders were committed. 

His father and brother had both been surgeons and although Druitt had training in this field he did not follow in their footsteps.  

Montague Druitt went missing from his home around 30th November 1888. Three weeks after the final Ripper murder of Mary Jane Kelly, his lifeless body was found floating in the River Thames on 30th December 1888. 

In his study, investigators had found a note written by Druitt claiming he was going insane and that it was best for him to die. 

Years later, Sir Melville McNaughton would write that Montague Druitt was “sexually insane” and that he “had little doubt, his own family felt him to have been the murderer”.

Aaron Kosminski 

Kosminksi was first suggested as a Jack the Ripper suspect in the late 1980s by researcher Martin Fido. Kosminski was born in 1864 in Russia and arrived in London at the start of the 1880s. He was Jewish and made a living as a barber in the Whitechapel area during the months Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of East London.

According to one police report, Kosminski was said to have a deep hatred of women and had homicidal tendencies.  He was eventually sent to an insane asylum around 1890 and died in 1919. Kosminski remains a strong suspect because he was in the area at the time, was the right age to be a serial killer and was mentioned by police as a suspect.

Walter Sickert 

The theory that Jack the Ripper was the famous artist and painter Walter Sickert first appeared in the book ‘Portrait of a Killer’ by crime author Patricia Cornwell.

In her book, she claims to have found DNA evidence linking Walter Sickert with some of the Jack the Ripper letters sent to Scotland Yard during the Whitechapel murders.

Although this was the first time Sickert had been named as the killer, it wasn’t the first time he was mentioned as being involved in the crimes.

In 1975, author Stephen Knight put forward the idea that Sickert had been part of a Royal conspiracy involving the Freemasons and the Queen’s own personal Doctor, Sir William Gull.

Born in the 1860s, Sickert started off life living in Munich, Germany, and moved to London six years later with his family. It’s possible he was in the area during the Jack the Ripper murders, however, others suggest he could have been in France at the time.  The debate continues.

It has been suggested that Sickert painted clues to the Ripper murders into his paintings by using symbols and subtle references in the background - some of his paintings do depict murders. Although some experts suggest these are very accurate to the Jack the Ripper murders, others remain unconvinced.

His suspect status is boosted by claims he was impotent and had deformed genitalia which some experts point out could have been a driving factor in the brutality that the Ripper showed his victims. Studies have shown several serial killers suffer from sexual dysfunction and they use murder as a way of gaining satisfaction.

David Cohen

The idea that Jack the Ripper was a low-class Polish Jew was first mentioned by Assistant Police Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson in his memoirs. David Cohen was a low-class Polish Jew who was found wandering the streets of East London on 7th December 1888, rambling away in Yiddish. Sensing the man may be a danger to himself and others, police took him to Leman Street police station and later he appeared at the magistrate’s court where he was unable to answer the questions put to him. As authorities had no way of getting the man’s name they had him taken to the workhouse, where he was registered under the name David Cohen. This was apparently a name used for unknown Jewish men. Today, in police procedures, this would be known as a “John Doe” character. 

Shortly after entering the workhouse he became violent and had to be restrained and was then eventually transferred to a more secure unit of Colney Hatch Asylum. He remained there until his death in late 1889. 

All we really know about this man is that he was around 23 years old, had brown hair, brown eyes and a beard. He was also registered as a barber. 

Today, Cohen would most likely have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Cohen remains a good suspect because he was violent, the right age, was in the area at the time and his incarceration explains why the murders came to an end.

Thomas Cutbush

Thomas Cutbush was first named as Jack the Ripper by the Sun newspaper on 13th February 1894. Born in Kennington in 1866, Thomas Cutbush’s father died when he was very young. He was described as a spoilt child and lived with his mother and aunt at 14 Albert Street, Kennington. It has been said that these ladies were of a nervous and rather excitable disposition. For work, Cutbush was employed as a clerk and traveller in the tea trade at the Minories, and subsequently as a canvasser for a directory. 

On 5th March 1891, three years after the Jack the Ripper murders started and over two weeks since the murder of Francis Coles, Cutbush was admitted to Lambeth Infirmary to be treated for delusions which had been thought to be caused by Syphilis.  

Cutbush eventually escaped and was at large for three days, taking with him a knife which he used to stab Florence Grace Johnson in the buttocks. He also attempted to do the same to Isabella Frazer Anderson in Kennington. He was eventually re-arrested on 9th March 1891. This time he was admitted to Broadmoor, a high-security mental institute. 

Inside the asylum, he was described as having violent behaviour towards both the nurses and his own mother and repeated threats to the nurses about ripping them open with a knife. Cutbush is an interesting suspect because his description is similar to descriptions of Jack the Ripper as seen by several eyewitnesses.

Also, when Cutbush was admitted to Broadmoor in 1891, the killings came to an end and the streets of Whitechapel were restored to peace, leaving Francis Coles as the last of the Whitechapel murder victims. Thomas Cutbush died on 5th July 1903 of chronic kidney disease. 

Which of these Jack the Ripper suspects do you think is the most likely killer? You can find out more about the suspects, victims and Ripper locations on one of our walking tours – contact us to book your place today!


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