Seweryn Klosowski, perhaps better known as George Chapman, was a convicted Polish serial killer who was also named as one of the infamous Jack the Ripper suspects. Despite his pseudonym, he bears no relation to the Ripper victim Annie Chapman, but what other ties does Klosowski have with the Jack the Ripper case, and how likely was he to have been the most notorious killer in history?
Seweryn Klosowski was born in Nagorna, Poland in December 1965. There is little to note about his early years, however, it is thought that he was an apprentice to a senior surgeon in Zwolen from the age of 14. Following on from this, he attended a course on practical surgery at the Warsaw Praga hospital, but he typically worked as a nurse until his early 20s.
It is thought that he moved to London between 1887 and 1888, settling into the East End of London shortly before the Jack the Ripper killings took hold of the capital. Klosowski found work in a hairdresser, before opening a barbershop of his own. He shortly married a Polish girl – Lucie Badewski – and together they had two children. They moved around London a lot before moving over to Jersey, USA in 1891. However, it wasn’t long before Lucie returned to London less than a year later after Klosowski become violent and abusive to her while she was pregnant.
It didn’t take long for Klosowski to return to London himself, reuniting with Lucie for a short time, however by 1893, things had ended between the pair and he began a relationship with a woman he met at work, Annie Chapman (not the Ripper victim of the same name, or a relation of). It was then that he took her surname and was, from this point forward, known more commonly as George Chapman.
A year later, Annie was pregnant when Chapman brought home another woman; Annie left their home and while he knew about the baby she was carrying, he offered her no support.
The first piece of evidence to suggest that Seweryn Klowoski was a viable Jack the Ripper suspect was his arrival into London’s East End shortly before the murders started, his proximity to the location of the first Ripper killings, as well as the convenient timing of the series of murders coming to an end as he left the country and moved to the United States.
Throughout his 20s, he became increasingly more violent as the years went on. It is believed that an almost fatal attack on his wife in 1891 was what led Lucie to flee her husband in America and return to London. It is alleged that he held her down on a bed and was strangling her when he got interrupted by a customer coming into the shop next to their room. While Klosowski was distracted, Lucie found a knife underneath the pillow. He later confessed to her that he was planning on decapitating her and had planned not just where he would bury her body but also the story he would tell the neighbours about her disappearance.
Back in London around the time of the Ripper killings, in an interview with Frederick Abberline, Lucie told the detective that her husband often left the house late at night for hours on end. This, combined with his more violent and misogynistic behaviour, including the violent plan to behead his wife, drew the first real similarities between Klosowski and the Ripper, who was known for violently mutilating his victims with a knife. Klosowski’s history of being a surgeon’s apprentice could have easily provided him with the skills required to pull off the killings at the hands of Jack the Ripper.
In addition to this, Klosowski matched a witness description of a man seen with Mary Jane Kelly and that of a man who killed and mutilated a woman – Mary Ann Austin – in the former home of Ripper victim Annie Chapman just a few years later in 1901. Coincidence or a smug killer flaunting his freedom?
After his relationship with Lucie broke down, Seweryn Klosowski had a string of lovers over the next five years, and four of his long-term mistresses even posed as his wife. Three of these wives – Mary Spink, Bessie Taylor and Maud Marsh - were found to have died by poisoning by tartar-emetic, which gives victims symptoms similar to that of arsenic poisoning. While it is believed that Chapman built these relationships up and orchestrated the killings as a means to prosper from their deaths, he only gained money from the legacy left to him by Spink; he received £500, the equivalent of £57,000 as of 2019.
Despite moving around a lot to avoid suspicion over the multiple deaths linked to his poisonings, the police only began their investigation of Chapman following the death of Marsh in 1902.
After the bodies of his first two poisonings were exhumed by police, he was charged and convicted on 19th March 1903 and was sentenced to death by hanging, 7th April 1903.
Detective Abberline certainly believed Seweryn Klosowski was a credible Jack the Ripper suspect, and there are some recent authors who are in agreement. This is despite there being any hard evidence to link Klosowski to the Ripper murders, and the doubts that many have posed: could Klosowski even speak English when he arrived in London in 1888; would he know Whitechapel well enough to have got away from his crime scenes; and, how likely would he have been to change his method of killing from mutilation to poisoning?
Although eventually convicted and punished for killing three women through the latter – a very different method of killing than that used by the infamous Jack the Ripper - many still believe that Chapman was clever enough to have done this to avoid detection for the earlier Ripper crimes.
While many believe the evidence against Seweryn Klosowski is merely circumstantial, are there simply too many coincidences for him not to be a credible Jack the Ripper suspect? Detective Abberline certainly thought so with hindsight, although he was not considered a suspect during the initial Jack the Ripper investigation.
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