Thomas Cutbush was first named as a potential Jack the Ripper suspect on 13th February 1894 in the Sun newspaper, and this was further supported in later editions. However, Cutbush was thoroughly investigated by the police at the time of the crimes and it was deemed he was not of interest. To further refute the claims by the Sun that Cutbush was the serial killer, the assistant chief constable of Scotland Yard’s criminal investigation department (CID) penned a statement – later called the Macnaghten Memoranda – in which he named three suspects “any one of whom would have been more likely than Cutbush” to have committed the atrocious murders.
Who Was Thomas Cutbush?
Cutbush was born in Kennington on 29th June 1866 and was raised solely by his mother and his aunt, after reportedly losing his father at a young age. Although some reports (including Macnaghten’s) state that his father passed away, it is thought that he left to go to New Zealand and Australia and took up two further marriages.
Cutbush’s mother and aunt were said to have been eccentric, suffering from neurological disorders and deep into religion, which may have influenced Cutbush’s later disregard for women. They lived a middle-class life, residing at 14 Albert Street in Kennington, over 3 miles away from the East End, where the Jack the Rippers murders took place.
Cutbush spent a brief time employed as both a clerk and a traveller at the Minories as part of the tea trade from July 1888 but was fired after showing regular aggressive behavioural problems. After this, Cutbush went on to work as a canvasser for the Directory but it was soon found that he had pushed his old employer down the stairs, causing weeks of unconsciousness and was subsequently fired. After this Cutbush would not find any further official employment, instead, taking up an interest in studying and reading about medicine.
It was not long after this in 1888 that Cutbush was first taken ill due to delusions, although the cause of which has never been certain. Macnaghten claims Cutbush contracted syphilis and was suffering from syphilis induced insanity, however, there is no mention of this in his Broadmoor medical papers.
The Descent into Madness
After losing both jobs, Cutbush’s behaviour became more aggressive and erratic. In November 1888 he started to suspect that his doctor was poisoning him – interestingly, a delusion shared by his uncle, Scotland Yard Superintendent Charles Cutbush – who was later revealed to have suffered psychiatric disorders and committed suicide himself in 1896.
Thomas’ activities during this time are divided; his aunt mentioned he was a homebody, only leaving at night to post his letters and enjoy a short walk but Macnaghten would go on to say that Cutbush “rambled about at night” and would frequently return with mud-splattered and occasionally, blood-stained clothing.
During this time, over the winter of 1890 to 1891, there were numerous reports of women aged between 14 to 18 years, all sharing a similar body stature (plump), having been attacked. All the women were stabbed either in the back or the bottom by a young man who would quickly flee the scene. The events would occur in Brixton, Stockwell, Clapham and Kennington – close to where Cutbush resided. Although there is still debate on whether these specific attacks were carried out by Edwin Colocott, Cutbush would later attack a woman by stabbing her in the buttocks and attempted to do the same to another.
Thomas Is First Committed But Makes His Escape
In February of 1891, an alleged report was made of a man with the initials H.L Cutbush having held his mother or aunt by the throat and threatened them with a large knife. The woman managed to escape and would report the incident to the authorities. Although the claim was never proven to have come from the Cutbush residence, the next series of events would be the start of Cutbush’s asylum residency.
Early in the morning of March 5th, 1891, workhouse authorities sent five medical attendants in to take Cutbush to St Saviour’s Infirmary. The hour was 7 am and Cutbush was in bed when they arrived, alarming him greatly. He was removed from the property and taken to St Saviour’s Workhouse for examination.
Unfortunately, due to the carelessness of the present attendant, at midday Cutbush made his escape, scaling a 12-ft high wall in only his undergarments (a nightshirt or his socks and undervest, depending on the account). His escape caused a commotion in the nearby area causing neighbours to leave their houses to investigate. During this time, Cutbush was said to have walked into a nearby property, stolen clothing, boots and a hat and then left the house in pursuit of freedom.
He wandered around for a while, visiting several places where eyewitness accounts were given before returning home later in the evening to bathe and change his clothes. He left early the next morning, taking nothing but a few 10s given to him from his mother, as reported by his aunt.
The Conversation with a Man Known as W.K.
Thomas’ whereabouts were then unknown until an interesting encounter with a man known only as ‘W.K’ in Camden Town around 10:30 pm. The man recounted that around this time he exited the train with his young lady when they were approached by a “thin, tall young man in an excitable state”. W.K stated that the man was rambling passionately and mentioned that ‘he was wanted for a very serious charge.’ The rambling man went on to say;
‘You must know that they say I am Jack the Ripper – but I am not, though all their insides are open and their bowels are all out. I am a medical man, you know, but not Jack the Ripper – you must not think I am. But they do, and they are after me, and the runners are after me, for they want the £500 which is offered for my capture, and I have only been cutting up girls and laying them out.’
Before the man tried to leave, he asked W.K to ‘show me the way to the fields – where I shall be safe!’.
W.K. would go on to write and send a letter to Cutbush’s mother and aunt, letting them know of his whereabouts and requesting a time to meet with them that same evening.
Four Days, Two Attacks and One Knife
Unfortunately, there are conflicting reports on Cutbush’s movements over these four days and eyewitnesses state he was seen in specific locations at the same time as being witnessed in others. What is confirmed, however, is that in these four days two further women were attacked by a man stabbing them in the backside; one woman was wounded while the other managed to get away. Their names were Isabel Anderson and Grace Florence Johnson and reports state the attacks took place on 7th and 8th March 1891.
Cutbush would then return home to his aunt and mother on Sunday 8th March where he would take lunch and have a short nap before departing again at 7 pm. While he was napping, his aunt spotted a knife in his pocket which she subsequently took and handed to the police when they enquired after his whereabouts later that same day. The knife, while frequently being referred to as ‘a toy’ by the press at the time was no play-sword and one newspaper described it as ‘a formidable weapon’ that had come from a well-known maker and was stained at the tip, with what was believed to be blood.
The police, upon inspection of the knife, identified it as ‘exactly the type of knife that has been used in the stabbing cases’ and from that point, Cutbush became their top suspect for the two recent attacks on both Isabel and Grace.
Following on from this case, there were further conflicting reports on when Cutbush had acquired the knife; Macnaghten reported the knife had been purchased in Houndsditch a week prior to his first detainment in the Infirmary. Whereas Cutbush himself had admitted to his aunt about purchasing the weapon from a Mrs Dickinson in the Minories, who later corroborated to the Lloyd’s Weekly News that Thomas had bought it on Saturday 7th March.
There are several questions here that we may never find the answer to that could confirm or deny Cutbush as a strong Jack the Ripper suspect:
- If the report in February was true and Thomas threatened his aunt or mother – where was the knife with which he threatened them?
- What evidence did Macnaghten have that Thomas had purchased the knife prior to his escape from the Infirmary?
- As previously stated, Thomas was the nephew of Charles Cutbush, a Scotland Yard Superintendent. Could Macnaghten have tried to deliberately introduce false information to reduce suspicion that Thomas was Jack the Ripper due to his judicial blood links?
The Trial of Thomas Cutbush
At 7 am on Monday 9th March 1891, Cutbush was apprehended by police as he tried to get back into his home. At first, he thought he was being approached for a job he had enquired after in Mile End. The Sun newspaper linked this job enquiry to a previous incident in September 1888, when a prostitute declared in a public house that she was talking to Jack the Ripper. However, the description of the man given at the time was clearly different to Cutbush and no connection between the two was ever confirmed.
At the station, Cutbush denied he was involved with the two attacks and referred to the attacks that had taken place five weeks previously, stating that is the man the police were after. Unfortunately for Cutbush, testimony from a Sergeant and some drawings found on his person on his arrest worked against him during his trial. The Sergeant testified that Cutbush had stated to his mother,”I am all right – they can’t do anything with me. The sheath was only found on me.”
To which his aunt replied to Cutbush that they have given the knife to the police. He then exclaimed his frustration, “Oh, you booby! They only found the sheath upon me.”
The drawings found in his overcoat (or taken from his room, according to Macnaghten) were found to be depictions of woman. One drawing was the trunk of a woman with the walls of her stomach thrown open, exposing the intestines and the other was a similar drawing of a mutilated woman made in red pen.
His trial began on Monday 23rd March 1891, testimonies were given, including one from Isabel Anderson who couldn’t identify the face of her attacker but did state that Cutbush matched the general appearance. Following evidence provided from Dr Gilbert, a medical officer overseeing Cutbush while he was held in Holloway Prison, the trial reached a conclusion on 14th April and Cutbush was officially declared insane.
The Final Years of Thomas Cutbush
Cutbush was moved to Broadmoor Hospital after his trial where he would live until his death in 1903. During his time at Broadmoor he was regularly described as aggressive and dangerous, although he would never admit to committing the crimes he was charged with, or even make mention of the supposed Jack the Ripper crimes that it was suggested some journalists and police believed he may have carried out.
In the May following his commitment, attendants would make comment on his temper and threats to them and other inmates but, by the following March 1892, they considered Cutbush ‘generally dull and apathetic’ and that he ‘appears to be an imbecile’. By April 1893, the notes regarding Cutbush stated he was ‘becoming more and more demented’ and would refuse visits from his relatives.
Cutbush neglected to take care of himself, becoming ‘dirty and degraded’ in his habits and although he briefly cleaned himself up, he finally gave up in March 1898 and his health and appearance declined greatly. One of the last visits his mother and aunt made to him was on 20th April 1903 where Cutbush would try to bite his mother on receipt of a kiss. A few months after this, Cutbush’s health was failing so rapidly due to chronic kidney disease that his mother was called one last time to visit him. The disease would be the end of him, and Thomas Cutbush died in Broadmoor on 5th July 1903.
Could Thomas Cutbush Have Been Jack the Ripper?
Like any of the other Jack the Ripper suspects, there is always a chance it could have been Thomas Cutbush, but there is as much evidence to disprove it the theory as there is that points to him being the killer.
One of the greatest disputes for the case of Cutbush being Jack the Ripper is that Cutbush wasn’t first committed until 1891 – over two years since the initial killings with no indication others had been killed in the same way. While there was no way to ever prove where Thomas Cutbush was at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders – and an investigation did take place - it is unlikely that a man who mutilated as feverishly as the Ripper did would be content to go without a single attack in over two years, only to stab a woman in the backside.
Other inconsistencies include the description and age of Thomas Cutbush that didn’t fully match up to eyewitness accounts that had reportedly seen the true Jack the Ripper.
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