To recap: A series of murders that took place in the Whitechapel district of the East End of London in 1888 were blamed on an unidentified assailant known as Jack the Ripper.

Five of these – the murders of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – are generally agreed to be the work of a single killer. The crimes occurred between August and November 1888 within a few streets of each other, and are collectively called the “canonical five”.

Since that time, the identity of the killer or killers has been hotly debated, and over one hundred Jack the Ripper suspects have been proposed.

Though many theories have been advanced, experts find none widely persuasive, and some are definitely more credible than others.

The Police Perspective

Metropolitan Police Service files show that their investigation into the serial killings encompassed eleven separate murders between 1888 and 1891, known in the police docket as the “Whitechapel murders”.

The six other murders – those of Emma Elizabeth Smith, Martha Tabram, Rose Mylett, Alice McKenzie, Frances Coles, and an unidentified woman – have been linked with Jack the Ripper to varying degrees.

The swiftness of the attacks, and the manner of the mutilations performed on some of the bodies (which included disembowelment and removal of organs) led to speculation that the murderer had the skills of a physician or butcher. However, others disagreed strongly, and thought the wounds too crude to be professional.

The alibis of local butchers and slaughterers were investigated, with the result that they were eliminated from the inquiry.

Over 2000 people were interviewed, “upwards of 300” people were investigated, and 80 people were detained.

During the course of their investigations of the murders, police regarded several men as strong suspects, though none was ever formally charged.

Montague John Druitt

Montague John Druitt (15 August 1857 – early December 1888) was born in Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, the son of a prominent local physician. He was a barrister who worked to supplement his income as an assistant schoolmaster in Blackheath, London, until his dismissal shortly before his suicide by drowning in 1888.

His decomposed body was found in the Thames near Chiswick on 31 December 1888. Medical examination suggested that his body was kept at the bottom of the river for several weeks by stones placed in his pockets.

Some modern authors suggest that Druitt was homosexual, that he was dismissed because of this and that it may have driven him to suicide. However, his mother and his grandmother both suffered mental health problems, and it is possible that he was dismissed because of an underlying hereditary psychiatric illness.

In any event, his death shortly after the last canonical murder (which took place on 9 November 1888) led Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten to name him as a suspect in a memorandum of 23 February 1894. However, Macnaghten incorrectly described the 31-year-old barrister as a 41-year-old doctor.

Moreover, on 1 September (the day after the first canonical murder) Druitt was in Dorset playing cricket, and most experts now believe that the killer was local to Whitechapel – whereas Druitt lived miles away on the other side of the Thames in Kent.

Inspector Frederick Abberline appeared to dismiss Druitt as a serious suspect on the basis that the only evidence against him was the coincidental timing of his suicide shortly after a murder considered by some to be the final one in the series.

Seweryn Kłosowski alias George Chapman

Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski (alias George Chapman; 14 December 1865 – 7 April 1903 – no relation to victim Annie Chapman) was born in Poland, but emigrated to the United Kingdom sometime between 1887 and 1888, shortly before the start of the murders.

Between 1893 and 1894 he assumed the name of Chapman.

He successively poisoned three of his wives, and was hanged for his crimes in 1903.

At the time of the Ripper murders, he lived in Whitechapel, London, where he had been working as a barber. According to H. L. Adam, who wrote a book on the poisonings in 1930, Chapman was Inspector Frederick Abberline’s favored suspect.

Others disagree that Chapman is a likely culprit, as he murdered his three wives with poison, and it is uncommon (though not unheard of) for a serial killer to make such a drastic change in modus operandi.

Aaron Kosminski

Aaron Kosminski (11 September 1865 – 24 March 1919) was a Polish Jew who was admitted to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1891.

“Kosminski” (without a forename) was named as a suspect by Melville Macnaghten in his 1894 memorandum and by former Chief Inspector Donald Swanson in handwritten comments in the margin of his copy of Assistant Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson’s memoirs.

Anderson wrote that a Polish Jew had been identified as the Ripper but that no prosecution was possible because the witness was also Jewish and refused to testify against a fellow Jew.

Kosminski lived in Whitechapel; however, he was largely harmless in the asylum. His insanity took the form of auditory hallucinations, a paranoid fear of being fed by other people, and a refusal to wash or bathe.

In his book, “The Cases That Haunt Us”, former FBI profiler John Douglas states that a paranoid individual such as Kosminski would likely have openly boasted of the murders while incarcerated had he been the killer, but there is no record that he ever did so.

John Pizer

John Pizer or Piser (c. 1850–1897) was a Polish Jew who worked as a bootmaker in Whitechapel.

After the murders of Mary Ann Nichols and Annie Chapman in late August and early September 1888 respectively, Police Sergeant William Thicke arrested Pizer on 10 September 1888.

Pizer was known as “Leather Apron”, and Thicke apparently believed that he had committed a string of minor assaults on prostitutes.

He was cleared of suspicion when it turned out that he had alibis for two of the murders. He was staying with relatives at the time of one of the canonical murders, and he was talking with a police officer while watching a spectacular fire on the London Docks at the time of another.

Pizer and Thicke had known each other for years, and Pizer implied that his arrest was based on animosity rather than evidence, though he did have a prior conviction for a stabbing offence. Pizer successfully obtained monetary compensation from at least one newspaper that had named him as the murderer.

Thicke himself was accused of being the Ripper by H. T. Haslewood of Tottenham in a letter to the Home Office dated 10 September 1889. The presumably malicious accusation was dismissed as being without foundation.

Thomas Hayne Cutbush

Thomas Hayne Cutbush (1865–1903) was sent to Lambeth Infirmary in 1891 suffering delusions thought to have been caused by syphilis.

After stabbing a woman in the backside and attempting to stab a second he was pronounced insane and committed to Broadmoor Hospital in 1891, where he remained until his death in 1903.

The Sun newspaper suggested in a series of articles in 1894 that Cutbush was the Ripper. There is no evidence that police took the idea seriously.

Cutbush was the suspect advanced in the 1993 book “Jack the Myth” by A. P. Wolf, who suggested that Macnaghten wrote his memo naming the police suspects Druitt and Kosminski to protect Cutbush’s uncle, who was a fellow police officer.

Another recent writer, Peter Hodgson, considers that Cutbush is the most likely candidate.

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll (pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898) was the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”.

He was named as a suspect based on anagrams which author Richard Wallace devised for his book “Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend”.
Wallace claimed that Carroll was assisted in the crimes by his friend Thomas Vere Bayne.

This theory was based primarily on a number of anagrams derived from passages in two of Carroll’s works, “The Nursery Alice”, an adaptation of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” for younger readers, and from the first volume of “Sylvie and Bruno”.

Wallace claimed that the books contained hidden but detailed descriptions of the murders. It should be noted that Carroll was very interested in word tricks, and this certainly gives a little more weight to the theory.

This claim is not generally taken seriously by other scholars, however.

David Cohen

David Cohen (1865–1889) was a Polish Jew whose incarceration at Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum roughly coincided with the end of the murders.

Described as violently antisocial, the poor East End local was suggested as a suspect by author and Ripperologist Martin Fido in his book “The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper” (1987).

Fido claimed that the name “David Cohen” was used at the time to refer to a Jewish immigrant who either could not be positively identified or whose name was too difficult for police to spell, in the same fashion that “John Doe” is used in the United States today.

Fido identified Cohen with “Leather Apron” (see John Pizer above), and speculated that Cohen’s true identity was Nathan Kaminsky, a bootmaker living in Whitechapel who had been treated at one time for syphilis and who could not be traced after mid-1888 – the same time that Cohen appeared.

Fido believed that police officials confused the name Kaminsky with Kosminski, resulting in the wrong man coming under suspicion (see Aaron Kosminski above).

Cohen exhibited violent, destructive tendencies while at the asylum, and had to be restrained. He died there, in October 1889.

In his book “The Cases That Haunt Us”, former FBI criminal profiler John Douglas has asserted that behavioral clues gathered from the murders all point to a person “known to the police as David Cohen … or someone very much like him”.

William Withey Gull

Gull was physician-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. He was named as the Ripper as part of the evolution of the Masonic / royal conspiracy theory (of which, more later).

Coachman John Netley has been named as his accomplice.

Thanks to the popularity of this theory (which has the murders as part of an elaborate scheme to protect the reputation of Prince Albert Victor) among fiction writers and for its dramatic nature, Gull shows up as the Ripper in a number of books and films (including the 1988 TV film Jack the Ripper starring Michael Caine; and the 2000 graphic novel, compiled from the comic book series that ran from 1991 to 1996, From Hell written by Alan Moore with art by Eddie Campbell, as well as its 2001 subsequent film adaptation).

Walter Sickert

Walter Richard Sickert (31 May 1860 – 22 January 1942) was a German-born artist of British and Danish ancestry, who was first mentioned as a possible Ripper suspect in Donald McCormick’s 1959 book “The Identity of Jack the Ripper”.

Sickert subsequently appeared as a character in the well-known royal / Masonic conspiracy theory concocted by Joseph Gorman, who claimed to be Sickert’s illegitimate son.

The theory was later developed by author Jean Overton Fuller, and by crime novelist Patricia Cornwell in her book “Portrait of a Killer”.

However, Sickert is not considered a serious suspect by most who study the case, and strong evidence shows he was in France at the time of most of the Ripper murders.

Prince Albert Victor

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (8 January 1864 – 14 January 1892) was first mentioned in print as a potential suspect in 1962 when author Philippe Jullian published a biography of Clarence’s father, Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

Jullian made a passing reference to rumors that Clarence might have been responsible for the murders. Though Jullian did not detail the dates or sources of the rumor, it is possible that the story derived indirectly from Dr. Thomas E. A. Stowell.

The theory was brought to major public attention in 1970 when Stowell published an article in The Criminologist which revealed his suspicion that Clarence had committed the murders after being driven mad by syphilis. The suggestion was widely dismissed, as Albert Victor had strong alibis for the murders, and it is unlikely that he suffered from syphilis.

Subsequently, conspiracy theorists, such as Stephen Knight in “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution”, have elaborated on the supposed involvement of Clarence in the murders. Rather than implicate Albert Victor directly, they claim that he secretly married and had a daughter with a Catholic shop assistant (a friend of the five murdered women), and that Queen Victoria, British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, his Freemason friends, and the London Metropolitan Police conspired to murder anyone aware of Albert Victor’s supposed child.

Many facts contradict this theory and its originator, Joseph Gorman (also known as Joseph Sickert), later retracted the story and admitted to the press that it was a hoax.

Variations of the theory involve the physician Sir William Gull, the artist Walter Sickert, and the poet James Kenneth Stephen to greater or lesser degrees, and have been fictionalized in novels and films, such as Murder by Decree and From Hell.

In 1978, Frank Spiering claimed to have discovered a copy of some private notes written by Sir William Gull, in the library of the New York Academy of Medicine and that the notes included a confession by Albert Victor under a state of hypnosis. Spiering further suggested that Albert Victor died due to an overdose of morphine, administered to him on the order of Prime Minister Lord Salisbury and possibly Albert Victor’s own father, Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

The New York Academy of Medicine denies possessing the records Spiering mentioned.

So, the jury’s still out.

And so am I.