For well over one hundred years since the time of the Whitechapel Murders, the identity of the killer has been hotly debated, with over one hundred suspects having been named in the process. While many theories exist, some more advanced than others, none of them have proven to be indisputably convincing.
Some theories suggest that the killer was a doctor, possibly even an educated upper-class individual, who ventured into the seedy Whitechapel district from a more well-to-do area. While this may be somewhat plausible, the notion of such a character being the Ripper largely draws upon cultural perceptions such as fear of the medical profession, distrust of modern science, or the exploitation of the poor by the rich.
Many think the Ripper was a common worker, possibly a butcher or other tradesman, who lived locally and was employed during the week, explaining why the murders occurred on or near the weekend. A lot of experts also agree that the Ripper was a local to Whitechapel.
Many of the alleged suspects were proposed years after the investigation took place, having been linked by contemporary documents, or any other remote connection to the case. Some of the accused suspects include many famous names, many of whom were not even considered in the initial police investigation.
Being that anyone around at the time of the Ripper Murders has long been dead, modern day authors are free to propose anyone as a suspect without accountability, or need for any substantial historical evidence.
Contemporaneous Police Suspects
The following suspects are those who were ‘favored’ by officers actively conducting or researching the investigations at the time of the murders. There is a glaring lack of substantial evidence to link any of these individuals to the crimes, but regardless, each of them had garnered extreme suspicion amongst inspectors and high ranking officials closely following the investigations.
Born in Wimborne Minster, Dorset, Druitt was a barrister who also worked as an assistant schoolmaster in Blackheath, London, to supplement his income. Druitt was named as a Ripper suspect by Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten, when his decomposed body was found in the Thames on December 31, 1888; the cause of his death being a suicide drowning. Because Druitt’s suicide took place just weeks after the slaying of Mary Jane Kelly on November 9, 1888, it prompted authorities to consider him a prime suspect for the Ripper Murders. After further investigation, however, the only thing that seemed to link Druitt to the murders was the coincidental timing of his suicide drowning.
In the investigation, Macnaghten incorrectly listed him as a 41-year old doctor, hence lessening suspicions when it was realized he was in fact a 31-year old barrister.
Shortly before Druitt’s suicide, he was released from his duty as assistant schoolmaster. Some modern authors believe that Druitt may have been a homosexual, which could have been the reason for his dismissal. This in itself may have been enough to drive him to suicide.
It was also known that his mother and grandmother both suffered from mental illness, thus he may have been dismissed due to fear of hereditary mental health problems.
Druitt was in Dorset playing cricket on September 1, 1888, the day following the first of the canonical five murders. Druitt’s home in Kent was also miles away from Whitechapel, on the other side of the Thames. Most Ripper experts agree that the killer had to be local to Whitechapel.
Later on in the investigation, Inspector Frederick Abberline was believed to dismiss Druitt as a serious suspect due to lack of any substantial evidence beyond the timing of his coincidental suicide.
Poland-born Klosowski emigrated to the UK shortly before the start of the murders, sometime between 1887 and 1888. He later took on the name Chapman somewhere around 1893 or 1894.
Chapman was hanged in 1903 for poisoning three of his wives. Chapman used a compound known as tartar-emetic, which he’d purchased from a chemist in Hastings. Tartar-emetic poisoning results in a very painful death, similar to that of arsenic poisoning.
Chapman worked as a barber in Whitechapel, during the time of the Ripper Murders. According to author H.L. Adam, who wrote a book in 1930 about the Chapman murders, Abberline favored him above all other suspects. It was also noted that the Pall Mall Gazzette reported that Abberline continued to suspect Chapman after his convicted hanging.
Many experts dismiss Chapman as a possible suspect due to the difference in his modus operandi, which was poisoning rather than butchering, yet he was considered to be Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline’s primary suspect.
Kosminski (born Aron Mordke Kozminski) was an insane Polish Jew who was admitted to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1891. Kosminski emigrated to England in the 1880s and worked as a hairdresser in Whitechapel during the time of the Ripper Murders in 1888. It wasn’t until years after the murders that documents were discovered suggesting that a “Kosminski” (without a forename) was a police suspect.
At the time of the murders, police named a “Kosminski” as one of their suspects, and described him as a Polish Jew in an insane asylum. Nearly a century had passed since the investigation before Aaron Kosminski was identified as the “Kosminski” the police had suspected at the time of the murders. The reasons for Kosminski’s inclusion in the investigation are unclear, as there is little evidence to suggest he was the Ripper.
It is possible that Kosminski was a victim of antisemitism, or was perhaps confused with another Polish jew of the same age, e.g. Aaron Cohen (aka David Cohen), who happened to be another institutionalized Polish Jew at Colney Hatch, but with very violent tendencies. Kosminski was mostly harmless while at the asylum; his illness taking the form of auditory hallucinations, paranoia of being fed by others, and a refusal to wash or bathe.
Melville Macnaghten named Kosminski as a suspect in his 1894 memorandum, as did former Chief Inspector Donald Swanson in handwritten notes seen in the margin of his copy of Asst. Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson’s memoirs. In Macnaghten’s memoirs he states that there is strong reason to believe Kosminksi is the Ripper because he “had a great hatred of women … with strong homicidal tendencies”.
In Anderson’s 1910 memoirs, he claimed that the Ripper was a low-class Polish Jew, to which Swanson added the name “Kosminski” in the margin of his copy. Swanson also noted that Kosminski had been watched by police at his brother’s home in Whitechapel, was later taken with his hands tied behind his back to the workhouse and later on to Colney Hatch Asylum, and that he died shortly after.
In 1987, author Martin Fido searched asylum records for any inmates named Kosminski. His search turned up only one: Aaron Kosminski. Macnaghten’s and Swanson’s notes both bear descriptions of the suspect that are similar to those found in his asylum rcords, however, Swanson’s claim of Kosminski’s death being shortly after his admittance differ from his file. Aaron Kosminski died in 1919.
Note: Naming Jack the Ripper, a recent book by author and “armchair detective” Russell Edwards, claims to feature conclusive evidence which names Aaron Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. Mr. Edwards bases his findings off of forensic evidence he obtained through DNA testing performed on Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes’s shawl. The shawl had apparently been taken from the crime scene by acting sergeant Amos Simpson, who, (now this part is more than a little odd…) wanted it for his wife..?! I know money was tight in 1888 Whitechapel, but snatching a blood and semen soaked shawl from evidence in hopes of presenting it to your wife as a gift..? There has got to be more to this story…At any rate, Edwards is confident that he’s unmasked Kosminski as Jack the Ripper due to the results of the scientific findings outlined in his book. For more on Edwards’s story and how he came to label Kosminski as Jack the Ripper, please see our comprehensive editorial.
Macnaghten named him as a suspect, but researchers have failed to discover any record of violence or assault in Ostrog’s criminal past; his most serious offenses being fraud and theft. Prison records discovered by author Philip Sugden showed that Ostrog had been jailed in France for petty offenses during the time of the Ripper Murders.
In his memorandum of 1894, Sir Melville Macnaghten listed Michael Ostrog among his 3 prime suspects, describing him as such:
“Michael Ostrog, a Russian doctor, and a convict, who was subsequently detained in a lunatic asylum as a homicidal maniac. This man’s antecedents were of the worst possible type, and his whereabouts at the time of the murders could never be ascertained.”
Ostrog was last known to be alive in 1904, but the precise date of his death is unknown.
Pizer was arrested by Police Sergeant William Thicke on September 10, 1888, after the respective murders of Mary Ann Nichols and Annie Chapman. Known as “Leather Apron”, Pizer was a Polish Jew who worked as a bootmaker in Whitechapel, and was believed by Thicke to have committed a slew of minor assaults on prostitutes.
Although the investigating inspector in the early days of the Whitechapel Murders had stated that “there is no evidence whatsoever against him”, many locals suspected Pizer (aka “Leather Apron”) was the killer. Pizer was later cleared of suspicion when it was realized that he had alibis for two of the murders. He’d been staying with relatives at the time of one of the canonical five murders, and was talking with a constable while witnessing a raging fire on the London docks at the time of another murder.
Having known Thicke for years, Pizer claimed that he had been detained by Police as a result of Thicke’s animosity towards him, rather than any substantial evidence. Although he did have one prior conviction for a stabbing offense, there really wasn’t any concrete evidence that would suggest Pizer was the Ripper.
Being absolved from any suspicions of guilt, Pizer was able to obtain monetary compensation from at least one media source that had pegged him as the murderer.
The arresting officer, Police Sergeant Thicke, was later accused by H.T. Haslewood of Tottenham in a September 10, 1888, letter to the Home Office. The accusation was dismissed as having malicious intent and without just cause.
Sadler was the last suspect to be included in the Whitechapel Murders police file. Frances Coles, who was a friend of Sadler’s, was killed on February 13, 1891, by way of a wound to the throat. Sadler was arrested as a suspect in the murder, but there was not enough evidence against him to pursue a conviction.
Police had considered Sadler to be a possible suspect in the Ripper investigation, but he had an alibis for the period during the earlier killings, having been at sea throughout the time of the previous Whitechapel Murders. Sadler was released without charge.
Macnaghten connected Sadler with Coles’ murder in his 1894 memorandum, having noted that Sadler “was a man of ungovernable temper and entirely addicted to drink, and the company of lower prostitutes”. However, Macnaghten thought it unlikely that Sadler be in any way responsible for the earlier Ripper Murders.
Tumblety, an Irish-American, made a small fortune posing as an “Indian Herb” doctor throughout the United States and Canada, and was largely perceived as a woman-hating quack. He was connected to the death of one of his patients in Boston, but managed to escape prosecution after being held for three weeks in prison.
Tumblety despised all women, but claimed to possess a particular hatred for prostitutes. He had claimed to be soured on women after an earlier failed marriage to a prostitute. Tumblety hosted an all-male dinner party in Washington D.C., at which he displayed a collection of preserved female reproductive organs, proudly boasting that they had come from “every class of woman”.
In 1865, he was arrested for complicity in the Abraham Lincoln assassination, but was released without charge.
While in England in 1888, Tumblety was arrested on November 7th on charges of “gross indecency”, apparently for engaging in homosexuality, which was a criminal offense at the time. Tumblety fled to France while on bail and awaiting his trial, then later went back to the United States. Having been a notorious figure in the US for his dubious self-promotion and prior criminal charges, his arrest in England reported him in connection with the Ripper Murders.
American reports that Scotland Yard tried to extradite him were not confirmed by the British press or the London police, and the New York City Police said, “there is no proof of his complicity in the Whitechapel murders, and the crime for which he is under bond in London is not extraditable”.
In 1913, Tumblety was mentioned as a Ripper suspect by Chief Inspector John Littlechild of the Metropolitan Police Service in a letter to journalist and author George R. Sims. Littlechild had suspected Tumblety due to his extreme misogyny and prior criminal charges.
Most experts today dismiss any connection between Tumblety and the Ripper murders, because his appearance and age did not match any eyewitness descriptions. Tumblety was also relatively tall for a man in his day, and combined with his outrageous moustache, would have been a rather conspicuous individual.
Contemporaneous Press Suspects and Public Opinion
Due in large part to London’s evening newspaper, “The Star”, which had been founded in 1888, the Ripper Murders were highly publicized and sensationalized. In addition, law enforcement was very careful in concealing what little clues they did have from the intently listening ears of the media, as well as the ever-watchful public eye. This led to a lot of speculation as to who might be responsible for the horrible crimes, prompting the hungry media publications to propose a list of possible suspects based upon public opinion and popular suspicions.
Bury was executed in Dundee, Scotland, for the murder of his wife. Due to certain similarities between the crimes, and because Bury had been a resident of London’s East End during the time of the Ripper murders, Bury was highly suspected by the media, as well as by his hangman, James Berry.
Bury had been living in Bow, London, during the time of the Ripper murders, with his wife Ellen, a former prostitute. He and Ellen later moved to Dundee, Scotland, when Bury was arrested, tried and hanged for Ellen’s murder.
On the night of February 4, 1889, Bury strangled Ellen to death with a rope. Shortly afterwards, Bury inflicted several postmortem abdominal wounds with a penknife, then stuffed her body into a trunk which he’d kept hidden in their flat for 6 days.
On February 10, 1889, Bury went into the Dundee Central Police Station and reported Ellen’s suicide to Lieutenant James Parr. Bury claimed to have woken the next day after a drunk, only to find his wife on the floor with a rope around her neck. Rather than seek out a doctor for help, Bury told Parr that he instead cut the body and hid it in a trunk they’d used to pack belongings in during their move from London. Bury confessed to feeling guilty about his intent to conceal the body, and expressed fear that he may be arrested as “Jack the Ripper”.
After listening to the ridiculous confession, Parr took Bury upstairs to see the head of the detective department, Lieutenant David Lamb. “This man has a wonderful story to tell you”, Parr said to Lamb. Bury’s retelling of his tale to detective Lamb differed slightly in that he claimed to have only stabbed Ellen once, and also left out the mention of his fear of being arrested as Jack the Ripper. Bury was searched and detained pending further enquiry.
After Ellen’s body was discovered by detectives while searching the dingy flat, Lamb immediately charged Bury with Ellen’s murder. Further investigation revealed the length of rope Bury had used to strangle Ellen, complete with strands of Ellen’s hair still caught in the fibers, as well as a large penknife caked with blood and bits of human flesh. Blood-stained clothing was also found, in addition to some of Ellen’s personal effects, burned in the fireplace. The flat was devoid of furniture, suggesting that it may have been burned as a means to heat the room, or in an attempt to destroy evidence.
Chalk graffiti containing Jack the Ripper references was found on the back door of Bury’s flat, as well as in the stairwell leading up from the back of the property. The markings read, “Jack Ripper is at the back of this door”, and “Jack Ripper is in this seller”, respectively. It was thought that a local boy may have been responsible for the graffiti, but the precise identity of the writer was never determined.
Shortly before his execution, Bury admitted to killing Ellen. On April 22, 1889, Bury wrote a confession which he asked to be witheld until after his death.
Bury claims to have strangled Ellen while in the midst of a drunken tiff over money. He then states that he tried to dismember the body the following day for ease of disposal, but became too squeamish to continue. This statement differs from the expert physicians’ testimonies, who determined at the inquest that the incisions were made “within at most ten minutes of the time of death”. Unable to continue with the supposed dismemberment, Bury then decided to stuff her body into the trunk. Fearing Ellen’s disappearance would be noted, Bury then concocted the story about her suicide.
Despite extreme suspicion by the media, and by his hangman James Berry, Bury adamantly denied any connection between he and the Ripper murders. Police investigated a possible link between Bury and the Whitechapel murders, but found no substantial evidence and discounted him as a suspect.
Cream was born the oldest of eight siblings in Glasgow, Scotland, and later moved with his family to Quebec, Canada. There, he studied medicine at McGill University Medical School, married, and opened a medical practice in London, Ontario. His wife soon died after a mysterious illness.
After moving to Chicago, Cream moved his practice to the edge of the red light district, performing illegal abortions for local prostitutes. He was suspected in the death of one woman during that period of time, but was acquitted of any charges.
Justice was more difficult to dodge, however, when Cream was accused of murdering Daniel Stott, in 1881. Stott suffered from epilepsy, and his wife Julia, thirty years his junior, would pick up his medication from Cream. Julia and Cream began an affair and conspired to give Stott pills contaminated with strychnine. Cream was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but was released after ten years.
Cream arrived in London in October of 1891, settling in Lambeth. Soon afterward, prostitutes in the area began to die from strychnine poisoning. Nellie Donworth, Alice Marsh, and Emma Shrivell were thee victims who managed to describe the tall, mustachioed man who had recently given them medicine as they lay dying in agony.
Matilda Clover was another prostitute found dead, and was believed to have suffered from complications of alcoholism. Soon afterward, though, an anonymous letter arrived at Scotland Yard, which accused two other doctors of being responsible for her murder. Soon afterward, Dr. Cream came in contact with a visiting New York City Police officer, and with much bravado, took him on a tour of crime-sites in the recent “Lambeth Poisoner” murders. Officers put Dr. Cream under surveillance and soon took him into custody.
Cream was convicted of the murder of Matilda Clover in October of 1892, and sentenced to hang. He was executed on November 16th, 1892, his last words before the noose snapped his neck were, “I am Jack…”
The record shows that Dr. Cream was serving his prison sentence in Chicago at the time of the Whitechapel killings, however some believe that through corruption and bribery he could have been released prior to that point and a double could have served the prison sentence in his place.
Cutbush, a disturbed and violent youth, became clinically insane at the time of the Ripper murders in 1888, and was believed to be wandering the streets of London throughout the time of the killings.
While suffering delusions thought to have been caused by syphilis, Cutbush was sent to Lambeth Infirmary in 1891. During his stay at Lambeth, Cutbush was prone to rants, including outbursts where he’d threaten to rip staff open with a knife. After stabbing a woman in the buttocks, and attempting to stab a second, he was pronounced insane and committed to Broadmoor Hospital in 1891, where he remained until he died in 1903.
In a series of articles published in 1894 by the Sun newspaper, it was suggested that Cutbush was Jack the Ripper. There has been no evidence indicating that police took the idea seriously, and Melville Macnaghten’s memorandum naming the three police suspects Druitt, Kosminski and Ostrog was written to refute the idea that Cutbush was the Ripper.
Cutbush’s suspicion was advanced in the 1993 book: Jack the Myth by A. P. Wolf, who suggested that Macnaghten wrote his memorandum to protect a fellow police officer, who so happened to be Cutbush’s uncle.
“Wild Card” Suspects
The following suspects are subjects of popular theories proposed by later authors.
With his own track record as one of America’s most devious and prolific serial killers, some think that H.H. Holmes may have committed the Whitechapel murders as well. Holmes often made money by selling human skeletons to medical schools (skeletons that are now suspected of being his many victims). There are some who point to evidence that Holmes was in London attempting to sell these bones during the fall of 1888. Based on his high volume of kills and his possible jaunt to London during the season of the Ripper, some followers of the case deduce that Holmes could be Saucy Jack himself.
Holmes became famous for his “Murder Castle” in Chicago, a sprawling construction that served as a dual hotel and human slaughterhouse during the 1893 World’s Fair. The “castle” was a labyrinth of soundproof rooms, secret passageways, gas chambers, acid baths, and incinerators, of which only Holmes knew the exact floor plan. Charming and handsome as he was, Holmes would entice young women traveling alone for the Fair to stay at his hotel, where he would later torture, and kill them, often dissolving their bodies in acid or disposing of them in lime pits.
Holmes was eventually convicted for the murder of his assistant, Joseph Pitezel, and the murders of three of Pitezel’s children. After his conviction, Holmes wrote a long confessional that he sold to the Hearst Company for $7,500. The tome was published in newspapers all over the country. The sensationalist story of Holmes’ life is inconsistent, first claiming innocence, then demonic possession, and then has him running numerous scams and heists under false identities and murdering countless people. Some of these claims were proven to be true, while others may or may not have been the fictional results of sociopathic bravado.
Holmes was executed by hanging in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 7, 1896.
For more on H.H. Holmes, see our review of Bloodstains.
Joseph Barnett was a prime witness questioned by police after the grisly murder of Mary Jane Kelly. He and Kelly had been lovers since April of 1887, but had recently separated after an argument about Kelly’s allowing other prostitutes to stay in the couple’s apartment at night. Barnett had recently taken up residence in Bishopsgate after moving out of the Miller’s Court home where Kelly’s mutilated body was found on November 9th, 1888.
Barnett worked as a fish porter out on the docks. His license as a fish porter, however, was taken away in July 1888. He and Kelly had been living together since they began seeing one another the year before, but were constantly struggling with money and moving from place to place. Even though Barnett had moved out of Miller’s Court, the two were seen talking after the separation and appeared to be on good terms before Kelly’s body was discovered.
After being interviewed for four hours by Detective Abberline himself, Barnett was ruled out as a suspect. He was reintroduced as a possible Ripper in the 1970s by author Bruce Paley. The theory put forward is that after Barnett lost his job, Mary Jane Kelly began to support herself via prostitution again, and Barnett began to kill neighborhood prostitutes to try and scare her off of the streets. Three different books, Jack the Ripper: The Mystery Solved (1991) by Paul Harrison, The Return of Jack the Ripper (1977) by Mark Andrews, and Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth (1995) by Bruce Paley, name Barnett the perpetrator.
One recurring figure, and a favorite of fictional accounts of the Whitechapel murders, is Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale. At least two major films, Murder by Decree (1979) and From Hell (2001), center on this member of the royal family’s suspected role in the Whitechapel murders.
Prince Albert, called “Eddy” by friends, was Queen Victoria’s nephew, and was considered “slow” as a child and well into adulthood. During his life, Prince Albert Victor was peripherally involved in a number of scandals involving prostitution, including the “Cleveland Street” scandal, in which he was suspected to have been a client at an all-male brothel. He also was blackmailed by a couple of different lower-class prostitutes in his lifetime, and is suspected to have contracted some low-grade venereal diseases. None of the scandals that arose during his lifetime, however, could rival what he would be accused of long after his death.
The Duke of Clarence was not put forward as a public Ripper suspect until 1962, when author Philippe Jullian alluded to rumors about the Duke of Clarence in a biography of Prince Albert’s Father, Edward VII. One Ripper theory posited in an article by Dr. Thomas E. A. Stowell contends that Prince Albert himself carried out the rampage after contracting syphilis from a Whitechapel prostitute. Stowell later denied that he made the accusation, but died of old age before he could be questioned further about the theory.
One of the most famous theories, which first appeared in Stephen Knight’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, is a conspiracy including multiple people to cover up the Duke of Clarence’s illegitimate child. The Duke was supposed to have secretly wed a poor, Catholic shopgirl named Annie Crook, and then sired a son. The plot to silence anyone aware of the child included Queen Victoria, Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, the London Metro Police, Walter Sickert, and a number of Freemasons. This tale was first told to Knight by Joseph Sickert, son of painter Walter Sickert, who later admitted that the story was a fabrication.
Most of the theories surrounding Prince Albert have been debunked, due to documented evidence that he was not in London at the time of the murders and likely never suffered from syphilis. Theories about purported members of the “royal conspiracy” such as Walter Sickert, also have been dismissed as highly improbable, but continue to inspire imagination and artistic expression.
Declared clinically insane and incarcerated in 1883 for stabbing his wife to death, Kelly escaped from Broadmoor Asylum in 1888 before the Whitechapel murders began. Kelly had killed his wife due to a delusion that his wife was a prostitute who had given him venereal disease. The truth, however, was that he had likely contracted the illness from Whitechapel and Spitalfields prostitutes that he visited before his marriage.
Police did explore the possibility that Kelly carried out the Whitechapel killings, and conducted a Metropolitan Police raid of his former home at 21 Cottage Lane the day after the murder of Mary Kane Kelly (no relation). Reports contend that after his escape from Broadmoor, however, Kelly first went to Liverpool, then traveled to France to hide out later that year, which would explain why the raid came up empty.
Kelly also figures in to theories that Jack the Ripper traveled to the United States and continued to murder women there. The 1891 murder of prostitute Carrie Brown at the East River Hotel in New York bore resemblance to the Whitechapel murders, and Kelly traveled to North America many times during his years on the lam. This suspicion, however, conflicts with evidence that Kelly did not book passage from England on a New York bound steamer until 1892.
Records show Kelly gave himself up as a fugitive in New Orleans in 1896 to the British Consulate and was transported to England for arrest. However, authorities did not meet his ship right away to apprehend him, and Kelly began to wander again. He attempted to surrender in Vancouver, Canada again in 1901. When nobody took interest in his case, Kelly criss-crossed the Atlantic several more times.
In 1927, Kelly walked straight up to the gates of Broadmoor Asylum and asked to be committed. Having lived as a vagrant with paranoid schizophrenia for many years, he was in extremely poor physical condition. He died at Broadmoor two years later.