Content Warning: descriptions of crime scenes, antisemitism, violence
Victorian England is not known for being a luxurious time period. Child labor, low wages, and workhouses were a handful of the many challenges faced by the everyday Victorian Englander. Then, in the late 1880s, two more demons struck London’s Whitechapel District and their names were Jack the Ripper and antisemitism. From August to November 1888, five women were mercilessly slaughtered by a vicious murderer: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. These murders have never been solved, but how could it be that a person could walk the streets of London, commit the calculated murders, and leave no trace? Wouldn’t at least one of the victims scream for help? Wouldn’t someone hear their cries as their murderer tormented them? How could all five women not receive any justice for their untimely deaths? Furthermore, what does antisemitism have to do with Jack the Ripper?
Around the same time as the Jack the Ripper murders, another person supposedly threatened Whitechapel, an individual known as “Leather Apron.” Mr. Leather Apron’s real name was John Pizer (sometimes Jack Piser, spelling varies) and he was a Polish Jew who worked as a bootmaker. A woman Pizer did not know confronted him on September 2, 1888, two days after Mary Ann Nichols, the first Jack the Ripper victim, was murdered. The woman screamed to a police officer, “There goes Leather Apron, the Whitechapel murderer, run after him!” Pizer, taken aback, insisted he had nothing to do with the murder of Mary Ann Nichols and told the accusing woman to watch what she said about other people. Unfortunately, Pizer’s pleas did not work in his favor. On September 5, 1888, a sensational article was published in Pall Wall Gazette. An excerpt reads: “Leather Apron” by himself is quite an unpleasant character…His name nobody knows, but all are united in the belief that he is a Jew or of Jewish parentage, his face being of a marked Hebrew type.”’ A day later, an article published by The Star stated: “Constables 43 and 173, J Division, into whose hands “Leather-Apron” fell on Sunday afternoon, were detailed to accompany Detective Enright, of the J Division, in a search through all the quarters where the crazy Jew was likely to be.”’
With these extraordinary accusations made by the media, antisemitism in Whitechapel exploded. Now fearing for his life, Pizer went into hiding. Then Jack the Ripper struck a second time on September 8, 1888, slaughtering 47-year-old Annie Chapman. An apron was left close to her body, assumed to be Pizer’s, but the apron belonged to the son of one of the building residents where she was found. With Chapman’s murder, Whitechapel inhabitants were outraged and took to the streets, shouting “Down with the Jews!” and “It was a Jew who did it!” The East London Observer wrote of this event: “Crowds began to threaten and abuse such unfortunate Hebrews.”
Pizer was arrested, despite there being no evidence linking him to the murders of Nichols and Chapman. After searching Pizer's home, the only evidence police found was a set of knives he used for his boot-making. The blades were stained, and the police thought it was blood, but after examination, the “blood” turned out to be rust. As for the Leather Apron name, Pizer was known as Leather Apron for years, probably for wearing one while on the job. The apparently ominous name was only a nickname given to Pizer by friends and acquaintances.
Thus, with no evidence and a solid alibi, Pizer was released from custody on September 11, 1888, and returned home. He threatened legal action against the media for their role in terrorizing his life and received a small amount of money from the newspapers as amends. No further articles accusing him of murder were published, but the damage was done, and Jack the Ripper may have taken advantage of this antisemitic panic and struck three more times.
While no one is known to have seen the crimes taking place, there is a possibility that there was a witness who saw Jack the Ripper just before he killed his third victim. This witness was Israel Schwartz, a Hungarian Jew walking around the area where Elizabeth Stride’s life was stolen by Jack the Ripper. Schwartz reported that on September 30, 1888, he spotted a man speaking to a woman who was standing in an entryway. Schwartz said the man then grabbed the woman and threw her to the ground. Since it was dark and late, approximately 12:45 am, he became frightened and decided to leave immediately as he thought they were a couple arguing. At that moment, the violent man shouted, “Lipski!” The name Lipski was a reference to Israel Lipski, a Polish Jewish man who had been convicted of murder in 1887 and the name had become an anti-Semitic slur. Schwartz also stated a second man seemed to be following him, leading police to believe Jack the Ripper had an accomplice. When Schwartz noticed the man following him, he ran and eventually lost sight of him. Stride’s body was soon found right outside the International Working Men's Educational Club, a club for working-class Jews in the neighborhood. Had Jack the Ripper picked this location on purpose?
Although Schwartz’s report sounds essential to the Jack the Ripper investigation, it would become a tangled mess. Schwartz spoke no English and relied on an interpreter, so details of his report may have been lost in translation. In his memoir, Assistant Police Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson stated that a particular witness knew Jack the Ripper’s identity. Anderson wrote he knew the killer’s identity as well but saw no reason to reveal his name. In notes written by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, elaborating on Anderson’s claim, Swanson asserted that the witness was Jewish and refused to testify against a fellow Jew, insinuating the police believed Jack the Ripper was Jewish. Was this witness Israel Schwartz? It is possible but cannot be verified since Anderson and Swanson do not name the witness. But if the London police knew Jack the Ripper’s identity, then why was his name never disclosed?
A year before the Jack the Ripper murders, Israel Lipski was tried for the poisoning of Miriam Angel, a 22-year-old married and pregnant woman who lived in Whitechapel. Her mother-in-law and neighbors discovered her body in her bed around noon on June 28th, 1887. Medical examiner Dr. John Kay determined Mrs. Angel’s cause of death was due to swallowing citric acid. Then, in a spine-chilling moment, Dr. Kay thought he saw something under Mrs. Angel’s bed. His hunch was correct – Lipski was unconscious under Mrs. Angel’s bed, with traces of citric acid in his mouth.
After Lipski regained consciousness, he swore he saw two men robbing Mrs. Angel, and when he intervened, they shoved the acid down his throat and did the same to Mrs. Angel. However, a nearby shop owner identified Lipski as a customer who had recently purchased citric acid. Lipski eventually confessed he had acted alone but said his intentions were only to rob Mrs. Angel, not poison her. Lipski was hanged on August 22, 1887. Although he was executed, his name would live on as a slur for the Jewish residents of Whitechapel, and his case was likely the poison that plunged into London’s East End, resulting in heightened antisemitism, which intensified with Jack the Ripper.
The Men That Will Not Be Blamed
The fourth victim of Jack the Ripper was Catherine Eddowes, a 46-year-old mother of three who worked as a maid for Jewish families in another East End neighborhood. She was killed one hour after Elizabeth Stride. Her mutilated body was found at 1:44 a.m. on September 30, 1888, against a fence in Mitre Square, less than a minute’s walk from the Great Synagogue of London. On the same night, a graffiti message was seen on Goulston Street in Whitechapel. Below the message was a piece of Eddowes’ bloodstained apron. The message read, “the Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” (the exact wording and spelling are unknown as police erased the message before it could be photographed). It is uncertain if Jack the Ripper wrote this message. Could it have been written to deter the police from the real culprit? Or was it written long before, and the bloodstained piece of Eddowes’ apron happened to be in its spot?
Eddowes was last seen at 1:35 a.m. by three witnesses, ten minutes before her body was discovered. They observed Eddowes speaking to a man in a walkway, similar to Israel Schwartz’s report. The three witnesses were Joseph Lawende, Joseph Hyam Levy, and Harry Harris, and all three were Jewish. Lawende described the man he saw as around thirty years old, around five feet, seven inches, and wearing sailor-like clothes. His description was also similar to the description given by Schwartz, meaning it is possible Lawende and Schwartz saw Jack the Ripper about to commit murder.
Was murdering Eddowes close to the Great Synagogue part of an elaborate plan? Could the message have been a way to frame the witnesses? Or was the message a mere coincidence? When the police saw the message, they were split on investigating it further or erasing it. They decided on erasing the message because they feared an antisemitic riot would spark again as it had during the Leather Apron frenzy.
A Sharp Jewish Appearance
On November 8, 1888, twenty-five-year-old Mary Jane Kelly had a visit from Joseph Barnett, her estranged boyfriend. Barnett lost his job as a fish porter earlier in the year. As a result, Kelly began working as a prostitute to pay their bills. Barnett disapproved of her work, and the final straw was when Kelly started allowing other prostitutes she knew to stay in their home, a tiny bedroom with minimal furniture. Knowing poverty, Kelly wanted to help the women with temporary shelter, but Barnett disagreed, so they separated. Barnett continued to visit Kelly almost daily and often gave her money. He saw Kelly alive for the last time on November 8, 1888, around eight in the evening when he left her home and headed to a shelter for the night.
Around 2 a.m., Kelly walked around her neighborhood and bumped into her friend, George Hutchinson. Short on cash and needing to pay her rent, Kelly asked Hutchinson for spare change. However, Hutchinson answered he had spent all his money. The friends parted ways, but Hutchinson noticed Kelly walking with an unknown man. Hutchinson later described the man to police as well dressed, carrying a package, and with a “sharp Jewish appearance.” Since the man was exceptionally well dressed, Hutchinson wondered what he was doing in such a rough part of London. His suspicions grew, so he followed Kelly and the man to Kelly’s residence at 13 Miller’s Court. Hutchinson told police he waited outside Kelly’s home for 45 minutes, waiting for her and the man to come back out. But they never reemerged, and it is estimated Hutchinson left the scene at 3 a.m. Two of Kelly’s neighbors heard someone cry “Murder!” between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m., but neither acted because cries of murder were common in the neighborhood.
Kelly’s mutilated body was discovered around 11 a.m. by her landlord’s assistant. Since she was behind on her rent, her landlord’s assistant visited her room to collect the money, but when she did not respond to his knocking, he peeked inside the window and saw a gruesome sight. Kelly’s face and body were beyond recognition. Slices of her flesh lay next to her on a table. Inspector Walter Dew said of the murder scene that “no savage could have been more barbaric. No wild animal could have done anything so horrifying.” When Barnett was asked to identify Kelly, he could only do so because he recognized her ears and eyes.
Since Hutchinson insisted the man he saw with Kelly was Jewish, the investigation consequently focused on the Jewish community again. But there was doubt concerning Hutchinson’s report. First, if he was so suspicious of the man and protective of Kelly, why did he not track down a police officer for help? Second, the evening of November 9, 1888, was quite cold and rainy, so it would not make sense for Hutchinson or anyone else to stand outside for such a long time. A neighbor mentioned to police that she saw a man standing outside Kelly’s room, meaning Hutchinson or another man was indeed there, but how long he or someone else was there could not be confirmed. Third, Hutchinson claimed to be a close friend of Kelly, but he did not tell police what he allegedly saw until three days later. If he and Kelly were such close friends, why did he not go to the police immediately?
There is speculation Hutchinson made up or embellished his report for money since the police paid him for his help with the case. Moreover, there are inconsistencies in his story. When Kelly asked him for spare change, he said he was broke, yet he paid for a bed at a public lodging house a few hours later. Another strange aspect is his extremely detailed description of the man’s appearance and clothing. The area had no streetlights, so how would Hutchinson know the color of the man’s eyelashes? Did Hutchinson really see a man of sharp Jewish appearance with Kelly? Unfortunately, this remains a mystery.
The Jewish East End
During the era of Jack the Ripper, about 100,000 Jews lived in London’s East End. Most moved to England after experiencing persecution in Eastern Europe’s pogroms. In July 1888, weeks before the Jack the Ripper crimes began, a Jewish woman named Leah Ginski was sitting outside her East End home. She was called “Jew bastard!” and then physically attacked. During the same month, the Primose League of Conservatives assembled on Goulston Street, the same street where “the Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” inscription would be found. The league wanted the Jews of London to be banished or, even more gruesome, to be exterminated. To make matters worse, an article was published by Pall Mall Gazette stating the Talmud had an entry that read, “if a Jew became intimate with a Christian woman, he would atone for his offence by slaying and mutilating the object of his passion.” In response to this outrageous allegation, Rabbi Nathan Adler, the rabbi of the Great Synagogue of London, publicly wrote on October 4, 1888: “I can assert without hesitation that in no Jewish book is such a barbarity even hinted at.”
As theories of who Jack the Ripper was evolved, a local antisemitic butcher even suggested to the police that Jack the Ripper must be a shochet (a kosher slaughterer). However, the Jewish community of the East End sought to help the police with their investigation. Samuel Montagu, a Jewish member of Parliament, put up a cash reward for any information leading to Jack the Ripper’s arrest. A group of Jewish residents in Whitechapel offered to help police with house-to-house searches. Despite these proposals, antisemitism dominated the criminal analysis. One of the investigators, Sir Robert Anderson, stated Jack the Ripper’s people were “low-class Polish Jews.” He accused the Jewish community of the East End of knowing who Jack the Ripper was, but they concealed his identity to protect him from “Gentile justice.” In addition, the victims were murdered in areas of high Jewish presence. Nichols’ body was found across from Brady Street Ashkenazi Cemetery. One of the men who found her pointed at the cemetery and told police the killer was “probably some sneaking Yid.” Chapman, Eddowes, and Kelly were murdered steps away from synagogues. Stride’s body was discovered in front of a Jewish club, which was also next to a synagogue. Did Jack the Ripper choose these locations to place guilt on the Jewish community? Whatever the motivation was, the Jack the Ripper case produced dark shadows upon the Jews of East London. In 1889, England issued immigration restrictions, yet Eastern European Jews continued to arrive. By 1905, stricter rules were put in place, severely limiting the arrival of immigrants in England.
At the peak of the Jack the Ripper investigation, The New York Times said the London police and detective force was “probably the stupidest in the world.” The killer proved to be so clever he evaded justice for the rest of his life. Is it possible that if the police had not zoomed in on the Jewish community, they would have found the actual criminal?
The list of Jack the Ripper suspects is over a hundred people. One suspect specifically, Aaron Kosminski, was a Polish Jew living in Whitechapel, and census records list his occupation as a barber. Kosminski was at the top of Commissioner Robert Anderson’s suspect list because of his Jewish background and mental health struggles. A neighbor of Kosminksi once saw him eating bread from a gutter. Kosminski never accepted food from anyone since he seemed frightened by other people. He was often dirty and refused to bathe. Although records say Kosminski was a barber, he had not worked in years because his mental state began deteriorating. He once threatened his sister with a knife, but his family and doctors said he generally did not exhibit violent tendencies.
The most significant evidence pointing towards Kosminski is a shawl that supposedly belonged to Catherine Eddowes. As the theory goes, a police sergeant named Amos Simpson stole a bloodstained shawl from the Catherine Eddowes crime scene. He took the shawl home and gave it to his wife as a gift. Horrified, Mrs. Simpson is said to have shoved the shawl away in a box. The bloodstained shawl was then passed down from generation to generation in the Simpson family. But the shawl theory is not that simple. When police listed Eddowes’ possessions in their records, a shawl was never mentioned. Contrary to Amos Simpson’s story, there is no police record of him being at the Eddowes crime scene. It is also unlikely a homeless woman like Eddowes would have had an item like an expensive shawl. Hours before her murder, Eddowes told her boyfriend she was going to visit her daughter to ask her for money. If Eddowes was desperate, selling a shawl, if she had one, would have been an excellent idea. Moreover, on the day Eddowes was killed, she and her boyfriend pawned his boots, leaving him barefoot, just so they could afford a meal. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Eddowes to pawn a shawl rather than her boyfriend’s only boots?
In 2011, DNA testing was completed on the shawl and compared to the DNA of the descendants of Eddowes and Kosminski, and there was a match. Of course, like the shawl theory, this match is not simple either. The DNA was mitochondrial, meaning it is not limited to one person because it is passed through the female line. Thousands of biologically unrelated people can share the same mitochondrial DNA. The scientist who completed the DNA testing of the shawl detected a mutation called 314.1C, a mutation roughly found in 1 out of every 300,000 people. But this was not accurate because the mutation was actually 315.1C, which is shared by ninety-nine percent of people of European ancestry. Hence, this DNA could belong to anyone with European roots.
According to the Jack the Ripper witnesses, he was well dressed and seen speaking to the women. Kosminski, on the contrary, was always dirty and did not interact with others much. He spoke Yiddish and little English, and the only victim who spoke Yiddish was Elizabeth Stride, but she was seen by Israel Schwartz, who never mentioned a man resembling Kosminski. It is therefore complicated to say Kosminski was Jack the Ripper.
(c) Darlene P. Campos, 2022
The Name of the Dead
Mary Ann Nichols was born on August 26, 1845. She had just turned 43 at the time of her death. She married William Nichols and they had five children. They lived a happy life until William cheated on her with their children’s nanny. Eventually, William left Mary for the nanny and took their children with him, leaving Mary to fend for herself. A few months before her murder, she was a domestic worker for a family, but then lost her job and moved into a public lodging house. At 2:30 a.m. on August 31, 1888, a friend found Mary on the streets of Whitechapel, and she was very drunk. The friend begged Mary to accompany her to a public lodging house for the night, but Mary said she could not do so because she had no money to pay the bed fee. Mary was killed an hour later. Loved ones remembered her for being a likable person who had no enemies. Her final resting place is unknown.
Annie Chapman was born Eliza Ann Smith in 1840. She married John Chapman and they had three children. Their son was born with a severe disability and surrendered to a charity. Soon after, their daughter died. To cope with the losses, Annie started drinking. In 1884, she and John separated, but he continued giving her an allowance for her bills. After he died in 1886, Annie was left without money and did not have any nearby family, including her surviving daughter, who moved far away from her. At 1:30 a.m. on the evening of her murder, an employee in the public lodging house where Annie lived asked her for the daily bed fee. Unfortunately, Annie was broke, so the employee kicked her out. Annie swore she would find some money and she begged the employee to save a bed for her. She would be found dead four hours later. Those who knew her described her as a respectable woman who fell on hard times. Like Nichols, her gravesite is uncertain since she was buried in a common grave.
Elizabeth Stride was born Elizabeth Gustafsdotter on November 27, 1843, in Sweden and moved to England as an adult. She married John Stride in 1869 and they ran a successful coffee shop, but some years later, their marriage crumbled, and Elizabeth needed to support herself, which meant prostitution. She had a boyfriend, but their relationship was turbulent, so they often separated and reunited. On her final day of life, Elizabeth cleaned the public lodging house where she lived. She was paid a small sum by the lodging house deputy and went out for the night. Israel Schwartz was likely the last person to see her alive. Elizabeth’s friends remembered her for having a calm temper and for being a talented linguist as she spoke fluent Swedish, English, and Yiddish, which she picked up from her Jewish neighbors. Her boyfriend stated that while they often had disputes, Elizabeth liked him a lot, and he felt the same. His health rapidly worsened after her murder, suggesting it affected him significantly. She is buried in East London in a grave paid for by a local church.
Catherine Eddowes was born on April 14, 1842. Her parents died when she was a teenager, so she lived with an aunt and then with an uncle. At nineteen, Catherine began a relationship with Thomas Conway and they had three children. Unfortunately, their relationship ended and Conway took their sons, leaving Catherine with their daughter. In 1882, Catherine met John Kelly and they were a couple until her death. Sadly, Catherine and John lived in extreme poverty throughout their time together. While it is believed Eddowes was an occasional prostitute, John denied this, and so did others who knew the couple. On the night of her murder, Catherine was arrested for public drunkenness. She was held in a cell until 1:00 a.m. Catherine’s disemboweled body was found in Mitre Square forty-five minutes later. Catherine was buried in an unmarked grave in East London. John was admitted to a hospital about two months later and is presumed to have died there, perhaps of a broken heart. Loved ones remembered Catherine as an intelligent, scholarly, joyful, and warm-hearted woman who loved singing.
Mary Jane Kelly was possibly born in 1863 in Ireland. According to statements she shared with Joseph Barnett, her estranged boyfriend at the time of her murder, she was previously married and her husband had died in a mine explosion. With no other way to support herself, she began a life of prostitution. Though Mary was often in good spirits, she became a difficult person when drunk, even abusive to anyone around her. On the night of her murder, Mary told a neighbor she was exhausted from living such a hard life and reportedly said, “Whatever you do, don't you do wrong and turn out as I did.” Shortly after this conversation, Mary went out and would be slain hours later. Mary was buried in a public grave like the previous victims, and her resting place is undetermined. Friends and neighbors called Mary a kind person, and she was known to let other prostitutes sleep in her home. Joseph Barnett said of this that “she only let them stay there because she was good-hearted and did not like to refuse them shelter on cold, bitter nights.” Mary was remembered for sharing the little she had with others who had even less.
Over a hundred and thirty years have passed since Jack the Ripper prowled the streets of East London. With a long list of suspects, barely any evidence, and conflicting witness testimonies, this case might never be solved. Is it possible that he would have been caught if the police department had not focused on antisemitic theories? It is probable but not a hundred percent certain. However, it can be stated that assuming Jack the Ripper was absolutely a Jewish person likely thwarted the investigation, leaving five women without the justice they deserved and the Jews of East London in a deeper pit of antisemitism.
A 2022 exhibition of Pharoah Ramses II at the Houston Museum of Natural Science had a sign which read: “Speak the name of the dead and they will live forever.” The names of the five victims should be spoken to ensure they live eternally and rest in the comfortable peace they sought after all their lives.
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