Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack the Ripper

Aaron Kosminski

As Macnaghten's second suspect, Aaron Kosminski, is described as "a Polish Jew & resident of Whitechapel, insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, specially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies; he was removed to a lunatic asylum about March 1889. There were many circumstances connected with this man which made him a strong suspect."

Inspector Swanson added that Kosminski "was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards." Philip Sugden chased down Kosminski's records and found a lot of discrepancies between police statements and the hospital records. According to Sugden, "Kosminski was not committed to Colney Hatch in 1889 but in 1891. And far from dying shortly afterwards, he lived for another 28 years.

Dr. Houchin, when he certified Kosminski's insanity, described his behavior: " He declares that he is guided & his movements controlled by an instinct that informs his mind; he says that he knows the movements of all mankind; he refuses food from others because he is told to do so and eats out of the gutter for the same reason." A man named Jacob Cohen claimed that Kosminski took a knife and threatened his sister's life.

However, Maurice Whitfield, Relieving Officer for the Western District of Mile End Old Town, who prepared papers for the doctors at Colney Hatch, described Kosminski as not dangerous to others or suicidal.

Colney Hatch Asylum
Colney Hatch Asylum
Kosminski was admitted to Colney Hatch in February of 1891 and stayed for three years. There was only one mention in his record of any aggressive behavior, even though his mental state had deteriorated: "Incoherent; at times excited and violent a few days ago he took up a chair, and attempted to strike the charge attendant." The medical superintendent at Colney Hatch summarized Kosminski as neither suicidal or dangerous to others, but simply "incoherent; usually quiet; health fair."

Kosminski was committed for the last 25 years of his life to Leavesden, a home for adult imbeciles as a "chronic harmless lunatic, idiot or imbecile." In those 25 years, he was occasionally troublesome, but not violent. He retreated more and more into his own world. "Patient does not know his age or how long he has been here. He had hallucinations of sight & hearing & is at times very obstinate. Untidy but clean, does no work."

The only bit of evidence amassed against Kosminski was a reputedly positive identification by one of the eyewitnesses, mostly likely Joseph Lawende. Inspector Swanson indicates that the positive identification of Kosminski took place at the "Seaside Home," which was a police convalescent center in Brighton. This identification took place no earlier than March 1890, when the home was opened, and most likely some 2 years or more after the original sighting by the eyewitness in 1888. Lawende, when he made his statements in the Mitre Square murder, said that he would not be able to identify the murderer again. Then, after more than two years, he makes a positive identification of a murderer he saw briefly in dim light?

Kosminski was small and slender of build, which does not fit Lawende's description of the killer as medium build, nor did Lawende describe the person he saw as a foreigner. Nor did Kosminski possess any anatomical knowledge. Sugden in his research makes another important point: "Kosminski's incarceration took place more than two years after the Miller Court murder. If Kosminski was the killer, therefore, we have to accept that after committing five or six murders in three months he quietly went to ground and remained inactive for another two years three months."

Is this then our Jack the Ripper? Probably not. More likely the harmless imbecile he is documented to be.

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