by Scott Nelson
Mark King (Ripperana, No. 11, Jan 1995, "Kozminski" and No. 15, Jan. 1996) describes two Kosminski families in separate articles. In the former, it is clearly established that Aaron Kosminski’s brother-in-law, Woolf Abrahams of 3 Sion Square, certified his confinement at Mile End Old Town Infirmary in July, 1890, and was listed as Aaron’s next-of-kin ("Wolf") upon his incarceration at Colney Hatch Asylum in 1891. The cited birth certificate of Matilda to Woolf and Betsy Kozminski in May, 1890, apparently links Aaron to Betsy as brother and sister because of the Sion Square address recorded on Aaron’s admission to the Infirmary. In the latter article, a Kozminski family at Goulston St. is listed in the 1891 census: a father, Isaac, 43, boot and shoemaker, a mother, son, (all born in Poland) and a daughter, Betsy, 17, born in Whitechapel.
There seemed to me a possible link between Aaron, the presumed "Kosminski" suspect and this Goulston St. household. Was this Betsy living on Goulston St. the same Betsy who was married to Woolf Abrahams and living at 3 Sion Square? Apparently not. Additional census data not cited in the article indicates the latter Betsy was aged 34 in 1891 and born in Russia (Sugden 1995, revised Complete History JtR, p. 474-475) while the former Betsy was aged 17 and born in Whitechapel. This diminished the possibility of a direct link between the #76 Goulston St. and the #3 Sion Square households, although Isaac may bear some relation to Aaron, be it father, uncle, or in-law. As Aaron lived with Woolf and Betsy (nee Kosminski) Abrahams, and Aaron and Betsy were related, the possibility exists that Aaron was also born in Russia, not Poland. Thus, Anderson’s Polish Jewish suspect maybe someone other than Aaron.
The above hypothesis was discussed in three posts, dated 4/20, 4/23 and 5/20/99, on the Aaron Kosminski Suspect Board. Some points, both pro and con, are outlined below for this hypothesis. One of the central problems is relying on census data that was compiled every 10 years and recorded for the first year of each new decade, ie., 1881, 1891, 1901, etc. We can’t be sure where people lived on a year-by-year basis, or specifically if the census date even reflected the actual residence recorded on that date. Unfortunately, there is a 100-year moratorium on the public release of PRO census data. The 1901 London census, for example, will not be available until January 1, 2002. Another problem is that all files on criminal lunatics are officially closed for 100 years after the person’s death. Doubtless, there are many other factors to be considered in this theory. Lets look at some that struck me:
- Aaron is described in the A-Z reference as having come to London in 1882. I have never found any justification for this, unless it is based on the 1882 birth certificate of their first-born, Rebecca, in London, to Woolf and Betsy (likely Aaron’s sister or aunt, with whom he lived). Thus, it is possible that Aaron came to London in 1882 with Betsy and her husband. If the Kozminski family residing at #76 Goulston St. had been in Whitechapel since 1874, and Aaron was a son, one must ask why he was left behind in Poland or Germany for 8 or more years (see point #4 below).
- Throughout Aaron Kosminski’s approximately 28 years of confinement, there are no known records of his having confessed to the Ripper murders. During Aaron’s three years at Colney Hatch Asylum (1891-4), and afterwards, there are no existing records of any other "Kosminski" having been confined at this asylum (see point #10).
- Aaron habitually practiced "self-abuse" (masturbation). This is documented in his asylum records. Anderson and Macnaghten also both describe this habit about Kosminski, hence this factor supplies a strong link between Aaron and the Kosminski suspect, known to Scotland Yard. According to the 1891 census, Isaac (aged 43) was living with a wife and two adult children. How likely is it that someone in this situation would habitually engage in masturbation, in comparison to say, a 25-year-old who wandered the Whitechapel streets and lived with in-laws?
- G. Sims had additional information from Macnaghten that the Kosminski suspect was at one time employed in a hospital in Poland. If Aaron came to London in 1882, at the age of 16 or 17, this seems a bit improbable if he is the suspect. On the other hand, Aaron may have received apprentice training as a hairdresser or an orderly in a hospital at a young age and stayed behind to work in this capacity while his immediate family immigrated to London.
- After the murder of MJK, the police had garnered certain suspicions that the killer could have had an accomplice.
- Macnaghten’s possible original Memorandum (the "Donner Papers"), seen in the 1950’s by Philip Loftus, describes the Kosminski suspect as a "Polish-Jew cobbler, nicknamed Leather Apron". Isaac Kozminski was a boot and shoemaker. In another version of the Memorandum, the so-called "Aberconway" papers, the only readable part of the suspect’s name is "___minski"; the forename may have been written in both these versions, but was obscured for unknown reasons. It is significant that had Macnaghten not had the "private information" that convinced him that Druitt was the #1 Ripper suspect, Kosminski would have been the #1 suspect he described (assuming the police did not arbitrarily prepare a shortlist of suspects from many who came under suspicion). It is also significant that of the three suspects mentioned in the official version, Kosminski is the only one without a forename (Druitt’s first and middle initials were given).
- The Kosminski suspect was also described as a "Polish Jew of curious habits and strange disposition, who was the sole occupant of certain premises in Whitechapel after nightfall" (G. Sims, Lloyds Weekly News, 22 September 1907). When Aaron was discharged from Mile End in July, 1890, he went to live with his other sister Matilda, and her husband Morris Lubnowski at 16 Greenfield St. In April, 1891, this address is described as being "unoccupied" (Aaron was permanently confined in February, 1891). Thus, if Aaron is the subject of the above description, it would have been based on observations of a very brief time period several years after the Crimes, assuming the Lubnowskis had left the address shortly after Aaron’s return from the Workhouse. If the description were based on somebody else, known from the period of the crimes, Anderson’s statement that the murder could come and go (at will) and get rid of his bloodstains in secret is more fitting.
- Sergeant Robert Sager of the City Police in unsourced memoirs said "We had good reason to suspect a man who worked in Butcher’s Row, Aldgate. We watched him carefully. There was no doubt that this man was insane and after a time his friends (family?) thought it advisable to have him removed to a private asylum" (no date given). Butcher’s Row is 2-1/2 miles east of the heart of Whitechapel, just west of the Limehouse Basin, on the fringe of the West India Docks. The mention of being put in an asylum is reminiscent of the Kosminski suspect, except that Sager’s suspected worked during the relevant period, unlike Aaron Kosminski.
- In 1901, the Mile End Old Town Workhouse Infirmary (where Aaron was taken 1890-1) was "absorbed" into the Stepney Workhouse, St. Leonard Street, Bromley. Hence, Swanson’s Marginalia, written years afterward, refers to what he may have remembered as Stepney, but in actuality was Mile End. But Bromley is not Whitechapel; they are several miles apart. It seems to me more likely that Swanson said "Stepney" because he meant Stepney, not Poplar, or any other Workhouse, ie., he was at the Workhouse Infirmary following the Seaside Home identification and oversaw the transfer to Colney Hatch. In addition, he would have had "Kosminski’s" Stepney Workhouse records to which to review and to refer. On the other hand, Fido (p.228) says that "Stepney Workhouse" was a term used colloquially for St Georges-in-the-East in the 1880’s. Further, both the Mile End Old Town and Whitechapel Workhouses came to be administered by the Stepney Board of Guardians (but in 1925). The StBG sent their "able-bodied" paupers to Poplar Workhouse, in Poplar, while Stepney accepted aged and infirm paupers from Poplar to the St Leonard St. Infirmary (A-Z, p.442). But if the suspect was taken to Stepney, then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards, he may have been in poor health to begin with; thus the Workhouse could have been Stepney, not Whitechapel, Mile End or Poplar. Fido (as did Sugden later) searched the Greater London Archives, Pauper Lunatic Registers, Creeds, Admissions and Discharge Books for Bethnal Green, Mile End, Poplar, Stepney and Whitechapel "as variously available" from 1888-1900, finding nothing aside from Aaron in the way of another "Kosminski", Kaminsky or Cohen notwithstanding.
- Paul Begg (Uncensored Facts, p. 202) speculates that when Aaron Kosminski was transferred from Colney Hatch to Leavesden Asylum in April, 1894, this may have been garbled in the following year to the belief that he (the Ripper) had died at Colney Hatch (Swanson’s 7 May, 1895 statement on the Ripper’s death in the Pall Mall Gazette). This would imply that Scotland Yard had completely given up hope on procuring the necessary evidence to convict Aaron, if they believed he was JTR, and severed their contacts with the asylum (my interpretation, not Paul Begg’s). A more probable scenario is that Aaron was transferred to an asylum more befitting his mental condition after the actual Kosminski suspect died at Colney Hatch (see Aaron K. Board 5/20/99 for suggested reasons).
- As near as I can tell, the Colney Hatch Asylum Male Admissions Register was checked from 1888-1906, the Discharge Register from 1891-96, but the Male Patient Casebook was reviewed only for 1890-1 (Sugden, 1995). These records were previously checked by Fido, Begg and probably other researchers before Sugden, but he provides the widest interval of review time. But we must ask, if JTR was confined at Colney Hatch Asylum, would his name necessarily be recorded in the Admissions Register? Perhaps as an alias or anglicized name, if it was ever recorded at all? One might consider the publicity generated by such a revelation, and that Scotland Yard would probably conceal the killer’s identity by assigning a pseudonym. In any event, an examination of the Male Patient Casebook for 1891-95 may prove enlightening, maybe not.
- The location of the #76 Goulston Street is very close to where a piece of Catherine Eddowes’ bloodstained apron was discarded following her murder. If the Ripper fled Mitre Square through the St. James Place, he may have gone east on King St., across Houndsditch to Stoney Lane, then either (A) north on Middlesex, then east on Wentworth before turning south on Goulston St. to the doorway of the Wentworth Model Buildings, or (B) across Stoney Lane, then south on Middlesex to the narrow alley-way of New Goulston St., then proceeding south on Goulston Street. If he took route (B) it doesn't account for the location of the piece of apron at the Wentworth Model Buildings doorway location; but this route would be the shortest flight from the murder site to the above postulated address. But what if the killer had entered the New Goulston St. alley and found it occupied with prostitutes, their clients, or other loiterers? He certainly couldn’t have passed through in such close proximity to potential witnesses with bloodstained clothing or hands. It is more likely that he then proceeded on route (A), then ducked into the first convenient doorway (nos. 108-119), because he had prior knowledge it was there, and wiped his hands and whatever else before proceeding south towards his residence.
In two previous posts (April 20 and 23, 1999 on the Aaron K. Board), I thought that the name "Betsy Kosminski" at both #76 Goulston St. and #3 Sion Square (Abrahams/nee Kosminski) in 1891 seemed a bit beyond coincidence and reasoned that they were probably the same person, which they were not. Now what if the police, during their October 1888 house-to-house search for the killer in Whitechapel, came to #76, noted family members present and some suspicious behavior, ie., that they were trying to hide something? Faced with the continuing massive task of interviewing all of the residents in the district search area, they mark #76 down on a shortlist denoting reasonable suspicion, and continue with the rest of the search. About two or three years later, Aaron K. attacks his sister with a knife at #3 Sion Square (outside the 1888 Metropolitan Police-led search area) and is brought to the attention of the MET police. A background check of the records (from both the City and MET 1888 police notebooks) reveals previous suspicions (recorded by City Police (point #8 above) on a Kozminski family member, who also happens to have a daughter, Betsy, residing at the #76 house. This family is by now (early 1891) difficult to trace for whatever reasons (lack of census data, family breakup; the mother ended up living on New Road, Whitechapel in 1894, the son and daughter may have married and moved on), so the police initially assume that Aaron was this other suspicious Kozminski, and that Betsy, his sister or aunt, was the same Betsy who formerly resided at #76 Goulston St. Subsequently, Aaron’s sister or aunt clarifies her background to the police and provides a link via Aaron back to the #76 Goulston Street family.
The police eventually trace the mother (Elizabeth) to New Road, Whitechapel. She tells them that her husband, Isaac, has gone to live with his brother in Stepney. The police find Isaac at #23 Baker St. (Baker’s Row?), Stepney or another local address. Isaac, who by now has exhibited unmistakable outward manifestations of mania, is identified by the police as this other "Kosminski" who had initially fallen under suspicion in 1888 from the police house-to-house search and from follow-up City Police surveillance (Sager’s recollections in point #8). He is then taken from his brother’s house to the Police Convalescent Seaside Home. An initial attempt is made to identify him as JTR using Aaron as a witness, and he is returned to his brother’s house, shortly to be sent to Stepney Workhouse, Bromley, under restraint. The central point to this scenario is the possible police confusion of the name "Betsy Kosminski", a rather uncommon name in Whitechapel, I would think, with the relative of a legitimate JTR suspect living "in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders" (Anderson, p. 137) and a sister or aunt of the same name, who happened to live with a demented imbecile of the same surname.
Finally, two aspects I didn’t touch on before: (1) Anderson, in his 1910 memoirs, "The Lighter Side of my Official Life", wrote that while he was abroad, the results of the October 1888 house-to-house search pointed to the murderer being a low-class Polish Jew. When the Ripper was later "identified", this previous conclusion was verified in every respect. Anderson’s exact words were "and the result proved our diagnosis was right on every point" (Blackwood’s Magazine serialization, 1910). Thus, their 1888 house-to-house search led to suspicions on a poor Polish Jew, which were later confirmed when the trail may have led back to Isaac via Aaron’s relatives. (2) During the witness identification of the suspect, Anderson (p. 138 of his memoirs) says that the witness "unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him, but he refused to give evidence against him". Swanson, years later, noted that "…because the suspect was also a Jew and his evidence would convict the suspect, and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged, which he didn’t wish to left on his mind…" The preceding dovetails rather well if Isaac and Aaron were known to each other in the crimes because they were related and that Aaron may have actually partook in one or more of the murders, and that Anderson knew this. Anderson in all likelihood would have banked on an identification between two well-acquainted persons, not on a fleeting sighting two or more years earlier. Aaron may have been the witness (because he was possibly an unwilling participant in the murders), and could recognize and identify a relative, but either could not or would not give evidence against him because he was a blood relation. Anderson also knew that incriminating testimony from a certified lunatic, although admissible, would have had limited effect in a court of law, but I believe, he had little else to fall back on at that point. Hence, his reticence about the murderer’s identity in latter years in his writings, to the press, friends and even to fellow Scotland Yard detectives who were directly involved in the investigation, but not the identification. Two objections to this second aspect are (1) Anderson’s other description of the witness-suspect confrontation described in the earlier serialized Blackwood’s Magazine, March (1908): "…but when he LEARNED the suspect was a fellow Jew, he declined to swear to him…". Clearly this implies that they were completely unknown to each other, aside from the witness sighting. (2) Anderson said "I could not accept responsibility for the non-detection of the Ripper crimes" (Evening Chronicle, 1 Sept., 1908). This statement, I believe, has been misinterpreted by researchers to mean that the Ripper was never identified (brought to public justice), but in all probably meant that by the legal means of the Victorian British Judicial System, the police could not bring a convicingly guilty case against the suspect to the public based on evidence that had it’s source in part, (a) to family testimony two+ years after the Canonical Murders, and to (b) that mental lunatics were extremely difficult to convict in a court of law. Anderson quoted years later said that "The necessary evidence for his conviction is unobtainable." (Daily Telegraph, 19 November 1918).
Why did the City Police put the Kosminski suspect under surveillance at his brother’s house after his identification at the Seaside Home and before his confinement at the Stepney Workhouse? It is because the City Police may have obtained information on Isaac (from the October 1888 house-to-house search) and that Isaac lived on Goulston St. when the Eddowes murder was committed in City Police jurisdiction. Begg (Uncensored Facts, p. 209) citing a hand-written amendment by Swanson to the list of Whitechapel victims adding Frances Coles (who died 2-13-91) suggests that this places the identification of the "Kosminski" suspect sometime after February 13, 1891. But Aaron had already been incarcerated at Colney Hatch Asylum for one week. So Paul asks why would the police take Aaron (already incarcerated in an asylum since 7 Feb., 1891) to the Seaside Home for identification, then to his brother’s house, then the Workhouse, and back to the asylum from which he originally came, if he were the suspect? The answer, I believe is that Aaron was the witness, and Isaac the suspect, who had not been in an asylum as of this date. Aaron, as a witness, was taken from Colney Hatch Asylum directly to the Seaside Home and promptly returned there. Isaac may have joined him there in confinement shortly thereafter.
What of the incarceration at Colney Hatch? One can only assume that if there was another "Kosminski" suspect, Anderson, Swanson and company continued to attempt to extract a confession from and/or witness identification of their prime suspect up until his death in the asylum. Anderson said the identification took place after the incarceration, Swanson before. Actually, both were probably correct as multiple attempts were undoubtedly made to secure sufficient evidence or a confession; it is highly unlikely that the police would have given up after only one attempt at the identification. Why are there no known Colney Hatch asylum records concerning this suspect if he was JTR? Perhaps the incarceration of this suspect warranted official secrecy. It may even have been kept from senior Scotland Yard detectives who had worked on the case only two or three years before, while a select few continued to amass probative evidence to obtain a formal conviction up until the suspect’s death. One of the potential sources of hard evidence on this suspect could have come from un-accessed Stepney Workhouse records and the later Patient Casebook records of the Colney Hatch Asylum, if the police did not confiscate them. Other unseen (criminal) asylum records may even exist which may be currently accessible had the patient died sometime prior to 1895. In sum, it is UNLIKELY that Anderson and Swanson would misremember important events about their prime suspect, Kosminski, even years after the crimes.