By Scott Nelson
Kudos to Stewart Evans for providing what I think is one of the clearest, most concise and defensible solutions to the mystery of the Kosminski suspect and the circumstances surrounding his alleged identification at the Police Seaside Home. Since Mr. Evans spent many years as a police officer, published author, and possesses thousands of works relating to the JTR Case, this qualifies him has an expert, second to none, in providing a most needed criminological viewpoint to this great 111-year old mystery.
The scenario he provides for the police suspicion and confinement of Anderson’s suspect is that it tactfully applies to Aaron Kosminski; and it does work well, assuming Aaron is the Kosminski suspect. If this is true, Mr. Evan’s constructed chronology reasonably accounts for what transpired with Aaron Kosminski; from the initial suspicion (1888, re-confirmed in early 1890), to the identification at the Seaside Home from the Workhouse (12-15th July, 1890). This was followed by 6 months of police surveillance at his brother’s home (from 15 July, 1890 to 4 February, 1891), and confinement at Colney Hatch Asylum (from 7, February, 1891, onward). His suggestions also reasonably account for the specific police recollections of the suspect and the legal means with which he was dealt.
Having said the above, I would like to outline a few more points to which I alluded in a previous article and to offer a few caveats to the above referenced discussion by Mr. Evans.
A possible reason for the omission of Kosminski’s forename on Macnaghten’s 1894 Memorandum is that the police didn’t want it generally known, although ‘Kosminski’ was already incarcerated. Kosminski had relatives surnamed ‘Kosminski’ who may have requested that the first name be withheld so their friends and acquaintances could not make the connection. Recall numerous individuals changed their names from ‘Oswald’ when JFK was assassinated in 1963, whether they were related to Oswald or not. But Aaron Kosminski’s full name was recorded in the admissions/discharge registers and the casebook notes for the Mile End Workhouse, and the Colney Hatch and Leavesdan Asylums. This, I suggest, is because: (a) the police knew that Aaron wasn’t the suspect, and that (b) the actual suspect may have been incarcerated under an alias. The fact that the name ‘Kosminski’ was initially revealed by Macnaghten (1894) suggests that by this date it was no longer considered important to conceal the name from the public. Alternatively, Macnaghten may have done so without notification of the suspect’s relatives.
Macnaghten also described of Kosminski: "This man became insane owing to many years of indulgence in solitary vices". If this description refers to Aaron, it would have been based on observations made by family and friends before his first attack of insanity in 1890, when he was 24 or 25. But we may question the ‘many years’ part of the statement if it referred to Aaron. While not wanting to second guess too closely, the wording of 100+ year-old police statements, I would suggest for example, that Macnaghten was describing a mature adult male observed engaging in "solitary vices" for many years, but not as an adolescent, who continued his public habit through his teens and into adulthood.
Aaron Kosminski, by 1890, lived outside the Metropolitan Police Search boundary, which went as far as Whitechapel Road on the south, and Great Garden Street on the east, missing Sion Square and Greenfield Street. Admitting that we cannot be sure where Aaron lived in the fall of 1888, can we be any more assured that his name may have been recorded in a police notebook? On the other hand, I drew attention to another ‘Kosminski’ who resided within the MET Police area as listed in the 1891 census, which was probably recorded in 1890.
I believe that up to now an unrecognized sort of "duel trigger" event led to the capture of the Kosminski suspect. The first part of this event led to focused police attention on a particular location of the October 1888 house-to-house search for the killer. The spark to this first event was the most tangible clue left by the killer: the piece of Eddowes’ apron dropped in the doorway to the Wentworth Model Buildings on Goulston Street. From this clue, the police knew exactly where to concentrate their house-to-house search, even though the boundaries extended well beyond the Goulston Street area. In this manner, the police may have been able to shorten their list of potential suspects down from hundreds throughout the search area, to perhaps tens or fewer "living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders" -Anderson. For it is here, I believe, that the police first encountered the Kosminski suspect in 1888.
The second part of this trigger event occurred two years later in 1890 when Aaron Kosminski threatened his sister, Betsy, with a knife (this event, I believe, actually occurred between his initial admission to the workhouse in July, 1890 and his return on 4 February, 1891, as explained later). The police interview of Betsy led to a review of their two-year-old notebooks to see if Aaron’s name had been recorded; it wasn’t, but another Kosminski’s was. This Kosminski also had a family member, Betsy, residing with him when he came under suspicion in 1888. Thus, momentary police confusion over ‘Betsy’ may have led them back to one Isaac Kosminski, who possibly resided at 76 Goulston Street at the time of the house-to-house search.
City Police Sergeant Robert Sager’s suspect worked in Butcher’s Row, Aldgate. If this suspect was Aaron Kosminski, we must ask what a hairdresser was doing in this part of London. If we accept Jacob Cohen’s description that Aaron "goes about the streets and picks up bits of bread out of the gutter and eats them, he drinks water from the tap & he refuses food at the hands of others….He has not attempted any kind of work for years…" we must also accept the probability that Butcher’s Row is a bit far for a delusional hairdresser to travel daily to and from Whitechapel, if he did work there during the relevant time period. Even allowing for the possibility of Aaron’s residing with Cohen near the area of St Paul’s Cathedral (51 Carter Lane?) during the fall of 1888, this is a good three miles west of Butcher’s Row. If, however, we admit that Sager’s recollections may be those of a man who did travel daily to Butcher’s Row, not as a hairdresser, but as a boot and shoemaker and/or butcher, other possibilities open up. As a boot and shoemaker, the Kosminski suspect could fashion rubber soles to his shoes for soundless travel on his nightly perambulations. In addition, if this suspect was living on and off with a brother, Wolf Kosminski, a tailor, he could alter or obtain wardrobe variations or different styles of dress, thus accounting for variations in witness descriptions.
I would guess that there were probably no workhouse staff involved in the escort of the Kosminski suspect to the Seaside Home for the initial identification; it would have been too insecure and why trust medical staff to secrecy and to law enforcement instead of the Scotland Yard police? Any excuse could have been given to the workhouse staff. And why risk any outburst resembling a murder confession with anything other than the police escort present. Thus, I think the source of Swanson’s statement "…sent by us with difficulty…" refers to the difficulty the MET police would have with the workhouse authorities for the removal of a very physically sick man.
Anderson would have been well aware of the circumstances of Lawende’s brief glance in darkness at the man with Eddowes near the Church Passage to Mitre Square on 30 September 1888, and knowing that after almost two years, it would be impossible to verify. Even if it were, it could not stand up in court testimony given the circumstances. Lawende certainly wouldn’t have agreed to testify under these circumstances, nor do I think he would have bowed to police pressure (refer to Major Henry Smith’s abortive attempts to bait Lawende with leading questions (A-Z, 1996, p.239). But if we change the players in this scenario, it could be interpreted thus: witness is brought before suspect, witness is asked if he recognizes suspect ("of course"); will witness then describe what suspect was doing on such and such a night? ("I can’t, I don’t remember, it was too dark…"). The witness response to these two questions as related by both Anderson and Swanson strongly suggest the suspect and witness had to be well known to each other. For how could a witness be so sure that he recognized another person, but could not place them near the scene of a crime? The witness had to be an unwilling participant to the crime(s) who refused to give further evidence. Anderson knew that a positive identification under these circumstances would have been a very significant piece of probative evidence against the suspect and would not have leveraged an important piece of testimony on circumstances that he knew wouldn’t stand up in court. (i.e., if the witness was Lawende).
As to the statement that no identification would be allowed on a patient who had been committed to an asylum, Mr. Evans has a much better background than most other theorists to know if this is true or not. It is unusual that Anderson, a former barrister, would have made this mistake. However, I would cite an article by Trevor Spinage called "on the Trail of David Cohen", in Ripperologist, no. 23, June 1999. Mr. Spinage, in attempting to tie up some of the loose ends in Martin Fido’s Kosminski/Cohen/Kaminsky theory, suggests that separate identifications of these suspects took place, one of Kosminski at the Seaside Home (as Swanson maintained) and the other of (Cohen) at Colney Hatch Asylum (as Anderson maintained). This identification scenario also follows Fido’s and Spinage’s views that the suspect could be legally identified as a major crime suspect while incarcerated in an asylum. The Kosminski suspect was the most viable JTR candidate to date (1890-1). Anderson and Swanson both maintained this view years after the crimes.
I think it is unlikely that Aaron would have been released from the workhouse (15 July, 1890) back to the care of his brother (in-law) if he had recently threatened his sister with a knife (assuming this incident prompted his being brought initially to the workhouse). It is more likely that the knife incident occurred after Aaron’s return to Woolf Abraham’s care and was directed either at Woolf’s wife, Betsy (or if Aaron had stayed at 16 Greenfield Street, at his other sister, Matilda). This tactfully assumes that the city police were not watching Aaron during this time. Recall that Jacob Cohen testified to the workhouse staff that Aaron threatened his sister with a knife only after he was readmitted to the Mile End Workhouse on 4 February 1891. Martin Fido (in Ripperana no. 12, 1995, p. 14-15) points out a possible Lubnowski-Cohen connection in this case: that the Lubnowski family resided in Mile End until the 1930’s, by which time they had changed their names to Lubnowski-Cohen, then they disappear from the rate books.
Let us postulate an alternative scenario to the confinement of the Kosminski suspect: Upon the return of the suspect from his brother’s house to the workhouse (sometime in 1891) Wolf says: " He is now very sick. Take him back to the workhouse for re-evaluation and I will certify his institutionalization, as a representative of his immediate family…" Thus, if this scenario is correct, the suspect was taken with his hands tied to Stepney Workhouse, Bromley for treatment of severe physical illness. After a short duration at the workhouse, the staff realizes he doesn’t have long to live, and with police escort, transfer him to Colney Hatch Asylum. There, Anderson continues to question and to attempt a witness confrontation with the suspect until his death, shortly after he was incarcerated.
Mr. Evans states that Swanson "may have assumed that Kosminski had died because of the state he was in". The reason being that the police asked the asylum (Colney Hatch) to inform them if they (the asylum medical staff) thought that Aaron was fit (eligible) for release. But Aaron was still in good bodily health, and both Anderson and Swanson would have been well aware of this having reviewed the medical records. I have this intuitive feeling that Anderson, had he truly believed that Aaron Kosminski was JTR, would have kept up an unofficial correspondence with the Leavesdan Asylum authorities after 1894, until his death (Anderson’s in 1918) just in case something might slip out, and that Aaron had confessed to the crimes. In addition, Anderson’s memoirs, published in 1908 and 1910, and other statements made to journalists about the suspect’s identity, would have been known to the staff at the Leavesdan Asylum, members of which would have been all to happy to convey any new information to Anderson or his successors, as apparently they never did. If the Kosminski suspect actually died shortly after his confinement at Colney Hatch, this scenario makes no sense if the suspect was Aaron. But if we consider a sickly suspect taken to a workhouse befitting the degree of his medical condition, the statement that he died shortly after being confined in the asylum is more logical.
Macnaghten also left another puzzling statement about the Kosminski suspect: that he "strongly resembled the individual seen by the City P.C. near Mitre Square". Mr. Evans suggests that Macnaghten actually meant that the City P.C. = city witness Lawende. Lawende, Harris and Levy saw Eddowes and her killer approximately 1:34-1:35 am as judged by the clock at the Imperial Club. Once again, I’ll give Macnaghten the benefit of the doubt. The N.Y. Times, October 2, 1888, in discussing the lack of clues in the crimes records the following excerpt: "The only trace considered of any value is the story of a watchboy who saw a man and a woman leave Aldgate Station, going towards Mitre–Square. The man returned shortly afterward alone. The police have a good description of him…a policeman swears he was not absent over 15 minutes from Mitre Square, and must have been watched by both man and woman as he went through, they following." P.C. James Harvey’s beat on 30 September 1888 went down Duke Street, along Church Passage and back without entering Mitre Square. He entered Church Passage at about 1:40 am. Sugden (1994) cites his report as 1:41 or 1:42 am ("I saw no one, I heard no cry or noise"). P.C. Watkins found the body at 1:45 am. Clearly, this news report refers to P.C. Harvey, who in all likelihood passed by Eddowes and her killer at the entrance to the Church Passage, then went down, they waiting until he returned and then going down the passage after. Thus, Harvey would have been the "City P.C. who got a glimpse of Jack in Mitre Square". He was dismissed from the City Force on July 1, 1889 for unknown reasons. Perhaps he refused to give evidence, although I am not suggesting that he was Anderson’s witness. It may have been concluded at the time that he did have a brief encounter with the Ripper and his victim, but did not pay enough attention to them because of his quick passing of a seemingly tranquil scene. It was only confirmed later that he could confirm the Pole’s height and build (G.R. Sims in Lloyds Weekly News, 22 September, 1907).
A review of the St. Catherine House Death Register for the years of 1873-1951 has not revealed the deaths of any family member recorded at 76 Goulston Street in the 1891 census or any variant of the name Kosminski, Kozminski, Kosminsky or Kozminsky (P. Begg, personal communication). This would include Isaac, Elizabeth, Michael and Betsy, all recorded as residing at 76 Goulston Street in 1891. I have suggested that Elizabeth is the ‘Mrs. Kosminski’ who was listed as Aaron’s next-of-kin prior to his incarceration in the Leavesdan Asylum on April 13, 1894. Other than that, this family disappears completely from the records. The question is why? Perhaps the family re-emigrated or changed their surname (possible reasons are suggested above). An underlying reason in accordance with the possible name change, I suggest, is that this family knew a close member was a Scotland Yard JTR suspect, and chose to slip into desired anonymity upon the suspect’s death.
In summary, Mr. Evans has provided, I believe the most concise scenario to date of the police suspicion, detention and incarceration of the Kosminski suspect. The only variances I might suggest are the actual forename of ‘Kosminski’ and in the identity of the witness who may have been subjected to repeated attempts under duress to admit to having knowledge of his crimes.
Comments are welcome.