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David Cohen
Excerpted from the Casebook Message Boards
Originally posted by Martin Fido on Saturday, May 27, 2000 - 03:30 pm

Long, long ago, in August last year, Katya asked for a simple explanation of the Cohen/Kosminski confusion I postulate, and some rationale for thinking Cohen a plausible suspect in the light of the sightings of respectable-looking non-raving men in the company of certain victims.


I've posted a long boring piece under 'Primary Sources' on the 'Miscellaneous' Boards (reprinted here) giving reasons why I think Anderson's evidence indicates as historical fact that a mad Jew was identified, probably in the asylum, by a Jewish witness. If you are already certain in your own mind that this is garbage, and you don't feel open to persuasion, don't waste any further time reading this.

Now. Anderson believed the Ripper was a poor Polish Jewish lunatic from Whitechapel. I searched all the London public asylum records from 1888 to 1890 - a search which has not been repeated by anyone else, which means I advise a little caution when taking the opinions of people who have only looked at Cohen and Kosminsky records. From careful consideration of all Jewish inmates, especially those from Whitechapel, I concluded that David Cohen was not only the only possibe 'Anderson suspect', he very probably WAS the Ripper. His incarceration would explain the ending of the murders better than that of any other lunatic committed in the period. And his extraordrinary violence and hostility to just about every one he encountered marks him out strikingly from all the other patients over the two year period.

Now consider the raving mania that worries Katya. Raving mania is virtually never seen nowadays. Tranquillisers are used imediately to suppress it. Nor have raving maniacs ever remained at large for any length of time. They are obviously and visibly demented without any need to check whether they'r putting straws in their hair or asking for pieces of toast to sit down on. Therefore Cohen's attack of raving mania started very shortly before his arrest - or maybe even during it. It is not without interest that accounts of the arrest of Jeffrey Dahmer indicate that when he knew he was blown and caught, he started raving. In my opinion Cohen's visible breakdown could easily have been brought on because the steadily increased policing of Whitechapel made it harder and harder for him to slope off with a prostitute unobserved, and achieve the needed emotional 'release' of a murder. The increasing time lag from one murder to the next suggests this. And forensic psychologist Professor Luigi Cancrini of Bologna agreed as soon as he saw Cohen's case notes. Cancrini had previously observed that the crescendo of violence in the Ripper murders were evidence of mounting rage that must ultimately turn in on itself and would probably result in suicide. That, of course, remains a possibility. But Cohen's decline into raving mania fitted his observations equally well. I reconcile this with the appearance of the 'clerkly' man with Liz Stride and the shabby-genteel man Hutchinson saw with Mary Kelly because for a variety of reasons I don't think either was the Ripper (or, in Stride's case, the man Schwartz subsequently saw assaulting her).

On to the confusion. The reason I carried out such an extensive search of so many asylums was that I was looking for some one called Kosminsky (or something very like it) who went into an asylum in the spring of 1889. Both 'clues' came from Macnaghten's garbled account of what he knew. And they led nowhere. So I had assumed that there was no Kosminsky, but that the mysterious figure of Nathan Kaminsky who was treated in Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary in Aprill 1888 and then disappeared from all records entirely, might very well be 'David Cohen', since there were identical elements in the very brief descriptions of them, and Kaminsky's address was, and remains, the most likely centre for the Ripper's operations that has ever been connected with any suspect. I was consequently astonished when I casually looked up a further Colney Hatch record book which ran to 1894 and discovered that there really was a Kosminsky. It didn't immediately strike me that he was exactly the same age as both Cohen and Kaminsky, as well as coming from the same parish and being another foreign or Polish Jew. I thought his incarceration was too late for him to be the Ripper, and even rather too late for him to be Anderson's suspect. When I found his medical records I was quite sure he wasn't Jack: he was harmless and suffered from aural hallucinations and a touch of persecution mania. No sadism. No violence. And apart from the typical silly Victorian belief that his illness was caused by masturbation, no sexual disorder.

I don't think anyone who has done original research in the field has ever really believed that Kosminsky was the Ripper, though Paul Begg nursed the possibility for some time, during which period he persuaded television director Geoff Pope to become committed to the idea, and the Cosgrove-Muerer production company to use the name Kosminsky for the Jewish suspect in their Peter-ustinov-and-the-panel-of-experts investigation. Whereafter it has been suggested that this is the 'preferred' theory today, which is not, I feel, the case.

The fact that there was an innocent Kosminsky, and a very similar figure in David Cohen whom I believed to be guilty, led me to think there must have been some confusion. I now believe the Swanson marginalia (which emerged after and in response to my work) bear this out completely. In essence, Swanson says four things about the suspect, two of which apply uniquely to Kosminsky and two to Cohen. He says the suspect was called Kosminsky and he lived at his brother's house in Whitechapel. These are definite Kosminsky points. But he also says he was taken to the infirmary with his hands tied behind his back. Since restraint of lunatics had to be recorded, we know that this is untrue of Kosminsky, who was never put under restraint at any time. Cohen, on the other hand, was definitely taken from the infirmary to the asylum under restraint (and since his first action was to throw himself on the floor and roll around, it seems likely that this was restraint of his upper body or hands) and was later put into 'strong clothes' to stop him from tearing his garments off. And, most importantly, Swanson says the suspect died shortly after transfer from the infirmary to the asylum.

Kosminsky was still alive when he wrote this (and would live another 9 years). Cohen, on the other hand, died within a year of going to Colney Hatch, and was the only Jewish patient to die prematurely between 1888 and 1892. This seems to me to leave no possibility of doubt that Cohen and Kosminsky had somehow become confused in Swanson's mind and he thought they were one and the same person.

(There are more questions about the Swanson marginalia that remain unresolved: notably his statement that the identification took place in 'the Seaside Home' - either the Metropolitan and City Police Convalescent Home in Hove, opened in 1890, or one of the boarding houses used as ad hoc police convalescent homes between the start of the Convalescent fund in 1887 and the purchase of the dedicated home in 1890), and that it took place before the suspect went into the asylum, whereas Anderson says it took place after. I can't even offer reasoned deductions to explain these. Until we find out some more facts they are unresolved mysteries.

But I offer a hypothesis to explain the belief that Cohen and Kosminsky were one and the same. We know that the Met were not sure about Cohen's name. They took him to the magistrates court to be certified under the name Aaron Davis Cohen. By nightfall that had changed to David Cohen. A number of people, including some Cohens, have told me that the authorities often allocated the name Cohen to immigrants whose names they didn't know or couldn't be bothered with. The Jewish scholar who told Paul Begg this was untrue, and the authorities went to great lengths to get people recorded under their right names, hadn't seen some of the records I have - the classic instance being 'Nathan Karnsky' whose name stayed thus as originally recorded for 10 years after the authorities had interviewed his mother and sister and knew his name was Arginsky.

We know, too, that detailed information about Anderson's suspect was known to very few people. Macnaghten, for example, thought the identifying witness was a City PC. Abberline's claim 'I know all about that' had better be treated with a pinch of salt: he knew ABOUT it, but he didn't know ALL about anything that we've yet been able to sift through. We have no idea how much Littlechild knew or on what he based his scepticism about Anderson's belief. And if the suspect was David Cohen, those in the know would have breathed a sigh of relief and pushed him to the back of their minds when he died. Furthermore, the 'difficulty' Swanson says they had in getting the identification made might well have been because their witness was (as most informed commentators now think) Lawende. And Lawende was actually a witness to the one murder that took place in the City. So the City Police should have run any ID that used him. The Met would not inform the City if they'd hijacked their witness, only to find he wouldn't give them the sworn statement they needed incriminating a fellow Jew.

But according to Swanson, the CITY police watched Kosminski at his brother's house in Whitechapel - in other words, they trespassed covertly on Metropolitan territory in the hope that they were going to get the prestige of catching the Ripper. So we have the possibility that each force is keeping secret from the other its trespass on their ground. If it then leaked out from the City that their 'mad Polish Jew from Whitechapel' had gone into Colney Hatch, those in the Met who knew about David Cohen might have thought they were talking about him, but they'd be unlikely to want to share all their information and stand accused of keeping the City in the dark while they failed to get full advantage out of Lawende. And while Cohen was incarcerated as a man with no known relatives, Kosminsky's name would have been known with certainty to the City police - there was a sane brother with whom he lived. So I think the Met, who had never been sure just who Cohen was or what he was called, assumed they were hearing that the City had tracked their man 'Cohen' in Whitechapel in 1888 and found that hs name was really Kosminsky. And Swanson, at least, accepted a couple of Kosminslian details as part of thepicture of the Ripper.


Except that nothing is ever satisfactorily demonstrated to all unvbelievers, especially in this case!

Related pages:
  David Cohen
       Dissertations: David Cohen (Part II) 
       Message Boards: Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper 
       Message Boards: David Cohen 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Cast of Thousands - Kosminski/ Lubnows... 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - David Cohen 
       Ripper Media: The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper 
       Suspects: David Cohen 
  Martin Fido
       Authors: An Interview with Martin Fido 
       Dissertations: Anderson, Monro and Jsfmboe 
       Ripper Media: The Jack the Ripper A to Z