|A Ripperologist Article|
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Aaron Kosminski has been identified as the suspect 'Kosminski', named by Chief Inspector Swanson as the suspect whose guilt Sir Robert Anderson described as 'a definitely ascertained fact'. Trying to establish Aaron Kosminski's background has proved difficult. Scott Nelson brings you up to date with his investigations.
Aaron Kosminski, a 25 or 26 year-old Polish Jew was brought to the Mile End Old Town Workhouse Infirmary on July 12, 1890, by a brother-in-law, Woolf Abrahams of 3 Sion Square (misspelled "Wolf" in the workhouse records). Aaron spent three days under observation before being released back to the care of an unnamed brother on July 15. It is likely that he spent the following months in the care of either Woolf and his family, or with another brother-in-law, Morris Lubnowski and his family. Morris and Woolf were married to Aaron's sisters, Matilda and Betsy, respectively. Seven months later, on February 4, 1891, Aaron was re-admitted to the Workhouse from 16 Greenfield Street, again under the care of Woolf. The April 1891 census shows nobody was then living at the Greenfield Street address.1 On February 7, Aaron was incarcerated in the Colney Hatch Asylum. The admission register records his nearest known relative as his brother, "Wolf" of 8 Sion Square. It is certain that the '8' is a misreading of '3' because the census records a Greenwald family residing at no. 8.
The 1891 census lists the Abrahams family at 3 Sion Square2: Mile End Old Town (see Figure 1).
Three years later, when Aaron Kosminski was moved from Colney Hatch Asylum to the Leavesden Asylum for Imbeciles on April 13, 1894, the order named his mother, Mrs. Kosminski, of 63 New Street, New Road, Whitechapel, as his nearest known relative3. The 1891 census records the following entry for this address4: Mile End Old Town (see Figure 2).
We know that Matilda and Betsy were Aaron's sisters because their maiden names were listed on the birth certificates for Jane, born on December 15, 1888 to Matilda (nee Kosminski) of 16 Greenfield Street, and for Matilda, born on May 26, 1890 to Betsy (nee Kosminski) of 3 Sion Square. Their husbands, Morris and Woolf are described therein as a 'boot rivetter' and 'journeyman tailor', respectively.5 The Lubnowskis had lived on Greenfield Street since December 1885 and in Whitechapel since 1881, when they arrived from the Continent (Lubnowski Naturalisation Application - Mutual Naturalisation Society). The census data makes it certain that the 'Cohen' family residing at 63 New Street in 1891 is the same 'Lubnowski' family who resided on Greenfield Street prior to 1891. Aaron's mother, if she was in Britian, had thus come to live with her eldest daughter and her family sometime between 1891 and 1894.6
The 'L.' recorded after each first name in the Cohen census is curious. Martin Fido reported that a Lubnowski family had lived in Mile End until the early 1930s by which time they had changed their name to Lubnowski-Cohen, and then disappeared from records.7 The census data listed above could suggest a very early date for hyphenating their name. The name change from the Polish 'Lubnowski' to the not-so-Polish sounding 'Cohen' is very interesting. Did this family find out that Aaron was a JtR suspect and decide to drop publicly their '-ski' ending surname because of similarity to 'Kosminski'?
And when did they leave the Greenfield address for 63 New Street? Did Aaron live with them during the autumn of 1888 and was he left behind when they moved? Anderson wrote of his Polish Jew suspect: ".that he was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders; and that, if he was not living absolutely alone, his people knew of his guilt and refused to give him up to justice".8
Another Kosminski initially thought to be Aaron's brother was the 86-year old Woolf Kosminski, of 23 Baker Street, Stepney, also a master tailor, who appeared on the Death Register of St. Catharine House for 1930.9 This means Woolf would have been born in 1844, 21 years before Aaron. But there is no provable link between Woolf and Aaron. Woolf was not living at the Baker Street address in the 1891 census and has not been traced to any other time. Still another Kosminski close in age to Aaron lived at 70 Berner Street in 1891. The census for this address lists:10 St. Georges East (see Figure 3).
Maurice was born on September 19, 1863, in Wattin, Kalisch, Poland and arrived in London sometime before 1884, when his son Israel was born. It is interesting that yet another Kosminski, Martin, immigrated to London from Kalisch,11 although no connection between Maurice and Martin has been found. Martin and his family lived at 5 Loraine Road, Islington in 1881,12 and by 1891 they had moved to 48 Berners Street, East Marylebone.13 Martin had a younger brother, Samuel, born in 1856. He may have been the "S Kosminski" listed at 170 Aldersgate Street EC in the Jewish Chronicle 1891 list of Donors to the Society for Relieving the Aged Needy, although the April census shows that this address was uninhabited.14
When Aaron was first incarcerated in Colney Hatch Asylum in February 1891, a witness for his certification, Jacob Cohen, gave doctors background information on his past behavior. There may be a possible link between this Cohen and Lubnowski-Cohen. The 1891 census shows that Cohen's given address, 51 Carter Lane, EC, St. Paul's, was a hotel/restarant and pub with cooks, waitresses, barmaids and borders.15 No "Cohen" was among them in the April census, although there were many lodging houses in the area and Cohen may have left there between February and April.
Aaron Kosminski's headstone reportedly records his entry into London about 1882. This accords rather well with the 1891 census record of 9 year-old Bertha Cohen, born in Germany and of 7 year-old Annie, born in London. The census also indicates that the eldest child of Woolf and Betsy, Rebecca, 9, was born in London about 1882. Thus, an extended Kosminski family may have immigrated from Russia or Eastern Poland to Germany, before finally settling in London in 1881-82. The age and birthplace of the eldest Cohen child, Joseph, makes it clear that they didn't leave Poland until about 1880.
If Aaron was among them, he too may have lived in Germany for two years. Aaron also reportedly spoke German in the Asylum.16 The arrival of a Kosminski family in London about 1881-82 clouds a piece of information, if true, given to the London journalist, G.R. Sims, that Anderson's Polish Jew suspect had at one time worked in a hospital in Poland.17 Aaron would have been about 15 at the time the families left Poland.
When Aaron died in 1919, his address was given as 5 Ashcroft Road, which had been the address of Maurice (Morris) and Matilda Lubnowski since 1915. The 1891 census shows nobody surnamed Kosminski or any of Aaron's relatives living there. Maurice may have died after 1919, as only Matilda Lubnowski-Cohen and several family members are listed at the above address until 1932, when they too disappear.
Aaron's burial record was signed by a H.W. Abrahams, who lived at the "Dolphin" and whose relationship to the deceased was listed as "brothers". The Trades Directories indicate that the Dolphin, located at 97-99 Whitechapel Road, was a public house/restaurant run by Edward Cecil Moore and Mark Abrahams.18 H.W. Abrahams could have been Aaron's brother-in-law, Woolf, although the Electoral Roll only shows in addition to H.W. and Mark, an Isaac and Florence Abrahams living there at the time.
1. RG12/0301/f 78/p. 4
2. RG12/0301/f 122/p. 41
3. Sugden, Philip, The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, Carroll & Graf, 1994, p. 401-404.
4. RG12/0300/f 26/p. 4
5. King, Mark, 'Kozminski', in Ripperana, no. 11, 1995, p. 12-14.
6. The "mother" from 63 New Street may have been Aaron's eldest sister, Matilda. The possibility that she, like her brother-in-law, Woolf, allowed herself to be listed as "Kosminski" with the wrong relation to Aaron, suggests a desire to keep their actual names from asylum records.
7. Fido, Martin, Correspondence in Ripperana, no. 12, 1995, p. 14-15.
8. Anderson, Robert, The Lighter Side of My Official Life, Hodder, 1910, p. 135.
9 Begg, Paul, Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts, 1995, Third Edition, Robson Books, p. 246-247.
10. RG12/0284/f 135/ p. 14
11. Begg, Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts, p. 207.
12. RG11/0269/f 13/p. 19
13. RG12/089/f 73/p. 38
14. RG12/0236/f 112/p. 6
15. RG12/0239/f 30/p. 39-40
16. Sugden, The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, p. 403.
17. Lloyd's Weekly News, 22 September 1907
18. London Trades Directory, Spring 1919