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A Mystery Play : Police Opinions on Jack the Ripper
Andrew L Morrison

In the wake of the Ripper murders various police officers expressed opinions about the identity of the culprit in newspaper interviews, memoirs, memorandum etc. Sometimes these views appear to be quite similar while at other times they differ so much it looks like not all the police were reading from the same script.

Leading Actors

Frederick George Abberline

When interviewed in 1903 by the Pall Mall Gazette Abberline put forward the theory that George Chapman (S A Kolowski) was the Ripper. He said that "...I cannot help feeling that this was the man we struggled so hard to capture fifteen years ago." In another interview in the same year he responded to suggestions that the Ripper was dead "It is simple nonsense to talk of the police having proof that the man is dead." Abberline also appears to dismiss Kosminski and Druitt although they are of course not named. "I know...that it has been stated in several quarters that 'Jack the Ripper' was a man who died in a lunatic asylum a few years ago, but there is nothing at all of a tangible nature to support such a theory." and "Soon after the last murder in Whitechapel the body of a young doctor was found in the Thames, but there is absolutely nothing beyond the fact that he was found at the time to incriminate him." The fact that he also he also said "...Scotland Yard is really no wiser on the subject than it was fifteen years ago" implies that there was no conclusive evidence against anybody and that it was merely Abberline's own personal opinion that Chapman was the Ripper.

Sir Robert Anderson

In his book "Criminals and Crimes" (1907) Anderson wrote that the Ripper had "...been safely caged in an asylum". In his memoirs "The Lighter Side of My Official Life" (1910) he was more specific "In saying that he was a Polish Jew I am merely stating a definitely ascertained fact." This certainty is re-enforced in his introduction to the "Police Encyclopedia" (1920) "...there was no doubt whatever as to the identity of the criminal...". These statements are unequivical Anderson is not just saying that he suspects somebody but that the identity of the killer was known. This is in contradiction to Abberline's statement that there was nothing to support the theory that the Ripper had been put in an asylum and died there.

John George Littlechild

In a letter to the journalist G R Sims Littlechild writes that he had never heard of a Dr D (Druitt) but thought that a Dr T (Tumblety) was "to my mind a very likely suspect". He also says that Anderson only thought he knew who the killer was which undermines the certainty with which Anderson wrote. Littlechild does not say that Tumblety was the Ripper only that he could have been. Since this view is presumably based on events at the time of the murders and not hindsight then Littlechild's opinion appears to be on firmer ground than Abberline's (nobody was looking for Chapman in 1888 because he had not done anything).

Melville Leslie Macnaghten

In his famous Memoranda Macnaghten named Druitt, Ostrog and Kosminski as possible ripper suspects. In the Scotland Yard version he does not say which of the suspects he prefers but in the Aberconway version he writes "...but I have always held strong opinions regarding no1 and the more I think the matter over the stronger do these opinions become. No 1 Mr M J Druitt". Macnaghten confirmed his suspicions of Druitt in his memoirs "Days of My Years" in which he wrote "Although...the Whitechapel murderer, in all probability put an end to himself soon after the Dorset Street affair in November 1888, certain facts, pointing to this conclusion, were not in the possession of the police till some years after I became a detective officer..." Macnaghten was also very certain about the number of victims "No the Whitechapel murderer had 5 victims- &5 victims only..." Although he did not join the Met until June 1889 Macnaghten worked with Monro, Anderson and Swanson and so was potentially very well informed about the case.

James Monro

In an interview in "Cassells Magazine" Monro said that he had "decidedly" formed a theory and "when I do theorise it is from a practical standpoint and not upon any visionary foundation". In retrirement he was reported as saying "Jack the Ripper should have been caught." Monro knew and worked with Swanson, Macnaghten, Littlechild and Anderson so he would almost certainly have shared their knowledge.

Edmund Reid

Reid gave press interviews (1896) and wrote to the Morning Star (1903) about the Ripper. He believed that there were nine Ripper victims with Francis Coles being the last and that the killer had been dead some years. Reid also published his reminiscences on the case in "Lloyd's Weekly News" in 1912. He said that "It still amuses me to read the writings of such men as Dr Anderson, Dr Forbes Winslow, Major Arthur Griffiths, and many others, all holding different theories, but all of them wrong." Reid believed "the perpetrator of the crimes was a man who was in the habit of using a certain public-house" The killer when drunk would leave with his victim and "...he would in some dark corner attack her with the knife and cut her up. Having satisfied his maniacal blood-lust he would go away home, and the next day know nothing about it." It is clear that Reid did not suspect an individual but had developed an idea of what type of person the killer was.

Sir Henry Smith

In his memoirs "From Constable to Commissioner" (1910) Smith wrote that "Jack the Ripper beat me and every other police officer in London". He claimed that he knew more about the crimes than anybody else but as to the killer "...I have no more idea now where he lived than I had twenty years ago". Smith thought he was hot on the heels of the killer on the night of the Eddowes murder when in reality the Ripper must have been long gone. However, such exagerations suggest that when Smith wrote he did not know who the killer was he was telling the truth. At one time during the murders he did have a suspect "He had been a medical student...He had been in a lunatic asylum; he spent all his time with women of loose character, whom he bilked by giving them polished farthings instead of sovereigns. I thought he was likely to be in Rupert Street, Haymarket, so I sent up two men and there he was...polished farthings and all, he proved an alibi without a shadow of a doubt." Smith also attacked Anderson for saying that the ripper's identity was known and that he was a jew.

Donald Sutherland Swanson

In the famous Swanson Marginalia Swanson wrote that "the suspect ... was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards - Kosminski was the suspect". Swanson does not say that Kosminski was the killer only that he was the suspect Anderson was referring to. This shows that Kosminski was a serious suspect and not just a name that Macnaghten had plucked out of the air.

An article in the Pall Mall Gazette (7th May 1895) said that "...Mr Swanson believed the crimes to be the work of a man who is now dead." That could refer to Kosminski who Swanson thought was dead but could also refer to Druitt or many others.

Supporting Cast

Thomas Arnold

In an interview with the Eastern Post in February 1893 Arnold said that "...not more than four of these murders were committed by the same hand. They were the murders of Annie Chapman in Hanbury Street, Mrs Nicholls in Bucks Row, Elizabeth Stride in Berner Street and Mary Kelly in Mitre Square." The confusion between Eddowes and Kelly means that it's not certain which one he is discounting but in reducing the number to four Arnold is contradicting Macnaghten.

Walter Dew

In his memoirs "I Caught Crippen" Dew was of the opinion that Emma Smith was the first victim of the Ripper and "Someone, somewhere shared Jack the Ripper's guilty secret..." He also thought that the killer,to the eyes of a layman, displayed no obvious medical skill.

Lewis Henry Keaton

Keaton was born in 1870, joined the Met. in August 1891 (warrant Number 77010) and retired with the rank of Inspector in 1917. He died in 1970 and in 1969 gave a taped interview in which he said that he believed that the Ripper was a doctor who was collecting wombs infected with veneral disease and that he used strychnine (this could be confusing the Ripper with Thomas Neil Cream). He named the doctor but there was a lot of background noise and the name could have been "Cohn", "Koch" or something else.

Benjamin Leeson

In his memoirs "Lost London" (1934) Leeson wrote that "...amongst the police who were most concerned in the case there was a general feeling that a certain doctor, known to me, could have thrown quite a lot of light on the subject". There is considerable reason to doubt Leeson's reliability, Donald Rumbelow when researching the Siege of Sidney Street found that Leeson was often wrong about events even though he was very much involved in them. As Leason did not join the police until October 1890 and was not posted to Whitechapel until 1891 he is even more likely to be wrong about things in which his involment was much more peripheral and at a more junior level. However, in spite of this Leeson's and Keaton's views may reflect a widespread belief amongst the lower ranks of the police that the Ripper was a doctor.

Robert Sagar

Sagar was in the City Police and wrote that "We had good reason to suspect a man who worked in Butcher's Row, Aldgate...There was no doubt that this man was insane, and after a time his friends thought it advisable to have him removed to a private asylum. After he was removed there were no more Ripper atrocities". This is interesting because it sounds similar to what Swanson wrote about Kosminski. It is strange however that Henry Smith made no mention of this suspect since he knew Sagar later writing "A better or more intelligent officer than Robert sagar I never had under my command".

Frederick Porter Wensley

In his memoirs "Detective Days" (1931) Wensley wrote that "Officially, only five (with a possible sixth) murders were attributed to Jack the Ripper".

Trying To Make Sense of the Script

Did the police know who Jack the Ripper was? The above shows that they did not have one prevailing view about the Ripper. There is even disagreement over the number of victims with estimates ranging from four to nine. There does seems to have been a fairly general consensus that the killer was dead or in an asylum but not too much can be read into this as the number of reasons for the murders ending are fairly few and death or being in an asylum are two of the more obvious ones.

Henry Smith stated that he did not know who the murderer was and Abberline was only of the opinion that Chapman was the killer. Swanson does not say if he thought Kosminski was guilty only that he was the suspect Anderson was writing about. Macnaghten is not certain and neither is Littlechild. Of all the policemen mentioned only Anderson states that the Ripper's identity was know beyond all doubt. All the others talk of "a very likely suspect" or "good reason to suspect" and do not claim that the killer's identity was definitely known. However, Anderson was almost certainly writing about Kosminski, Swanson definetly was and assumes that's who Anderson meant, Macnaghten mentioned Kosminski along with Ostrog and Druitt and Sagar wrote about somebody that sounds a lot like Kosminski. Even Abberline in naming George Chapman ( S A Kolowski) could have been referring to the same person ie a suspect with a name.

It may very well have been that amongst certain senior officers there was a belief that a Polish Jew may have been responsible and that reasonable grounds for suspicion existed but that is not the same as guilt beyond reasonable doubt. With our present degree of knowledge it looks like this mystery play never had its final page written and that our star actor may never emerge from behind the curtain to take his bow.


Thanks to Stewart Evans for providing copies of some of the material used in this article.



Begg, Paul "Jack the Ripper : The Uncensored Facts" (London : Robson, 1989)

Begg, Paul & Fido, Martin & Skinner, Keith "The Jack the Ripper A-Z" (London : Headline, 1992)

Cullen, Tom "Autumn of Terror" (London : Bodley Head, 1965)

Evans, Stewart & Gainey, Paul. The Lodger: The Arrest and Escape of Jack the Ripper (London, Century, 1995)

Farson, Daniel "Jack the Ripper" (London : Michael Joseph, 1972)

Fido, Martin. The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper (London, Weidenfeld 1989)

Howells, Martin & Skinner, Keith "The Ripper Legacy" (London : Sphere, 1988)

O'Donnell, Kevin "The Jack the Ripper Whitechapel Murders" (St Osyth : Ten Bells, 1997)

Rumbelow, Donald "The Complete Jack the Ripper" (London : Penguin, 1988)

Newspaper Articles

'The Chapman-Ripper Theory : Inspector Abberline Interviewed' (Pall Mall Gazette, 24th March 1903)

'The Chapman-Ripper Theory : Fresh Statement From An Authority' (Pall Mall Gazette, 31st March 1903)

Casebook Articles

Evans, Stewart P "Ex-Detective Inspector Edmund Reid and Jack the Ripper"

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