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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 20, December 1998. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
by Andy Aliffe

The legend of Sweeney Todd conjures up images of a throat-cutting ghoulish fiend, much the same as the perception of Jack the Ripper. They also shared the same modus operandi; a deep slash across the neck followed by mutilation of the body. It is possible that Sweeney Todd was no fictional character as imagined. In his recent book, Peter Haining tells the supposed "real story of the demon barber of Fleet Street".

Haining tells us that Todd was born on 16 October 1756 in Brick Lane, Stepney. "The actual house in which the child first breathed the fetid air of a London slum is not known, though it has been suggested that it may have been one of a trio of three-storey buildings, numbers 85, 87 or 89, on the west side of the street, near the junction with Hanbury Street and just a stones-throw from Spitalfieds Market".

Todd's mother was a silk-winder and her husband a silk weaver. At an early age Sweeney Todd became apprentice to John Crook of Holborn; cutler and specialist razor-maker, but by 1770, aged 14 years, Todd was sentenced to five years in Newgate Prison. There he met "a grizzled old barber called Plummer, who was serving ten years for embezzlement... he had not wasted his years though, for there were plenty of better-off prisoners who would like a shave, and anyone who fell ill had no one but the barber to turn to for treatment."

Sweeney Todd became Plummer's "soap-boy", lathering-up the customers. He was released from Newgate in 1775 aged 19. years, and with his newly acquired trade joined the ranks of the eighteenth century "Flying Barbers" or journeyman hairdressers, "setting up on street corners, in markets or at fairs, offering their services to passers-by." In 1785 Todd opened his Barber Shop at 186 Fleet Street, next to St Dunstan's Church, and the rest became history.

The story of 'Sweeney Todd' became deeply rooted in early Victorian 'Penny Bloods' or 'Penny Dreadfuls'. The theme was borrowed for serialisation in the People's Periodical of 1846/47 under the title The String of Pearls or The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

It was written by Thomas Prest who claimed to have based the historical fact of Sweeney Todd on the reports of his trial as written in the Newgate Calendar. It was later adapted for the stage, changing the name to Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barter of Fleet Street and performed regularly during the 1800s at the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton.

It is interesting to note that Roslyn D'Onston (aka Robert D'Onston Stephenson) stayed with a member of the same Prest family in Islington when he arrived from his native Hull to volunteer his services to fight with Garibaldi in Italy.

The theme was further developed in popular fiction; Sweeney becoming the model of B L Farjeon's novel Devlin the Barber. Published in 1888, it tells the story of a London hairdresser at the centre of a murder mystery and is highlighted by Devlin's seemingly supernatural powers which he used to beguile his female victims and who, at the end of the book, inexplicably disappears! (Now where have I heard that before?!) In reality, by 1888, barbers and hairdressers were already under suspicion of being the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders.

The joint title of Barber-Surgeon went back several centuries. They practised in Royal Households and military establishments and often acted as medical orderlies under battle conditions. Apart from cutting hair and shaving, their more familiar civilian role was to perform minor surgery such as blood letting, treating wounds and lancing abscesses and some were also trained in the operation of removing gangrenous arms or legs. By definition they had "some rough anatomical knowledge".

The barber's pole is a reminder of this original work as it represents the staff the barber-surgeon gave his patient to hold while he was being bled and to encourage the blood to flow. In the late 18th Century a barber displayed a blue and white stripped pole and the surgeons the same, but with a red flag and blood pot attached. The red stripped pole is said to represent the blood from the blood letting and the white the bandages used to dress the cut.

The Barber-Surgeon has been immortalised in this famous verse:

A Barbers Shop adorned we see,
With Monster, News and Poverty,
While some are shaving others bleed
And those that wait the papers read.

The Master full of Whig or Tory
Combs out your wig, and tells a story.
Then palms your Cole, and scraping, smiles,
And gives a pill to cure the piles.

At least four or five police suspects and several others connected with the Whitechapel murders were hairdressers, or in some way connected with the trade. The cut-throat razor has always been considered a formidable weapon!

During the investigation into Annie Chapman's murder, the CID wanted to question a male hairdresser called "Mary"; a known sex offender. They were, however informed by the Bremen police that he was currently serving a twelve month prison sentence in Oslebshausen.

The now very familiar picture of Annie Chapman's murder site at 29 Hanbury Street shows the front view of a hairdresser's shop owned by a certain N Brill. In fact 29 Hanbury Street had been continuously used as a barber's shop since 1895. When Mrs Amelia Richardson vacated the building the lease was taken over by Morris Modlin, who traded as a hairdresser until 1905. The trade and premises was then let to Nathan Brill who conducted his business from 1906 up to 1951 when Maurice Stanton is listed at the address from 1952 until 1957, although he traded with the same shop-front displayed by Nathan Brill, which remained until eventual demolition began in April 1970.

PC John Johnson was on duty in the Minories during the early hours of Tuesday 18th September 1888 when he heard a cry of `Murder!' coming from the direction of a yard called Three Kings Court. Here he found a man with a prostitute named Elizabeth Burns. The man said he had done nothing and was sent on his way, but the woman pleaded to be escorted away from the scene by the policeman. As they walked Elizabeth told PC Johnson that the man had threatened her with a big knife. She had been too frightened to say anything earlier, but it was now too late for Johnson to apprehend the man, who by this time had disappeared.

The culprit was in fact a German hairdresser by the name of Charles Ludwig and was later arrested that same evening by PC Gallagher after an incident at a coffee stall in Whitechapel High Street. This is possibly the same incident often referred to by journalist and author George R Sims, who, having spoken to the stall holder was told that Sims' picture, advertising his latest book, was a perfect likeness of the man arrested as being the Whitechapel Murderer.

Charles Ludwig, hairdresser, was described as "well dressed in a frock coat and top hat Dark, slight build, about 5ft bins tall, supporting a grizzled moustache and beard".

Ludwig was taken to Leman Street Police Station and when searched was found to be carrying a long-bladed knife, scissors and a collection of razors. He had been employed by Mr C A Partidge, of the Minories, as a barber's assistant.

Earlier in the evening of his arrest he had been drinking at an hotel in Finsbury, an establishment he used regularly, but this particular night he was the worse for wear from drink and became annoyed when asked to leave, producing a number of razors and frightening many of the hotel guests.

The landlord described Ludwig as follows: "He is a most extraordinary man, is always in a bad temper, grinds his teeth with rage at any little thing that puts him out. I believe he has some knowledge of anatomy, as he was for some time an assistant to some doctors in the German Army, and helped to disect bodies. He always carries razors and a pair of scissors with him... from what he has said to me, I know he was in the habit of associating with low women."

The Hairdresser's Weekly Journal, the trade paper, was quick off the mark to report the incident. Dated 22nd September 1888, and captioned under the heading of its weekly column "Captain Cuttle's Note Book" it says the following:

"It had to come! I thought it would! None of the great events of the world have taken place without the help of THE profession (hairdressing). Heroes have stopped to be carefully shaved before embarking on heroic deeds. Statesmen going down to the Senate with the faith of the nation in their hands have called on the way to have their hair carefully curled. The particular trimming of a legal whisker has gained a judgeship. The beard of a cleric has cost him the bishopric. In all these things the hand of THE profession is visible.

"Coming then to the antithesis of these things, it is fitting perhaps that the latest and most gory page in the bloodstained annals of crime - that recording the Whitechapel horrors - should not be without a barber's name. Herr - I'm glad he's a Herr, because he is evidently not English - you know who, has achieved the dubious distinction of being suspected of the perpetration of these horrible atrocities, is, it appears, a product of the German Club, Houndsditch, and has been engaged in the shop of Mr Partridge, hairdresser, of the Minories."

Partridge was of the opinion however "that Herr Ludwig was too much of a coward to commit a murder, and he has arrived at this conclusion by the fact that he (Partridge) - in we suppose, the exercise of his proper function as employer - had thought it expedient to punch Ludwig on the nose, to which piece of pleasantry Herr Ludwig had not thought fit to retaliate... Again, who knows but that Ludwig had -been reading his countryman Professor Baron's Manchester lecture, in which he laid it down that it was "the duty of a hairdresser to remedy the mistakes of nature", and that by punching him on the nose Mr Partridge was, perhaps, only carrying out this injunction? Anyway we trust Mr Ludwig - should he succeed in getting out of the hands of the police with his neck intact - will see the propriety of making tracks for the happy Fatherland again, and that he will take with him as many of his own country and kidney as the ship will hold".

This rather jingoistic approach to reporting was the subject of an apology the following week. Dated September 29 it reads: 'We have been requested by Mr H LUDWIG, of Beaufort Toilet Club (obviously a hairdresser) 27 Glasshouse Street, Regent Street W., to state that he is in no way connected with the man Ludwig who has been arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the latest Whitechapel assaults, and to who our Captain Cuttle' referred in his last week's notes". However the name of Ludwig would appear again in later enquiries.

On the same publication date as the apology, September 29, Elizabeth Stride had been cleaning rooms at a lodging house at 32 Flower and Dean Street. At 6.30pm she went to the Queen's Head for a drink, returning to that address at about 7.00pm where she went to the kitchen and asked to borrow a clothes brush from Charles Preston; she left looking cheerful.

Charles Preston was a local barber who was living at the lodging house and who was called as a witness at Stride's inquest. He gave evidence, including reports of charges brought against her on several occasions for being drunk and disorderly.

By November it was the turn of the hairdresser to become detective. Again from the Hairdresser's Weekly Journal, dated 10 November 1888, and under the headline "A 'JACK THE RIPPER' CAPTURED IN SHEFFIELD BY A HAIRDRESSER" the following is reported: "Mr Hallott, hairdresser, Hillsbro,,has just had a strange experience. On Friday aftemoon a stranger came to his shop and purchased a walking stick. A conversation ensued, and as the stranger had to stay in Sheffield all night, MrHaflott offered him a bed. This was accepted, and the stranger went out for a short time. During his absence Mr Hallott regretted that he has been so hasty in offering the stranger hospitality, and on his return he questioned him again as to his business. To Mr Hallott's questions the stranger gave satisfactory answers, and eventually he was allowed to retire to bed. Mr Hallott still felt uneasy, and lifted the stranger's hat off the hook and looked inside. Turning up the lining he discovered a letter signed Jack the Ripper'. He became concerned, Mrs Hallott was alarmed, and the police were fetched. The representative of the law at once entered the unsuspecting stranger's bedroom, and charged him to answer their questions in a truthful manner. This the visitor did, and he was again set at liberty".

Mentioned as number two in the Macnaghten Memoranda of three names more likely to be suspects than Thomas Cutbush is Aaron Kosminski. Kosminski is described as a Jewish Polish hairdresser who came to England in 1882. (It is also of interest that one of Cutbush's relatives was also a hairdresser.)

In 1890 Kosminski was admitted to the Mile End Workhouse for treatment, the admissions register noting that he had been insane for two years. After three days in the infirmary he was released into the custody of a family member, Wolf Kosminski.

A hairdresser by the name of Kosminski was trading by that name in Baker Street at the time but it is not yet established if they were of the same family_

It was also noted on Kosminski's admission to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in February 1891 that he had taken up "a knife and threatened the life of his sister. He is very dirty and has not attempted any kind of work in years".

Athough not naming Kosminski, George R Sims adds a little more information, gleaned from Macnaghten, that Kosminski had once been employed in a hospital in Poland. During the 19th Century, and especially in Eastern European countries, the barber-surgeon or 'feldscher', a junior or assistant surgeon, were the poor man's doctor.

One such feldscher was Ripper suspect and condemned wife poisoner, Severin Klosowski, alias George Chapman, He arrived in England in 1887 having qualified as a junior barber-surgeon, studying in Poland. Between 1880-85 he was a student at the Hospital of Praga, in Warsaw, and between 1885-86 acted as an assistant feldscher at the same establishment.

In England, Klosowski first worked as an assistant hairdresser in the West India Dock Road for Abraham Radin, and between 1888-91 was living and working at 126 Cable Street.

During the early part of 1890 he also worked in a barber's shop beneath the White Hart Public House which still stands at the corner of Whitechapel High Street and Gunthorpe Street (then George Yard).

According to the dubious Dr Dutton, as reported by Donald McCormick, Inspector Abberline had questioned a hairdressing salesman by the name of Wolf Levisohn who said he had known Klosowski by that name and also by the name Ludwig, but assured Abberline that Klosowski wasn't the Ripper and that the Inspector should be investigating another hairdresser working as a barber-surgeon for William Delhaye in the Westmoreland Road, Walworth. McCormick said that this was a certain Dr Alexander Pedachenko, who was a double for Klosowski/Chapman.

Klosowski emigrated to America with his then wife, Lucy Baderski, at Whitsun 1890 and opened another hairdressing business in New Jersey. Lucy returned alone early in 1891 after Klosowski's various affairs and threatening behaviour had frightened her. He himself returned to England in the middle of the same year and lived with a woman called Annie Chapman (no relation) and subsequently took her surname, calling himself George Chapman.

Between 1893 and 1895 he worked for, or owned, hairdressing premises in West Green Road, Tottenham and Tottenham High Road, also being employed as a barber at addresses in Rushton Street, Shoreditch and Church Lane, Leytonstone where he met, and bigamously married, a Mrs Spink in October 1895. Chapman would not only become a serial-killer, but he was rapidly becoming a serial bridegroom!

With an inheritance left my Mrs Spink's grandfather, she and Chapman opened a hairdressing salon behind the Albion Pub in Old Hastings and as a business novelty Mrs Spink tried her hand at lathering and shaving some of the customers but when this proved a disappointment, Chapman persuaded his wife to use her musical talents and offered 'Musical Shaves' with Mrs Spink at the piano which became popular and improved business.

George Chapman was comitted for trial in February 1903 charged with poisoning Mrs Spnk, Maud Marsh, and Bessie Taylor. The arresting officer was Detective Sergeant George Godlev, who had previously been involved with the Ripper crimes in 1888.

On searching Chapman's room Godley found, amongst other tings, a diary with an entry about a hairdressing job in Clifton Baths Market and several newspaper cuttings advertising hairdressing products..

One of the prosecution witnesses was the same Wolf Levisohn once questioned by /\bber!ine in 1888 about his aoquaintsncaohipwith Chnpman. In giving evidence at the trial Levisohn stated the following, as reported in HL Adams' book "The Trial of George Chapman": "I live at 135 Rosslyn Road in South Tottenham and I am a traveller in hairdressing appliances. I have known the accused since 1888 when I met him in a hairdresser's shop in Whitechapel. I spoke to him in Yiddish - He said he came from Warsaw. I knew him as Ludwig Zagowski. We met from time to time in 1890. He told me he had been practising in the medical line as a "feldscher" at the Praga Hospital. I have been a "feldscher" myself. I have seven years training in the Russian Army. A "feldscher" is an assistant to a doctor… When a man becomes a "feldscher" in the Russian Army he gets a book given to him which contains his progress right through the service, and in civil hospitals he gets a certificate.... The accused never showed me any of his certificates as a "feldscher". The accused could not have been a soldier, because he was too young when he came over here… I lost sight of him for a time. I did not see him from 1895 till 1903."

Chapman was found guilty of murder by poison of three women and was hanged on 7 April 1903.

If the Whitechapel killer was indeed a "tonsorial terror" then we should leave the final words with the character of hairdresser Alfred Wicken, alias Jack the Ripper, as played by Sir John Mills in the film Deadly Advice:- "Nobody suspects a hairdresser… I ever cut Inspector Abberline's hair, that's how close he got!... I was the one they never caught…. You've got to be someone nobody suspects".

Noting that most of the suspected victims were killed between Friday and Saturday nights brings to mind to old barbers saying "Something for the weekend, Sir?" Sadly in these cases it was no form of protection...!


Peter Haining - Sweeney Todd - The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Peter Haining - The Mystery and Horrible Murders of Sweeney Todd

Philip Sugden - The Complete History of Jack the Ripper

Gail Durbin - Wig, Hairdressing and Shaving Bygones

Begg, Skinner, Fido - The Jack the Ripper A-Z

H L Adam - The Trial of George Chapman

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