The Top Five Jack The Ripper Suspects

Discover the backgrounds of the top five Jack the Ripper suspects, and why they were believed to be the brutal serial killer.

Jack the Ripper is believed to be the most famous serial killer in history. In the fall of 1888, he stalked the impoverished Whitechapel district of London, brutally taking the lives of five prostitutes within a three-month period. Hundreds of books have been written about the killer, many authors deeming to have solved the long-standing debate over his true identity, yet despite these Jack the Ripper theories, the case remains unsolved.

The residents of the Whitechapel district accused the police of being incompetent and many to this day criticize them for not catching the brutal killer. The reality is that the investigation methods available at the time didn't provide the police with a great advantage; the murders occurred before forensic science and fingerprinting. The only way for the police to prove someone committed a murder was by catching them in the act or through their own confession.

Despite the limited forensic science methods available at the time, investigators were able to gain a general physical description of Jack the Ripper from alleged eyewitness accounts. The serial killer was believed to be a white male, between 20 and 40 years of age, well dressed, average or below average height, and possibly a foreigner. Through examination of the victims' wounds, they concluded that he was right-handed and did have some medical expertise. Since he claimed his victims on the weekend in the early morning hours, it was believed that he worked a regular job and that he was single (he could stay out all night without being questioned).

Certain suspects have gained more attention than others have, some pointed out by investigators on the case, and others made famous much later through the media. Sir Melville Macnaghten, the highly respected Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 1889 named the following three ripper suspects:

Montague John Druitt, born in Dorset to a well-off family, he graduated with a degree in classics and went on to teach at a boarding school in Blackheath. Druitt's father, who was a surgeon, died in 1885 and his mother was institutionalized for depression. In spite of these tragedies, he became financially prosperous and mingled in respectable social circles, but depression and suicide were prominent in his family. Shortly after being dismissed from his teaching position, his body was found floating in the Thames River in December 1888, a little more than a month after the last ripper victim, Mary Kelly, was found. A suicide note discovered by his brother stated, "Since Friday I felt I was going to be like mother, and the best thing for me was to die." No hard evidence exists that Druitt was Jack the Ripper with the exception of the commissioner's statement: "From private information I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer." Since Macnaghten claimed to have destroyed all of the documents pointing to Druitt as the Ripper, the truth may never be known.

The second of Macnaghten suspects was Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew, who lived in the Whitechapel district when the murders were committed. He was known to have a great hatred for women and strong homicidal tendencies. He was admitted to a lunatic asylum in March 1889. The only evidence against Kosminski was a positive identification by an eyewitness to the Ripper's Mitre Square murder. At the time of the murder this witness declared that he could not identify the murderer again, then two years later he claimed that Kosminski was indeed the man who committed the crime. Many ripper investigators do not believe that this evidence holds enough weight to point the finger at Kosminski, claiming he may simply have been an insane man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Michael Ostrog, a supposed Russian doctor, is the last of Melville Macnaghten's three suspects. Ostrog spent the majority of his life in prison for theft and was eventually transferred to a lunatic asylum where he registered himself as a Jewish doctor. Why was Ostrog a suspect? He claimed to be a doctor, he was a well-known criminal, and he had spent time in a lunatic asylum, however, no evidence exists that he was even in the Whitechapel area during the time of the murders. Ostrog was not a violent criminal, he was much too tall (5 ft 11 inches) and too old (in his fifties or sixties) to fit the eyewitness descriptions of the killer.

Considering the lack of valid evidence, why did the commissioner name these men as his primary suspects? Macnaghten was believed to have been grasping at straws, broadcasting his personal theories to the hungry press with little information to support them. Inspector Abberline, the head of the Jack the Ripper investigation, discredited Macnaghten's suspects. "Scotland Yard is really no wiser on the subject than it was fifteen years ago," he stated in 1903.

Abberline had his own theory as to the identity of the Ripper, labeling George Chapman as a likely suspect. Chapman, his real name Severin Klosowski, was born in Poland in 1865 and entered an apprenticeship as a surgeon in Warsaw. He immigrated to London in 1887 and found work as a barber's assistant in the Whitechapel district, close to where the murders were committed. Chapman was a "lady's man," often living with one woman while he was still married to another and was known to have been abusive to his wives. He ultimately resorted to using tartar emetic, a colorless, odorless white powder to poison three of his wives and was finally arrested for the murder of his final wife after a doctor found large doses of the poison in her body. Chapman was hanged on April 7, 1903. The fact that Chapman lived in the Whitechapel district during the time of the murders supports Abberline's theory. It cannot be ignored that he arrived in London shortly before the murders began and the murders ceased when he traveled to America, where another prostitute was killed in a similar fashion. He also had experience as a surgeon and was obviously violent and homicidal towards women. Hard evidence names Chapman as Jack the Ripper, however, the question still remains whether he could transform himself from a brutal mutilator of prostitutes to that of a conniving "wife-poisoner."

The last and most famous of the top five Jack the Ripper suspects is Prince Albert, the grandson of Queen Victoria. This opinion actually didn't surface until 1962, when the book Edouard VII by Phillippe Jullien was published. Later, several articles, books, and even movies accused Prince Albert of being Jack the Ripper, claiming that syphilis caused him to go insane and commit the murders. Numerous scholars have discredited these accounts, for Prince Albert was in Scotland at the time of two of the murders, he did not possess any medical knowledge, and he was not a violent man.

Regardless of these five theories as to the identity of Jack the Ripper, a suspect could never be charged due to the lack of sufficient evidence. Though over a hundred years have passed since the infamous killer stalked the foggy streets of East London, the case is still being studied by scholars and novices alike, to this day uncovering new theories and clues as to the identity of the ripper. Because the case was never solved, the mystery surrounding the murders of five unfortunate prostitutes has developed into a fascinating puzzle that will continue to be debated well into the future.

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