Chief Inspector Swanson






This is how Aaron Mordke Kosminski became a known suspect to Ripperologists.   In a police report dated February 1894, Sir Melville Macnaghten, who subsequently retired as Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, identified three suspects that included Kosminski. Criminals And Crime was published by Sir Robert Anderson in 1907. He had retired as Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner in 1901. In Criminals And Crime, Anderson claimed that the Ripper ‘had been safely caged in an asylum home’. Criminals And Crime had a sequel by Anderson called The Lighter Side Of My Official Life. This was published in 1910. This time Anderson revealed that ‘the suspect had been identified at the Seaside Home’.   There is a sentence in the memoir that deserves to be reproduced in full. ‘I will merely add that the only person who ever had a good view of the murderer unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him; but he refused to give evidence against him.’

There is more. In 1959 TV presenter and journalist Dan Farson discovered an alternative copy of the 1894 report by Macnaghten. This second copy was the property of Lady Aberconway and differed slightly from the copy held in Scotland Yard. In the first copy Macnaghten describes Kominsky as a ‘strong suspect’. In the Aberconway version Macnaghten states, ‘This man in appearance strongly resembled the individual seen by the City PC near Mitre Square’.  In both versions Macnaghten provides information about Kosminski.   He lived in Whitechapel, had a ‘great hatred of women’ and ‘strong homicidal tendencies’. Because of ‘many years indulgence in solitary vices’ Kosminski had become insane.


There is still more.   In 1980 the daughter of Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson died and amongst what she left to her nephew and grandson was a copy of The Lighter Side Of My Official Life by Anderson. Swanson had made notes in the margins. At the bottom of page 138 he wrote that as well as the witness who saw the Ripper ‘the suspect was also a Jew and also because his evidence would convict the suspect, and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged which he did not wish to be left in his mind.’  Swanson added in the margin, ‘And after this identification which suspect knew, no other murder took place’. At the back of the book Swanson, like Anderson, referred to the suspect being identified at the Seaside Home. According to Swanson, the suspect Kosminski was watched by the police at the home of his brother-in-law before ‘in a very short time’ he was referred to Stepney Workhouse and then Colney Hatch asylum ‘where he died shortly afterwards’.

All this deserves a summary. A retired senior policeman states that the Ripper was Jewish and known to the police. One of his colleagues writes that the suspect was identified by another Jew who was reluctant to give evidence, and another confirms the name of the suspect as Kosminski and explains what happened to the suspect.   It is not, though, that simple.   The loose ends and blind alleys contained within the three records have led Ripperologists around in circles for the last twenty years.

Kosminski did not die shortly after he was identified as Jack the Ripper.  Swanson made an error. Kosminski was committed to Colney Hatch in 1891 and lived there for another 28 years. His keepers described him as excitable but not violent. The symptoms of his insanity included a refusal to work, wash and accept prepared food.  He preferred to eat what he found in gutters.  His weight in 1919, the last time Kosminski was weighed, was recorded as six stone twelve pounds.   It is possible that his symptoms and emaciation appeared after he stopped or was prevented from killing women. This explanation, though, feels convenient and glib. In 1891, Jacob Cohen certified the committal of his brother-in-law Kosminski to an asylum. Cohen stated that his brother-in-law had not done any work for years. It is difficult to imagine an unemployed and already strange Kosminski persuading prostitutes that he could pay for sex.


There is doubt about whether Kosminski is the correct insane Jewish suspect. The unrelated David Cohen was also committed to an asylum for being generally unpleasant and excitable. Cohen died soon after his committal. There is not other evidence, though, against Cohen. He was identified as a possible suspect before the name Kosminski was located in asylum records.

Somewhat baffling, there has been debate about when the identification took place. The ‘Seaside Home’ phrase by Anderson is recognised as police vernacular for the Convalescent Police Seaside Home, 51 Clarendon Villas, Hove.   The Home opened in March 1890, and Kominski was committed to a workhouse on the 4th February 1891. Before the end of the month he was committed to Colney Hatch Asylum.  If he was observed for a few days after the identification, Kosminski was not interviewed before January 1891.

Two names have been nominated as the witness who identified Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. They are the two witnesses known to be Jewish. Joseph Lawende saw a man in Mitre Square talking to Catherine Eddowes shortly before she was murdered. Israel Schwarz witnessed a man throwing Liz Stride to the ground the night she was killed. The favourite is Joseph Lawende because Swanson referred to Kosminski being observed day and night by City Police before he was committed to a workhouse. The murder of Eddowes occurred in the area covered by the City Police. Liz Stride was murdered in Whitechapel, which made it a matter for the Metropolitan Police. This reference to the City Police observing the house of the brother-in-law implies that the witness is Lawende. He was in the City area when he saw Catherine Eddowes talking to a man before her death. But the notes of Swanson are unreliable. Swanson alleged incorrectly that Kosminski died shortly after arriving in the asylum.


Macnaghten mentions that a City PC saw the Ripper at Mitre Square. The PC who reported seeing a victim with a man was PC Smith. He, though, was not at Mitre Square. He was the witness at Berner Street where Liz Stride was murdered.  He was also a member of the Metropolitan Police.

So far we have unreliable and inconsistent accounts from three senior policemen that probably spent most of their careers avoiding confrontations with criminals. Constructing theories around assertions that may or may not be true is difficult. In The Complete History of Jack the Ripper author Philip Sugden makes a honourable and impressive attempt to piece the contradictory evidence together. But he is obliged to accept some of what Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson alleged and then use it to dismiss their other inconsistent assertions.   The main suspects the police identified are Montague Druitt, Aaron Kosminski, Michael Ostrog, George Chapman and Francis Tumblety.   Apart from Kosminski the list includes a calculating poisoner, a harmless depressive suicide, an American so old and large he defied any witness descriptions of the Ripper, and a con man and trickster.   There is nothing wrong in being curious about the possible clues left by Anderson, Swanson and Macnaghten but neither is there an obligation to have serious regard to the ramblings of retired administrators whose value consisted of their bureaucratic skills. None of the detectives who were closer to what was happening on the streets of Whitechapel confirmed the choice of Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. Inspector Abberline said this after he retired, ‘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.’ Or in other words all the analysis by Ripperologists of the thoughts left behind by Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson is supposition, as are indeed the remarks themselves.

What we have is that three senior policeman suspected a Polish Jew called Kosminski. The same policemen believe he was identified by a witness who refused to testify.   This is what may have happened. Both Anderson and Swanson mention the Seaside Home,  This means the identification took place around the end of 1890. Kosminski was not a physically powerful suspect that developed odd behaviour. He became a target for the police when he was a nuisance, very odd but vulnerable. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper author Philip Sugden asks why it took two years to arrange this identification.   It needed Kosminski to become a nuisance on the streets of Whitechapel, which happened around the time that Anderson was perhaps putting on pressure to have an arrest so that he could retire in glory. The word suspect is inaccurate. A better word was used by Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Because the police are a threat to the protagonists, Spade argues ‘what we need is a patsy, a fall guy’. The man he chose was the popular choice, which is what Kosminski was in 1890. He stank, uttered vile threats and oaths to women, masturbated in public and was not even English.


Philip Sugden writes ‘it is difficult to know why it was considered necessary to take Kosminski to the Seaside Home…’ The answer could be simple. The police were being secretive because they wanted to frame Kosminski and they wanted safe ground where they could transgress the law. The police collected their man and headed to the seaside for a discrete frame up.   Macnaghten refers to Kosminski being taken to the Seaside Home in secrecy and with difficulty. No other witnesses were called to identify Kosminski, perhaps because the police did not want anyone who could testify that Kosminski was not the Ripper.  The popular choice as witness, Joseph Lawende, did not even have a good view of the Ripper.  He saw him from behind.  Equally unforgiveable, Kosminski was identified without other participants in a line up. I suspect that Lawende refused to cooperate in what was corrupt police behaviour.  Desperate to justify himself, Anderson claimed, and possibly believed, that Lawende refused to testify because he would not betray another Jew. The evidence suggesting malpractice may be thin but if senior policemen write careless nonsense, they deserve what is thrown their way.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.







‘The strangest part of the whole thing is that I heard no sound. As a rule I can hear the footstep of the policeman as he passes by every quarter of an hour, so the woman could not have uttered any cry without my detecting.’ These words belong to George Morris. He was the night watchman at Kearley And Tongue warehouse in Whitechapel. On the 30th September in 1888 Catherine Eddowes was killed in Mitre Square. Her body was found in a dark corner opposite the warehouse. The route, tour or ‘beat’ of a British urban policeman was arranged to last a quarter of an hour. In rural areas the local policeman had a bigger geographical area and was given a bicycle.   This itinerary or arrangement persisted in the British police force and throughout Britain until policemen in motorcars arrived in the late 1960s.

These short routes enabled individual policemen in the cities to be no more than half a mile from each other. A cry for help from the whistle carried by a policeman could be heard by a colleague.   Policemen could not vary the route but they could change the direction, which they did to avoid attack.  PC Watkins was the policeman that George Morris heard pass the warehouse every fifteen minutes through the night. Watkins may have reversed his direction or he may have been a settled and fearless soul who was content to persist with the same footsteps.   Fifteen minutes allowed a policeman to see almost everything that was happening on his beat.   Some years ago I asked a Liverpool policeman how difficult was it to detect crime. We were talking about what happened on the streets. ‘Dead easy,’ said the policeman, ‘you fall over it.’


Prostitution and thieving was common in Whitechapel. There was plenty of crime to fall over but some of it had to be ignored otherwise the policeman would have spent five minutes on the beat and the rest of time be in the station charging criminals.   And for the Victorian policeman prevention was as important as detection and arrest. An eight-hour shift meant a policeman could on an arrest-free night manage 32 trips around his area. Summer nights were preferable to the wind and rain of winter, which is why policemen were prone to make more arrests on unpleasant nights and dawdle over arrests in the police station.   Prostitutes sought dark alleys, and their business often involved brisk transactions but, because of the high incidence of prostitution, a policeman would have been obliged to either ignore much or control crime in his own way. A simple technique used by policemen was to tell the suspicious and criminal to go to bed and clear the street.

A quarter of an hour does not allow much space for a fastidious serial killer to find victims on the street and murder them.   In two of his killings on the street, Jack the Ripper inflicted injuries and mutilations that were extensive. The medical opinion was that the assaults would have taken at least fifteen minutes.   Dark nooks and crannies helped the Ripper. But, because of witness testimonies, we know that Jack the Ripper had no more than fifteen minutes to do what he wanted when he killed Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square.  The murder of Eddowes is horrific but how the Ripper avoided detection has to be acknowledged as an achievement. Because of the impact of the murders in Whitechapel, there were, apart from the usual policemen on the beat, plain-clothes detectives walking the streets.  Jack the Ripper also had to keep Catherine Eddowes quiet. His final victim Mary Jane Kelly was killed in her home. This is often referred to as an anomaly but the likelihood is that after four and possibly more murders out in the open Jack the Ripper needed to avoid the streets. Inside a home, beside a roaring fire and without the need to worry about police patrols the Ripper revealed the terrible extent of his imagination.


In Whitechapel in 1888, H Division of the Metropolitan Police Force employed 587 policemen.   The local CID accounted for fifteen men including Inspector Edmund Reid who was the man in charge of the detectives. There is a photograph of H Division CID taken while Reid was in command.  For some reason there are seventeen detectives in the photograph.  Detective Sergeant Thick is remembered because of his name.  Not that he needed it but the Detective Sergeant had a nickname, Johnny Upright. Detective Sergeant Thick arrested an early Jack the Ripper suspect, John Pizer. He was Jewish and Polish and sometimes known as Jack Pozer or the ‘leather apron’. There was no real evidence against Pizer or Pozer but the local prostitutes regarded him as a difficult and demanding customer. His odd behaviour and extreme sexual appetite made the police suspicious and possibly hope.

In the photograph of the CID at H Division that does exist all the men have moustaches and all wear waistcoats.   There are two detectives named Pearce. Detective Constable Albert Pearce is the younger of the two and he has the looks of a modern film star. The other detectives are more ordinary, and some appear as if they might have developed an avuncular nature. Middle-aged Inspector Reid looks tired, gentle and haunted, an administrator rather than a zealot. Before he was a policeman, Edmund Reid had worked as a pastry chef and a ship’s steward.  In his spare time he was fond of acting and singing.   The artistic background of Edmund Reid may have been the reason why Inspector Frederick Abberline was taken out of Central Office in Scotland Yard and assigned to the Jack the Ripper murder investigation in Whitechapel.   If Reid felt the presence of Abberline was external interference, there is little record of conflict between the two men. Presumably the arrival of Abberline allowed Reid to continue dealing with the usual crime of Whitechapel.


Sir Charles Warren was appointed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1886, two years before the Ripper murders. He was an ex-military man. Little has been said of his artistic endeavours.   Although Warren was a welcome appointment he was soon unpopular with the press and public. His military priorities were not viewed as effective for policing, and he was criticised for a heavy-handed approach to radical protest. This is not without irony. Warren had Liberal sympathies and clashed with his Conservative Home Secretary Henry Matthews. The failure to apprehend Jack the Ripper prevented Warren from having a distinguished career in the police. He resigned after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.   Well before his departure Warren assigned Chief Inspector Donald Swanson to the Ripper investigation.  Swanson was based in Scotland Yard, and his role was to keep Warren informed of what was happening in Whitechapel. Warren, though, was not adept at delegation. On the 30th of September he arrived to look at the body of Liz Stride, the first of the two victims of that night. Warren visited Whitechapel despite having in the area two Inspectors that had the responsibility of reporting to Chief Inspector Swanson in Scotland Yard. Swanson was based outside Whitechapel so that Warren would have up to date information on his desk and be able to focus on his responsibilities to Henry Matthews the Home Secretary.  Politicians are not the most adept at evaluating operational reports, and Government Ministers need careful handling, accurate information, assurance and flattery.  The appearance of Warren at the scene of the Whitechapel murders clashed with the chain of command and the responsibilities and priorities that he had created.


The other 572 policemen in H Division were overseen by Chief Inspector John West, and he was managed by Superintendent Thomas Arnold. The likelihood is that during the Ripper crimes Superintendent Arnold would have had a lower profile. The busy communication chain would have been the one that linked H Division CID to the Home Secretary.  Back in 1888 the Metropolitan Police did not skimp on managers.  Of the fifteen detectives in CID, nine were either Detective Sergeant or above. Amongst the other 572 policemen there were 66 who were either sergeants or above, and the remaining 506 constables were divided into three classes.  In 1888 the population of Whitechapel was around 78,000. This meant that for every 133 residents H Division employed one policeman and for every 154 residents there was a policeman walking the beat. These manning levels and the huge difference in numbers between the fifteen CID detectives and the 572 policemen reflect how crime prevention rather than detection was the priority of Victorian police forces. Detection had limited potential and success.  In 1888 there were no fingerprints. Blood tests could identify blood from mammals but not human blood.


The various policemen were based in four locations. These were in Leman Street, Commercial Street, King David Lane and Arbour Square. The building in Leman Street is still used as a police station.   The other three police stations are now used for residential housing.  In 2005 the empty Arbour Square Police Station was taken over by squatters. Unused police stations were popular with squatters.   The toilets and the facilities in the police canteens were appreciated by those looking for a home.  Today Commercial Street has properties worth £750,000.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.