Elizabeth Stride

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

38 MATTHEW PACKER

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‘Peel me a grape,’ is now remembered by most of us as a line from a woman who knew how to keep a man in his place. The phrase occurs in the 1933 Mae West movie, I’m No Angel. Rather than make her sidekick Cary Grant blink, West gives the order to her Afro-American servant. What she actually says is ‘Oh, Beulah, peel me a grape.’  Matthew Packer is remembered but not with the same generosity afforded to Mae West. The majority view is that Packer was an opportunistic liar ready to say anything that might earn him money and boost his business. Packer sold fruit from the window of his home at Berner Street.  From his home Packer could see the entrance to Dutfield’s Yard.  Liz Stride was discovered dead in Dutfield’s Yard at 1 a.m., 30th September 1888.  Catherine Eddowes was murdered in Mitre Square. Her murder happened after 1.30 a.m. but before 1.45 a.m.   The distance between the two murder sites can be walked in less than fifteen minutes but the killings occurred in different areas of London. Stride was killed in Whitechapel, and Eddowes was murdered in the City.

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Because there is disagreement about both the character of Matthew Packer and the role of the police, a chronological schedule of events is necessary.   According to Sergeant White, on the day of the two murders he visited Berner Street to establish if there were any witnesses to the murder of Liz Stride. He spoke to the Packer family.  All of them said that they had seen nothing.  Two days later on the 2nd October 1888 two private detectives called Charles Le Grande and J H Batchelor arrived at the murder scene, saw the fruit shop and asked if Packer had seen anything. Packer stated that at some point after midnight he had sold half a pound of black grapes to a man and a woman. The next day, 3rd October 1888, Packer, Le Grande and Batchelor talked to the Evening News.

On the 4th October 1888 the Evening News reported what Packer was supposed to have seen. The newspaper revealed that the story was sourced by a ‘special commissioner’. The Evening News reported that Packer had seen Stride and the man standing in the rain and talking. Packer told someone, either the ‘special commissioner’ from the Evening News or the two detectives, that he had mentioned it to his wife. ‘Why them people must be a couple a’ fools, to stand out there in the rain, when they might just as well have had shelter.’   Packer had also added that the police had neither approached nor interviewed him.

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Inspector Moore was attached to the Ripper investigation. The day the article was published in the Evening News, the 4th of October, Inspector Moore ordered Sergeant Stephen White to visit Matthew Packer.   Sergeant White called at the home of Packer but was directed to the mortuary where he met Packer and the two detectives.   Le Grande and Batchelor had taken Packer to the mortuary to identify the woman he had seen with the man who had bought the grapes. Because the murder sites occurred in different areas, the two women were not in the same mortuary.  Packer was first taken to the City Morgue. The fruit seller told the detectives that Catherine Eddowes was not the woman he had seen at his shop window.   At the mortuary in Whitechapel he identified Liz Stride as the woman for whom the man had bought the grapes. Sergeant White wrote this in his report of 4th October. ‘I asked for their Authority, one of the men produced a card from a pocket book, but would not allow me to touch it. They then induced Packer to go away with them.’ Later that day Sergeant White returned to the home of Matthew Packer.   Again the two detectives arrived. This time they took Packer to Scotland Yard where he made a statement to Assistant Commissioner Alexander Carmichael Bruce.

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In his report dated 4th October 1888 Sergeant White described his visits to the mortuary and the home of Matthew Packer.  The same report from White contradicted what had been reported by the Evening News that morning.  In his report Sergeant White recalled that he had spoken to Packer on the day of the murder, 30th September 1888.  According to the report, Sergeant White had not been remiss on the day of the murder. Packer had said, ‘No I saw no one standing about neither did I see anyone go up the yard. I never saw anything suspicious or heard the slightest noise and know nothing about the murder until I heard of it in the morning.’

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Someone somewhere in Whitechapel was not telling the truth. Much of what happened on the 4th of October was odd. Sergeant White agreed that two private detectives could take ownership of a witness to a murder. That day Sergeant White visited twice the home of a man who had told him four days earlier that he had seen nothing.   Sergeant White appears to have taken no action to challenge Packer about the contradiction in what may be the two statements of Packer.   Nor does the report of Sergeant White explain why it took him four days to remember the initial interview with Packer.

The motives of private detective Le Grande are also unclear. He may have been one of the detectives employed by the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee to manage the vigilantes that patrolled the streets of Whitechapel.   This, though, has never been confirmed.  In 1887 Le Grande had been sentenced to eight years in prison for a series of thefts. In 1889 he was sentenced to two years in prison for sending a threatening letter to a Harley Street surgeon and demanding money.  In 1891 he was charged with sending to wealthy women letters that demanded money and threatened to kill them.   Le Grande and J H Batchelor may have contacted Packer with the idea of selling a scoop to a newspaper but it was Louis Diemshitz and Isaac Kozebrodski who raised the possibility that Stride was holding grapes when she died.

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Bruce Robinson alleges in They All Love Jack that the police did not want the Ripper identified because he was a Freemason. He believes that the report of Sergeant White dated the 4th of October was a concoction prepared after the event.   Robinson adds the dubious assumption that Le Grande and Batchelor were hired by the police with the intention of discrediting the witness Packer. Most Ripperologists believe that Packer was a liar and that Le Grande and Batchelor had one ambition, which was to tell a false story and make money.   They argue that the subsequent behaviour of Packer weakened his credibility as a witness.   His subsequent statements to the police were not consistent, and he produced fresh incidents and sightings that connected Packer to the Ripper.   Packer was willing to exploit his celebrity and improved business profile. This, though, does not mean that he told lies when he spoke to the Evening News on the 3rd of October.

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The truth is we will never know if the intentions of Packer were genuine. Nor can we be certain about the behaviour of the police. The statement Packer gave to Assistant Commissioner Alexander Carmichael Bruce is different from what he told the Evening News.  The differences are slight but telling.  This time the man that bought the grapes has a rough voice and the incident occurs not before midnight but at 11.30 pm. We are entitled to be suspicious of what happened in Scotland Yard.  It is peculiar that Packer was interviewed by an Assistant Commissioner.  The Victorians did not pioneer delegation, and interviewing witnesses was not a task that would have been assigned to Assistant Commissioners. The changes in the witness statement can be interpreted as honest mistakes but they are too slight and too telling to feel authentic. Everything in the second statement that lacks consequence agrees with the first statement.   And in the statement taken by the Assistant Commissioner there is no reference to what Packer was supposed to have told Sergeant White the day Liz Stride was murdered. This is either conspiratorial or an example of why Assistant Commissioners should not be allowed to interview witnesses.

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The problem with the role of Packer in the Ripper investigation is that none of it is conspiracy theory free. We either have a corrupt police force, criminal private detectives out to make money, or both.  To claim a conspiracy to hide the identity of the Ripper is too bold.  Packer was an embarrassment to the police force because he exposed the failure of Sergeant White to interview the neighbours at Berner Street. This is why Packer was not called to the inquest into the death of Liz Stride.   Neither is it likely that the story by Packer was invention. Too much happened on the night of the murder. It is possible to imagine a story being created by Packer to earn money from a newspaper but anyone with that intention is unlikely to tell a police sergeant an account that contradicts what will appear in the newspaper. The morning she was murdered, Liz Stride was seen with different men. She was soliciting for customers. In Ripper Confidential the author Tom Wescott demonstrates how the chronology of events at the time of the murder has become confused. It is possible that Packer did see the man that killed Liz Stride. But, if he did, Packer saw a carefree assassin prone to linger. This was not the way the Ripper operated. If Packer did see the assassin of Stride, we not only have to have doubts about whether the Ripper was her murderer but wonder why such a fuss has been made about the honesty of Matthew Packer.

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.

 

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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

32 AARON MORDKE KOSMINSKI

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.