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In The Ripper’s Footsteps

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It always seems strange to me when I read on line that none of Jack the Ripper’s London has survived. I couldn’t disagree more. But, when all is said and done, I suppose that it all boils down to what exactly you consider that elusive little something called Jack the Ripper’s London actually is.

If you think of it as just being the murder sites where hi crimes occurred then yes nothing has survived, albeit some of the locations on which the killings occurred still do have a sinister feel to them.

But, there is more to the mystery of the Whitechapel murders than just the sites.

For example, there are the houses where the people dwelt who were forced to live through the horror of the crimes. Many of these have survived and are still as atmospheric today as they were in 1888.

A view along Fournier Street.

Fournier Street

Take the little knot of East End thoroughfares comprised Wilkes Street, Fournier Street and Princelet Street. These are still much as they were in 1888 and, especially in the winter months when the fires are lit inside the houses, to walk along them is to get the distinct impression that you’ve somehow been transported back to late Victorian London. Indeed, the moment our tour turns into one of these wonderful old streets, there is often a collective, and sharp, intake of breath from the participants when they are confronted by the rows of sturdy 18th century properties that belong to a bygone age.

The old Frying Pan Pub where Jack the Ripper's first victim Mary Nichols drank on the ngiht she was murdered.

The Frying Pan

Then there’s the Old Frying Pan Pub at the junction of Thrawl Street and Brick Lane.

The building is now the Sheraz Indian Restaurant and, at first glance, you might not even realise that it has any connection with the ripper mystery.  

Yet, if you crane your neck and look up, a true surprise awaits you. For, high upon its gable are a pair of crossed frying pans and over them the legend Ye Frying Pan. This was the pub in which Mary Nichols, the first of Jack the Ripper’s victims, drank away her doss money prior to her viscous murder on August 31st 1888.

Speaking of pubs, at the junction of Fournier Street and Commercial Streets the Ten bells Pub is still going strong.

It is a truly atmospheric ambience and is still much as it was when the local community congregated here to discuss, argue over and try to forget the waking nightmare of the Whitechapel atrocities.

Further along Commercial Street, at its junction with Wentworth Street,is the former Princess Alice Pub, in the vicinity of which an early ripper suspect known as “Leather Apron” was said to lurk, waiting to accost the local street walkers and demand money from them.

A short distance away, on Goulston Street, you will find the Happy Days Fish and Chip shop, which occupies a ground floor premises of the former Wentworth Model Dwellings.  It was in the doorway, that is now their take away counter, that Jack the Ripper deposited the bloodstained piece of Catherine Eddowes apron in the early hours of the 30th September 1888 and where the message “The Juwes are the men who will not be blamed for nothing” was found scrawled in chalk on the wall.

A view of Gunthorpe Street which was called George Yard at the time of the Jack the Ripper Murders.

Gunthorpe Street - Formerly George Yard

When we set out on our nightly tour of Jack the Ripper’s haunts we immediately pass beneath an old, and decidedly sinister arch that leads onto the wonderfully atmospheric, and slightly sinister Gunthorpe Street.

In 1888 this was George Yard and it was along this, still cobbled, thoroughfare that Martha Tabram walked on the 8th August 1888.

Her body was found at the top of George Yard on the first floor landing of an apartment block. Some hold that she was the very first of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

As you walk along modern day Gunthorpe Street you pass another block on the left that has the date of its construction, 1886, emblazoned on its upper storey, which means that Martha Tabram would, most certainly have walked passed this very building, possibly in the company of Jack the Ripper himself.

Speaking of looking up. If you make your way to Whitechapel Station, exit it, cross to the traffic lights directly outside turn and look up at the building to the right of the station entrance, you’ll make out the faded name Working Lads Institute. This is another survivor from 1888, as it was here that the inquests into the deaths of several of the Whitechapel Murders victims were held.

Durward Street where the first Jack the Ripper Murder, that of Mary Nichols, took place on 31st August 1888.

Durward Street and the Old Board School.

Behind the station you will find Durward Street, which in 1888 was called Buck’s Row. It was here that Mary Nichols was murdered on 31st August 1888. There is a massive amount of construction going on here at the moment as they’re building the new Whitechapel Crossrail station here. 

But still clearly visible is the old Board School, now converted into flats, in the shadow of which the body of Mary Nichols was discovered by Charles Cross and Robert Paul as they made their way to work along here that fateful day 126 years ago.

Across the road from Whitechapel Stati

on is the Royal London Hospital.

It was here that Emma Smith, who is the first name to appear on the collective Whitechapel Murders file, died in April 1888.

She had been attacked by a gang at the nearby junction of Wentworth Street, Brick Lane and Osborne Street and had been brought to the hospital by her fellow lodgers.

In St Philip’s Church, on Newark Street,  just behind the hospital, you will find the Museum which tells the story of the Royal London Hospital. There is also a display featuring artefacts on the Jack the Ripper murders, including a facsimile of the infamous From Hell letter, which was sent to Mr George Lusk in October 1888. The Museum, incidentally, is open to the public free of charge from Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 4.30pm.

All these are part of Jack the Ripper’s London and it is possible to walk around them all in a few hours.

So, next time somebody tells you that there’s nothing left of Jack the Ripper’s London, just give them a sage nod and say “oh, it’s most certainly there, if you know where to look.”


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Did Jack The Ripper Have Sunstroke

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Looking at the press coverage into the Whitechapel Murders over the period from late September to early October, it is interesting to read the letters pages of the various papers as they reveal the public preoccupation with the killings and the many ways being suggested that might result in the perpetrators apprehension.

Actor Richard Mansfield transforming himself into Mr Hyde

Jekyll and Hyde

A Mr. Archibald Forbes, for example, suggested that the murderer was evidently suffering from a “specific contagion” and was avenging himself on the prostitutes responsible for infecting him. Mr Forbes also suggested that, since the recent murders had, evidently, demonstrated a knowledge of anatomy, then it was highly possible that the murderer was a medical student.

Other correspondents were writing in to suggest that the aid of Spiritualists should be utilised in the hunt for the Whitechapel Murderer.

Another wrote in to advance his theory of what he called the “cryptogrammatic dagger.” According to this particular correspondent, he had examined the layout of the locations of the recent Whitechapel murders and had noticed that “lines drawn through the spots where the recent murders were committed assume the exact form of a dagger, the hilt and blade of which pass through the scenes of the sixth (Catherine Eddowes), second (Martha Tabram),  first (Emma Smith) and third (Mary Nichols) murders, the extremities of the guard making the fourth (Annie Chapman) and fifth (Elizabeth Stride).” The writer of this particular missive then went on to wonder if,  perchance, this could “possibly afford a clue to the position of the next atrocity.”

One of the more intriguing pieces of press correspondence was headlined “The Lunatic of Leavesden” and the writer went on to inform readers that “”twelve months ago an inmate of the lunatic asylum at Leavesden escaped. The local paper warned females against being out at night in the neighbourhood, as this man was dangerous only to women.” The correspondent then went on to pose the question “Where is he?”

The escaped lunatic theory was certainly one that the police were looking in to and it’s also interesting to note that Aaron Kosminski, who was recently named as the latest contender for the title of Jack the Ripper by author Russell Edwards, was later (1891) sent to Leavesden asylum, albeit he is not the person to whom the correspondent is referring.

Then there was the writer who suggested the use of local men in the hunt for the killer. As this particular correspondent observed “Policemen have beards, bass voices, and big feet,” which would make them totally unsuitable for the method of entrapment that the writer was advocating. As he explained, ” Give the pugilists a chance; there are numbers of we;;-trained pugilists in Shoreditch and Whitechapel, who are, many of them young, and, as is the custom in their profession, clean-shaved. Twenty game men of this class in women’s clothes loitering about Whitechapel would have more chance than any number of heavy-footed policemen.” 

The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde theory had certainly caught the public imagination by the end of September 1888. Indeed, on the 3rd October 1888, The Daily Telegraph reported on a letter from a “G.C.” who “had a fancy,” so the paper told its readers, that “the perpetrator is a being whose diseased brain has been inflamed by witnessing  the performance of the drama of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ – which I understand is now wisely withdrawn from the stage. If there is anything in this, let the detectives consider how Mr. Hyde would have acted – for there may be a system in the demonic actions of a madman in following the pattern set before him.”

However, to my mind at least, the most intriguing letter to adorn the pages of a newspaper, at the time when the Jack the Ripper scare was at its height, was the author who wrote to propound another “Jekyll and Hyde” theory.

According to the author of this particular letter, “Possibly the culprit is an army doctor suffering from sunstroke. He has seen the horrible play, lives in Bayswater or North London, in perhaps a decent square or terrace, dresses well. Goes out about 10 P.M. straight to Whitechapel. Commits deed. Home again to breakfast. Wash, brush-up sleep. Himself again – Dr. Hyde (sic.). Meantime, everybody [is] scouring the scene of the tragedy for the usual type of a murderer.”

So, according to this particular writer, it would appear that the ailment that had sparked the murderous reign of terror that had brought fear and panic to the streets of the East End of London, was brought on by nothing more sinister than the perpetrator, who was otherwise an outwardly respectable, and respected individual, being afflicted by sunstroke!



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They Thought They Had The Ripper

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By mid-September 1888, the East End of London was on edge, ever fearful that the killer who had committed the recent murders of Martha Tabram, Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman was bound to return and perpetrate another Whitechapel atrocity. 

The police were pulling in suspect after suspect, desperate for the elusive find that would give them the breakthrough they so strongly needed. Unfortunately, time after time, promising suspect after promising suspect was able to provide a cast iron alibi and had to be eliminated from the investigation.

Two men walking past a house not noticed by a policeman.

Press Cartoon Ridiculing The Police.

With the killer still at large, many newspapers began questioning whether the police were really up to the job of catching the perpetrator of the crimes, whilst some began subjecting the police to an intense barrage of ridicule and criticism.

And then, in the early hours 18th September 1888, it seemed that the breakthrough had finally come.

As PC John Johnson, of the City of London Police, was walking his beat along Minories in the early hours of that morning, a loud scream of “Murder!” suddenly shattered the silence.

The cry had emanated from a notorious trouble spot named Three King’s Court, which was located close to the railway bridge that still spans the road at the Tower of London end of Minories today.

Hurrying in the direction of the scream, Johnson found a man and woman standing  close to one of the railway arches. Johnson demanded to know what the man  was doing. “Nothing,” came the surly reply.

The woman, who was evidently distressed, begged him “oh policeman do take me out of this,” whereupon Johnson escorted them out of the alley onto Minories and ordered the man to be on his way.

Once the stranger had gone, Johnson turned to the woman to see what other assistance he could render. “Dear me,” she said, “he frightened me very much when he pulled that big knife out.”

We can only imagine Johnson’s shock on hearing that he may well have had the Whitechapel Murderer in his clutches and had let him, quite literally, slip through his fingers! 

“Why didn’t you tell me that at the time,” he demanded of the woman. “I was too much frightened,” she replied, coyly.

Johnson carried out a quick search of  the area in the direction the man had gone, but to no avail. No doubt it was a very nervous Johnson who walked the remainder of his beat, trying to figure out how he was going to explain what had happened to his superior officers.

A photo showing Whitechapel High Street at the time of the Jack the Ripper Murders.

Whitechapel High Street.

However, the crestfallen constable needn’t have worried.  For the man had, in fact, made his way over to Whitechapel High Street, where he became involved in a heated altercation with a coffee stall holder and a youth by the name of Alexander Finlay.

Having threatened the stall holder, he pulled out the knife and proceeded to chase Finlay around the stall brandishing it.

A police constable duly arrived at the scene and the man was quickly overpowered and taken into police custody where he was soon identified as a German hairdresser by the name of Charles Ludwig.

It would appear that the police saw Ludwig as a very viable suspect in the recent Whitechapel Murders and, at his subsequent appearance before the local Court, the Magistrate described him as a dangerous character and duly remanded him in custody to give the police the opportunity of carrying out further enquiries.

The investigation into his possible guilt was still ongoing when he next appeared before the magistrate on 25th September 1888, and Inspector Abberline asked that he be remanded again, a wish that the magistrate willingly obliged.

However, five days later, the case against Ludwig would fall apart when, with the German hairdresser, safely under lock and key, the Whitechapel Murderer struck again and claimed two victims in the space of one hour.

For the people of the East End, their autumn of terror was about to get even more horrific.


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Jack the Ripper Lived Next Door

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One of the stranger things about the Jack the Ripper murders is the amount of folklore that has grown up around the myth of Jack the Ripper over the 126 years since the murders occurred.

By folklore I mean things that have firmly embedded themselves in the public consciousness to the extent they are almost taken as fact by the public at large.

Take, for example, Jack the Ripper’s attire.

Now, if I were to ask you to close your eyes and build up a mental image of what the ripper looked like, the chances are the one that would come most instantly to mind would be that of a top – hatted figure, possibly wearing a swirling cloak, and probably carrying a black Gladstone bag.

However, this image is almost certainly not an accurate one since it is suggestive of a murderer who belonged to the middle to upper classes, whereas Jack himself  probably belonged to the lower classes.

The old Frying Pan Pub where Jack the Ripper's first victim Mary Nichols drank on the ngiht she was murdered.

The Frying Pan

When I began doing my Jack the Ripper tour back in 1982, the area through which the walk went was very different than it appears today. Indeed, in the old pubs we used to go into, such as The Frying Pan On Brick lane, it wasn’t uncommon to meet older East End inhabitants who might not have been around at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings but were certainly old enough to remember the fear that the memory of the ripper was able to instil into those who grew up in the area even 30 or 40 years after his murderous reign of terror.

One of the things that still sticks in my mind is the number of these locals whose mother, or grandmother, actually met Jack the Ripper. Indeed, I can remember several of them telling me that their mother’s next door neighbour was almost certainly Jack the Ripper!

But, the most oft repeated urban myth concerning the Whitechapel Murderer is one that has surfaced time and again whenever similar atrocities occur. 

The number for times that I would be sitting in an east End pub and an elderly lady would come over to me and tell me how her mother had been walking home one night when she had been stopped by Jack the Ripper.

However, on learning that she was a “good girl” and so not one of the prostitutes, as all his victims were, the ripper allowed her to live and, in several cases, even told her to be careful as she made her way home!

No doubt these stories were told in many an East End home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The famous Punch Cartoon that shows a knife wielding phantom drifting through the slums of London's East End.

The Nemesis of Neglect.

But, if you think about it, there must have been people who actually did meet Jack the Ripper and who actually did live next door to him. And if, as is generally believed by experts on the case, the murderer was in fact just an ordinary nobody living in the area, then the parents of some of those people may well have lived next to him!

He may have just been that eccentric chap who everybody thought was a “little bit odd” but otherwise harmless. Until, that is, away from the glare of the neighbours, the voices in his head got to much, and he would pounce and claim another victim.

One thing though is certain, if he had gone out to commit his foul crimes wearing a top hat, trailing a swirling cloak, and clutching his black doctors bag, the neighbours would, most certainly have taken notice, because the image of the ripper so attired had begun fixing itself in the public consciousness as early as the inquest into the death of his second victim, Annie Chapman, who was slaughtered in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street on 8th September 1888.

So, all those years ago, as I sat in the pub inwardly grinning at what I thought was a preposterous idea that the ripper had lived next door to the mother of the elderly lady I was talking to, I realise now I should have paid more attention and delved a little deeper into this rich mine of local folklore. Because, it was just possible that one of them might have been correct and Jack the Ripper had, indeed, lived next to her mother!

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Jack the Ripper and Violence

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In 2014, as technology continues to make great leaps forward, and with computer games, films and television finding ways to treat us to ever more realistic and graphic depictions of violence, there are constant calls for the more extreme elements of these “entertainments” to be curbed, as constant exposure to them might lead children and teens to imitate the hostile behaviour they have witnessed on screen.

Interestingly, a similar argument was raging in 1888, at the height of the Jack the Ripper murders, as society struggled to come to terms with how an individual could perform such atrocities for no other reason than for pleasure.

A man reacts in shock at finding the body of Martha Tabram.

Martha Tabram's Body Found.

On Saturday September 22nd 1888, The Times published a letter in which the writer pointed out that “it has long been the custom for provincial newspapers to publish serial stories in their weekly issues, generally of a more or less sensational character. These stories of late have in many instances taken the form of the lives and actions, most highly exaggerated, of notorious criminals….”

 The writer went on to opine that, “It is only those whose duties cause them to be mixed up with the lower and criminal classes who can really appreciate how great is the evil influence of this pernicious literature and how eagerly it is sought after.”

The writer then informed his readers that “Not long since some lads, children of honest parents, committed two burglaries; it was clearly shown by their own confessions that that they had been instigated to do so by reading “Dick Turpin, The Prince of Highwaymen.” A youth of about 18, of miserable physical power, when arrested for larceny bit the constable’s thumb and said “I am as game as Charley Peace, and I will do as much as him before I die.”  The history of the “King of Criminals” was being published at the time by one of the local papers. Many similar instances could be furnished.”

The letter’s writer then turned his attention to the murders that were then taking place in the East End of London and observed that, “It is, to my mind, quite possible that the Whitechapel murders may be the fruit of such pernicious seed falling upon a morbid and degraded mind.”

On that same Saturday The Illustrated Police News wondered if the public “…shouldn’t feel indebted for the horrible crimes in Whitechapel” to the “…highly-coloured pictorial advertisements to be seen on almost all hoardings in London, vividly representing sensational scenes of murder, exhibited as ‘great attractions’”.

The article went on to observe that “Everyone who walks much about the streets of London, or of any other large town, must have observed that during the last two or three years the illustrated posters on the walls have shown an increasing tendency to be grossly horrible and revolting.”

Having pointed out how “Theatrical advertisements” spare no detail, by depicting the “…fiendish expression of the villain’s countenance as he plunges a dagger into the bosom of the hero…” the News went on to opine that “…In all great communities there are certain to be a number of small-brained creatures, only half human, whose minds, muddled by bad air and bad gin, readily take fire when they are confronted with the ghastly particulars of murder. Such pictures as these produce upon them the same effect that the taste of blood produces upon the tiger.”

Actor Richard Mansfield transforming himself into Mr Hyde

Jekyll and Hyde

The mention of “Theatrical advertisements” is interesting in that there was a lot of controversy at the time over the stage version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was, at the time, playing at London’s Lyceum Theatre, with American actor Richard Mansfield performing the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde. 

His nightly transformations from one to the other were absolutely terrifying his audiences and had led some to believe that his Mr Hyde persona might not be all down to acting, and some were even wondering if Mansfield himself might be responsible for the East End murders.

Laughable as the accusation might seem, the newspapers were beginning to draw a parallel between Mansfield’s stage depiction of the evil Hyde, and the all too real villain who was bringing terror to the East End streets of the Metropolis, as early as the second Jack the Ripper murder, that of Annie Chapman, on the 8th September 1888.

On the day of her murder, the Pall Mall Gazette referred to the perpetrator of the crimes as “Mr. Hyde at large in Whitechapel.” Later in the month, on Saturday 29th September 1888, the St Stephen’s Review was observing that “Between the Whitechapel Murders and the weird performance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the mental condition of people with highly-strung nerves is becoming very serious…”

On the 10th October 1888, the Philadelphia Enquirer even went so far as to inform its readers that “the police have started the theory that the Whitechapel murders are the result of a case in real life of  ”Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”

So, by the time of the second Jack the Ripper atrocity, it is more than apparent that, in the eyes of certain elements of the media at least, the identity of the Whitechapel murderer himself might not have been known, but the motivation for his crimes lay squarely at the door of the way that violence was being glorified and sensationalised by cheap fiction and by the theatre.

In many ways, the same arguments are still being made and, it seems, we are still as uncertain, or perhaps as unwilling, to draw a correlation between the violence in the media and the real thing as we were in 1888?

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The Jack the Ripper Experts

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When you join us for a walking tour of the Jack the Ripper murder sites you are joining guides who are internationally recognised as the World’s leading experts on this fascinating case. Indeed, between them our guides have written 10 books on the mystery and have been called upon to act as expert interviewees on almost every documentary about the Whitechapel Murders in recent years.

However, the big story in recent weeks has been the discovery of the DNA evidence on the shawl that links Aaron Kosmsinki to Catherine Eddowes and which, so it is being claimed, proves that Kosminski was indeed Jack the Ripper.

Each of our guides was able to study the information and the evidence form an experts perspective and was able to then discuss this latest find with our walkers using their own knowledge of the case, not repeat, parrot fashion, informations that they were passed second hand from somebody else, but fist hand knowledge based on their own personal research.

Indeed, one of our guides had been involved in assessing this latest information since long before it became public knowledge, and three of our guides have not only seen and studied the shawl close up, but they have also been writing articles about it since 2007. That meant that they were in a position to give our walkers the benefit of first hand experience and knowledge drawn from their own resources and not passed to them from somebody else’s studies.

That is why we enjoy a reputation for the quality that is without rival and that is why many of our clients return time and again. 

Indeed, as we like to put it, with other London walks you will be taken around by a guide who has just read somebody else’s book. With our tours you will be taken round by the people who wrote the books and who has done the in depth research necessary to be able to call yourself an expert.

So, when you join us for a tour, you will be able to discuss first hand all the latest finds on the case with somebody who, not only knows about those finds, but who is able to assess the validity of those finds and put them in the correct context.

But, best of all, the fact that we limit the number of participants on our tour to a sensible and manageable number means that, with out tours, you are not herded round on an unsightly cattle drive, but are, instead, part of a more sedate experience that really does enable you to explore Jack the Ripper’s London as part of an intimate group of Crime Scene Investigators who, because of the way our walking tour is structures, really will be hot on the trail of Jack the Ripper.


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No Proof That Jack Has Been Nailed

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There has been a huge amount of coverage this week on the revelations that a shawl, purporting to belong to Catherine Eddowes, Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, had been tested for DNA and had given up the name of the culprit who has evaded professional and amateur detective for 126 years.

If you’ve not looked at a newspaper this week, then there’s a possibility that you may have missed this earth shattering find. 

A view of Mitre Square today where Jack the Ripper's fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, was murdered.

Mitre Square 2013

So, here is a brief re-cap.

Russell Edwards, having bought a shawl at auction in 2007, that was said to have been taken away from the Eddowes murder site in Mitre Square on 30th September 1888, had it tested for DNA.

He then had the samples compared to DNA from one of Catherine Eddowes descendants and one of the major suspect’s, Aaron Kosminski’s, descendants.

The result?

A positive match in both cases.

I don’t want to go in to the argument here as to whether or not this latest revelation does, indeed, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, – or should that be beyond reasonable doubt?  - that the case of Jack the Ripper can finally be closed, as this was covered in this previous article.

However, here at the Jack the Ripper Tour of London we love to discuss any finds on the case, with participants who join us on our nightly walk

So, I decided that these were the people to ask as, if anyone would have a definitive answer, they would.

And so I posed the following question on our Facebook Page  “Does the shawl prove that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper?”

Now,  if I can just stress that the question wasn’t “was Aaron Kosminki Jack the Ripper?” but simply whether the shawl actually proved the case against him.

We simply asked for a one word answer, yes, no, or undecided.

And, the results a came in as follows.

Yes 10 votes.

No  71 votes

Undecided 6 votes

Possible 1 vote

No comment 1 vote.

So, there you have it, 71 people out of 88 people who took part were emphatic that the shawl in no way proves that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper.

The people have spoken!

Incidentally, if you would like to see our film about the police case against Kosminski you can do so on the following video.

If you would like to discuss these latest finds with our expert guides then we’d love to welcome you onto our Jack the Ripper guided tour in the course of which you will have the opportunity to, not only become your own Victorian CSI, but will also be able to analyse all the facts with your guide and fellow walkers.

You can book your places here.

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Aaron Kosminski – Jack The Ripper Suspect

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A flurry of excitement, mingled with an awful lot of controversy, swept the Ripper world on Sunday with revelations in the Mail on Sunday that, after 126 years, the identity of Jack the Ripper had finally been confirmed.

According to Russell Edwards, whose book Naming Jack the Ripper is published today, the sequence of murders that took place in the East End of London in 1888 were carried out by Aaron Kosminski.

Interestingly, this was the suspect we featured in great detail in our drama/documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper in 2005. 

But, as was mentioned in the programme, there was no way of proving any suspect’s guilt with 100% certainty because almost all the actual police evidence is no longer available.


Kosminski was the favoured suspect of the two leading officers with direct responsibility for the Jack the Ripper case, Dr Robert Anderson, who was the head the the Metropolitan Police Detective Department, and Chief Inspector Swanson, who was put in charge of reading and assessing all the information that was coming in on the case.

Both these men had access to the evidence against all the major suspects and, if they though the evidence against Kosminski was stronger than the evidence against other suspects then that must place him high on the list of likely Jack the Ripper suspects.

Colney Hatch Asylum to which Aaron Kosminski was sent in 1891.

Colney Hatch Asylum

Kosminski was found to be of unsound mind in February 1891 and was sent to Colney Hatch Asylum.

Here he, most certainly wasn’t particularly homicidal – at least as far as we know he wasn’t – and the only known  act of violence he is known to have committed was to throw a chair at an attendant.

So why was he suspected?

The problem for modern day researchers has always been that very little of the evidence has survived or, if it has, we haven’t been able to find it. So these latest sensational revelations in the Mail On Sunday are a major development in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.

Indeed, they seem to suggest that, after 126 years of intense speculation regarding the identity of the World’s most famous and elusive serial killer, Russell Edwards has, indeed, solved history’s greatest murder/mystery.

Sadly, however, this is just the latest in a long line of similar revelations – such as a diary and a pocket watch, which “proved” that James Maybrick was the killer – in which an author claims to have solved the case once and for all.

We’ve even had the Queen of Forensics herself, Patricia Cornwell, analysing the DNA of the painter Walter Sickert, and proving conclusively that he was Jack the Ripper.

Now we have Russell Edwards popping up and, with the help of  molecular biologist Dr. Jarl Louhelainen, solving the case conclusively yet again.

The evidence, such as it is, revolves around a shawl which was said to have been found next to the body of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper, who was murdered in Mitre Square in the City of London in the early hours of the 30th September 1888.

The corner in Mitre Square where Catherine Eddowes body was found.

Mitre Square

The shawl was, reputedly, taken home, with the permission of his Superiors, by Acting Sergeant Amos Simpson.

It was then stored away, without, apparently, being washed, and was subsequently passed down via various descendants until coming into the possession Simpson’s great grandson, David Melville-Hayes.

In March 2007 it was sold at auction and was acquired by Russell Edwards, who duly commissioned Dr. Louhelainen  to conduct tests on the shawl to try and prove its authenticity.

The initial findings were, to say the least, extremely promising.

The tests revealed that the dark stains on the shawl were, in fact, arterial blood consistent with spatter caused by slashing,  ”exactly the grim death Catherine Eddowes had met.”

The next set of findings, however, were even more impressive as, under UV photography, a set of fluorescent stains were revealed which, according to Jarl, showed characteristics of semen.  

Was it possible that they had, at long last, uncovered physical evidence from Jack the Ripper himself?

The next step was to acquire DNA samples from a direct descendant of Catherine Eddowes and a direct descendant of Aaron Kosminski.

As far as Catherine goes, this wasn’t too difficult as her descendants are quite active on the ripper scene and have appeared in various television documentaries. Indeed some of them have even joined us on our Jack the Ripper Guided Walking Tour.

Th memorial at the burial site of Catherine Eddowes.

Catherine Eddowes Memorial Plaque.

Karen Miller, a three times  great grand daughter of Eddowes agreed to provide the required sample and it came back as a “perfect match.”

As for Kosminski, there are various people around who claim having him as an ancestor. Indeed, when we made the documentary Unmasking Jack the Ripper in 2005 we interviewed a wonderful lady by the name of Zena Shine who had grown up in the East End of London and whose maiden name was Kosminski.  However, it soon became apparent to me that she probably wasn’t a direct descendent of the Aaron Kosminski although he may have been her uncle.

Russell Edwards managed to track down a descendent of Kosminski’s sister, Matilda, who agreed to give a DNA sample and, once more, this also came back as a positive match.

With the DNA of both the victim and of the perpetrator present on the shawl this was a moment of euphoria for Russell Edwards and he duly celebrated the fact that, after 126 years, they had “nailed Aaron Kosminski.”

But have they?

Well, in all honesty it is an impressive find and we shouldn’t detract from Russell’s terrific efforts on the case. 

But as for actually “nailing” Jack the Ripper, it’s a bit more complex.

The shawl, and the tests, may have proved that Aaron Kosminski and Catherine Eddowes may have met and may even have been intimate. 

A view of Mitre Square today where Jack the Ripper's fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, was murdered.

Mitre Square 2013

But, this still doesn’t prove that Kosminski was the man who murdered Eddowes.

One of the main problems though with sharing in the general euphoria that the case is finally closed is that we are being asked to take on trust the identity of the descendent who gave the DNA sample that was a match for Kosminski. 

Russell Edwards says, and probably fairly, that he is protecting “her” identity.

But the problem is that we are being asked to take on trust the crucial piece of evidence that links the victim and the murderer.

In other words, historians are being asked accept that a genuine descendent was traced, tested and proved to be a positive match, but are not being allowed to know the identity of that descendent in order that she can be independently verified. 

Which, in my opinion, leaves us no closer to knowing the identity of Jack the Ripper than we were a year ago, or the police were 126 years ago.


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Inside 29 Hanbury Street

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One of the most intriguing pieces of film on the Jack the Ripper murders appeared in James Mason’s film of “The London That Nobody Knows.”

This film captures parts of London that have long since vanished including a trip along Hanbury Street where we are treated to a view of, not just the exterior of number 29, but also the back yard as well where the murder of Annie Chapman, the second of Jack the Ripper’s victims, took place on the 8th September 1888. With the 126th anniversary of that murder now approaching I thought that this would be a great subject for today’s blog.

The footage shows James Mason standing in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street. It’s also wonderfully staged in that the woman who answers the front door when James Mason knocks isn’t in the least bit phased by the fact that she’s got an internationally renowned Hollywood actor standing on her doorstep.

I think this is the only footage we have of an actual murder site before it was developed and, as such, it is, most certainly, a genuine piece of Jack the Ripper history.

Anyway I hope you enjoy the little film and, if you would like to see the site of the second murder by Jack the Ripper you can book onto our nightly walking tour that takes you around the murder sites.

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Murder in Buck’s Row – August 31st 1888

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Mary “Polly” Nichols was a resident at one of the Common Lodging Houses in Thrawl Street in Whitechapel.

A view of the two crossed frying pans on the old Frying Pan Pub.

The Old Frying Pan Sign

But, in the early hours of the morning on 31st August 1888, she had spent what little money she had drinking in various pubs in the area, including the Frying Pan at the junction of Brick Lane and Thrawl Street and, as a result, she didn’t have the four pence that she needed to pay for her bed for that night. 

As far as the deputy lodging house keeper was concerned, if she didn’t have the money she didn’t get a bed and so he, unceremoniously, turned her out into the night.

“I’ll soon get my doss money,” she is said to have told him as she left, “see what a jolly bonnet I’m wearing.”

It would appear that she was intending to prostitute herself on the local streets and she believed that the bonnet would prove irresistible to potential clients.

At around 2.30am in the morning of the 31st August 1888 her good friend, Emily Holland, met Mary at the junction of Whitechapel Road and Osborn Street. She was quite drunk and somewhat unsteady on her feet. According to Mary she had, in fact, made her “doss” money three times over but had, each time, spent it on drink. She was now going to see if she could acquire the required amount a fourth time.

Emily was somewhat concerned at Mary’s obvious drunken state and urged her to come back to the lodging house and sober up in the kitchen. But Mary was adamant that she could make the money and so staggered off into the night,  calling back as she did so “It wont be long before I’m back.”

Over the course of the next hour Mary made her way along Whitechapel Road where she met a potential client. As an experienced street walker she would have known the perfect spots to take him to where there would be little chance of them being interrupted.

So, she duly led this stranger to Buck’s Row, a dark thoroughfare set back off the well lit Whitechapel Road.

Buck's Row where, on August 31st 1888, the first Jack the Ripper Murder, that of Mary Nichols, took place on August 31st 1888.

Murder Site - Buck's Row.

At 3.40am, on 31st August, local carter Charles Cross was on his way to work along Buck’s Row, when he found her body lying in a gateway.

At first he wasn’t sure what the prone form was and he approached it to take a closer look. As it dawned on him that it was a woman he hard footsteps approaching and, turning, noticed another Carter, Robert Paul, walking towards him.

He beckoned him over and the two men checked to see if they could detect any signs of life.

They couldn’t and, since they were now late for work, they decided that the best thing they could do would be do make her decent by pulling her raised skirts back down over her knees, and then continue on their way in order that they could tell the first policeman they came across what they’d found.

The mortuary photo of Jack the Ripper victim Mary Nichols.

Mary Nichols

However, no sooner had they left the dark gateway in Buck’s Row than  Police Constable Neil, the local beat officer, came along the dark thoroughfare, noticed the form on the ground, and shone his lantern onto it.  He saw what Cross and Paul had not noticed, that the woman’s throat had been cut.

Soon, local medic Dr Ralph Llwellyen had been summoned to the scene and, having carried out a cursory examination, he pronounced life extinct and ordered that the body be removed to the nearby mortuary where he would make a more detailed examination later that day.

So, within an hour of the body of Mary Nichols being discovered she was lifted onto a police ambulance (in reality little more than a wooden hand cart) and was trundled away from the scene.

Once the body had been delivered to the mortuary Inspector Spratling arrived to note down a description of the deceased. It was he who lifted her skirts back up and made the shocking discovery that the woman had been disembowelled.

Durward Street where the first Jack the Ripper Murder, that of Mary Nichols, took place on 31st August 1888.

Durward Street and the Old Board School.

Meanwhile, back in Buck’s Row, the crime scene itself was washed won to remove as much of the blood as was possible. Mary Nichol’s “jolly bonnett” was lifted from the gutter and taken away and, by 6am, there was little physical evidence remaining to suggest that a hideous crime had taken place.

By the end of that day the police had traced Mary’s estranged husband, John Nichols, and had taken him to the mortuary to identify the body. As he stood looking at her, his distress was evident, as he whispered to her “I forgive you, as you are, for what you have been to me.”

What nobody realised in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Mary Nichols was that, in that dark gateway in Buck’s Row Whitechapel, the autumn of terror had begun and Jack the Ripper’s murderous reign was under way.

You can learn the full story of the murders on our nightly tour of the Jack the Ripper sites.

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