One of the first places we pass on our nightly tour of Jack the Ripper’s East End haunts is the White Hart, on Whitechapel High Street.
On the exterior wall of the pub is a board which informs passers-by that Jack the Ripper suspect George Chapman worked as a barder in the cellar of the pub.
Chapman’s actual name was, in fact, Severin Klosowski, and in 1903 he would be executed for the murder of three of his wives.
GEORGE CHAPMAN IN THE EAST END
It was never established exactly when Severin Klosowski, better known as George Chapman, arrived in London, but the probability is that it was either in late 1887, or in early 1888.
Like many immigrants at the time, he settled in the East End of London and began working as a jobbing hairdresser.
At Klosowski’s trial for murder, in 1902, Wolff Levisohn, a commercial traveller in hairdressing materials, testified that he had first met him in Whitechapel in 1888, when Klosowski was working as an assistant at a barber’s shop in Whitechapel.
Levisohn stated that, at that time, Klosowski was going under the name of Ludwig Zagowski. He couldn’t speak English, so they conversed in Polish and Yiddish, and Kloswoski told Levisohn that, when he was at Warsaw, he had been a feldscher, which, Levisohn explained:-
“is an assistant to a doctor – what would be called a practical nurse in England – someone who puts on bandages and that sort thing when the doctor tells him.”
VERY CLEVER IN MEDICINE
Levisohn recalled that he found Zagowski to be very clever in medicine by what he asked in questions.
He also revealed that Klosowski had once asked him if he could get him a particular medicine, but Levisohn had declined, telling George Chapman, “I don’t want to get twelve years for that.”
THE CABLE STREET BARBER
By 1889, Klosowski was running his own barber’s shop at 126 Cable Street, St George-in-the East.
In that year, he married a Polish woman by the name of Lucy Baderski, and the couple had a son together.
MOVES TO THE WHITE HART
1890 found him working as an assistant at a barber’s shop in the cellar of the White Hart Pub at the junction of Whitechapel High Street and Gunthorpe Street, a hostelry that still stands, and where a board on the external wall remembers the tenure of its most notorious occupant.
Indeed, by the end of that year he had become the proprietor of the business, and the family moved to nearby Greenfield Street to be close to his place of work.
HIS FIRST WIFE ARRIVES
It was then that his past caught up with him when his Polish wife arrived in London. Hargrave L. Adam in his book, The Trial of George Chapman, described Klosowski’s handling of the potentially embarrassing situation:-
“The two women met at his house. Both claimed the distinction of being the real wife, and neither would give way to the other. For some time the two women actually lived in the same building with this enterprising barber.
The records do not concern themselves with the kind of life led by the man during the struggle between his devoted spouses, but probably it was not without considerable excitement.
At length one of the women went away – disappeared – leaving the other mistress of the situation.”
THEY GO TO AMERICA
The one that remained was his latest wife, Lucy Baderski.
On the 3rd of March, 1891, their son died of pneumonia, and the couple decided to start a new life, and around April of that year they set sail for America, settling in Jersey City, where Klosowski went into business as a barber.
Here, Lucy became pregnant again.
The couple argued frequently, apparently on account of Klosowski’s frequent womanizing.
CHAPMAN ATTACKS HIS WIFE
According to an article that appeared in The St James Gazette on the 23rd of March 1903, on one occasion when the couple quarrelled:-
“She states that on one occasion, when she had had a quarrel with her husband,he held her down on the bed, and pressed his face against her mouth to keep her from screaming.
At that moment a customer entered the shop immediately in front of the room, and Klosowski got up to attend him. The woman chanced to see a handle protruding from underneath the pillow.
She found, to her horror, that it was a sharp and formidable knife, which she promptly hid. Later, Klosowski deliberately told her that he meant to have cut her head off, and pointed to a place in the room where he meant to have buried her.
She said, “But the neighbours would have asked where I had gone to.”
“Oh”, retorted Klosowski, calmly, “”I should simply have told them that you had gone back to New York.”
THE RETURN TO LONDON
Shortly after this traumatic incident Lucy returned to England, where she lodged with her sister at 26 Scarborough Street, and, on the 15th of May, 1892, she gave birth to a daughter, Cecilia. Two weeks after the birth, Klosowski returned to London, and the couple reconciled for a time.