Could Any of These Suspects Be the Real Jack the Ripper?

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Stefano Bianchetti/Getty Images

Who was Jack the Ripper? Police and amateur sleuths alike have tried for over a century to uncover the identity of the person responsible for the gruesome murders of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.

The victims' bodies were slashed and their organs were carefully removed. It was believed the person responsible had training as a doctor or a butcher. While the case remains unsolved, the following individuals are some of the most likely suspects.

Famous Painter Walter Sickert

Could acclaimed British artist Walter Sickert be Jack the Ripper? Sickert was a prominent painter whose work depicted ordinary people and everyday life. While never linked to the murders during his lifetime, Sickert’s name was first tied to the Ripper murders back in the 1970s.

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Photo Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery/Wikipedia

After trying his hand at acting, Sickert went on to join the family tradition of art. But Sickert broke from tradition by painting urban scenes rather than wealthy patrons’ portraits. His work showed the transition from Impressionism to Modernism.

Sickert Painted the Murder of a Prostitute

As a young man, Sickert studied under many influential artists, including Edgar Degas and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert’s attraction to urban culture was so intense that he often lived and worked in some of London’s grittier neighborhoods. Sickert’s art frequently depicted dance hall girls and prostitutes.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

His art often had sexual themes that were considered vulgar and obscene. It’s believed that Sickert may have been a client of some of the women who modeled for him. In 1907, he painted "The Camden Town Murder," a scene based on the grisly murder of a London prostitute whose throat was slit by her husband.

Sickert Painted "Jack the Ripper's Bedroom"

Sickert developed an interest in Jack the Ripper after his landlady told him she suspected her previous tenant was the murderer. Sickert’s interest soon turned into fascination. He eventually painted the dark space and named the piece "Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom."

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Photo Courtesy: Manchester City Gallery/Wikipedia

The work of art shows an ominous, shadowy room, as seen from the doorway, and leaves much to the imagination. The painting depicts a wooden chair and a dressing table and chair under a window with slightly opened blinds. The actual room was located at 6 Morning Crescent. The painting is on display at the Manchester Art Gallery.

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Author Patricia Cornwell Believes Sickert Is the Leading Suspect

Some researchers pegged Sickert either as Jack the Ripper or his accomplice. But the theory that Sickert was the killer heated up in 2002 when best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell wrote "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed," a nonfiction book in which she put forth her theory that Sickert was the killer.

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Photo Courtesy: Jacques Lange/Getty Images

Cornwell contended that Sickert’s paintings often portrayed themes of violence against women. She believes the motive for the murders was Sickert’s alleged inability to have sex due to a bungled surgery on his penis. According to critics, Cornwell provided little evidence that Sickert ever had such a surgery.

Cornwell May Have Cut Up One of Sickert's Paintings for Proof

Cornwell was so convinced that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper that she purchased 31 of his paintings, some of his letters and his writing desk in search of evidence to support her theory. According to Cornwell, her investigation cost about $7 million.

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Photo Courtesy: Source Unknown/Wikipedia

In 2001, The Guardian newspaper reported that Cornwell had cut up one of Sickert’s paintings to obtain DNA or any other additional proof that the artist was truly the killer. The art world was shocked by Cornwell’s behavior and called it an act of "monstrous stupidity." However, Cornwell has denied the allegation that any of Sickert’s work was damaged.

Polish Barber Aaron Kosminski

Polish barber Aaron Kosminski has been repeatedly named as a viable Jack the Ripper suspect. After the pogroms forced many Eastern European Jews to flee their homes, Kosminski and his siblings immigrated to Great Britain from Poland. They ended up in the slums of Whitechapel, where Kosminski worked sporadically as a barber.

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Photo Courtesy: Punch, or The London Charivari/Wikipedia

Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten named Kosminski as a prime suspect. According to Macnaghten, Kosminski "had a great hatred of women...with strong homicidal tendencies." Kosminski was admitted to the Leavesden Asylum in 1894, but there were never any reports of him showing violence during his residency at the facility.

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Kosminski Was a Paranoid Schizophrenic

Kosminski was thought to have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. His symptoms included auditory hallucinations and an intense fear of accepting food from other people. Kosminski was so fearful of food that was offered to him that he preferred to eat morsels that had dropped on the ground.

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Photo Courtesy: Darren Kemper/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Kosminski spent most of his adult life in and out of insane asylums and public workhouses. At one point, the mentally unstable man was committed after threatening to kill his sister with a knife. He died in 1919 at the age of 53. At the time of his death, Kosminski weighed just 93 pounds.

Ripper Victim Catherine Eddowes' Shawl Was Analyzed for DNA Evidence

In 2007, author Russell Edwards purchased the stained shawl of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. It's believed police constable Amos Simpson discovered the shawl when he arrived at the scene of the murder and kept it for unknown reasons. Hoping to solve the Ripper mystery, he gave it to Liverpool John Moores University biochemist Dr. Jari Louhelainen for DNA analysis.

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Photo Courtesy: Aadhar Sharma/Unsplash

In 2019, Louhelainen and reproduction expert David Miller submitted a paper to the Journal of Forensic Sciences that claimed they were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the shawl of Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. DNA samples were also taken from Eddowes’ and Kosminski’s descendants.

Could Eddowes' Shawl Hold Ripper Clues?

The tests run by the two researchers compared fragments of mitochondrial DNA, that portion of DNA inherited from a person's mother. According to the researchers, The DNA was a positive match to the sample provided by the living relative of Kosminski, which concluded the study that appeared in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

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Photo Courtesy: Louis Reed/Unsplash

Louhelainen claimed he was able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the silk shawl that was allegedly found next to victim Catherine Eddowes. It was a 99.2% match with the female line of Kosminski’s sisters. The DNA also showed that the sample came from someone with brown hair and brown eyes.

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Skeptics Debate Louhelainen and Miller's Findings

Not everyone subscribes to the conclusions made in Louhelainen and Miller’s study. Some scientists believe key details of the DNA were omitted, making the data difficult to verify. According to Louhelainen and Miller, the information was purposely omitted to protect the privacy of the Eddowes and Kosminski descendants.

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Photo Courtesy: Ousa Chea/Unsplash

Other Ripper researchers are highly doubtful that Aaron Kosminski was responsible for any of the Whitechapel murders, citing that the immigrant preferred speaking in Yiddish. With such poor English skills, it was highly unlikely Kosminski would have been able to lure any of the women into dark alleyways.

Was Jack the Ripper an American Ripper?

Could Jack the Ripper have actually been an American Ripper? H.H. Holmes was a physician who gained fame as America’s first known serial killer. Born Herman Webster Mudgett, Holmes was a known con artist and bigamist. Like Jack the Ripper, he was cold and calculating and easily evaded detection.

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Photo Courtesy: Source Unknown/Wikipedia

Attorney Jeff Mudgett believes that his great-great-grandfather H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper are the same. Mudgett says that information contained in two diaries he inherited from Holmes reveals how his reprehensible relative murdered London prostitutes. Ship passenger logs show that an H. Holmes traveled from London to the United States shortly after the murders stopped.

Holmes Said He'd Always Been Fascinated With Death

Holmes was born in 1861 to an affluent New Hampshire family. He claimed that he was bullied as a child and that schoolmates locked him into a closet with a skeleton. Rather than feeling horror, Holmes said he developed a fascination with death.

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Photo Courtesy: Luke Southern/Unsplash

Mudgett married in 1878, and he and wife Clara had a son in 1880. In 1884 he graduated from the University of Michigan's School of Medicine, where he'd worked with cadavers as an assistant in the anatomy lab as a medical student. Acquaintances recall Mudgett was abusive to Clara, who left him in 1884.

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Holmes Built a "Murder Castle"

Following his graduation, Mudgett changed his name and moved to Chicago after he was involved in several scams and his name was linked to the disappearance of a little boy. In 1886, Holmes set up shop in Chicago as a pharmacist and began murdering people in order to steal their property.

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Photo Courtesy: The Holmes-Pitezel Case: A History of the Greatest Crime of the Century and of the Search for the Missing Pitezel Children/Wikipedia

Holmes carried out the murders in a building he claimed would serve as a hotel for visitors attending the World's Columbian Exposition. But the building was actually designed for torture, executions and body disposals. After his arrest, investigators discovered hidden passageways and rooms constructed with trap doors. The grisly revelation resulted in the building being nicknamed the "Murder Castle."

"I Was Born With the Devil in Me"

Holmes was eventually arrested, tried and convicted for the murder of his friend, Benjamin Pitezel. Pitezel had helped Holmes scam insurance companies, but he and his children were murdered when Holmes thought their deaths might bring in some money.

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Photo Courtesy: Mugshot Unknown Source/Wikipedia

Holmes initially confessed to 27 murders, but the number eventually rose to 130 and could be as high as 200. Holmes began making numerous confessions, but it was difficult for investigators to determine truth and fiction. In prison, Holmes wrote, "I was born with the devil in me." He also claimed that his appearance while in prison was beginning to look like that of Satan.

Mudgett Insists Holmes Is Linked to the Ripper Murders

Holmes was hanged on May 7, 1896. Jeff Mudgett believes a lookalike was tricked into taking Holmes’ place in prison. Although Holmes’ body was discovered in a Pennsylvania grave, and DNA has conclusively proven his identity, Mudgett insists Holmes is linked to the Jack the Ripper murders.

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Photo Courtesy: Holmes Own Story (1895)/Wikipedia

In an NBC 5 Chicago interview, Mudgett maintained that his relative is still a viable suspect, stating, "There are too many coincidences for this to be another bogus theory. I know that the evidence is out there to prove my theory and I’m not going to give up until I find it."

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Was the Lambeth Poisoner the True Ripper?

Thomas Neill Cream was a Scottish-Canadian physician-turned-serial killer who was known in the press as the "Lambeth Poisoner." Born in Scotland and raised near Quebec City, Cream received his medical degree from McGill University and did post-graduate training at St. Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London. His affinity for killing prostitutes made him a likely suspect.

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Photo Courtesy: Original Source Unknown/Wikipedia

Cream had a shady past. In 1876, Cream had a relationship with a young lady named Flora Brooks that resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. Cream nearly killed Brooks when he attempted to abort the baby. At the insistence of her father, Cream married Brooks, and then he set off to England.

Cream Escaped Two Murder Convictions

Due to multiple run-ins with the law, Cream moved between Canada, the United States and England, typically setting up shop as an abortionist in seedy areas. After his return to Canada, the body of chambermaid Kate Gardener was found in Cream’s office. Lying next to the body was a bottle of chloroform. Despite the unusual circumstances and Cream’s nefarious background, Cream was not charged with murder.

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Photo Courtesy: Hulton Archive/Getty Image

After Gardener’s death, Cream headed off to Chicago. In August of 1880, a woman by the name of Julia Faulkner, who'd been associated with Cream, also died under unexplained circumstances. Cream was arrested but escaped formal charges.

Cream Begins Selling Poisonous Potions

In 1891, Cream began selling strychnine "medicines" to prostitutes, claiming they prevented venereal diseases and cured epilepsy. Cream also added strychnine to a potion that killed Daniel Stott, a patient who learned Cream was having an affair with his wife. Investigators discovered Stott had been poisoned and sent Cream off to the Illinois State Penitentiary.

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Photo Courtesy: Matt Briney/Unsplash

Cream was sentenced to life in prison but was released for good behavior in 1891. He traveled to Canada, then set off for England. Within days, prostitutes Ellen "Nellie" Donworth, 18, and Matilda Clover, 27, died after consuming Cream's concoctions. Cream also killed prostitutes Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell, 18, after lacing their drinks with strychnine.

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Cream Attempted to Extort Money After the Murders

In addition to working as an abortionist and poisoner, Cream also became an accomplished extortionist. When a prostitute died, Cream would then accuse a prominent man of the murders and attempt blackmail. Cream tried to blackmail his neighbor, Joseph Harper, claiming he had evidence that the man had killed Marsh and Shrivell. He told Harper that a sum of £1,500 could make the unfortunate accusation go away.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Harper refused to cave to Cream's demands. The police were eventually able to tie the doctor to the murders when Scotland Yard surveilled Cream and learned that he frequently met with prostitutes.

Cream’s Punishment

Cream was convicted of murdering Matilda Clover and hanged in 1892 at the age of 42. According to executioner James Billington, Cream’s last words on the scaffold before his death were "I am Jack the…." Billington reported that this was Cream's confession, revealing his identity as Jack the Ripper.

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Photo Courtesy: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While records show Cream had been in prison during the Ripper murders, some researchers speculate that the prison where he was held was so corrupt that he may have bribed prison officials in order to gain an early release and that the remainder of his term was served by a lookalike.

Was the Ripper a Royal?

One of the most sensational suspects is Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor. Known fondly as "Eddy," the prince was the son of Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra. When his father became king, Albert Victor became second in line to the British throne. But the prince never had the chance to become king, dying at the age of 28 from influenza during the 1891 pandemic.

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Photo Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery/Wikipedia

During his brief life, Albert Victor’s sexuality and mental health were subjects of great speculation. He was rumored to have been associated with a homosexual brothel. The rumors and scandal were a constant source of embarrassment to the prince and royal family.

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Prince Albert Victor

In 1970, British physician Thomas Stowell wrote an article that accused the prince of being the infamous murderer. According to Stowell, the prince's Jack the Ripper alter ego committed the murders during bouts of temporary insanity caused by an advanced case of syphilis.

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Photo Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery/Wikipedia

Stowell claims he developed his theory after seeing the private papers of royal physician Sir William Gull. In his writings, Gull referred to the Ripper only as "S" but also described him as being a gentleman of "collars and cuffs," a nickname for the well-dressed prince, who often wore starched collars to hide his unusually long neck.

Were the Murders an Act of Revenge?

Ripperologists who agree with Stowell believe the prince may have been exacting revenge on prostitutes. Rumors swirled that he'd contracted syphilis from an illicit encounter while at sea with the Royal Navy in the Caribbean. However, the stories of his illness have never been verified.

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Photo Courtesy: Illustrated London News/Wikipedia

"The killer was a gentleman who had contracted syphilis in his youth, and now in the final stages of the illness suffered delusions," writes author Christopher J. Morley. "He became sadistically aroused when watching deer being dressed, and when his warped sexual passion exploded committed the murders. He was assisted by the authorities who helped to conceal it from the public."

Did the Royal Family Hide Albert Victor's Violence?

Stowell alleged that after the second Whitechapel murder, the royal family was certain that Eddy was actually Jack the Ripper, but they needed to keep his violence and illness a secret. Stowell claims that his violent behavior was concealed from the public when the royal family had him committed to a private mental hospital in Sandringham.

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Photo Courtesy: Scientific American, 1891/Wikipedia

Stowell asserts that Eddy's true cause of death was from syphilis and not a flu as the family had claimed. Stowell also states that when the family realized Albert Victor was not a suitable candidate for king, the prince was poisoned after being given a fatal dose of morphine.

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Did the Murders Cover Up a Royal Secret?

A second theory hypothesized that the murders covered up a secret union between the prince and a local woman. In the book "Prince Jack" by Frederick Spiering, the prince had fallen in love with a commoner by the name of Elizabeth Crook, and the two married and had a child. In addition to her lowly station in life, Crook was also a Catholic.

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Photo Courtesy: Buch "Freund Allers" (1894) von Alexander Olinda/Wikipedia

Their union would have been considered a family disgrace. According to Spiering, the royal family plotted to murder anyone with knowledge of the relationship. While the theory of the Prince as Ripper is intriguing, there’s nothing more than circumstantial evidence linking the prince to the murders.

Was Jack the Ripper a Woman?

Could Jack the Ripper have been Jill the Ripper? Some Ripperologists developed the theory after a murder in 1890 was committed by a woman named Mary Pearcey. Pearcey invited friend Phoebe Hogg to visit her home and brutally murdered Hogg and her infant. It's believed Pearcey was having an affair with Hogg’s husband when she decided to murder the woman and child.

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Photo Courtesy: Stanford White/Wikimedia Commons

On October 24, 1890, Pearcey's neighbors heard screams coming from her home. That evening, Hogg's horribly mutilated body was discovered. A bloodsoaked baby carriage was found about a mile away, with Hogg's infant Tiggy nearby. Witnesses said they had seen Pearcey pushing the buggy.

Pearcey Seemed Unconcerned When Police Searched Her Blood-spattered Home

Like Jack the Ripper's victims, police discovered the bodies of Hogg and her baby had been savagely attacked and dumped. When investigators went to question Pearcey, they found her home was spattered with blood. Upon asking for an explanation, Pearcey replied, "Killing mice, killing mice, killing mice."

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Photo Courtesy: Survey Map of Whitechapel/Wikipedia

When authorities searched her home they found bloodstains in the kitchen, along with a bloodstained poker and a carving knife. There were also two broken windows in the kitchen, indicating signs of a struggle. When Pearcey was arrested, police found blood on her clothing, and she was wearing Hogg's wedding ring.

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The Pearcey Murders Had Similarities to the Ripper Killings

According to some Ripperologists, Hogg’s vicious murder shared similarities with the horrific Whitechapel killings. Phoebe Hogg and the Whitechapel prostitutes died from slashes to the throat, and all had their bodies dumped in public places.

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Photo Courtesy: Puck (1889)/Wikipedia

Pearcey was hanged in 1890. Ripper investigator Sir Melville Macnaghten witnessed Pearcey's execution and wrote, "I have never seen a woman of stronger physique… Her nerves were as iron cast as her body." Executioner James Berry gave a similar account of Pearcey's demeanor. Prior to her death, Pearcey placed a cryptic ad that read, "mecp last wish of mew, have not betrayed mew," but refused to reveal its meaning.

Pearcey Never Confessed to Any Crimes

According to those present at her execution, Pearcey's final words were, "My sentence is a just one, but a good deal of the evidence against me was false." Pearcey was so infamous that Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum created a likeness of her that attracted 30,000 curious visitors. The noose used to hang Pearcey can be found at the Black Museum of Scotland Yard.

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Photo Courtesy: Aberdeen Journal/JT Forums

Present-day Jack the Ripper scholars believe Pearcey may have suffered from a personality disorder exacerbated by alcoholism and depression. Pearcey's attorney attempted to prove that she was mentally ill. However, an examination by three doctors failed to find any medical problems.

"Jill the Ripper" Could Have Been a Midwife...or a Man

After Pearcey's trial, some investigators theorized that Jack the Ripper may have been a man dressed as a woman. At the time of the murders, it was common for midwives to deliver babies and sometimes perform abortions. Their blood-stained clothing typically went unnoticed by area residents.

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Photo Courtesy: Medical Photographic Library/Wikimedia Commons

An impostor dressed as a woman walking late at night would likely be ignored. Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle subscribed to this theory. Another theory involved a "mad midwife" who was either disgruntled or deranged. Like doctors, midwives were also familiar with the female anatomy and even knew about certain pressure points that could render a woman unconscious.

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