Aaron Kosminski

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Aaron Kosminski
Born Aron Mordke Kozmiński
(1865-09-11)11 September 1865[1]
Kłodawa in Congress Poland
Died 24 March 1919(1919-03-24) (aged 53)
Known for Jack the Ripper suspect
Religion Jewish

Aaron Kosminski (born Aron Mordke Kozmiński; 11 September 1865 – 24 March 1919) was a suspect in the Jack the Ripper case. In September 2014, author Russell Edwards claimed to have proved Kosminski's guilt using mitochondrial DNA evidence, though this claim has not been published or verified by the peer-review process.

Kosminski was a Jew who emigrated to England from Russian Poland in the 1880s and worked as a hairdresser in Whitechapel in the East End of London, where the murders were committed in 1888. From 1891, he was institutionalized in an insane asylum. Police officials from the time of the murders named one of their suspects as "Kosminski" (the forename was not given), and described him as a Polish Jew in an insane asylum. Almost a century after the final murder, the suspect "Kosminski" was identified as Aaron Kosminski, but there was little if any evidence to connect him with the murders, and the reasons for his inclusion as a suspect by the contemporary police are unclear. Possibly, Kosminski was confused with another Polish Jew of the same age named Aaron or David Cohen (real name possibly Nathan Kaminsky), who was a violent patient at the same asylum.


Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, North London. Kosminski was an inmate from 1891 to 1894.

Aaron Kosminski was born in Kłodawa in Congress Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. His parents were Abram Józef Kozmiński, a tailor, and his wife Golda née Lubnowska.[2] In 1881, he emigrated to England, and embarked on a career as a barber in Whitechapel, an impoverished slum in London's East End that had become home to many Jewish refugees who were fleeing economic hardship in eastern Europe and pogroms in Tsarist Russia.[3] His sister and two brothers also left Russia and lived in Whitechapel, and his widowed mother later emigrated and joined them there.[4]

On two occasions in July 1890 and February 1891, Kosminski was placed in Mile End Old Town workhouse because of his insane behaviour. On the second occasion, he was discharged to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, where he remained for the next three years until he was admitted on 19 April 1894 to Leavesden Asylum.[5][6] Case notes indicate that Kosminski had been ill since at least 1885. His insanity took the form of auditory hallucinations, a paranoid fear of being fed by other people that drove him to pick up and eat food dropped as litter, and a refusal to wash or bathe.[7] The cause of his insanity was recorded as "self-abuse", which is thought to be a euphemism for masturbation.[6] His poor diet seems to have kept him in an emaciated state for years; his low weight was recorded in the asylum case notes.[6] By February 1919, he weighed just 96 pounds (44 kg). He died the following month, aged 53.[6]

Jack the Ripper suspect[edit]

The 1894 memorandum written by Sir Melville Macnaghten, Assistant Chief Constable of the London Metropolitan Police, naming "Kosminski" as one of three suspects in the Jack the Ripper case. The other two suspects he named were Montague Druitt and Michael Ostrog.

Between 1888 and 1891, the deaths of eleven women in or around the Whitechapel district of the East End of London were linked together in a single police investigation known as the "Whitechapel murders". Seven of the victims suffered a slash to the throat, and in four cases the bodies were mutilated after death. Five of the cases, between August and November 1888, show such marked similarities that they are generally agreed to be the work of a single serial killer, known as "Jack the Ripper". Despite an extensive police investigation, the Ripper was never identified and the crimes remained unsolved. Years after the end of the murders, documents were discovered that revealed the suspicions of police officials against a man called "Kosminski".

An 1894 memorandum written by Sir Melville Macnaghten, the Assistant Chief Constable of the London Metropolitan Police, names one of the suspects as a Polish Jew called "Kosminski" (without a forename). Macnaghten's memo was discovered in the private papers of his daughter, Lady Aberconway, by television journalist Dan Farson in 1959,[8] and an abridged version from the archives of the Metropolitan Police was released to the public in the 1970s.[6] Macnaghten stated that there were strong reasons for suspecting "Kosminski" because he "had a great hatred of women ... with strong homicidal tendencies".[9]

In 1910, Assistant Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson claimed in his memoirs The Lighter Side of My Official Life that the Ripper was a "low-class Polish Jew".[10] Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, who led the Ripper investigation, named the man as "Kosminski" in notes handwritten in the margin of his presentation copy of Anderson's memoirs.[11] He added that "Kosminski" had been watched at his brother's home in Whitechapel by the police, that he was taken with his hands tied behind his back to the workhouse and then to Colney Hatch Asylum, and that he died shortly after.[12] The copy of Anderson's memoirs containing the handwritten notes by Swanson was donated by his descendents to Scotland Yard's Crime Museum in 2006.[13][14]

In 1987, Ripper author Martin Fido searched asylum records for any inmates called Kosminski, and found only one: Aaron Kosminski.[15] At the time of the murders, Aaron apparently lived either on Providence Street or Greenfield Street, both of which addresses are close to the sites of the murders.[16] The addresses given in the asylum records are in Mile End Old Town, just on the edge of Whitechapel.[17] The description of Aaron's symptoms in the case notes indicates that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, and known paranoid schizophrenics include serial killers such as Peter Sutcliffe.[6] Macnaghten's notes say that "Kosminski" indulged in "solitary vices",[9] and in his memoirs Anderson wrote of his suspect's "unmentionable vices",[18] both of which may match the claim in the case notes that Aaron committed "self-abuse".[19] Swanson's notes match the known details of Aaron's life in that he reported that the suspect went to the workhouse and then to Colney Hatch,[20] but the last detail about his early death does not match Aaron, who lived until 1919.[21]

Anderson claimed that the Ripper had been identified by the "only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer", but that no prosecution was possible because both the witness and the culprit were Jews, and Jews were not willing to offer testimony against fellow Jews.[10] Swanson's notes state that "Kosminski" was identified at "the Seaside Home", which was the Police Convalescent Home in Brighton. Some authors express skepticism that this identification ever happened, while others use it as evidence for their theories. For example, Donald Rumbelow thought the story unlikely,[22] but fellow Ripper authors Martin Fido and Paul Begg thought there was another witness, perhaps Israel Schwartz,[23] Joseph Lawende, or a policeman.[24] In his memorandum, however, Macnaghten stated that "no-one ever saw the Whitechapel murderer", which directly contradicts Anderson's and Swanson's recollection.[25] Sir Henry Smith, Acting Commissioner of the City of London Police at the time of the murders, scathingly dismissed Anderson's claim that Jews would not testify against one another in his own memoirs written later in the same year, calling it a "reckless accusation" against Jews.[26] Edmund Reid, the inspector in charge of the investigation initially, also challenged Anderson's opinion.[27] There is no record of Aaron Kosminski in any surviving official police documents except Macnaghten's memo.[28]

In Kosminski's defence, he was described as harmless in the asylum. He brandished a chair at an asylum attendant in January 1892 and he threatened his sister with a knife, but these two incidents are the only known indications of violent behaviour.[29] In the asylum, Kosminski preferred to speak his native language (Yiddish), which indicates that his English may have been poor, and that he was unable to persuade English-speaking victims into dark alleyways, as the Ripper was supposed to do.[30] The "canonical five" killings that are most frequently blamed on the Ripper ended in 1888 but Kosminski's movements were not restricted until 1891.[31]

DNA evidence[edit]

On 7 September 2014, Dr. Jari Louhelainen, an expert in historic DNA analysis, announced that he had been commissioned by British author Russell Edwards[32][33] to study a shawl supposedly found with victim Catherine Eddowes and that he had extracted mitochondrial DNA that matches female line descendants of Eddowes, and mitochondrial DNA that matches female line descendants of Kosminski's sister from the shawl.[32][34] Louhelainen stated that "The first strand of DNA showed a 99.2 percent match, as the analysis instrument could not determine the sequence of the missing 0.8 percent fragment of DNA. On testing the second strand, we achieved a perfect 100 percent match."[35]

In his book Naming Jack The Ripper, Edwards names Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. Edwards was inspired to try to finally solve the case after the release of From Hell, the 2001 Johnny Depp film about the Whitechapel murders.[36] He bought at auction the shawl from which the DNA was extracted and commissioned Louhelainen, with Miller assisting, to analyze it for forensic DNA evidence.[36] Edwards states that Kosminski was on a list of police suspects but there was never enough evidence to bring him to trial at the time. Kosminski died at the age of 53 of gangrene of the leg in a London mental hospital in 1919.[37] He says, however, that the DNA samples can now prove that Kosminski was "definitely, categorically and absolutely" the person responsible for the Whitechapel murders committed by Jack the Ripper. "I've got the only piece of forensic evidence in the whole history of the case," he told The Independent newspaper.[34] He continued, "I've spent 14 years working on it, and we have definitively solved the mystery of who Jack the Ripper was. Only non-believers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt. This is it now—we have unmasked him."[36]

The primary criticism of the initial report centered around the fact that the findings first appeared in Britain's tabloid Daily Mail newspaper.[34][38] One critic, Susannah L. Bodman of The Oregonian newspaper pointed out that "The Daily Mail '​s reporting on science and scientific evidence is—let's say—not known to be robust." Other criticisms include questions about "the chain of evidence or provenance on the shawl", the fact that publishing the information in the press "is not the same as reporting and publishing your methods in a peer-reviewed journal",[39] and concerns regarding the entire recent body of Jack the Ripper investigative and historical forensic work in general, pointing out how often the work of mediums and clairvoyants, human interest angles, recycled evidence from coroner's courts and other sources and the general acceptance of misinformation and urban myth as fact have undermined and hobbled previous efforts to conduct objective, scientific investigations.[40]

Louhelainen's findings have not been subject to peer review by other scientists or investigators.[34][38] Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the forensic scientist who invented DNA fingerprinting in 1984, initially commented that the find was "an interesting but remarkable claim that needs to be subjected to peer review, with detailed analysis of the provenance of the shawl and the nature of the claimed DNA match with the perpetrator's descendants and its power of discrimination".[34] He went on to point out that the evidence has not been received or examined yet by independent third parties.[34] Jeffreys and others later confirmed that the evidence presented in the book for the statistical significance of the match with the DNA from Eddowes's descendant—a sequence variation described as 314.1C and claimed to be rare—was in fact the result of an error in nomenclature for the common sequence variation 315.1C.[41] It is present in more than 99% of the sequences in the EMPOP database,[42] rather than being found only in 1 in 290,000 people worldwide, as claimed in the book.

Dr. David Miller, who assisted in the forensic research, found epithelial cells—which line cavities and organs—much to the surprise of the research team as they were not expecting to find anything usable after 126 years.[32] Donald Rumbelow criticized the claim, saying that no shawl is listed among Eddowes's effects by the police,[43][44] and mitochondrial DNA expert Peter Gill said the shawl "is of dubious origin and has been handled by several people who could have shared that mitochondrial DNA profile."[43] Two of Eddowes's descendants are known to have been in the same room as the shawl for three days in 2007, and, in the words of one critic, "The shawl has been openly handled by loads of people and been touched, breathed on, spat upon."[43] The shawl or other material could have been contaminated before or while DNA was being tested.[45]

Dubious DNA evidence was previously alleged to point definitively to a different suspect, Walter Sickert, and published in the book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed.

Kosminski and "David Cohen"[edit]

Ghastly murder in the East End. Dreadful mutilation of a woman. Capture: Leather Apron
Newspaper broadsheet referring to the Whitechapel murderer as "Leather Apron", September 1888

Another Polish Jew proposed as a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders was Aaron Davis Cohen or David Cohen, whose incarceration at Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum roughly coincided with the end of the murders. He was committed on 12 December 1888, about one month after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly on 9 November. He was described as violently antisocial, exhibited destructive tendencies while at the asylum, and had to be restrained. He was the same age as Kosminski, and died at the asylum in October 1889.[46] Author Martin Fido suggested in his book The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper (1987) that the name "David Cohen" was used by the asylum as a simple name for an inmate whose true name (Kosminski or Kaminsky) was too difficult to spell or easily misunderstood.[47] Fido identified Cohen with "Leather Apron", a Polish Jewish bootmaker blamed for the murders in local gossip, and speculated that Cohen's true identity was Nathan Kaminsky, a bootmaker living in Whitechapel who had been treated at one time for syphilis. Fido was unable to trace Kaminsky after May 1888, and records of Cohen begin that December.[48] Fido suggested that police officials confused the name Kaminsky with Kosminski, resulting in the wrong man coming under suspicion.[21] As with Kosminski, the asylum case notes say he spoke only Yiddish.[49]

The implication is that Kaminsky's syphilis was not cured in May 1888 but in remission, and he began to kill prostitutes as an act of revenge because it had affected his brain. However, Cohen's death certificate makes no mention of syphilis but gives the cause of death as "exhaustion of mania" with phthisis, a then prevalent form of pulmonary tuberculosis, as the secondary cause. Kaminsky might have died as an "unknown" as hundreds of people did each year in the late 19th century. That would account for Fido's inability to find a record of his death in England and Wales during the probable period of his life.[50]

Nigel Cawthorne dismissed Cohen as a likely suspect because in the asylum his assaults were undirected, and his behaviour was wild and uncontrolled, whereas the Ripper seemed to attack specifically and quietly.[51] In contrast, former FBI criminal profiler John Douglas has asserted in his book The Cases That Haunt Us that behavioural clues gathered from the murders all point to a person "known to the police as David Cohen ... or someone very much like him".[52] Using criminal profiling techniques Douglas and Roy Hazlewood concluded that the Whitechapel murderer would have been someone of Kosminski's or Cohen's age, marital status and social class who exhibited erratic or irrational antisocial behaviour and who lived close to the scenes of the murders.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Akt urodzenia Aarona Mordki Kuźmińskiego" [Birth certificate of Aaron Mordke Kuźmiński]. Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. 15 September 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  2. ^ House, Robert (March 2006), "The Kozminski File", Ripperologist, No. 65
  3. ^ Kershen, Anne J., "The Immigrant Community of Whitechapel at the Time of the Jack the Ripper Murders", in Werner, pp. 65–97; Vaughan, Laura, "Mapping the East End Labyrinth", in Werner, p. 225
  4. ^ Begg, pp. 269–273
  5. ^ Colney Hatch Register of Admissions, quoted in Begg, pp. 269–270
  6. ^ a b c d e f Lekh, S.K.; Langa, A.; Begg, P.; Puri, B.K. (1992), "The case of Aaron Kosminski: was he Jack the Ripper?", Psychiatric Bulletin, vol. 16, pp. 786–788
  7. ^ Asylum case notes quoted by Begg, p. 270; Fido, p. 216 and Rumbelow, p. 180
  8. ^ Woods and Baddeley, p. 125
  9. ^ a b Macnaghten's notes quoted by Evans and Skinner, pp. 584–587; Fido, p. 147 and Rumbelow, p. 142
  10. ^ a b Quoted in Begg, p. 266; Evans and Rumbelow, p. 236 and Evans and Skinner, pp. 626–633
  11. ^ Begg, p. 269; Evans and Rumbelow, p. 243; Evans and Skinner, p. 635; Rumbelow, p. 179
  12. ^ Begg, p. 269; Evans and Rumbelow, p. 253; Evans and Skinner, p. 635; Rumbelow, p. 179
  13. ^ BBC News (13 July 2006) "Ripper case notes given to museum", retrieved 20 January 2010
  14. ^ Tendler, Stewart (14 July 2006) "Official: Jack the Ripper identified" The Times, retrieved 20 January 2010
  15. ^ Begg, p. 269; Fido, p. 215
  16. ^ Marriott, p. 238
  17. ^ Begg, pp. 269–270
  18. ^ Fido, p. 170
  19. ^ e.g. Fido, p. 229
  20. ^ Begg, p. 273
  21. ^ a b Whitehead and Rivett, p. 109
  22. ^ Evans and Rumbelow, pp. 249–253; Rumbelow, p. 182
  23. ^ Begg, p. 276
  24. ^ Fido, pp. 77, 152, 207
  25. ^ Evans and Rumbelow, p. 255
  26. ^ Wilson and Odell, p. 78
  27. ^ Interview with Reid in the Morning Advertiser, 23 April 1910, quoted in Cook, p. 178
  28. ^ Evans and Skinner, pp. 262, 604
  29. ^ Fido, p. 228; Rumbelow, p. 182; Whitehead and Rivett, p. 108
  30. ^ Marriott, pp. 237, 240
  31. ^ Whitehead and Rivett, p. 108
  32. ^ a b c Edwards, Russell. "Jack the Ripper unmasked". Daily Mail. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  33. ^ "Identity of Jack The Ripper finally 'revealed' with the help of DNA evidence". Metro. 7 September 2014. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f "Has Jack the Ripper's identity really been revealed using DNA evidence?". The Independent. 7 September 2014. 
  35. ^ "DNA tests 'prove' that Jack the Ripper was a Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski". news.com.au. 7 September 2014. 
  36. ^ a b c "Johnny Depp inspired the hunt for the 'real' Jack the Ripper". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 September 2014. 
  37. ^ "Jack the Ripper mystery 'solved'". The Courier. Dundee, Scotland. 7 September 2014. 
  38. ^ a b "Are YOU Jack The Ripper? No. And neither's Aaron Kosminski". Us Vs Th3m (London). 8 September 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  39. ^ "Jack the Ripper finally identified by DNA? Maybe, maybe not ...". The Oregonian. 6 September 2014. 
  40. ^ "Recent Scholarship on Jack the Ripper and the Victorian Media". Reviews in History: Covering books and digital resources across all fields of history. Institute of Historical Research, University of London. April 2003. 
  41. ^ "Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'". The Independent. 19 October 2014. 
  42. ^ "EMPOP.org - Mitochondrial DNA Control Region Database". EMPOP. Retrieved 2014-10-08. 
  43. ^ a b c Burgess, Kaya (8 September 2014). "DNA row over 'proof' Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper". The Australian. 
  44. ^ Satherley, Dan (8 September 2014). "Jack the Ripper: Mystery solved?". 3 News. 
  45. ^ Scheinman, Ted (11 September 2014). "Did DNA Evidence Really Identify Jack the Ripper". Slate. 
  46. ^ Fido, pp. 219–220
  47. ^ Fido, pp. 219, 231
  48. ^ Fido, pp. 216–219
  49. ^ Fido, p. 220
  50. ^ Kendell, p. 80
  51. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2000) "Foreword", in Knight, p. 2
  52. ^ Douglas, John; Olshaker, Mark (2001). The Cases That Haunt Us. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-0-7432-1239-7.