His original Polish name "Lis" means "Fox". His alias "Silver", was a reference to his mother, whose maiden name was Kweksylber, which means Quicksilver. He was also known as Joe Liss, Joe Eligmann, James Smith, Joseph Schmidt, Charlie Silver, Charles Greenbaum, Abraham Ramer and Ludwig.
According to the book giving an account of his crimes, The Fox and the Flies, Silver began his criminal career in London in the 1880s. He served a sentence for burglary at Sing Sing prison in New York before appearing in South Africa in 1898. In Johannesburg he operated a network of cafes, cigar shops and police-protected brothels. During his time in South Africa Silver frequently engaged in litigation and wrote vehement letters to newspapers. The majority of his aliases appear to date from his period in South Africa.
From Johannesburg he is alleged to have gone to South America and thence to Europe, where his mugshot was taken by Paris police in 1909. During World War I Silver turned up in Austria-Hungary. He was executed in Austrian Poland for espionage in 1918.
Jack the Ripper Suspect
In 2007, South African historian Charles van Onselen claimed in the book The Fox and The Flies: The World of Joseph Silver, Racketeer and Psychopath that Silver was the infamous Jack the Ripper serial killer in London in 1888. Critics note, among other things, that van Onselen provides no evidence that Silver was even in London during the time of the murders and that the accusation is based entirely upon speculation. Van Onselen has responded that the number of circumstances involved should make Silver a suspect. He would have been 20 at the time, much younger than contemporary suspect descriptions of Jack the Ripper.
- London Review of Books online
- "Historian Claims To ID Jack The Ripper"
- "Historian claims to ID Jack the Ripper" Associated Press article