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Aaron Kosminski

Aaron Kosminski

Jewish immigrant to London and possible Jack the Ripper suspect
Aaron Kosminski
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Jewish immigrant to London and possible Jack the Ripper suspect
Was Hairdresser Makeup artist
From Poland
Type Fashion
Gender male
Birth 11 September 1865, Kłodawa, Gmina Kłodawa, Greater Poland Voivodeship, Koło County, Greater Poland Voivodeship
Death 24 March 1919, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom (aged 53 years)
The details


Aaron Kosminski (born Aron Mordke Kozmiński; 11 September 1865 – 24 March 1919) was a Jewish Polish emigrant in England who is a suspect in the Jack the Ripper case.

Kosminski was a Polish Jew who emigrated from Russian Poland to England in the 1880s. He worked as a hairdresser in Whitechapel in the East End of London, where a series of murders ascribed to the Ripper were committed in 1888. From 1891, he was institutionalised 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 Aaron Kosminski with the same Kosminski who was suspected of the murders and their dates of death are different. 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.

In September 2014, author Russell Edwards claimed to have proved Kosminski's guilt using mitochondrial DNA evidence from a shawl he believed to have been left at a murder scene. His claim has not been published or verified by the peer-review process, and his methods and findings have been criticised.


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. He may have been employed in a hospital as a hairdresser or orderly for a time. Aaron emigrated from Poland in 1880 or 1881, likely with his sisters' families. The family initially lived in Germany for a while. A nephew of Aaron's was born there in 1880 and a niece in 1881. It is not known precisely when Aaron left Poland to join his sisters or whether he lived in Germany for any length of time, although he may have left Poland as a result of the March 1881 pogroms following the assassination of Tzar Alexander II, the impetus for many other Jews to emigrate. The family moved to Britain and settled in London sometime in 1881 or 1882. His mother, who was listed as a widow, apparently did not emigrate with the family immediately, but had joined them by 1894. It is unknown whether his father died or abandoned the family, but he did not emigrate to Britain with the rest of them. It is known that he had likely died before 1901, and an 1887 death certificate indicates that an Abram Kosminski had died in the Polish town of Koło, only five miles from Grzegorzew, the hometown of Kosminski's father.

In London, Kosminski 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. However, he may have worked only sporadically: it was reported that he had "not attempted any kind of work for years" by 1891. He possibly relied on his sisters' families for financial support, and may have even lived with them.

On 12 July 1890, Kosminski was placed in Mile End Old Town workhouse because of his insane behaviour, with his brother Woolf certifying the entry, and was released three days later. On 4 February 1891, he was returned to the workhouse, possibly by the police, and on 7 February, he was transferred to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. A witness to the certification of his entry, recorded as Jacob Cohen, gave some basic background information and stated that Kosminski had threatened his sister with a knife. It is unclear whether this meant Kosminski's sister or Cohen's. Kosminski remained at the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum for the next three years until he was admitted on 19 April 1894 to Leavesden Asylum. 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. The cause of his insanity was recorded as "self-abuse", which is thought to be a euphemism for masturbation. His poor diet seems to have kept him in an emaciated state for years; his low weight was recorded in the asylum case notes. By February 1919, he weighed just 96 pounds (44 kg). He died the following month, aged 53.

Jack the Ripper suspect

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, and an abridged version from the archives of the Metropolitan Police was released to the public in the 1970s. Macnaghten stated that there were strong reasons for suspecting "Kosminski" because he "had a great hatred of women ... with strong homicidal tendencies".

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". 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. 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. (Whereas Aaron Kosminski did not die until 1919). 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.

In 1987, Ripper author Martin Fido searched asylum records for any inmates called Kosminski, and found only one: Aaron Kosminski. 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. The addresses given in the asylum records are in Mile End Old Town, just on the edge of Whitechapel. The description of Aaron's symptoms in the case notes indicates that he had paranoid schizophrenia, and known people with schizophrenia include serial killers such as Peter Sutcliffe. Macnaghten's notes say that "Kosminski" indulged in "solitary vices", and in his memoirs Anderson wrote of his suspect's "unmentionable vices", both of which may match the claim in the case notes that Aaron committed "self-abuse". 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, but the last detail about his early death does not match Aaron, who lived until 1919.

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. Swanson's notes state that "Kosminski" was identified at "the Seaside Home", which was the Police Convalescent Home in Brighton. Some authors express scepticism that this identification ever happened, while others use it as evidence for their theories. For example, Donald Rumbelow thought the story unlikely, but fellow Ripper authors Martin Fido and Paul Begg thought there was another witness, perhaps Israel Schwartz, Joseph Lawende, or a policeman. In his memorandum, however, Macnaghten stated that "no-one ever saw the Whitechapel murderer", which directly contradicts Anderson's and Swanson's recollection. 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. Edmund Reid, the inspector in charge of the investigation initially, also challenged Anderson's opinion. There is no record of Aaron Kosminski in any surviving official police documents except Macnaghten's memo.

In Kosminski's defence, he was described as harmless in the asylum. He had originally been taken into custody for threatening either his sister or the sister of a witness to his admittance with a knife, and brandished a chair at an asylum attendant in January 1892, but these two incidents are the only known indications of violent behaviour. 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. The "canonical five" killings that are most frequently blamed on the Ripper ended in 1888 but Kosminski's movements were not restricted until 1891.

DNA evidence

On 7 September 2014, Dr. Jari Louhelainen, an expert in historic DNA analysis, announced that he had been commissioned by British author Russell Edwards 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. 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."

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. He bought at auction the shawl from which the DNA was extracted and commissioned Louhelainen, with Miller assisting, to analyse it for forensic DNA evidence. 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. 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. 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."

The primary criticism of the initial report centred around the fact that the findings first appeared in Britain's tabloid Daily Mail newspaper. 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", 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.

Louhelainen's findings have not been subject to peer review by other scientists or investigators. 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". He went on to point out that the evidence has not been received or examined yet by independent third parties. 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. It is present in more than 99% of the sequences in the EMPOP database, 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. Donald Rumbelow criticised the claim, saying that no shawl is listed among Eddowes's effects by the police, 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." 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." The shawl or other material could have been contaminated before or while DNA was being tested.

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"

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. 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. 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 began that December. Fido suggested that police officials confused the name Kaminsky with Kosminski, resulting in the wrong man coming under suspicion. As with Kosminski, the asylum case notes say he spoke only Yiddish.

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.

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. 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".

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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