Debunking the Myth of a Jewish ‘Jack the Ripper’
In 1887, London celebrated Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee. In 1888, the impoverished East End — home to as many as 100,000 Jews — exploded in “the Autumn of Terror,” personified by England’s first famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper.
The lengthy list of alleged Ripper suspects ranges from a member of the royal family to Polish-Jewish immigrant and barber Aaron Kosminski. Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of Sherlock Holmes, reportedly suspected a woman could have been responsible.
The most prominent Jewish suspect, Kosminski, stabbed a woman, probably his sister, and was admitted to a lunatic asylum in 1891, three years after the murder of the Ripper’s fifth victim. One problem is that police officials who fingered him as a “prime suspect” were prejudiced against Jews.
In 2014, London businessman Russell Edwards teamed with Scandinavian forensic analyst Dr. Jari Louhelainen for a comparison of Kosminski’s DNA with mitochondrial evidence from semen stains on the shawl of Catherine Eddowes, the Ripper’s second victim. Their conclusion: over a 99% likelihood that Kosminski was Jack the Ripper.
But the DNA analysis was flawed. Undaunted, Louhelainen authored a recent article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences reviving his theory. Serious doubts persist.
Australian popular historian Stephen Senise, in False Flag: Jack the Ripper (2019), argues that a Jew was not the Ripper. Senise is in a long line of “ripperologists” to note connections between the Ripper hysteria and anti-immigrant, antisemitic passions in the East End, where mobs attacked Orthodox Jews.
Yet Senise is the first to offer a painstaking analysis linking antisemitic intent with specific crime scenes. None of the prostitutes killed was Jewish, but one was murdered in the courtyard of London’s Jewish radical club, and another’s body was deposited behind the Great Synagogue. Also, a nearby wall was scrawled with a cryptic message suggesting that the “Juwes” did it.
Senise’s greatest contribution may be to connect sensational accounts in London newspapers of Hungary’s Tisza-Eszlar and Ritter ritual murder trials, in which Jews were wrongly accused of murdering women, with the timing of the East End crimes and even the modus operandi of the Ripper’s mutilation murders.
His theory is that the East End murders were plotted to convince credulous Londoners that Jack the Ripper was Jewish. Remember that readers of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1895) often believed that it was a parable about Jewish bloodlust.
Senise’s prime suspect is George Hutchinson, a non-Jewish common laborer who gave detailed but conflicting accounts of his sighting of the Ripper, replete with antisemitic innuendo, perhaps to deflect suspicion from himself. Hutchinson departed for New South Wales in 1888, soon after the last of the five generally-accepted Ripper murders.
Though lacking conclusive evidence, Senise makes an intriguing case for a non-Jewish, antisemitic hand behind the Ripper’s horrific crimes.
Before dismissing Senise’s theory, think of ritual murder accusations a century and more ago, picturing the stereotyped “Jew” as an archetypal serial killer. Consider also Charles Manson, who masterminded a mass murder spree in Los Angeles in 1969 to incite a race war. Did Manson and the Ripper both seek to ignite race-based attacks, albeit against different scapegoats?
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).