Origins of a Killer

In the Shadow of the Seven Stars
Hunting the Ripper

Jack the Ripper suspect Severin (a.k.a., Seweryn, Severyn, Severino) Antoniovich Klosowski (a.k.a. George Chapman) was born in the Polish village of Nagórna (Nagórnak) on December 14, 1865 to Antonio and Emile Klosowski. At the time of his birth, the village of Nagórna was located in the Warsaw Governorate of Congress Poland. Congress Poland (also known as Russian Poland) was a polity created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna as a semi-autonomous Polish state and successor to Napoleon’s short-lived Duchy of Warsaw. It was established in the Russian sector after Poland was partitioned by the Habsburg Monarchy, Russia and Prussia.

The village of Nagórna was located near the border of the Province of Posen (Poznan), an area that was more commonly known as German Poland. Posen was a province of the German Empire after 1871. This fact is important because Klosowski later marries Lucie Baderski, a woman from the Province of Posen and there is some evidence that he claims Germany as his country of origin on a ship passenger manifest when the couple emigrates to America in 1891. Both of their birthplaces had belonged to the Kingdom of Prussia prior to its dissolution in 1871 and both were strongly Catholic regions. Therefore, neither of the Klosowskis were ethnic or religious Jews as some have speculated.

Map of the Klosowski's birthplaces in Poland and Germany
Modern-day map showing the locations of Posen (Poznan), Nagorna and Warsaw, Poland.

Klosowski’s father was a carpenter. According to a certificate found in his personal effects after his arrest, young Severin was apprenticed at age 14 to a senior surgeon, Moshko (Mosze) Rappaport, in Zwoleń, Poland, near Warsaw, whom he assisted in procedures such as the application of leeches for blood-letting. He then enrolled on a course in practical surgery at the Warsaw Praga Hospital. This course was very brief, lasting from October 1885 to January 1886 (attested to by another certificate in his possession) but Klosowski continued to serve as a nurse – or doctor’s assistant – in Warsaw until December 1886.

Klosowski later left Poland for Britain, settling in London, though the time he arrived in the capital has never been reliably ascertained. A receipt for hospital fees from February 1887 indicate that Klosowski was still in Poland at that time; however, this is the last record of him in Poland. The papers documenting his early life end abruptly in February 1887, which likely indicates that he left Poland around that time.

Witness testimony from his 1903 trial confirms that Klosowski settled in the East End and became a hairdresser’s assistant in either late 1887 or early 1888, with records indicating that he worked for an Abraham Radin of 70 West India Dock Road. He stopped working there after five months, and he subsequently opened a barbershop at 126 Cable Street, St George in the East, sometime between April 1888 and early 1889. The Cable Street location was also listed as his residence in an 1889 London directory, so it is likely but not certain that 126 Cable Street was his residence during the Whitechapel murders in the autumn of 1888.

Cable Street storefronts in 1943
126 Cable Street, where George Chapman had his first barbershop. This photograph was taken in 1943 — 126 is the empty premises in the centre. Photograph from The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, Philip Sugden

There are at least two witnesses at Klosowski’s 1903 trial that place him in the employment of a barbershop located under the White Hart Public House on Whitechapel High Street as early as the summer of 1888. This evidence could be relevant to the Whitechapel murders because several of the victims are tied, in one way or another, to that location. Both barbershop supply salesman Wolff Levisohn and fellow barber George Sherman place Klosowski at the Whitechapel High Street location in 1888 rather than in 1890-1891, when he most certainly lived in the nearby Tewkesbury Buildings and was known to be the proprietor of the barbershop beneath the White Hart on Whitechapel High Street. Moreover, the lead inspector on the Ripper case, Frederick Abberline, also places Klosowski in this same location in 1888, though he may have received this information from Wolff Levisohn.

There are many who argue that Klosowski did not work in the barbershop on Whitechapel High Street in the autumn of 1888. This is based on evidence in the London Post Office Directory of 1889, which lists him as the proprietor of a barbershop at 126 Cable Street, a location several blocks south of Whitechapel High Street and closer to the Elizabeth Stride, Frances Coles and Pinchin Street Torso murder scenes, the last of which occurring within 600 yards of his residence on September 10, 1889.

Carts and carriages pack Cable Street in 1902
A busy Cable Street in 1902

There seems to be little doubt that Klosowski did operate a barbershop on Cable Street in 1889. The question is whether there was overlap in his employment between the two locations or whether he moved to the Cable Street location during or after the Ripper killings (or in response to them). These distinctions, however, are largely academic because they don’t account for real world time frames and geography. There are many things that happen in a year that would go unaccounted for in 1891, especially with an itinerant immigrant population in a poor district of a major city.

All we know is what the witnesses have testified to and what the official records indicate, such as they are. Nothing on record would preclude Klosowski from working at or living near the White Hart barbershop location for weeks or months in 1888; similarly, nothing can conclusively place him at that location, either, given that witnesses over a decade later may have faulty recollections of the time frames in question. Furthermore, it is just as likely that the key location in question is the White Hart Pub itself (or other public houses along Whitechapel High Street) and not the barbershops, since the pubs factor into several witness accounts of the victims’ movements on the nights of their murders.

White Hart Pub Facade
White Hart Public House, 89 Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel, London in 2014

The idea that a killer couldn’t walk a mile or two to perform his crimes and then return home on the same night is patently absurd, so none of the modern hand-wringing about Klosowski’s residence in the autumn of 1888 is worthy of further speculation. We know from the 1889 Post Office Directory that Klosowski lived within striking distance of all of the murder scenes; moreover, one would guess that a serial killer might not want to murder people on his own doorstep – at least not more than once – and that he may have kept on the move precisely for the reason of evading detection as the killer.

Klosowski married a young Polish girl, Lucie Badewski (a.k.a., Lucy Baderski), in 1889, and had two children with her. Shortly after their marriage, Klosowski was confronted by his original Polish wife who immigrated to England in 1889. She moved in with the couple for a few months before leaving to live with her sister in another part of London. Severin and Lucie moved to several different residences around London before immigrating to the United States in July of 1891.

The last census record of them in London is from April of that year; however, passenger manifests from ships leaving Antwerp, Belgium, in July 1891 show the couple traveling to the United States on SS Friesland and arriving in New York City on July 28, 1891, which roughly correlates with court testimony provided by Lucie’s sister Stanislawa Rauch during the George Chapman trials in 1903. Mrs. Rauch says the couple left England around May 17, 1891 (Pentecost or Whit Sunday), though in her testimony she gets the year incorrect and says 1890, which is not possible according to many other sources and testimony. Consequently, one would assume that she meant sometime around Pentecost in 1891 when she said 1890.

After the Klosowskis arrived in the United States, the couple settled in Jersey City, New Jersey, where Klosowski found work in a barbershop. According to Lucie’s later testimony, the couple often fought bitterly while they were living in New Jersey. In February 1892, after Klosowski had attacked Lucie while she was pregnant and later told her he had intended to stab and decapitate her and cover up her murder, she returned to London, where she moved in with her sister and gave birth to a daughter. Klosowski returned to London shortly after Lucie, likely in the early months of 1892, and the two reunited for a while before temporarily ending their relationship.

In 1893, while working as an assistant in Haddin’s hairdresser shop, Klosowski met a woman named Annie Chapman (no known relation to the Ripper victim). They began a relationship and moved in together. In 1894, after almost a year of cohabiting, Klosowski brought Lucie to live with them, and Annie, who was pregnant, left a few weeks later. In early 1895, Annie told Klosowski about their baby, but he offered no support. That same year, he became an assistant in William Wenzel’s barbershop at 7 Church Lane, Leytonstone, while lodging at the house of John Ward in Forest Road.

After his split with Annie Chapman, Severin Klosowski takes her surname, changing his name to George Chapman. Shortly after taking up his new identity, Klosowski/Chapman begins his life as a serial poisoner, the crime for which he is later arrested and convicted. Klosowski/Chapman was executed by hanging on April 7, 1903.

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