Ripper-mania Grips London

Copy of George Hutchinson's statement to the Metropolitan Police
George Hutchinson's November 12, 1888 statement to the Metropolitan Police

In the Shadow of the Seven Stars
Hunting the Ripper

An Eyewitness Account Goes Viral

The description of Jack the Ripper provided by East End laborer George Hutchinson, a self-proclaimed witness to the Mary Jane Kelly murder (and a possible suspect of the crime as well), had an indelible impact on future depictions of the infamous killer. Within a week of Kelly’s murder, the Hutchinson account had already captured the imaginations of his fellow Londoners who began to see the richly dressed man Hutchinson described all over the city.

For many reasons, the Hutchinson account seems unrealistic; the details are awfully specific and the man he describes would be quite out of place on Dorset Street. Nevertheless, Frederick Abberline, the lead inspector on the case, took Hutchinson’s account seriously enough to have his officers drive the witness in a cab all around the city to see if they could locate the exotic gentleman described in his statement.

In fact, Hutchinson also claimed that he went out searching for the man and actually saw him the day after the murder. He said that he began following the man with the intention of hunting him down, but the stranger noted his presence, hurried his pace and slipped through the streets of Spitalfields. After that, Hutchinson never saw the man again.

Artist depiction of self-proclaimed witness George Hutchinson
Artist depiction of George Hutchinson, a man who disappears from history after providing the description of Jack the Ripper that has been embraced by the ages

Hutchinson’s presence near the murder scene may also be supported by another witness who saw a man who more or less matches Hutchinson’s description lurking near the Dorset Street entrance to Mary Jane Kelly’s room. In fact, many believe that Hutchinson came forward to make his statement only after learning that a witness had seen him near the murder scene.

If the man described by Hutchinson is a pure fiction, it does make Hutchinson a suspicious character and a potential suspect. Yet Hutchinson is never arrested for the crime and it does not appear that he was considered a credible suspect by the the Metropolitan Police. Perhaps the inspectors had a very good reason for believing Hutchinson’s account or perhaps he simply pulled the wool over their eyes. He certainly may have made up the whole account either to gain notoriety or to deflect suspicion away from himself, whether or not he had a hand in the crime itself. It should be noted that Hutchinson and Kelly knew each other previously and that Hutchinson may well have been one of her clients if you read between the lines of his statement when he recounts that Mary Jane Kelly asked him for money when she passes him on the street.

Miller's Court Entrance
The entrance to Miller’s Court on Dorset Street, which led to Mary Jane Kelly’s room and a gruesome murder scene on November 9, 1888

One possibility for the detectives taking Hutchinson’s account at face value is that inspector Abberline’s prime suspect – at least as he recounts it many years later – does fit the basic description provided by Hutchinson. Abberline’s suspect, the Russian-Polish barber Seweryn Klosowski, was known to be a well-dressed dandy and a surly rogue by those who knew him best. Even though he was a recent immigrant to England, his colorful appearance and fine clothing may have made him a memorable character to the immigrant communities in Whitechapel. Witnesses at his 1903 murder trial do attest to this fact. Klosowski wasn’t a Jew (in fact, he was a Catholic), but he did speak Yiddish and it is possible that he may have been mistaken for a Jewish immigrant by native Londoners. On the other hand, Klosowski’s English-language skills at this time would have been limited. The words spoken by the well-dressed man in Hutchinson’s account, however, are few, and the word choices and phrasing do suggest that he had a limited command of the English language.

George Hutchinson’s statement:

“About 2:00 a.m. on the 9th I was coming by Thrawl Street, Commercial Street and just before I got to Flower and Dean Street I met the murdered woman Kelly and she said to me: ‘Hutchinson, will you lend me sixpence?’ I said, ‘I can’t. I have spent all my money going down to Romford.’ She said, ‘Good morning, I must go and find some money.’ She went away to Thrawl Street. A man coming in the opposite direction to Kelly [i.e., from Aldgate] tapped her on the shoulder and said something to her. They both burst out laughing. I heard her say, ‘All right’ to him and the man said, ‘You will be alright for what I have told you.’ He then placed his right hand around her shoulder. He also had a kind of small parcel in his left hand with a kind of strap around it. I stood against the lamp of the Queen’s Head Public House and watched him. They both came past me and the man hung his head down with his hat over his eyes. I stooped down and looked him in the face. He looked at me stern. They both went into Dorset Street. I followed them. They both stood on the corner of the court for about three minutes. He said something to her. She said: ‘All right, my dear. Come along. You will be comfortable.’ He then placed his arm on her shoulder and she gave him a kiss. She said she had lost her handkerchief. He then pulled out his handkerchief, a red one, and gave it to her. They both went up the court together. I went to the court to see if I could see them, but I could not. I stood there for about three quarters of an hour to see if they came out. They did not, so I went away.”

A young Seweryn Klosowski
A young Seweryn Klosowski, lead inspector Abberline’s prime suspect

Hutchinson’s description of the man:

“Age about thirty four or thirty five; height five feet six inches; complexion pale; dark eyes and eyelashes; slight moustache curled up at each end and hair dark; very surly looking; dress – long dark coat; collar and cuffs trimmed with astrakhan and a dark jacket underneath; light waistcoat; dark trousers; dark felt hat turned down in the middle; button boots and gaiters with white buttons: wore a very thick gold chain with linen collar; black tie with horseshoe pin; respectable appearance; walked very sharp; Jewish appearance.”

The London Press reacts to the murders and Hutchinson’s description of the killer

The following articles are from London’s Evening News on November 16, 1888, just a week after the Mary Jane Kelly murder. The Ripper’s presence is being felt all over town and sightings occur in areas outside of Whitechapel. These short articles provide a real slice-of-life look at the London response to the murders in the midst of the killing spree. Although these are likely random events and sightings, there are a few interesting reasons to place Seweryn Klosowski – or a Russian Doctor impersonating him – in the Blackfriars area.

THE EAST-END MURDERS.

STARTLING AFFAIR IN BLACKFRIARS THIS MORNING

At about ten o’clock this morning, a man answering every description to the particulars furnished to the police by G. Hutchinson, as seen by him on the night of the murder of the woman Kelly, attracted attention in Queen Victoria-street, Blackfriars. Finding himself being watched, he immediately hurried his footsteps, and without giving time for any action to be taken, entered the Underground Railway station near by, and escaped.

Example of a wanted poster for the Leather Apron
Example of a wanted poster for the Leather Apron, the first pseudonym given to Jack the Ripper

MORE WRITING ON THE WALL.

Early this morning the attention of the police Barmondsey was drawn to some writing chalked on Wren’s buildings, Thomas-street. It was as follows “Dear Boss – I am going to do three more murders. Yours, Jack the Ripper.”

Nothing remarkable occurred in the East-end yesterday in connection with the recent series of crimes. The murderer appears to be as far from justice as ever. No fresh particulars regarding him have come into the possession of the police. The detectives continue to be drafted to various parts of the metropolis and suburbs to investigate statements which have hitherto without exception proved absolutely worthless. Little or no importance is attached by the police to the story told by the man Packer as published yesterday morning. During the day there was the customary batch of arrests on suspicion, but in no instant was a prisoner’s detention of long duration. One of the arrests was made at Dover. The funeral of the deceased woman will take place on Monday.

HUMAN BLOOD AND HAIR.

The police at Battersea are in search of a man who is stated to answer to the description of the man wanted for the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. He was seen under somewhat singular circumstances yesterday afternoon. He entered a coffee-house in that neighbourhood, and displayed some hair, which is stated to have been human, with congealed blood attached. No one thought to detain him, but information was subsequently given to the police. It is understood that he left the hair behind him.

STABBING OUTRAGE IN WHITECHAPEL.

Edward Nagel, aged 19, was attacked last night, between seven and eight o’clock, whilst walking in New-road, Whitechapel, by two men who stabbed him in the face and back. They immediately made off, and escaped without difficulty. Nagel was conveyed to the London Hospital, where he now remains.

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