The tale of Jack the Ripper involves five extremely brutal slayings of prostitutes between August and November of 1888 in the Whitechapel area of London, England. Legend has it that the perpetrator called himself Jack the Ripper in letters he sent to the London police—taking credit for the crimes. It was commonly believed that the Ripper was a medical doctor due to the significant cutting of the victims’ bodies.
The Ripper case was the first serial killer story in history to cause a widespread media frenzy and that was due to the proliferation of inexpensive broadsheet newspapers in Victorian London in the late 19th century. By the fall of 1888, at the height of the Ripper’s killing spree, one million newspapers with updated stories on the case were sold each day—an unprecedented circulation of newspapers at the time.
The Jack the Ripper case has generated a glut of conspiracy theories concerning his identity over the years. In fact, there are at least 100 different theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper. One of the most colorful involves a British royal family connection and the Freemasons. Indeed, much of the legend of Jack the Ripper is pure mythology, including the iconic image of the top hat wearing gentleman that accompanies this article.
I believe that Jack the Ripper was in fact a poor, insane Polish Jew with homicidal tendencies called “David Cohen” who was admitted to the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in London, December 1888. He died in the asylum in October 1889. The name David Cohen is a pseudonym similar to “John Doe” that was given to him because his actual name was never determined or at least not recorded.
Here is my rationale for identifying David Cohen as Jack the Ripper. First and foremost, forensic evidence supports this conclusion. In what is frequently cited as the first application of criminal profiling techniques, London physicians George Phillips and Thomas Bond used autopsy results and crime scene evidence in the fall of 1888 to make rudimentary but informed predictions about Jack the Ripper's personality, behavioral characteristics and lifestyle.
In his written report after examining the available forensic evidence, including the bodies, Dr. Thomas Bond concluded that “all five murders no doubt were committed by the same hand… the women must have been lying down when murdered and in every case the throat was cut first.” Dr. Bond stated that Jack the Ripper had no medical training or knowledge of anatomy, despite the killer’s extensive cutting and mutilation of his victims.
This bold statement by Dr. Bond directly opposed what law enforcement authorities had previously concluded—that Jack the Ripper was either a physician or had medical training due to the fact that he had removed internal organs from some of his victims. Dr. Bond reached his conclusion after noting that the gaping wounds inflicted by the Ripper were not consistent with the training of a medical expert or “even the technical knowledge of a butcher or horse slaughterer.”
In the opinion of Dr. Bond, the murderer must have been “a man of solitary habits, subject to periodic attacks of homicidal and erotic mania, and the character of the mutilations possibly indicating "satyriasis” or uncontrollable sexual desire.
Based on an approach established by the FBI to categorize serial predators, the Ripper was a “disorganized” killer. Disorganized crimes are not planned and the criminal typically leaves evidence such as fingerprints or blood at the scene of the murder. There is often no attempt to move or otherwise conceal the corpse after the murder. Disorganized criminals are often insane. They also have deficient communication and social skills.
Disorganized killers will often “blitz” their victims—that is, use sudden and overwhelming force to capture and kill them. The victim’s body is usually left where the attack took place and the killer makes no attempt to hide it. In all of these regards, Jack the Ripper is a classic example of the disorganized serial killer.
The Ripper also had what is known as a signature. The signature is not required in order to commit the crime. Rather, it serves the emotional or psychological needs of the offender. The signature comes from within the psyche of the offender and it reflects a deep fantasy need that the killer has about his victims. The signature may involve mutilation or dismemberment of the victim’s body. The signature of Jack the Ripper was the extensive hacking and mutilation of his victims’ bodies that characterized all of his murders.
In addition, Jack the Ripper sometimes posed his victims’ nude bodies with their legs spread apart to shock onlookers and the police in Victorian England.
David Cohen fits the profile of Jack the Ripper almost perfectly. He was admitted to the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum just one month after the murder of Mary Kelly, the Ripper’s final victim. The asylum’s records show that Cohen had "homicidal tendencies and a great hatred of women." Cohen reportedly exhibited violent, destructive tendencies while at the asylum and had to be restrained at all times. Consistent with the profile of a disorganized killer, David Cohen was virtually non-communicative.
Also pointing to David Cohen is the fact that a leading theory of Scotland Yard at the time, and persistent to this day, says Jack the Ripper was a “low class Polish Jew and sexual maniac living in Whitechapel.” As noted by author and Ripper historian Martin Fido, David Cohen is the only insane Polish Jew who was committed to an asylum at the right time for the murders to stop as they did, and the only registered lunatic pauper admitted to Colney Hatch between 1888 and 1890 that fits the suspect described by Scotland Yard.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Jack the Ripper. He was a homicidal lunatic known as David Cohen.
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Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University. He is available for consultation and media commentary. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website DocBonn.Com