Welcome to part three of our look at the infamous Jack the Ripper case. Last week, we took a look at the murder of Carrie Brown, a New York prostitute who was killed in 1891 under circumstances not entirely unlike those of the canonical five killed by Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel. This week we’re going to take a look at a man who was not only a person of interest after the Carrie Brown murder, but was also suspected to be the man himself.
George Chapman was born Severyn Kłosowski in Poland in December 1865. Officially, he was serial killer known as the Borough Poisoner. Chapman had four mistresses, three of whom were poisoned using tartar-emetic. Suspicions arose after the fourth mistress died and the bodies of the second and third were exhumed and examined. He was convicted of murder in March 1903 and was hanged in April the same year.
“This isn’t how Jack the Ripper did it,” you might be thinking. And you’d be right. So what brings him to our Jack the Ripper series? Possibly just coincidence, but enough coincidences will make a person take notice.
Following a tumultuous relationship, he and his wife separated and he met up with a woman named Annie Chapman (not the Jack the Ripper victim– another coincidence). She got pregnant, but he was not going to support her. He left her and took on her name since his life was getting rather messy. A new name wouldn’t help for long since he was later convicted of poisoning his girlfriends.
Chapman worked in barbershops in the area during the time of the murders in 1888, and his wife is alleged to have claimed that he liked to take long walks late at night.
According to casebook.org, in a statement to the Pall Mall Gazette, Inspector Fredrick Abberline laid out the circumstances that made him think Chapman was Jack the Ripper. First, there is the fact that Chapman’s arrival in England means he would have been there and working just ahead of the murders.
Second, is Chapman’s medical knowledge. As you may recall, there is some debate as to whether Jack the Ripper would have needed medical knowledge to murder the women the way he did. Chapman, according to reports, was either an assistant surgeon or was trained as one. He also reportedly had a knife that was pretty serious business. According to a newspaper article in the Daily Chronicle, he used this knife to threaten his wife.
Third is the murder in New York that took place after Chapman and his wife went to live there.
Fourth is the fact that the murders stopped after Chapman left the area.
There are also witness statements that describe the perpetrator as someone similar to George Chapman, though his characteristics are not uncommon ones. Profilers claim that Jack the Ripper likely had a steady day job and was probably free of responsibilities given the timing of the crimes. Again, not super uncommon qualities– lots of people worked during the week.
Was George Chapman Jack the Ripper? Possibly. While the circumstances that make up the argument for him being the infamous serial killer are compelling, most of them can be explained away.
And that’s part of what makes this individual so intriguing as a suspect. From what I gather he was an intelligent man. If he was indeed a serial killer, it’s not unreasonable he would have kept the coincidences in mind. It’s pretty clear that he poisoned his former mistresses. What isn’t clear is what other monsters may be lurking in his past.
Looking for more?
Jack the Ripper at Last? The Mysterious Murders of George Chapman by Helena Wojtczak
American Jack: Jack the Ripper and the United States by Simon Webb
Photo credit: murderpedia.org