Who Was Jack the Ripper? 6 Likely Suspects

The Ripper murders are some of the world’s most famous unsolved cases. Numerous suspects have been proposed over the ages. Who are the most likely culprits?

Apr 23, 2024By Kassandre Dwyer, M.Ed History

who was jack the ripper suspects


In 1888, a brutal serial killer terrorized the Whitechapel district in the East End of London. The general consensus is that Jack the Ripper had five victims, though some historians attribute additional deaths to him. His crimes shocked the world and exposed the horrendous conditions in the underbelly of Victorian society. The murders, which are likely the most studied crimes in history, are still unsolved today. Law enforcement, historians, and armchair detectives alike have proposed several suspects over the centuries, but no one has been cemented as a definite culprit.


The Case 

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The Canonical Five. Source: the BBC


Between August 31 and November 9 of 1888 in the East End of London, five women were murdered by whom police suspected was the same offender. These five became known as the “canonical five,” and the suspect earned the name “Jack the Ripper.” Some historians and law enforcement officials attribute preceding and later cases to the serial killer as well. The victims were all killed in a similar, hauntingly brutal fashion and lived similar lifestyles; many of them suffered from alcoholism and had resorted to prostitution to earn a living.


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The killer was thought to perhaps wear a leather apron. Source: ArtStation


Originally, the Ripper was known as “Leather Apron.” However, he was dubbed Jack the Ripper in a letter that was sent to a London news outlet, which was made public after the fourth canonical murder. In it, the author claimed to be the murderer, writing in red ink, bragging about his crime, and signing it “Jack the Ripper.” Though the police later believed the letter was a hoax, the name stuck and gained international traction. Nevertheless, the real killer likely did send a letter later, though this one was signed “from Hell.” It contained half a kidney, which was missing from one of the canonical victims. The case was never solved, and the list of potential suspects has only grown over the centuries since.


1. Aaron Kosminski

jack the ripper aaron kosminski
A rendering of Aaron Kosminski. Source: CNet

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Born in 1865, Aaron Mordke Kosminski was a Polish-born immigrant to England, arriving in the country sometime around 1880. There is little information about him in the public record, except that he may have once worked as a hairdresser. He had mental illness and was institutionalized several times throughout his life, with his symptoms pointing to that of a paranoid schizophrenic. However, there is no record of him ever acting violently during his stays at asylums and hospitals, so why is he a suspect?


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Catherine Eddowes’ shawl. Source: Lacy Scott & Knight


He was never officially named as a suspect by any of the subsequent Ripper police investigations. However, one of the primary investigators in the case, Chief Inspector Swanson, was a firm believer in his guilt. There are notes about Kosminski from another officer, Assistant Chief Constable Sir Melville Mcnaghten, who described the man as having a hatred of women and displaying homicidal tendencies.


The most damning piece of evidence against Kosminski is physical: a shawl with blood and semen on it that is said to have been collected from one of the murder scenes. This shawl was eventually returned to the victim’s family and subsequently sold at auction in 2013. The purchaser, author Russell Edwards, commissioned testing on the fabric, and it has since undergone numerous DNA tests. DNA on the shawl matched descendants of both the victim and Aaron Kosminski. However, some critics argue that the shawl is not legitimate evidence due to its handling or was not found on the body but among the victim’s personal effects. Kosminski died in an asylum in 1919.


2. H.H. Holmes

jack the ripper hh holmes
Photograph of H.H. Holmes. Source: Crime Museum


There’s no doubt that Herman Webster Mudgett, alias H.H. Holmes, was a serial killer. However, was he the serial killer who terrorized Whitechapel? Holmes was one of America’s first known serial killers who terrorized Chicago, killing somewhere between 20-200 people, mostly in a home he had specially constructed for this purpose.


After attending medical school in Michigan, Holmes passed medical exams in 1884 and, in 1885, moved to Chicago. While working as a pharmacist, he began construction of his “murder castle,” which he would later advertise as a place of lodging. Many out-of-town visitors to his hotel were never seen again.


In 1893, Holmes was especially prolific as the Columbian Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair, came to town, and with it, many visitors in search of lodging. Holmes would eventually be caught and hanged in 1894.


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A cartoon cutaway of Holmes’ “murder castle.” Source: Carden Illustration


So, did Holmes make his way to the other side of the pond and spread his path of destruction there? His own great-great-grandson thinks so. Jeff Mudgett has researched his “evil ancestry” extensively and has found handwriting samples that he believes prove that H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper were one and the same. Further supporting his theory are law enforcement beliefs that Jack the Ripper had surgical training and anatomical knowledge and that Holmes was skilled at traveling under aliases and was able to work for years without detection. Mudgett’s theories have been turned into books, a television series (American Ripper, 2017), and a stage production.


3. Dr. Francis Tumblety

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Dr. Francis Tumblety, by Mary Evans, ACI. Source: National Geographic


Another American doctor, Francis Tumblety, also makes the list of Ripper suspects. His name was given to the investigators by another police officer as someone worth looking into, but by the time investigators went to speak with him, Tumblety was on his way back to America. He had been arrested in London on November 7th, 1888 on charges of gross indecency with “a number of males.” He skipped his bail, and while this crime was not extraditable, the American media soon caught wind that he was a potential Ripper suspect and kept tabs on him for some time. Was Tumblety fleeing his obscenity charge or something more serious?


jack the ripper preserved organs
Tumblety was known to collect human body parts preserved in jars. Source: Patrick Bormann via ArtStation


Further supporting Tumblety’s involvement with the Ripper murders was his fascination with human body parts, of which he was a collector. One item in particular that he enjoyed collecting was women’s uteri. However, there is no concrete evidence that he ever visited Whitechapel or that he was ever violent with anyone.


4. Prince Albert Victor

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Prince Albert Victor. Source: Royal Collection Trust


Grandson to the illustrious Queen Victoria, Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, “Eddy,” is one of the most famous Jack the Ripper suspects. He was t​he son of “Bertie,” Prince Albert Edward, who would later become known as King Edward VII. Young Eddy was partially deaf and rumored ​to have learning disabilities. He would have likely ruled England at some point in his life had he not fallen ill and died from influenza in 1892. Scandal did not follow him during his life (unlike his father), but his involvement would first be proposed in a book in 1962.


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Prince Albert Victor & his fiancée, Princess Mary of Teck. Photograph by Frederick Thurston & Son. Source: Royal Collection Trust


Multiple theories promote the idea of Eddy as the Ripper. Some supporters claim that the prince had syphilis, which contributed to his failing mental health and led to murderous behavior. Other proponents claim that the murders began when a prostitute turned up pregnant with the Prince’s illegitimate child, and she and others who knew about the illicit affair were killed to silence them. Unfortunately for the believers, Eddy is a hard suspect to prove. He was nowhere near London at the time of the murders. Furthermore, no hard evidence supports either of the proposed theories.


5. Mary Pearcey

A portrait of Mary Pearcey, left, and a depiction of her execution, right. Source: All That’s Interesting


While the list of Ripper suspects is largely male, one woman’s name frequently appears in discussions of potential culprits. Mary Eleanor Pearcey (née Wheeler) was born in 1866. Her father was executed for murdering a local farmer when she was 14 years old, and little did Mary know that she would suffer the same fate ten years later.


jack the ripper pearceys pram
The pram that Mary Pearcey used to transport the bodies of Phoebe and the baby after the murders, on display at Madame Tussauds. Source: Madame Tussauds London


Mary was not married but in a long-term relationship with a man named John Pearcey and took his surname. However, she also took up with a married man named Frank Hogg. She grew exceedingly jealous of Frank’s wife, Phoebe, and created a plot to murder not only Phoebe, but also Frank and Phoebe’s infant daughter. When the bloodstained bodies were found, suspicion quickly went to Mary, who had not been discreet in her dalliances with Frank.


Her home was searched, and the murder weapons and her own bloodstained clothing were easily located. Mary was tried, convicted, and hanged in December 1890. She was suggested as a Ripper suspect in the book Jack the Ripper: A New Theory published by William Stewart in 1939. The manner in which Phoebe was killed was eerily similar to the Whitechapel murders, including the public dumping of the bodies.


Mary was of average size by today’s standards, 5 feet 6 inches and nine stone (126 pounds), but one of the detectives did remark that he had never seen a woman “with a stronger physique.” Was she physically capable of carrying out these serial killings?


6. Walter Sickert

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Walter Sickert. Source: The Telegraph


Many authors and other amateur detectives have made suppositions about the Jack the Ripper case; one of the most famous is that of crime novelist Patricia Cornwell. In 2002, she published a book, Portrait of a Killer-Jack the Ripper Case Closed, in which she named painter Walter Sickert the culprit. Sickert seemed to have a fascination with murder and depicted killings in several of his paintings. Cornwell maintains that one series of his works bears a striking resemblance to the post-mortem photographs of Jack the Ripper victims.


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Police discovering a Jack the Ripper victim. Source: Chronicle via Science


Cornwell also maintains that the writing style used in some of the letters sent to law enforcement, allegedly from Jack the Ripper, is similar to wording and statements attributed to Sickert. However, others maintain that the letters vary significantly and argue that it is not even likely that the letters came from the killer himself.


Correspondence from family members also put Sickert as vacationing in France at the time of some of the murders. Regardless, Cornwell is certain she has solved the case and spent seven million dollars investigating her theory. Though Cornwell may be convinced of Sickert’s guilt, she has failed to convince a wide audience to agree with her.

Author Image

By Kassandre DwyerM.Ed HistoryKassie is a farmer with a passion for history who has a day job teaching middle school social studies in her hometown. In addition to earning NBCT certification and M.Ed. in History, she holds an M.Ed in Curriculum & Instruction and a B.S. in Sustainable Agriculture/Animal Science. She is particularly interested in telling the stories of often overlooked historical perspectives or hidden truths, and is especially intrigued by the history of America’s Indigenous peoples, war, and the “wild west.”