Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack the Ripper

George Chapman

George Chapman, aka  Severin Antoniovich Klosowski
George Chapman, aka
Severin Antoniovich
George Chapman's real name was Severin Antoniovich Klosowski when he was born in Poland in 1865. He was apprenticed to a surgeon and later went on to complete his studies at a hospital in Warsaw. His records show that he was "diligent, of exemplary conduct, and studied with zeal the science of surgery."

For reasons that are not clear, he immigrated to London early in 1887. He took a job working as a hairdresser's assistant for five months and then opened a barbershop of his own at 126 Cable Street, St. George's-in-the-East. He was most likely at this Whitechapel address during the Ripper murders. In 1890, he worked in a barbershop at the corner of Whitechapel High Street and George Yard, very close to where Martha Tabram was murdered in August of 1888.

Klosowski married Lucy Baderski, expecting that the wife he left in Poland wouldn't find out about it. The first wife moved to London for awhile, but appeared to give him up after Baderski bore him a son in 1890. The son died of pneumonia in March of 1891 and the couple moved to Jersey City in New Jersey.

He first showed his violent streak when he attacked his wife. She claimed that he "held her down on the bed, and pressed his face against her mouth to keep her from screaming. At that moment a customer entered the shop immediately in front of the room, and Klosowski got up to attend him. Lucy chanced to see a handle protruding from underneath the pillow. She found to her horror that it was a sharp and formidable knife, which she promptly hid. Later, deliberately told her that he meant to have cut her head off, and pointed to a place in the room where he meant to have buried her. She said, "'But the neighbors would have asked where I had gone to."

"Oh," retorted Klosowski calmly. "I should simply have told them that you had gone back to New York."

Lucy went back to London alone and bore Klosowski a daughter in May of 1892. In June of that year he returned to London, but his relationship with Lucy did not continue long. In 1893, he moved in with and impregnated Annie Chapman (obviously not the woman who died at the hands of the Ripper in 1888), but the relationship ended in 1894 because of Klosowski's philandering.

He changed his name to George Chapman and soon lived in a common law arrangement with Mary Spink, who turned over to him her inheritance of 500 pounds. They set up a barbershop, which prospered because of their "musical shaves." Mary played the piano while George took care of the barbering.

While they prospered financially, their domestic life was turbulent. George beat his wife frequently. He bought some tartar emetic, a colorless, odorless and nearly tasteless poison containing antimony. In small doses it brings on a gradual painful death. Interestingly enough, the drug has the effect of preserving its victim's body for years after death.

When the musical barbershop's novelty wore off, it went out of business and George ended up working as manager in a pub. About the same time, Mary Spink began to suffer from severe stomach problems, which caused her death in 1897. Tuberculosis was the cause of death listed.

George Chapman with Bessie Taylor
George Chapman with Bessie Taylor
Soon he had a live-in arrangement with Bessie Taylor, but treated her with the same abuse as his former women, once threatening her with a gun. Bessie experienced the same stomach problems as her predecessor and died in 1901 from "exhaustion from vomiting and diarrhea."

George found another "wife" called Maud Marsh and treated her just as badly as his other wives. Maud began to suffer from the same stomach illness. Her mother was suspicious and called in another doctor. Chapman was frightened and gave Maud a huge dose of poison, which killed her the following day. Chapman was arrested when Maud's body was found to contain a lethal amount of antimony.

His other two wives were exhumed and found remarkably preserved from the amount of antimony in their bodies. While Chapman was charged with three murders, he was convicted only of Maud's. He was hanged on April 7, 1903.

Retired Chief Inspector Abberline told the Pall Mall Gazette:

As I say, there are a score of things which make one believe that Chapman is the man; and you must understand that we have never believed all those stories about Jack the Ripper being dead, or that he was a lunatic, or anything of that kind. For instance, the date of the arrival in England coincides with the beginning of the series of murders in Whitechapel; there is a coincidence also in the fact that the murders ceased in London when Chapman went to America, while similar murders began to be perpetrated in America after he landed there. The fact that he studied medicine and surgery in Russia before he came over here is well established, and it is curious to note that the first series of murders was the work of an expert surgeon, while the recent poisoning cases were proved to be done by a man with more than an elementary knowledge of medicine. The story told by Chapman's wife of the attempt to murder her with a long knife while in America is not to be ignored.

There were other factors that led to Chapman being a suspect: He was single at that time and had the freedom to roam around at all hours of the night and morning; he worked a regular job which kept him occupied during the week but allowed him weekends free when the murders all occurred on weekends. He was violent and homicidal with women and committed multiple murders of women.

There were, however discrepancies. One was age. Many eyewitnesses thought the killer was between 30 and 40 years old, while Chapman was 23 in 1888. Perhaps he looked older than his years. A more significant discrepancy was the difference between the Ripper murders and Chapman's poisonings. Abberline attempted to address that issue in the Pall Mall Gazette:

As to the question of the dissimilarity of character in the crimes which one hears so much about, I cannot see why one man should not have done both, provided he had the professional knowledge, and this is admitted in Chapman's case. A man who could watch his wives being slowly tortured to death by poison, as he did, was capable of anything; and the fact that he should have attempted, in such a cold-blooded manner, to murder his first wife with a knife in New Jersey, makes one more inclined to believe in the theory that he was mixed up in the two series of crimes.

Did Chapman murder a woman named Carrie Brown in Jersey City by strangulation, followed by mutilation? Possible, in the sense that Chapman may have been in New Jersey on April 24, 1891, though no direct evidence implicates him.

In summary, there is a great deal to be said for suspecting George Chapman. The question that remains is whether or not the terrible mutilator known as Jack the Ripper changed his style to become the smooth poisoner George Chapman some years later.

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