George Lusk was the son of a solicitor’s clerk, born in 1839. In 1863, he married Susannah Price in Stepney and together had seven children. Residing in a property Susannah had inherited, Lusk started a business as a builder, painter, and decorator, his specialty being music hall restorations. During the 1881 census, he was described as being a “Master Builder” and is said to have employed 20 men and one boy. In the late 1880s, Lusk lived at 1 Tollit St, Mile End. Join us today on one of our East End walks and discover the actual streets that Jack plagued with terror!
Susannah died in March 1888, leaving Lusk to care for their children, the youngest being only seven at the time.
Lusk was active in his local community, being a churchwarden and a Freemason of the Doric Lodge from 1882 until 1889 (when he was expelled for non-payment of fees). It is probably this community minded attitude that resulted in him becoming involved in the formation of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. He was elected as Chairman on 10th September 1888.
The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was the most prominent of the various groups in London’s East End in early September 1888. The headquarters was The Crown public house on Mile End Road, and it comprised of local businessmen, including the landlord of the pub who served as a treasurer. Other members, according to Wikipedia, were “drawn principally from the trading class, and include a builder, a cigar manufacturer, a picture frame maker, a licensed victualler and an actor.”
The activities of the group involved posters and appeals to national newspapers, which included Lusk’s name. This is on top of appealing for information on the crimes, campaigning for the government to offer a reward, employing private detectives to investigate the crimes, and organising local patrols.
These local patrols consisted of unemployed men, hand-picked by the committee who were paid a small wage to oversee the streets between midnight and 4/5am each night. Every man was given a beat and issued with a police whistle, galoshes, and a stick, and every evening the committee would meet at The Crown at nine until closing time (12.30am). They would then inspect and join the patrols.
Lusk’s role in the local community and press made him a target of various cranks and threats though. In early October, he went to the police, as he believed he was being stalked, and his house was being watched.
He was also mentioned in the letter to the police (September 17th) though questions have arisen regarding whether the letter had been forged. Lusk’s name would firmly be rooted in the case after he received a letter on 16th October, accompanying a three inch, square cardboard box wrapped in brown paper. The letter read as follows:
Mr Lusk Sor, I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother pirce. I fried and ate it was very nise I may send you the bloody knif that took it out If you only wate a whil longer. Signed Catch me when you Can Mishter Lusk.”
Inside the cardboard box was half a human kidney, preserved in wine. As Catherine Eddowes, the second victim of the Double Event of September 30th had one of her kidneys taken, it could have been sent by the killer. Or, it could have been a prank (possibly from a medical student). The postmark was barely decipherable, but probably said “London E”. Lusk himself assumed the letter and kidney was a hoax, and may have belonged to an animal, but was persuaded to have it examined.
The examination concluded that it was a human kidney, and it seems to have done the rounds around various doctors and experts. Some say that the length of the portion of the renal artery in the kidney matched the portion of the body. Presumably, at some stage, the kidney was destroyed or thrown out (possibly by the Royal London Hospital in the 1950s).
The letter itself was passed from Lusk to the City of London Police (under whose jurisdiction, the Eddowes murder occurred), and from them to Scotland Yard. It has since been lost, but we know of its content thanks to a report written by Swanson in early November. This report transcribes its contents, and a photograph taken by the City police, the original of which has also been subsequently lost.
As mentioned, Lusk believed the letter to have been a practical joke, but Major Henry Smith, of the City Police, thought it to be genuine. Out of all the letters claimed to have been written by Jack the Ripper, this is the one that modern researchers feel is most likely to be authentic. Plus, the fact that the author does not sign it as being from “Jack the Ripper” may also speak volumes if this is the case.
Following the autumn of terror, Lusk’s business seemed to have gone downhill, possibly as a result of his preoccupation with the case or stress from the loss of his wife, and raising his children. Financially, he may have begun to suffer (we know that he was expelled from his Masonic lodge for not being able to pay the fees), and he was declared bankrupt in April 1891. The census also listed his occupation as “builder and contractor”, with no employees mentioned.
In 1900, he was still working as a builder, as well as advertising in several local publications, so perhaps his fortunes had improved. Lusk later passed away in 1919.
Lusk’s character and role has frequently been portrayed in films and television shows, including From Hell, the 1988 mini-series and Ripper Street. He is often depicted as being a violent and political anarchist or socialist, trying to cite revolution. There is no historical basis for this though, and he seems to be the antithesis of the mild-mannered businessmen that historical records note.