“a Polish Jew & resident in Whitechapel. This man became insane owing to many years indulgence in solitary vices. He had a great hatred of women, especially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies; he was removed to a lunatic asylum about March 1889. There were many circs connected with this man which made him a strong ‘suspect’.”
Melville Macnaughten, 1894
“And the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews.”
Sir Robert Anderson, 1910
“In a very short time the suspect with his hands tied behind his backs, he was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards.”
Donald Swanson, year unknown
David Cohen, aka Nathan Kaminsky, was a suspect first proposed by Martin Fido in his 1987 book “The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper”. Cohen is a variation of the Polish Jew theory suggested by Macnaughten, Anderson and Swanson. Cohen (though that was not his name) was a young and confused Polish Jew found wandering the streets of Whitechapel rambling in Yiddish on the 7th December 1888. He was taken to Leman Street police station and from there to Thames Magistrates who ordered him to be taken to the workhouse as he was incapable of caring for himself, but he became violent and had to be restrained. As he was unable to give his name or address he was registered as “David Cohen” (which was supposedly the name given to Jewish “John Doe’s” during the Late Victorian Period).
In the workhouse infirmary he was registered as being 23 years old and born in 1865 and described as having brown hair, brown eyes and beard. At the workhouse he continued to be violent and was deemed too dangerous to keep there and was transferred under restraint to the Colney Hatch asylum on December 21st (in whose records his occupation was given as being a tailor). There he was described as “spiteful and malicious”, had to be kept under constant supervision and had to be force-fed and wear special clothes to stop him tearing them off. He would also damage property and kick anyone in reach. In October he was confined to bed and died a few days later on the 15th October 1889 of “exhaustion of mania” and pulmonary phthesis. Today, Cohen would most likely have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Though the Polish Jew suspect has often been identified as being Kosminski (most notably by Macnaughten and Swanson), Cohen fits the vague biography of the suspect we have much better than the actual Kosminski, who was not committed until 1891 and did not die until 1919 and was not known to be particularly violent (though he did on one occasion attack his sister) but was regarded as a harmless imbecile. Cohen on the other hand was in the workhouse and then committed to Colney Hatch at about the same time as the suspect described and died “shortly after” and was most certainly violent. But how can we link Cohen to the Kosminski described? Cohen was a name given to the man by the authorities, so it is plausible he could have been called Kosminski, so is there any trace of a missing Kosminski in the records? No, but Fido instead finds a man named Nathan Kaminsky (a surname close enough to Kosminski for a mistake to have been made) who was a Jewish tailor living in Black Lion Yard and in March 1888 had been diagnosed and treated for syphillis at the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary, but had apparently been cured of his disease but then vanishes from all records. Could he have been the man detained later that year?
Some find this linking tenuous and abstract, whereas others think this is a serious piece of research and one of the more plausible suspect theories linked to the case. John Douglas of the FBI also feels that David Cohen could be a likely solution to the case. However, there is much circumstantial conclusions and speculation considering his candidacy and the link between Cohen as Kaminsky is not proven and most likely never will be. Also, despite Anderson’s later statements on how police knew the identity of the Ripper he denied this in 1889, as did Abberline in 1903 and Macnaughten when writing his memoranda in 1894 in which Kosminski and the Polish Jew Theory first “officially” appears apparently favoured Druitt as being the Ripper, so the case was not solved for them at the time of Cohen’s death.
As we have already mentioned several times, Cohen as being the Polish Jew Suspect proposed by Anderson, Macnaughten and Swanson is a variation on the idea that Aaron Kosminski was the suspect (the subject of recent investigation and DNA tests on the supposed shawl of Catherine Eddowes by Russell Edwards and Dr Jari Louhelainen in the book “Naming Jack the Ripper”). Kosminski was also first discovered by Martin Fido in 1987 (so in a sense, Fido is competing with his own discovery). At the Nottingham Jack the Ripper Conference to be held in August 2015, Martin Fido is revisiting his investigation into the Jewish suspect and his discovery of Aaron Kosminski and will no doubt also revisit his discovery and theory on David Cohen/Nathan Kaminsky at the same time. For more information or book please visit www.ripperconference.com.