2. David Cohen

David Cohen was first discovered by author Martin Fido while he was researching the popular police suspect Kosminski.  Fido did an extensive search of all the London public asylum records between 1888 and 1890 (according to Macnaghten’s memoranda written in 1894, the suspect Kosminski was placed in a lunatic asylum in the spring of 1889), looking for a Polish Jew with the surname Kosminski.  He couldn’t find one.  What he did find was a man by the name of David Cohen, who seemed to tally with a lot of the information Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson had provided in regards to their Polish Jew suspect.

Unfortunately little is known about David Cohen.  He was born in 1865, and so was around 23 at the time of the Ripper murders.  He had brown hair, brown eyes and a beard.  His address was given as 86 Leman Street when, in early December 1888, he was found wandering the streets, speaking little but Yiddish.  He was brought into the police station and it was decided that, unable to take care of himself, he should be taken to the local workhouse.  He soon became violent, and had to be taken to the workhouse under restraint.  It was here at the infirmary that the hitherto unnamed man was given the name David Cohen, apparently a sort of ‘John Doe’ given to people whose name was either unknown or too difficult to spell.  During his stay at the infirmary, Cohen was violent, noisy and considered a danger to others.  He was transferred to Colney Hatch asylum on the 21st of December (again under restraint), and on admission, his occupation was noted down as tailor.  His violent behaviour continued at the asylum, so much so that he had to be separated from the other inmates.  While he was in the asylum, he was under constant watch and was described as “spiteful and mischievous”.  Cohen apparently spat out the food he was given, kicked passers-by, and he even ripped down a pipe and window guard.  He died October 1889 from “exhaustion of mania”.

So that’s it; that’s all that’s currently known about “David Cohen”.

So, why do I consider him a reasonably strong suspect?  Well, for starters, he was an insane local whose mental state when picked up (and particularly later, once in custody) was just the kind I’d expect from a killer such as Jack the Ripper.  A mostly disorganised type of serial killer, the Ripper most likely would already have had a weak grasp on reality during the murder spree (but enough of a grasp to remain undetected), and judging by the escalating violence and ‘messiness’ of each subsequent murder, that tenuous grip was quickly slipping away.  After indulging his every deviant fantasy in Miller’s Court, it’s possible that his mania grew to a point where he could no longer control it and so he slipped completely into lunacy.  Also, Cohen’s detainment by the police and subsequent committal to Colney Hatch coincided with the end of the Ripper’s reign of terror (it was less than a month between Mary Kelly’s murder and when the police found Cohen wandering at large).

Then there are the various reports and notes written by the trio of Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson.  While not all of the information fits with Cohen (the name Kosminski as mentioned by Macnaghten and Swanson; the supposed identification of the suspect at the Seaside Home, which didn’t open until 1890, by which time Cohen was already dead; and the part which states that the suspect was returned back to his brother’s house after said identification and watched day and night – Cohen didn’t have a brother and was never released after being picked up by the police), there are a fair number of points which do fit, leading Fido, among others, to speculate that the three senior policemen got their Polish Jews mixed up when writing their notes (both Aaron Kosminski and David Cohen were Polish Jews from the same area; were 23 years of age at the time of the Ripper murders; and were committed to Colney Hatch, though at different times).

According to Sir Melville Macnaghten, Kosminksi “had a great hatred of women, especially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies”.   While Aaron Kosminski was reportedly harmless and considered an imbecile, Cohen was considered violent and dangerous.

In his marginalia, Swanson wrote: “In a very short time the suspect with his hands tied behind his back, was sent to Stepney Workhouse and then to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards.”  The phrase “hands tied behind his back” refers to the suspect needing to be restrained – Kosminski wasn’t a violent person, and there are no reports stating he ever needed to be restrained.  As I’ve already mentioned, Cohen did need to be restrained, both while being delivered to the workhouse, and then while being transferred to Colney Hatch.  Furthermore, it was Cohen, and not Kosminski, who was sent to the workhouse and then a short time later to Colney Hatch and died shortly afterwards (Kosminski didn’t die until 1919 – almost thirty years after first being committed to an asylum, and even then he died at Leavesden asylum, not Colney Hatch, of which he only spent three years, from early 1891 to 1894).

So, while little is known about David Cohen (which does make his candidacy that little bit weaker), what we do know both tallies with the type of person the Ripper could likely have been, and with specific details some of the top ranking police officials wrote about a favoured (in some cases favourite) suspect.  If we go with the theory that these policemen did simply mix up the details of two reasonably similar cases (Macnaghten wrote his memoranda in 1894; Anderson his memoirs in 1910; and Swanson his marginalia sometime after Anderson’s book was published), then it’s understandable why there are discrepancies in their notes, that none of their writings completely match Aaron Kosminski, nor David Cohen – but taken together, a good deal of the information provided does come together.

Cohen was a violent lunatic who lived in the heart of Ripper territory and whose incarceration fitted perfectly with the end of the Ripper murders.  He was committed to an asylum and died less than a year after being admitted, from exhaustion of mania.  A lot of his details and personality traits tallied with those mentioned by high ranking police officials.  To paraphrase noted FBI profiler John Douglas: If David Cohen wasn’t Jack the Ripper, then it was surely someone very similar.


Candidacy of David Cohen: **** (out of 5)

Published on November 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I guess there is a case to be made for Cohen, but the idea of the Ripper being just a very violent young man, really takes away all the mystery and “charm” of the case. I mean, with Cohen there isn’t really any misogynystic angle, no reason to target females specifically. And that element is at the very core of the Ripper case.

    Also, the way Cohen is portrayed as SUPER violent, he would have had many similar instances in his past before commiting such extreme murders. Instances that would have certainly led him in the hands of the police (beatings, assaults, attempted murder etc). And he doesn’t seem the calculating type that would just stop murdering for a month between the double murder and M.Kelly to protect himself.

    It just doesn’t click, especially if you consider FBI’s psycho-analysis on the ripper.

  2. David Cohen is a top 5 suspect.

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