– Thomas Cutbush

Cutbush was born in 1866 in Kennington, and by all accounts had a privileged childhood.  He was first mentioned as being Jack the Ripper in a series of articles written in 1894 by the Sun newspaper, and these accounts present a compelling argument for Cutbush being the notorious Whitechapel fiend.  In these accounts, the journalist states that they have proof Cutbush was employed in Whitechapel shortly before the murders, and was still there at the time of the Ripper scare, and that he once threw a co-worker off a balcony in a fit of rage.  They say he lived an idle life, wandering around the streets at night, coming home in the morning with muddy clothes.  They give an account of a strange encounter, in which a young couple was approached by an excited and weird looking man, who told the couple that ‘they’ were after him, that ‘they’ say he was Jack the Ripper, but that he wasn’t, he was a medical man (this incident occurred after Cutbush escaped from an infirmary in early 1891).  The newspaper talks about his mental state in which he was convinced he had various diseases or maladies, even though he was perfectly healthy (in all likelihood, Cutbush was a paranoid hypochondriac, a trait shared by notorious disorganised serial killer Richard Chase).  They say he suffered from mania and delusions.  And they even talk about him studying medical books and drawing lurid and ghastly pictures of women’s mutilated bodies.

The lengthy series of articles does indeed paint a portrait of an insane, violent man who shares certain characteristics consistent with that of a disorganised serial killer.  However, the main issue is this: there’s no hard evidence to support most of what the newspaper articles claimed.

We know that Cutbush did at one time work in the Minories (which was close to the Whitechapel area), but there’s no proof he was actually in Whitechapel during the murder spree.  There’s no doubting he was insane and had violent tendencies, but the crimes for which he was committed to Broadmoor Asylum were far from the frenzied overkills of the Ripper (Cutbush stabbed two girls in the buttocks after fleeing from Lambeth infirmary).

These relatively minor attacks is often used as an argument against the candidacy of Cutbush being the Ripper: that it is unlikely that a killer such as Jack, who brutally killed and mutilated his victims, would lay dormant for around two years and then be content with simply stabbing a couple of women in the behind.  This may well be true.  However, I don’t think it necessarily negates Cutbush as a suspect.  Whoever Jack was, it’s a good bet he had severe mental problems, and the increased brutality of the attacks, as well as the more frenzied and messy states the bodies were found in, could very well indicate that the killer was gradually losing whatever tenuous grip he had on reality; that his mental state was becoming more and more disorganised.  After the slaughter of Mary Kelly, there’s a good chance that Jack’s mental capabilities broke down altogether, and he suffered a kind of breakdown, perhaps no longer possessing the presence of mind to be able to roam the streets and find victims.  If this was the case, then there’s every reason to believe that Jack ended up in a mental hospital, just like Cutbush.  Therefore, you could see the two attacks as pathetic shadows of a once brutal and cunning killer; a feeble and desperate attempt at mutilation.  After all, there were no lowly prostitutes around, and without such easy prey, and with his mental facilities the way they were, he may not have had the capabilities or desire to carry out anything more severe.  Two important factors of these attacks cannot be overlooked: he did take a knife with him when he escaped, suggesting he intended on using it at some point; and the two attacks were centred on the lower portion of the female body, the same area that was the focus of the Ripper’s mutilations.

Or, maybe these attacks were just a pitiful attempt at copying a criminal by the name of Colicott, who stabbed half a dozen women in the buttocks just six months previous to Cutbush’s attacks.

Certainly a point against Cutbush is that apparently the police did look into him as a suspect for the Ripper, but found nothing to connect him to the crimes.  Indeed, it seemed he spent most of his time in Kennington, far from the East End of London.  And it was because of the Sun articles that Sir Melville Macnaghten wrote his famous memoranda, refuting the claims that Cutbush was the Ripper and subsequently naming three more likely suspects.

Still, if the Sun reports are to be believed, he is an interesting case.  The fact that he was violent and delusional, yet cunning enough to escape from the infirmary, does tally with the type of personality I’d expect the Ripper to possess.  And if he did indeed study medical books (purely for recreational purposes, and possibly to try and ‘cure’ himself from whatever perceived malady he was suffering from), then it does show an interest in anatomy.  As does the violent drawings of mutilated women that, if they were actually found in his room, gives an incredible insight into the mind of Cutbush, and exactly the kind of thing you’d expect a disorganised serial killer to do, especially one with such strong fantasies of mutilation and dissection.

Lastly, when the Broadmoor files were recently opened, and Cutbush’s files looked into, it was discovered that his violent reputation was supported (one time he punched another inmate hard in the face; another time he tried to bite his mum’s face when she attempted to kiss him), and that he threatened to rip up staff.

So while there are factors going against Cutbush being the Ripper (no hard evidence he was ever in Whitechapel; police dismissing him as a suspect), there are still enough factors for him (if the Sun articles are to be believed) to make Thomas Cutbush one of the stronger candidates.

Candidacy of Thomas Cutbush: ***½ (out of 5)

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Published on November 7, 2010 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  

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