Jack the Ripper : The Macnaghten Memoranda

The official notes written by Sir Melville Macnaghten in 1894 in response to a published remark in The Sun referring to a man named Thomas Cutbush and his possible connections to the Ripper slayings. It delves more into the Ripper case itself than it does into Cutbush, and is one of the most quoted documents in Ripper investigations. These were sent to Scotland Yard as an official report, and a slightly edited version is available in the Public Record Office.


The case referred to in the sensational story told in ‘The Sun’ in its issue of 13th inst, & following dates, is that of Thomas Cutbush who was arraigned at the London County Sessions in April 1891 on a charge of maliciously wounding Florence Grace Johnson, and attempting to wound Isabella Fraser Anderson in Kennington. He was found to be insane, and sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty’s Pleasure. This Cutbush, who lived with his mother and aunt at 14 Albert Street, Kennington, escaped from the Lambeth Infirmary, (after he had been detained only a few hours, as a lunatic) at noon on 5th March 1891. He was rearrested on 9th idem. A few weeks before this, several cases of stabbing, or jabbing, from behind had occurred in the vicinity, and a man named Colicott was arrested, but subsequently discharged owing to faulty identification. The cuts in the girl’s dresses made by Colicott were quite different to the cut(s) made by Cutbush (when he wounded Miss Johnson) who was no doubt influenced by a wild desire of morbid imitation. Cutbush’s antecedents were enquired into by C.Insp (now Supt.) Chris by Inspector Hale, and by P.S. McCarthy C.I.D. — (the last named officer had been specially employed in Whitechapel at the time of the murders there,) — and it was ascertained that he was born, and had lived, in Kennington all his life. His father died when he was quite young and he was always a ‘spoilt’ child. He had been employed as a clerk and traveller in the Tea trade at the Minories, and subsequently cavassed for a Directory in the East End, during which time he bore a good character. He apparently contracted syphilis about 1888, and, — since that time, — led an idle and useless life. His brain seems to have become affected, and he believed that people were trying to poison him. He wrote to Lord Grimthorpe, and others, — and also to the Treasury, — complaining of Dr Brooks, of Westminster Bridge Road, whom he threatened to shoot for having supplied him with bad medicines. He is said to have studied medical books by day, and to have rambled about at night, returning frequently with his clothes covered with mud; but little reliance could be placed on the statements made by his mother or his aunt, who both appear to have been of a very excitable disposition. It was found impossible to ascertain his movements on the nights of the Whitechapel murders. The knife found on him was bought in Houndsditch about a week before he was detained in the Infirmary. Cutbush was the nephew of the late Supt. Executive. Now the Whitechapel murderer had 5 victims — & 5 victims only, — his murders were (1) 31st August, ’88. Mary Ann Nichols — at Buck’s Row — who was found with her throat cut — & with (slight) stomach mutilation. (2) 8th Sept. ’88 Annie Chapman — Hanbury St.; — throat cut — stomach & private parts badly mutilated & some of the entrails placed round the neck. (3) 30th Sept. ’88. Elizabeth Stride — Berner’s Street — throat cut, but nothing in shape of mutilation attempted, & on same date Catherine Eddowes — Mitre Square, throat cut & very bad mutilation, both of face and stomach. 9th November. Mary Jane Kelly — Miller’s Court, throat cut, and the whole of the body mutilated in the most ghastly manner — The last murder is the only one that took place in a room, and the murderer must have been at least 2 hours engaged. A photo was taken of the woman, as she was found lying on the bed, withot seeing which it is impossible to imagine the awful mutilation. With regard to the double murder which took place on 30th September, there is no doubt but that the man was disturbed by some Jews who drove up to a Club, (close to which the body of Elizabeth Stride was found) and that he then, ‘mordum satiatus’, went in search of a further victim who he found at Mitre Square. It will be noted that the fury of the mutilations increased in each case, and, seemingly, the appetite only became sharpened by indulgence. It seems, then, highly improbable that the murderer would have suddenly stopped in November ’88, and been content to recommence operations by merely prodding a girl behind some 2 years and 4 months afterwards. A much more rational theory is that the murderer’s brain gave way altogether after his awful glut in Miller’s Court, and that he immediately committed suicide, or, as a possible alternative, was found to be so hopelessly mad by his relations, that he was by them confined in some asylum. No one ever saw the Whitechapel murderer; many homicidal maniacs were suspected, but no shadow of proof could be thrown on any one. I may mention the cases of 3 men, any one of whom would have been more likely than Cutbush to have committed this series of murders: (1) A Mr M. J. Druitt, said to be a doctor & of good family — who disappeared at the time of the Miller’s Court murder, & whose body (which was said to have been upwards of a month in the water) was found in the Thames on 31st December — or about 7 weeks after that murder. He was sexually insane and from private information I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer. (2) Kosminski — 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, specially of the prostitute class, & had strong homicidal tendencies: he was removed to a lunatic asylum about March 1889. There were many circumstances connected with this man which made him a strong ‘suspect’. (3) Michael Ostrog, a Russian doctor, and a convict, who was subsequently detained in a lunatic asylum as a homicidal maniac. This man’s antecedents were of the worst possible type, and his whereabouts at the time of the murders could never be ascertained. And now with regard to a few of the other inaccuracies and misleading statements made by ‘The Sun’. In its issue of 14th February, it is stated that the writer has in his possession a facsimile of the knife with which the murders were committed. This knife (which for some unexplained reason has, for the last 3 years, been kept by Inspector Hale, instead of being sent to Prisoner’s Property Store) was traced, and it was found to have been purchased in Houndsditch in February ’91 or 2 years and 3 months after the Whitechapel murders ceased! The statement, too, that Cutbush ‘spent a portion of the day in making rough drawings of the bodies of women, and of their mutilations’ is based solely on the fact that 2 scribble drawings of women in indecent postures were found torn up in Cutbush’s room. The head and body of one of these had been cut from some fashion plate, and legs were added to shew a woman’s naked thighs and pink stockings. In the issue of 15th inst. it is said that a light overcoat was among the things found in Cutbush’s house, and that a man in a light overcoat was seen talking to a woman at Backchurch Lane whose body with arms attached was found in Pinchin Street. This is hopelessly incorrect! On 10th Sept. ’89 the naked body, with arms, of a woman was found wrapped in some sacking under a Railway arch in Pinchin Street: the head and legs were never found nor was the woman ever identified. She had been killed at least 24 hours before the remains which had seemingly been brought from a distance, were discovered. The stomach was split up by a cut, and the head and legs had been severed in a manner identical with that of the woman whose remains were discovered in the Thames, in Battersea Park, and on the Chelsea Embankment on the 4th June of the same year; and these murders had no connection whatever with the Whitechapel horrors. The Rainham mystery in 1887 and the Whitehall mystery (when portions of a woman’s body were found under what is now New Scotland Yard) in 1888 were of a similar type to the Thames and Pinchin Street crimes. It is perfectly untrue to say that Cutbush stabbed 6 girls behind. This is confounding his case with that of Colicott. The theory that the Whitechapel murderer was left-handed, or, at any rate, ‘ambidexter’, had its origin in the remark made by a doctor who examined the corpse of one of the earliest victims; other doctors did not agree with him. With regard to the 4 additional murders ascribed by the writer in the Sun to the Whitechapel fiend: (1) The body of Martha Tabram, a prostitute was found on a common staircase in George Yard buildings on 7th August 1888; the body had been repeatedly pierced, probably with a bayonet. This woman had, with a fellow prostitute, been in company of 2 soldiers in the early part of the evening: these men were arrested, but the second prostitute failed, or refused, to identify, and the soldiers were eventually discharged. (2) Alice McKenzie was found with her throat cut (or rather stabbed) in Castle Alley on 17th July 1889; no evidence was forthcoming and no arrest were made in connection with this case. The stab in the throat was of the same nature as in the case of the murder of (3) Frances Coles in Swallow Gardens, on 13th February 1891 — for which Thomas Sadler, a fireman, was arrested, and, after several remands, discharged. It was ascertained at the time that Saddler had sailed for the Baltic on 19th July ’89 and was in Whitechapel on the nights of 17th idem. He was a man of ungovernable temper and entirely addicted to drink, and the company of the lowest prostitutes. (4) The case of the unidentified woman whose trunk was found in Pinchin Street: on 10th September 1889 — which has already been dealt with. M.S. Macnaghten 23rd February 1894

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