Severin Klosowski: AKA George Chapman, The Borough Poisoner
7th April 1903

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Severin Klosowski: AKA George Chapman, The Borough Poisoner

Severin Klosowski: AKA George Chapman, The Borough Poisoner


The killer who would later be known to the British public as George Chapman - the "Borough Poisoner" - arrived on British shores in around 1887 or 1888 as Severin Klosowski. By 1903 he was dead: convicted for murdering three women by poison and hanged at Wandsworth. Today, his reputation as a poisoner is overshadowed by the accusation that he was none other than Jack the Ripper.

In his native Poland, he had served in numerous minor medical roles - having been apprenticed at 14 as a nurse-practitioner; applying leeches and performing as a general assistant. After briefly attending a course in practical surgery he came to London, where he seems to have abandoned his medical ambitions and taking up work as a barber. 

By 1889, he had his own barbershop in Cable Street and had married one Lucy Baderski. His predilection for complicated trysts that would later form a backdrop to his murders soon manifested itself when his existing legal wife from Poland arrived. The complex domestic scene was resolved when his previous wife evidently gave up the ghost when Chapman and Baderski gave birth to a son, who died in early infancy.

Following the death of their son, the two moved to America for a short time, but within a year Chapman was separated from Baderski and living back in the East End, where he opened first a barbershop and later a pub.

Over the next 15 years, three other 'wives' (in actuality, no more mistresses) were to be taken in by Chapman and murdered by antimony - a slow acting poison, which he applied in their food and drink. They were:
  1. Mary Spink (died on Christmas Day 1897)
  2. Elizabeth Taylor (died on Valentine's Day 1901)
  3. Maud Marsh (died October 22nd 1902)
He was convicted of the murder of Maud Marsh in 1903, and hanged at Wandsworth prison. No clear motive was ever discerned for his crimes.

Status as "Jack the Ripper" suspect

Chapman was undoubtedly a killer with a sadistic streak. The suffering of those he killed was long, drawn out and painful. Various incidents of domestic violence were also alleged against him - including at least one incident in which he threatened a partner with a knife.

Nonetheless, few would suspect him of involvement in the Ripper killings, were it not for the letters sent by Frederick George Abberline - one of the  lead investigators in the Ripper killings and thought by many to be the most informed and involved of all Scotland Yard detectives on the case.

Following Chapman's conviction, Abberline gave the following statement to the Pall Mall Gazette:

"I have been so struck with the remarkable coincidences in the two series of murders that I have not been able to think of anything else for several days past -- not, in fact, since the Attorney-General made his opening statement at the recent trial, and traced the antecedents of Chapman before he came to this country in 1888. Since then the idea has taken full possession of me, and everything fits in and dovetails so well that I cannot help feeling that this is the man we struggled so hard to capture fifteen years ago...

As I say, there are a score of things which make one believe that Chapman is the man; and you must understand that we have never believed all those stories about Jack the Ripper being dead, or that he was a lunatic, or anything of that kind. For instance, the date of the arrival in England coincides with the beginning of the series of murders in Whitechapel; there is a coincidence also in the fact that the murders ceased in London when Chapman went to America, while similar murders began to be perpetrated in America after he landed there. The fact that he studied medicine and surgery in Russia before he came over here is well established, and it is curious to note that the first series of murders was the work of an expert surgeon, while the recent poisoning cases were proved to be done by a man with more than an elementary knowledge of medicine. The story told by Chapman's wife of the attempt to murder her with a long knife while in America is not to be ignored."

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 22nd August 2013 | © Weird Island 2010-2020
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