Thomas Cutbush

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Thomas Cutbush was an undoubtedly violent man who, in 1891, was sent to Broadmoor for stabbing a number of women in London. His attacks involved stabbing the women's backsides with a sharpened awl although didn't appear to be serious attempts at murder. Given his geographic proximity to the Ripper crimes at the time they were committed, he became a suspect to some members of the detective force as well as to pressmen eager to wring every last ounce from the Ripper story.

In 1893, two journalists from The Sun newspaper inveigled their way into Broadmoor in the hope of confronting Cutbush directly, but were detected and ejected before they could achieve their aim.

What we know today of Cutbush largely depends on a letter sent by Macnaghten in response to enquiries about Cutbush. The letter illustrates some of the beliefs of investigating officers at the time (and has helped to foster some myths about the case) but the passage directly relating to Cutbush is worth quoting in full:

"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."

Here Macnaghten reveals several of the assumptions that coloured the police investigation. Cutbush's contraction of syphilis, and the 'madness' that resulted indicated to officers that here was a man with the capacity to be the Ripper. Of course, from today's perspective, we now no longer assume that a serial killer has to be outwardly mad: killers such as Peter Sutcliffe and Dennis Nielsen held down jobs without attracting any suspicion among those that knew them (Sutcliffe was even married). Like another favoured suspect - Aaron Kosminski - it seems that Cutbush suffered from delusions that people were out to poison him.

Unlike Kosminski, however, Cutbush clearly displayed violent tendences, and his notes from his time in Broadmoor reveal that he threatened violence against other inmates and against women in general. If you treat Frances Coles and Alice McKenzie as Ripper victims - as some investigating officers did at the time - then Cutbush's detainment at Broadmoor neatly coincides with the end of the Whitechapel murders.

For fans of conspiracies, it is also worth noting MacNaghten's revelation that Cutbush was the nephew of Superintendent Cutbush of the City Police. Hints that the police knew the identity of the Ripper and covered it up for unknown reasons abound in Ripper lore. Without the kinds of evidence available to modern police forces such as DNA analysis and criminal profiling, it is tempting to believe that officials could find ways to place potential suspects into asylums to prevent them committing further crimes.

Despite this compelling argument, MacNaghten then goes on to list 3 other suspects as being better candidates for the Ripper: Michael Ostrog, Montague Druitt and Aaron Kosminski. This indicates that he at least did not consider Cutbush a viable suspect - although his reasons are now lost to us through the vicissitudes of history and the loss of the official suspects file.
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The only recorded possible identification as to the Ripper's identity indicated that a Jew was responsible. While this itself remains contentious, attempts to match Cutbush's physical description with that of witnesses are fairly thin and at this remove completely unsafe. Cutbush is also weakened as a candidate if Mary Kelly was the last of the Ripper's victims. Most students of the case rule out both McKenzie and Coles as Ripper victims and thus conclude that the Ripper's reign of terror came to an end in 1888. Would the Ripper really lie dormant for 3 years after the slaughter in Miller's Court and then re-emerge to satisfy himself by stabbing women in the bottom?

As with all Ripper suspects, the case against Cutbush is circumstantial at best.

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