5 People Who Were Suspected of Being Jack the Ripper


by Jenny Morrill

Jack the Ripper was responsible for Britain's most notorious wave of unsolved murders. Between August and November 1888, he left a trail of victims in his wake, reducing London to a state of terror. Yet despite leaving taunting clues, and even sending handwritten notes to the police, Jack the Ripper was never caught. The police working on the case identified well over a hundred potential suspects, but were unable to narrow it down any further. Modern research still hasn't solved the case, but theories have emerged as to the killer's identity. Here are five candidates.


Photographs of Cream and materials from the London Metropolitan Police. Image credit: Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream was known as “The Lambeth Poisoner” after killing a number of prostitutes with strychnine during the 1890s. He was sentenced to be hanged for these poisonings, and as his sentence was being carried out, he is said to have told the executioner “I am Jack the ...” just before the trap in the gallows opened. The fact that he was imprisoned in Chicago during the Ripper murders pours some cold water on the theory—unless, as some think, he had a double who served the time for him.


After the murder of Mary Jane Kelly in November 1888, a seemingly credible witness described seeing her in the early morning hours, long after doctors believed she had died. This led one detective on the case to theorize that perhaps the killer dressed as a woman—or was a woman. The detective, Inspector Abberline, eventually came up with the idea that the killer was likely a midwife, someone would have had the anatomical knowledge necessary to kill in the Ripper’s uniquely gruesome way. A midwife would also have had easy access to women’s homes, and wouldn’t have been given a second glance for blood-stained clothing. In 1939, an author named William Stewart wrote Jack the Ripper: A New Theory, postulating that the killer was a female abortionist who had been betrayed by another woman and gone insane while in prison.


Sir John Williams is one of the more high-profile suspects, having worked as the royal obstetrician. Although he wasn't thought to be a suspect at the time, a 2005 book, Uncle Jack, written by a descendent, names him as the Ripper. The book goes on to claim that the women were murdered and mutilated as a way to research the causes of infertility. However, many scholars claim the book's theories—based primarily on a knife in Williams’s collection, some slides of “animal matter,” and his proximity to the site of the murders in November 1888—leave much to be desired.


The evidence against bootmaker John Pizer appears to have been circumstantial. For some time, the police and the press had been searching for someone they named “Leather Apron,” based on testimony from some 50 prostitutes who claimed the same man had mistreated them. According to the testimonies, he always carried a knife and wore a leather apron, traits that coincided with Pizer's trade. At least one local sergeant also believed that Pizer went by the nickname “Leather Apron.”

Pizer was cleared by the police of being Jack the Ripper when Mary Ann Nichols was murdered in September 1888. He was able to provide a full account of his whereabouts, one which was backed up by many others, including the police.


Two things make Sir William Gull, a physician to Queen Victoria, one of the most well-known suspects. The first is an account presented in late 19th-century newspaper stories and Stephen Knight's 1978 book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution of a medium named Robert James Lees, who supposedly used his psychic powers to establish that Gull was the murderer.

The second is the 2001 movie From Hell, adapted from the Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name and based on a letter sent to the police (along with a kidney preserved in wine) from an anonymous source at the time of the murders. Although the film implicates Sir William Gull, modern scholars believe the letter implicates several potential culprits, so the guilt of William Gull remains unproven.

Peter Elliott
Authorities Have Cracked a Bizarre Cold Case That Could Have Ties to the Zodiac Killer
Peter Elliott
Peter Elliott

One of the strangest cold cases in Ohio, if not the United States, has now been solved—but pieces of the puzzle remain.

In 2002, a man known as Joseph Newton Chandler III fatally shot himself in the bathroom of his tiny apartment in Eastlake, Ohio. His body wasn't found for a week, by which point it was badly decomposed, and police were unable to obtain fingerprints. He hadn't left a note, and police found more than $80,000 in his bank account. A private investigator, hired by a probate judge to find surviving family members, soon discovered that the man known as Chandler wasn't Chandler at all—he'd stolen the identity of an 8-year-old boy from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who died in a car crash in Texas in 1945.

Since then, rumors have been building. Police felt the man was most likely a fugitive on the run—who else leaves $80,000 in a bank account and hides behind a stolen identity? Some said he might have been a Nazi war criminal. Others thought that he could be the Zodiac Killer, based on his likeness to a police sketch of the infamous murderer who left a trail of terror through Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. (And, in fact, Chandler was in California at the time of the crimes.) But after the initial round of research following the suicide, the case went cold.

Today, U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott announced that his office and a team of forensic genealogists had cracked the case. Yet they've only solved the first part of the mystery‚ and are appealing to the public for help connecting the rest of the dots.

Their research shows that the man known as Chandler was actually Robert Ivan Nichols of New Albany, Indiana. A Purple Heart Navy veteran who served in World War II, Nichols had disappeared from his family in 1965. He had left his wife and sons the year prior, telling her, "In due time, you'll know why," according to Elliott. In March 1965, he wrote to his parents, saying he was "well and happy" and asking them not to worry about him. The same month, he mailed an envelope to his son Phillip, which contained only a penny. There was no note. It was the last his family would ever hear of him.

According to family lore, the war had taken a heavy toll on Nichols, and he burned his uniforms in the backyard after returning from service. He had no criminal history. Associates who worked with him as "Chandler" described him as a loner, someone who refused to let others get close. Co-workers said he would frequently disappear for days, and even weeks, at a time. He kept a bag packed and ready in his apartment at all times.

After disappearing from his family, he traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, and then to the San Francisco and Richmond, California areas. He assumed the Chandler identity in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1978, when he applied for a Social Security card using personal information (including the birthdate) of the boy who died in 1945. At the time, such frauds were easier to pull off, since Social Security cards were rarely given to children, and so the real Joseph Newton Chandler III had never been given a Social Security number.

Robert Ivan Nichols circa 1992
Robert Ivan Nichols circa 1992
Peter Elliott

The break in the case came only after painstaking detective work that involved both sophisticated DNA techniques and pounding the pavement. When Elliott took on the case in 2014 at the request of the Eastlake police, he discovered Chandler had had colon cancer surgery in 2000. He sent tissue samples taken at that time to the local medical examiner, who obtained a DNA profile. Unfortunately, there were no matches between the profile and various national criminal databases.

Stumped, in 2016 Elliott turned to forensic genealogists Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Dr. Margaret Press of California-based IdentiFinders and the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit humanitarian initiative created to help identify Jane and John Does and return them to their families. (Fitzpatrick also helped crack the case of identity thief Lori Erica Ruff in 2016.) Despite a badly degraded sample, they used Y chromosome genealogy to trace a family line that indicated the dead man's last name was likely Nichols or some variation. In March 2018, authorities tracked down a Phillip Nichols in Ohio, who provided a DNA sample. The sample matched with that of the dead man, indicating the pair were father and son. Phillip said at a news conference today that he instantly recognized photos of "Chandler" as his father.

Although the cold case has been solved, mystery remains. Why did Nichols abandon his family? Why did he end his life? What accounts for the rest of his odd behavior? Although it's clear he wasn't a Nazi war criminal, there's still a chance—however slight—that he could be connected to crimes in California, given his residence at the time of the Zodiac Killer's activities. "There has to be a reason he assumed the name of a deceased 8-year-old boy and went into hiding for so many years," Elliott says. When asked about the potential Zodiac Killer connection, Elliott responded, "I can't say for sure that he is, and I cannot say for sure that he's not [the killer]. We have been working with San Francisco, [and the] Department of Justice, but that's a question for them, that's their investigation."

Elliott says he is appealing for the public's help in tracing the rest of Nichols' life and mystery. Tips can be sent to the U.S. Marshals at 216-522-4482.

What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?

Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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