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George Chapman (murderer)

This article is about the Victorian poisoner; for the English literary figure, see George Chapman.

George Chapman (December 14, 1865 - April 7, 1903) was an English serial killer, Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski. Born in Poland, he moved to England, where he committed his crimes. He was convicted and executed after poisoning three women, but is remembered today mostly because some authorities suspected him of being the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper.

Early life

Chapman was born in the village of Nagórna, near Koło, Poland. According to a certificate found in his personal effects after his arrest, he was apprenticed at age 15 to a provincial surgeon in Zwoleń, whom he assisted in procedures such as the application of leeches for blood-letting. He then enrolled on a course in practical surgery at the Warsaw Praga hospital. This course was very brief, lasting from October 1885 to January 1886 (attested to by another certificate in his possession), but he continued to serve as a surgeon's assistant in Warsaw until December 1886. He later left Poland, although the year in which he came to England has not been ascertained. Witness testimony at his trial seems to indicate that he arrived in London between 1887 and 1888.

Crimes and execution

Chapman took several mistresses, who often posed as his wife, three of whom he subsequently poisoned to death. They were Mary Spink (died December 25, 1897), Elizabeth "Bessie" Taylor (died February 14, 1901) and Maud Marsh (died October 22, 1902). He administered the compound tartar-emetic to each of them, having purchased it from a chemist in Hastings. Rich in the metallic element antimony, improper usage of tartar-emetic causes a painful death with symptoms similar to arsenic poisoning.

His motives for these murders are unclear. In one case, he stood to inherit £500, but there was no inheritance from the other two victims.

Suspicions surrounding Marsh's death led to a police investigation. It was found that she had been poisoned, as had the other two women, whose bodies were exhumed.

Chapman was charged only with the murder of Maud Marsh. He was prosecuted by Sir Archibald Bodkin, convicted on March 20, 1903, and hanged at Wandsworth Prison on April 7, 1903.

Jack the Ripper suspect

One of the detectives at Scotland Yard, Frederick Abberline, is reported to have told the policeman who arrested Chapman: "You've got Jack the Ripper at last! In two 1903 interviews with the Pall Mall Gazette, Abberline spelled out his suspicions, referring to Chapman by name. Speculation in contemporary newspaper accounts and books has led to Chapman, like fellow killer Thomas Neill Cream, becoming one of many individuals cited as a possible suspect in the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. In The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, Philip Sugden argued that Chapman is the most likely candidate among known suspects but that the case is far from proven. As far as is known, Chapman was not a suspect at the time of the murders either under his proper name, or as "Ludwig Schloski", a name he was using in London. Chapman was a later surname borrowed from one of his common-law wives whom he did not poison — Annie Chapman (not to be confused with the Jack the Ripper victim of the same name).

The case against Chapman rests mainly on the point that he undoubtedly was a violent man with a misogynistic streak. Chapman is known as a poisoner and not a mutilator, but was known to beat his common-law wives and was prone to other violent behaviour. In one incident often used as an argument to link him to the Ripper crimes, Chapman once allegedly forced his wife, Lucy Klosowski, down on their bed and began to strangle her, only stopping to attend to a customer who walked into the adjoining shop he owned. When he left, she was said to have found a knife under the pillow, and he reportedly later told her that he had planned to kill her, even pointing out the spot where he would have buried her and reciting what he would have said to their neighbours.

It is even suggested that he may have carried out a Ripper-style killing in New York City, the murder of Carrie Brown, but recent research suggests he did not reach the United States until after this incident.

There is a lack of any hard evidence that would link Chapman to the Ripper murders. Some criminologists doubt him as a Ripper suspect on the basis of the psychological motivations and behaviour of serial killers. Usually, serial killers select a single method of murder (e.g., stabbing, strangulation and poisoning) as well as associated rituals (e.g., torture and mutilation). As such, it is generally considered unlikely that a serial killer would go from butchering and disemboweling victims to the less physical method of poisoning. Most scholars also believe the Ripper selected victims who were previously unknown to him, while Chapman killed acquaintances.

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