His last name went on to be used during the time as a slur towards those of the Jewish faith. But was Israel Lipski deserving of this legacy?
The truth may never be known.
It all started in London on June 28th (some sources state 29th), 1887. The body of Miriam Angel, who was pregnant at the time of her death, was found in her room at the lodging house where she lived. She was killed after being forced to drink nitric acid.
If detectives had not arrived when they did, there may have been two corpses in the room. Israel Lipski, a twenty-something umbrella salesman, was found unconscious underneath Angel’s bed, also with burns from nitric acid in his throat. Though badly injured, he was able to recover.
It seemed like an open and shut case. Lipski and Angel lived in the same lodging house, so it was likely they were acquainted. For whatever reason he entered Angel’s room with the intent to kill, forcing her to drink the acid before crawling under her bed and attempting suicide by consuming the same poison.
Yet Lipski maintained his innocence. He claimed that he had heard a ruckus in Angel’s room to find two of his co-workers, Harry Schmuss and Henry Rosenbloom, in the room with her already dead body. They, too, forced him to drink the poison before throwing him under the bed. Investigators never believed him, and he eventually cracked, confessing to the murder. He claimed he planned to rob Miriam Angel as she was asleep when something went awry. To add on to the doubt of innocence, a shop manager reported seeing Lipski buying a bottle of nitric acid the morning of the murder. Prosecutors alleged his motive was both robbery and sexual assault. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on August 22nd, not even two months after the murder.
1887 newspaper illustration on the Lipski case.
The problem with the Lipski case is that we know so little. An almost empty bottle of nitric acid was found in the mattress, although it was closer to Angel to Lipski, and no evidence was reported that he did or did not consume the acid willingly, although burns were also found on his hands. And if his motive was robbery, why did he attempt suicide? He would had not had a chance to benefit from what he planned to take. Again, there is no information on whether or not the room had been rummaged through or if any valuables were missing (or found with Lipski). It is not known whether or not Angel had been sexually assaulted either.
An alleged motive for the eagerness to pin the crime on Lipski was Antisemitism. Born in Poland, he was one of many working-class Jewish immigrants living in London. Locals of of the mostly Christian city were unhappy with the wave of immigration, claiming they did nothing to benefit London. City officials, even those who were against capital punishment, seemed more than happy to execute Lipski without question. He was only portrayed in a negative light in the press, with his alleged guilt never being questioned.
Again, there is not enough evidence in either direction to show if Lipski was truly guilty or innocent. Eyewitness accounts are not always reliable, and his fate was already sealed at the time of his confession– he may have have been hopeful he could have been spared from the noose if he confessed. And why did Lipski claim to see Schmuss and Rosenbloom, two men he knew well, in the victim’s room? These two men were never interviewed further or considered, and it was not known whether or not they knew Angel.
So What Really Happened?
There are three possibilities as to what what happened on the night of June 28th:
- Israel Lipski killed Miriam Angel after a botched robbery (and/or botched sexual assault) and later attempted suicide.
- Lipski interrupted Schmuss and Rosenbloom and became a victim of circumstances.
- Lipski was targeted and framed by Schmuss and Rosenbloom in a possible Antisemitic hate crime.
The third theory is highly circumstantial, as it suggested all four of the people involved were connected. Lipski and Angel were neighbors, and Lipski, Schmuss, and Rosenbloom were coworkers, so Angel and the men could have theoretically met through Lipski. In this case, Israel Lipski could have actually meant to been the target of the attack. They could have known Lipski would come to Angel’s aid if he heard something out of the ordinary, and they may have intentionally framed him as the murderer. It could have been rooted in Antisemitism or pure convenience, or there may be no merit to this theory at all. Although if Schmuss and Rosenbloom wanted to pin the blame on someone other than themselves, they certainly succeeded.
However, too much time has passed, and the true killer of Miriam Angel- and the real circumstances around the crime- may never be known. The case of Israel Lipski has largely been overshadowed by other mysteries in Victorian London, it is still a truly interesting story.
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