Lusk Kidney

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Half a human kidney sent to George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee on 16th October 1888 which is alleged to be the one extracted from Catherine Eddowes. It was accompanied by the Lusk Letter in a three inch square cardboard box wrapped in brown paper. The post mark on the parcel was not distinct enough to see anything other than 'OND' (part of LONDON) and further assistance from the Post Office resulted in no distinction between it being posted from the E or EC districts[1]. Initially considering it all to be a hoax (and that the kidney was probably that of a dog), Lusk placed the parcel in a drawer in his desk.

Members of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee examine the parcel containing the Lusk Kidney, from the Illustrated Police News, 27th October 1888.

After mentioning it to members of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee on the 18th October, Lusk was encouraged to have it examined by a medical expert. The kidney was taken to the surgery of Dr. Frederick Wiles at 56 Mile End Road, but in his absence, it was examined by his assistant, Mr. Francis Reed (usually known as F. S. Reed). Reed, feeling that it warranted further inspection took the piece to Dr. Thomas Horrocks Openshaw, curator of the Pathology Museum at the London Hospital.

From there it was taken, along with the accompanying letter, to Leman Street Police Station. The kidney was passed on to the City of London police for further examination by Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown and the letter went to Scotland Yard[2].

Contemporary Opinion

Mr. Reed believed the kidney to be human, that it was divided longitudinally and that it had been preserved in spirits of wine. He was also reported as stating that it was probably genuine[3]

The initial reports on Dr. Openshaw's findings were highly misleading. According to a press interview with Vigilance Committee member Joseph Aarons:

On his return Mr. Reed said that Dr. Openshaw, at the Pathological Museum, stated that the kidney belonged to a female, that it was part of the left kidney, and that the woman had been in the habit of drinking. He should think that the person had died about the same time the Mitre-square murder was committed.[4]

The doctor examined it, and pronounced it to be a portion of a human kidney - a "ginny" kidney, that is to say, one that had belonged to a person who had drunk heavily. He was further of opinion that it was the organ of a woman of about 45 years of age, and that it had been taken from the body within the last three weeks. It will be within public recollection that the left kidney was missing from the woman Eddowes, who was murdered and mutilated in Mitre-square.[5]

However, interviewed in the press the following day, Dr. Openshaw refuted nearly all the claims attributed to him:

Dr. Openshaw told a Star reporter to-day that after having examined the piece of kidney under the microscope he was of opinion that it was half of a left human kidney. He couldn't say, however, whether it was that of a woman, nor how long ago it had been removed from the body, as it had been preserved in spirits.[6]

Another report made reference to Dr. Gordon Brown's as yet incomplete assessment and subject of the renal artery:

It may be remembered that it was Dr. Gordon Browne who gave evidence at the Mitre-square inquest with reference to the organs missing from the body of the woman Eddowes. He then intimated that only the right kidney could be found, and that now submitted to him is a portion of a left kidney, the suggestion being that it forms part of that which was taken away. It is stated, however, that on this point no definite opinion can be pronounced, as these organs vary considerably in the same person, and conclusions based on the condition of the right kidney may very well prove misleading. On the other hand, it is asserted that only a small portion of the renal artery adheres to the kidney, while in the case of the Mitre-square victim a large portion of this artery adhered to the body. It may be mentioned that Dr. Openshaw, of the Pathological Museum attached to the London Hospital, confirms the statement that in his view the article enclosed in the parcel addressed to Mr. Lusk is a portion of a human organ, and not of any animal, as has been suggested by those who regard the whole affair as a hoax.[7]

Dr. Gordon Brown's post mortem report on Catherine Eddowes sheds some light on the condition of the (right) kidney which remained in her body; "pale bloodless with slight congestion of the base of the pyramids"[8]. Dr. William Sedgwick Saunders, however claimed that the kidney remaining in Eddowes' body was perfectly healthy:

You may take it that the right kidney of the woman Eddowes was perfectly normal in its structure and healthy, and by parity of reasoning, you would not get much disease in the left. The liver was healthy, and gave no indications that the woman drank. Taking the discovery of the half of a kidney, and supposing it to be human, my opinion is that it was a student's antic. It is quite possible for any student to obtain a kidney for the purpose.[9]

Dr. Saunders, however had not seen the kidney.

Taking Openshaw's press statement as his definitive word on the kidney, it is therefore apparent that other characteristics were merely added by others. Such statements have served to cloud objectivity regarding the provenance of the organ; a good example is from the memoirs of Major Henry Smith, acting Commissioner of the City of London Police from September 1888. In his book From Constable to Commissioner he relates his own ideas about the Lusk Kidney:

I made over the kidney to the police surgeon, instructing him to consult with the most eminent men in the profession, and send me a report without delay. I give the substance of it. The renal artery is about three inches long. Two inches remained in the corpse, one inch was attached to the kidney.

The kidney left in the corpse was in an advanced stage of Bright's Disease ; the kidney sent me was in an exactly similar state. But what was of far more importance, Mr. Sutton, one of the senior surgeons of the London Hospital, whom Gordon Brown asked to meet him and another practitioner in consultation, and who was one of the greatest authorities living on the kidney and its diseases, said he would pledge his reputation that the kidney submitted to them had been put in spirits within a few hours of its removal from the body-thus effectually disposing of all hoaxes in connection with it.[10]

Major Smith's comments regarding Bright's Disease have been regularly referenced and despite his memoirs being wholly unreliable as far as the Ripper investigation is concerned, Dr. Gordon Brown's comments regarding the remaining kidney ("pale, bloodless with slight congestion at the base of the pyramids") is a description of the physical signs of Bright's Disease. Dr. Gordon Brown's report on the Lusk Kidney has not been located, however in an obscure press interview, he gave information which effectively negates major Smith's assertions about the artery:

As has been stated, there is no portion of renal artery adhering to [the kidney], it having been trimmed up,so consequently, there could be no correspondence established between the portion of the body from which it was cut.

As it exhibits no trace of decomposition, when we consider the length of time that has elapsed since the commission of the murder, we come to the conclusion that the possibility is slight of its being a portion of the murdered woman of Mitre Square.[11]


It is impossible to prove either way the genuineness of the Lusk Kidney. Author, researcher and practising surgeon N. P. Warren made 7 points of identification (based on the contemporary reports) in 1989[12]:

  • The Lusk Kidney was human.
  • It came from a woman.
  • It came from a person approximately 45 years old.
  • It had been extracted from the body within three weeks of its examination.
  • It came from an alcoholic.
  • It was severely affected by Bright's disease.
  • It had approximately 1 inch of renal artery adhering to it.

Warren was able to deduce that only one of the above statements was beyond reasonable doubt (that the kidney was human). The others were either uncertain or negative.[13]


The portion of Kidney was presumed to have been disposed of long ago, in keeping with the fate of other contemporary evidence (e.g. Eddowes' apron piece). There have been stories that it was kept by the London Hospital and disposed of in the 1950s, as well as the possiblity that it was kept in the Public Record Office until as late as the 1980s. Neither of these rumours have any evidence to support them whatsoever and therefore must be viewed with great scepticism.


  1. Daily Telegraph, 20th October 1888
  2. Report by Inspector James McWilliam, 27th October 1888 (HO 144/221/A49301C, ff.162-70)
  3. Evening News, 19th October 1888
  4. Ibid.
  5. The Times, 19th October 1888
  6. The Star, 19th October 1888
  7. Daily Telegraph, 20th October 1888
  8. Coroner's inquest (L), 1888, No.135, Catherine Eddowes Inquest, 1888 (Corporation of London Record Office)
  9. Evening News, 20th October 1888
  10. From Constable to Commissioner: The Story of Sixty Years, Most of them Misspent; Lt. Col. Sir Henry Smith (Chatto & Windus 1910)
  11. Star of the East, 22nd October 1888
  12. 'A Postal Kidney'; N. P. Warren, The Criminologist 13(1), Spring 1989
  13. 'Another Look at the Lusk Kidney', Christopher-Michael DiGrazia - Transcription on Casebook