Jack the Ripper

8385 / Pixabay

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time may finally be put to rest. A pair of researchers are claiming that they may have solved the case of the infamous 19th-century serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Until now, the identity of Jack the Ripper has never been confirmed and there have been no official links between the killer and the mysterious string of murders that took place in London around 1888. Using DNA forensics and an old shawl found near the scene of the crime, this study claims they’ve finally confirmed the famed serial killer’s identity. With this new DNA evidence, Jack the Ripper may finally have a real name. According to geneticists, however, these new findings may be old news that isn’t scientifically accurate after all.

A break in the case

David Miller of the University of Leeds and Jari Louhelainen of Liverpool John Moores University recently published an analysis of a silk shawl that was supposedly linked to a victim of Jack the Ripper. The shawl was reportedly owned by Catherine Eddowes who was believed to have been murdered by the notorious serial killer over 130 years ago.

The analysis done by the duo was on author Russell Edwards original forensic work done in 2014. His work involved stains that were believed to be semen and blood spatter that was found on the shawl. The testing that was done on the shawl reportedly shows that the DNA sequences found are an overall match for both the suspect and the victim. The study also suggests that each stain is from a single source. This means that the blood spatter would be from one individual and the semen from another.

Researchers are stating that their work has been the most advanced genetic analysis done in the Jack the Ripper case to date. They believe that the presence of mtDNA on the shawl studied matches the victim’s mtDNA and that of the suspected killer’s. Based on their results, they believe that the data collected proves the longstanding theory that the killer was Aaron Kosminski, the police’s main suspect at the time. It also proves that the victim was indeed one of Jack the Ripper’s fourth suspected victims at the time, Catherine Eddowes.

The forensics

Fragments of mitochondrial DNA were examined along with samples of living relatives of both Eddowes and Kosminski. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from one’s mother. A match was found between Kosminski’s relative and the DNA found on the scarf. The study also revealed that the killer matched the description given in a statement by the only reliable witness at the time. The killer was described as having brown hair and brown eyes. Aaron Kosminski matches this description and the DNA tested also confirms this match. Aaron Kosminski was a barber who immigrated from Poland to England in the 1880s. Although he was the investigators main suspect, he was never convicted for the crimes.

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Jack the Ripper was an unidentified serial killer who was active in London around 1888. They believed this man targeted the impoverished area around the Whitechapel district of London. In criminal case files, he was known as the Whitechapel Murderer and Leather Apron. Jack the Ripper was believed to have had some medical training due to the fact that his killings typically involved some abdominal mutilations after initially cutting their throats. The killer was also thought to target female prostitutes who worked and lived in the East End of London in the slums. The public and the media at the time linked a group of five killings around the same time to the killer and dubbed him Jack the Ripper due to the brutal nature of the murders.

A real-life murder mystery

The five suspected victims of Jack the Ripper are Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. According to police at the time, there were eleven separate murders in the area between April of 1888 and February of 1891. These were known as the Whitechapel murders. Opinions differ on whether or not all of these women were murdered by the same person. The five suspected victims of Jack the Ripper were known as the canonical five. These five have been linked due to the nature of their deaths and the gruesomeness in which they were murdered. Throat slashes and abdominal mutilation were two of the common factors contributing to their deaths.

Critics weigh in

While the study seems to show solid evidence that Aaron Kosminski could indeed be Jack the Ripper and that he murdered Catherine Eddowes, critics have pointed out some holes in the research. For one, genetics experts believe that the use of the shawl could be rendered as inconclusive because of the number of people who have held it without gloves and where it has been kept since the murder. The use of mitochondrial DNA also may not prove much as the victim was a woman so she and her female relatives would all pass on mitochondrial DNA as it is only passed on maternally. As for Aaron Kosminski, he couldn’t have passed on any mitochondrial DNA has he was a man.

Critics and journalists also worry for Kosminski’s relatives as being named as descendants of Jack the Ripper could prove problematic. Geneticists fear that with all of the holes in the research as well as the inconclusive results of the DNA evidence, Jack the Ripper may stay an unsolved mystery.  We will likely never know who truly murdered the five women in Whitechapel or who Jack the Ripper really was.