Has Jack the Ripper Really Been Identified By DNA Technology?

September 8, 2014 11:02 AM
Jack the Ripper

Aaron Kosminksi has been confirmed as Jack the Ripper

A scientist has come forward claiming to have proven the identity of Jack the Ripper, after more than 120 years of mystery. Russell Edwards, an “armchair detective” from Barnet in East London, is adamant that a Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski is “categorically and absolutely” the killer behind the gruesome murders that took place in Whitechapel between 1888 and 1891.

Mr Edwards said “I’ve got the only piece of forensic evidence in the whole history of the case.” The evidence he is referring to is a shawl found by the body of Catherine Edowes, one of Jack the Ripper’s last victims. Edwards has been fascinated with Jack the Ripper for years and acquired the shawl when it came up for sale at an auction in 2007.

Supposedly, the shawl was given by Sergeant Simpson to his wife as a gift. She was understandably horrified and put it away in storeage, never being worn or washed. The shawl was handed down the generations as a family heirloom until it landed in the hands of Edwards who sought the assistance of molecular biology expert, Jari Louhelainen. The pair of them have been analysing the shawl for three and a half years.

Louhelainen told a British newspaper “It has taken a great deal of hard work, using cutting-edge scientific techniques which would not have been possible five years ago. Once I had the profile, I could compare it to that of the female descendant of Kosminski’s sister, who had given us a sample of her DNA swabbed from inside her mouth. The first strand of DNA showed a 99.2 per cent match, as the analysis instrument could not determine the sequence of the missing 0.8 per cent fragment of DNA. On testing the second strand, we achieved a perfect 100 per cent match.”

Kosminski was always a lead suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders. He was a Polish Jew immigrant who came to England with his family in 1881 and lived in Mile End Old Town where he began work as a barber. He allegedly hated women and was admitted to a lunatic asylum in the same year that Jack the Ripper’s last victim was killed in 1891. Kosminski remained here until he died in 1919, aged 53.

Fact or Fiction?

Jack the Ripper

Edwards’ book which details his investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders

There are many Jack the Ripper experts who are doubting this latest confirmation of his real identity and shaming Edwards as an amateur who wants to sell his book, “Naming Jack the Ripper” which is due out on Tuesday. It’s true that we have to accept a lot of circumstantial facts before we can believe this really does identify Kosminski as Jack the Ripper. It is also true that Louhelainen has not published his study in a peer-reviewed journal so it is not possible for his work to be verified by fellow experts in his field.

DNA testing is a very delicate procedure and requires absolute professional proficiency for it to be reliable. Given that the Jack the Ripper case is 120 years old, the chances of the shawl not being contaminated are slim. What’s more, without a peer-reviewed methodology, there is no way of verifying that Louhelainen took the correct measures to ensure that cross-contamination of the DNA samples didn’t occur. If he was working with the samples from the descendants and samples from the shawl, there is yet to be proof that the two samples did not contaminate each other.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the man who invented the DNA fingerprint technique 30 years ago, is excited but not wholly satisfied that this “new evidence” solves one of the greatest crimes in British history. He told The Independent this is “an interesting but remarkable claim that needs to be subjected to peer review, with detailed analysis of the provenance of the shawl and the nature of the claimed DNA match with the perpetrator’s descendants and its power of discrimination; no actual evidence has yet been provided.”

So whilst the latest DNA technology may have been used to analyse the shawl, there is hesitation to accept it as fact and there still seems to be a lot of uncertainties surrounding the legitimacy of the test results. Given that Aaron Kosminski was always considered one of the top suspects in the Jack the Ripper murders, experts are neither surprised nor confidant that these new tests have gotten any closer to solving the mystery.

In all likelihood, this breaking news will sell many copies of Edwards’ book. The pair have only leaked sparse details about their long investigation and there will be people who want to know more, regardless of whether they believe the results or not. First appearances suggest that the tests are definitive and the doubts only come from lack of verification. Hopefully, time will allow for further testing by independent experts and we can finally end the years of speculation and declare Aaron Kosminski as the real Jack the Ripper.